The Meme of Desecration

Desecration (n : blasphemous behavior; the act of depriving something of its sacred character; “desecration of the Holy Sabbath” [syn: profanation, blasphemy, sacrilege]).

Fighting in a holy city is an act of desecration. Storm troopers entering a church in Germany in search of Jews were desecrating the place, but that was the least of their crimes. I think that either everything is holy (hence all acts of warfare are desecration) or nothing is holy (and therefore everything is permitted regardless of motivation). Since adopting this latter posture puts book burning and witch burning and ice cream socials on equal moral grounds, let’s just go with the everything is holy perspective.

The holy city of Mule Fart, Arkansas has never seen the face of war, but if the aggressors come boiling out of the deserts of Asia minor and land in Mule Fart, then they will be invading a holy city. But the medieval mind-set of the mass media nurtures the distinction. So they will be less willing to call Mule Fart a holy city in their breathless puff pieces about the invading rebel cleric and his rag tag armies of mullahs and imams and schmoes.

It’s the labels that make a good story. Hector, he of Iliad fame, would have been just another spear carrier if Homer hadn’t gifted him with the label “tamer of horses.”

Rebel clerics and holy cities are medieval meme propagation. They exist to maintain a distinction. If you believe in holy cities, you should have no trouble limiting your self expression to quiet conversations within the barbed wire of the free speech zones. This place is holy, that one isn’t. Within the wire you have liberty, outside the wire you have it not. War is peace. Big brother is more than a community child support organization.

I suppose the point of view that “Yes, it is a holy city, but we intend to bomb the shit out of it regardless,” voices the pragmatic warrior’s perspective. But I prefer to set Najaf equal to Mule Fart and assert that bombing either is a travesty.

I think that this outre litte post may be better understood in the context of re-framing public debate, so I’ll refer you to people who know more about it than I, and who have a program for doing something about it too.

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3 comments on “The Meme of Desecration
  1. Two things about Rockridge.

    One, they have noticed, rightly, the emergence of the neocon think tanks and their influence on public debate. But rather than skewing the language to the right, or as the folks at Rockridge themselves have put it… “appropriated fundamental American values and language, from freedom to compassion to patriotism, and redefined them from a conservative perspective…” I think what has happened is this: the ‘righties’ have rendered the language meaningless. Or, devauled the language, at least. Have set the language – not necessarily the values themslves – into the realm of the Sentimental.

    Two, The good and well meaning folks at Rockridge seem to be suffering from some sort of meme envy. (I wanna tell people I’m part of a think tank!)

    What is not, or has not in my limited readings of George Lakoff et al – which, yes, do go beyond the couple of links provided – what is not stated explicitly yet seems to be implied, is this: that the righties excision or appropriation of meaning in language is a ‘bad thing’ only because it furthers the agenda of the right, and that the left, the progressives, the rightful owners of the high moral ground, would simply reframe the political debate – how? this isn’t in the least way made clear – and make immediate policy gains.

    My suspicion is that a further devaluing of the language is in order.

    I mean we’re talking about propaganda wars here. Lakoff and friends seems to desire an America where the term ‘conservative’ will be as derogatory or pejorative as the term ‘liberal’ is today. Unfair? How about unwittingly desire. Best not to judge a group on any unstated goals. Have these thinkers, esteemed members of the acadame, got the backbone to play dirty pool?

    The whole notion seems kinda whack to me. Of course what may be whack, as always, is me.

    Mind bending through catchphrases. Hm.

    Lastly, the Rockridgettes sing that the right has “set the parameters of the political debate, even though a majority of Americans continue to reject much of the conservative worldview and its policy implications.”

    Majority…reject? Where’s the evidence of this? Polls?

    And why if you’re going to be so hepped up about reframing deabte fall into the trap of calling the thinking of those current in the power matrix a ‘conservative worldview’.

    That term alone is a hypnotic salve. Better these socalled progressives reclaimed their conservative territory. Don’t forget being a radical is basically about going back to the roots. A radical is the most conservative of fellows.

    The left would be much further ahead if they at least made the attempt to admit to their highly reactionary tendencies. Much fertile ground to be won there.

  2. Beth says:

    Somehow, this Madison newspaper column relates to how we are all wrestling with media war memes and trying to make sense of the information we are receiving about the war in Iraq. Here is a goodhearted, conservative guy turning his mind – and heart – inside out to balance how it must be okay to fight in a cemetery ’cause we have to fight the good fight, but omigosh, how awful it must be to have to fight the good fight in a cemetery, or something. . .” Here’s the link.

  3. memer says:

    Can’t say I dig the all or none supposition, Frank. Here’s the actual definition(s) of holy:

    1. Belonging to, derived from, or associated with a divine power; sacred.
    2. Regarded with or worthy of worship or veneration; revered: a holy book.
    3. Living according to a strict or highly moral religious or spiritual system; saintly: a holy person.
    4. Specified or set apart for a religious purpose: a holy place.
    5. Solemnly undertaken; sacrosanct: a holy pledge.

    So Mule Fart doesn’t count. Sorry. But I say that’s ok. It’s alright. You mistakenly conflate “holiness” with “worthiness.” That is to say, just because a place isn’t holy doesn’t mean all bets are off re military restraint; that the people within are somehow less worthy of life. The reasons why it should be bombed should be overwhelming. It’s religious significance, a side note (a factor to be considered only if you happen to care a fig about the post-war social restoration).

    The media probably use the term as much out of some idea of political correctness, some matter-of-fact deference, as much as for subtle dramatic purposes. But let’s face it, Frank, religion still carries much weight in society. There IS a special “weighting” we attach to certain things or people in society.

    If a priest is killed in a horrific murder we tend to gasp just a little bit more deeply than if it were a an ordinary banker. If a child is raped, it generally cuts just a little more deeply than if it were a karate instructor. They’re all people. None should be any less deserving of cruel fate than the other. But there it is. It’s human.

    If adding the phrase “the holy region of” in front of “Darfur” would help…?

    “Darfur’s holy, y’know.”
    “It’s holy?! Holy shit! Send the troops!”



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