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Saddam and the challenge of modernization | Статьи на английском
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Saddam and the challenge of modernization

28.12.2004 11:41

Imagine yourself living in Europe as the World War One drew to a close. Ten million people have just died in a space of four short years, and hundreds of millions were crippled or dispossessed. The entire Europe: Germany, Russia, France, Italy, Austria lay in ruins, bled white by the senseless war and virtually ungovernable. It was an end of an era, almost the end of the world. People asked themselves, “How are we to live?” The answers they gave themselves then still reverberate now, for example, in such places as Iraq.

There was a God, a God of the Bible, Jesus Christ. Jesus walked the earth barefoot, slept under the sun, and taught people about their unique destiny and personal responsibility.

But now people wore factory-made shoes better to walk on the asphalt and spent their days in the factory, doing one sequence of movements, again and again, together with hundreds of other people. Their destiny was no longer unique as they all lived on the same schedule and read the same newspaper. Having observed a sword and a spear, Jesus said, “Thou shalt not kill.” But apparently Jesus said nothing about putting a shell into a cannon and pulling a cord, so that a shell flies out and explodes three miles away.

This was the moment when people felt that the God of the Bible was no longer relevant. God is not supposed to destroy the world He created, and yet their world lay in ruins. God of the Bible created trees and animals, but the city dwellers no longer saw them. God created humans as unique and irreplaceable, but they have just been marching in their millions, all in the same uniforms, facing the machinegun fire. It appeared that the God they knew had been substituted by something else, perhaps by another God.

And then they realized that the new God was before them, and that this God was the Machine Tool. It was the Machine Tool who created the world they lived in, the entire world they knew: the shoes, the uniforms, the newspapers, and the machineguns. It was the Machine Tool they served and worshiped ten hours a day, every day of the week but Sunday. It was the Machine Tool that could show its great vengeance or bestow its limitless bounties in form of a flood of readily available identical goodies. Thus the Machine Tool became God.

God creates humans at His image. Jesus was alive, and so were the people. The Machine Tool was the new God, but It was inanimate. The Machine Tool did not create the people, but it was obvious to them that since the Machine Tool was their God, they were to remake themselves at Its image. How to do that? As an animate entity, Jesus left us His Gospel, His teachings, His church. Being inanimate, the Machine Tool told us nothing. And yet, becoming “just like It”, and developing adequate worship rituals was an urgent requirement.

I want to emphasize that people were not conscious as to who their new God was, and why, as they did in Russia, were they burning down the churches and killing the priests. And yet, the reality they were living in was so compelling, that they unerringly started to develop the rituals of Machine Tool worship.

The Russians thought that the industrial worker, being a servant and a priest to the Machine Tool, is the one who knows best how the Machine Tool is to be worshipped. So, they created the workers’ party and decreed that the workers were the only ones who possessed the correct understanding of the world as it now was.

Looking at it from the outside, it would seem to be nonsense: the industrial workers of the day were the most disoriented stratum of society. Unlike peasants, they were separated from nature and traditional culture. They were not, and did not need to be educated, and theirs were the fumes, the roar, the repetitive movements, and the soot. They smelled of metal and fire and their brains were turned off to better preserve their hands from being crushed by machinery. Yet, the Industrial Age workers did indeed know the answer: immensely powerful and creative as it was, the Machine Tool was inanimate.

The Machine Tool was entirely made of metal. So, to be just like their new God, many Russians, especially those who had personal opinions or personal history (features that the Machine Tool does not have), had a hot little piece of lead introduced into them, whereupon they became inanimate, and therefore acceptable to the world that valued that characteristic above all else. Millions more were arrested and sent to build factories. Not surprisingly, this slave labor was called “recasting”.

And the Russian solution worked. Soon, in a backward peasant country, there were the machine building plants, the tanks and the airplanes; there was strength and power.

The Russians were ably led by a man whose name was Joseph Dzhugashvili, but he liked to be known as Stalin, or the Man of Steel, signifying that he was made of exactly the same material as the Machine Tool.

The Spaniards joined the world of the Machine Tool under General Franco, who won a bloody civil war under the slogan “Long Live Death!” Again, how can you lead and win under such a slogan? And how can death live? Yet, the Russian Communist song of the day expresses the same sentiment: “Bravely shall we fight for the power of the Soviets and every single one of us shall die for that.”

Look, the God of the unique and the animate only produced the horse as the means of transportation, but the Machine Tool produced trains, planes, and tanks. People did try, blessed by their priests, to attack tanks on horseback or to outrun planes, but the results were so disastrous that the need for a radical rethinking of one’s world was obvious. And the answer was clear: The Machine Tool was inanimate and yet enormously productive, and so the people must remake themselves likewise.

And then there was Hitler. Though he, just like Stalin, created a workers’ party, Hitler also, as any good industrial-age engineer, wanted to look “inside the human machine”. Having done so, Hitler declared that some humans had wrong blood and imperfectly shaped noses. He went on to build factories that would make gold teeth and soap out of this inferior human material. Hitler did a massive “factory recall” of “defective” and “inferior” humans , while his doctors worked diligently to improve human genetics and develop what was then called a Nordic Character.

Later, people would say that in so doing Hitler committed a horrible crime of the Holocaust. But from Hitler’s point of view this was not the case at all: Hitler saw himself as a modernizer, introducing a much more advanced model of human species, one that followed orders unquestionably and wore a steel helmet.

Hitler reasoned that since the Machine Tool was inanimate and It was the new God, humans should be assumed to be inanimate or should be turned into that state. According to Hitler and Stalin, turning people into inanimate state certainly was not a crime: the only crime they knew was not to have the greatest number of the best tanks available. Modification sure worked with tanks, and Hitler saw no reason why it would not work with humans.

As far as the inanimate state, when the time came, Hitler turned himself and his wife into it, and Goebbels did the same to his wife and their eight children. Hitler’s troops wore a human skull right on the helmet, and they were building a Thousand Year Reich. A human being rarely lives beyond one hundred years of age, so a Thousand Year Reich could be of interest only to particularly durable inanimate objects. In other words, in his faith, Hitler was completely open, sincere, and consistent to the end.

And Hitler’s new religion worked. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, France was a stronger power than Germany. In 1940, Hitler smashed France like a fly. Britain was saved only by being an island. The only thing that saved the world was that Hitler attacked another dedicated death-worshipper, Stalin. Hitler did not realize that Stalin would be clearing minefields with his own soldiers, and he severely underestimated Stalin’s capacity in building tanks and planes. At the end, having warmly seen off to the front the last detachment of 14 year olds, Hitler simply run out of people he could send to their deaths.

I foresee the counterargument that Hitler was no friend to the machine tools: after the WWII, the German industrial base was in ruins. Similarly, Stalin had thousands of his best engineers shot, and a million more were felling trees in Siberia. Irrational from the point of view of industrialization, is not it? Here is my answer to that: what we are describing here is not “reality” but religion. From the point of view of religion, the country was indeed building the “machine tool temples” and worshiping there. People were following orders; others were made inanimate. By the way, all victims of Stalinist purges or of the Holocaust, were, by definition, guilty: they arrived there alive, and their having arrived was the manifestation of their personal fate. And you are not supposed to be alive, distinguishable, or have a personal fate: the Machine Tool does not possess such qualities. And what can be said about those who avoided the camps? Well, their undesirable personal qualities, if any, remained undiscovered. Take a bolt. It can have certain acceptable qualities, such as being made of metal. Bit it can also have certain unacceptable qualities, such as wrong size, and that would cause this bolt to be recast, without a second thought or emotion. Hitler and Stalin were indeed, extremely inefficient from the rational point of view, but when a mother in Florida prays that her son in Iraq does not get shot, she is not trying to be efficient or “sane” (thinking how the words said in Florida my possibly affect the trajectories of bullets in Baghdad): she is simply being religious.

In 1945, with Europe again in ruins, the West decided that the Machine Tool worship did not work and opted for an American style democracy to the extent that even Jesus made a tentative comeback.

But the idea of Machine Tool worship did not die then and there. People all over the world noted its huge modernization potential. Stalin turned millions of Russians into inanimate objects, but he also turned tens of millions of illiterate and downtrodden peasants into engineers, pilots, or tank commanders. Mindful of the requirements of the Machine Tool, Stalin taught all Russians to read and to count. For a time, Russian industrial power was almost a match to America’s - the only country that succeeded in combining modernization with the teachings of the good old JC.

The totalitarian system was born with a tank - an Industrial Age killing machine that consisted of metal that fully enclosed the humans within. Once the tank became obsolete the totalitarian system in Europe collapsed.

But that left the Third World out of the mainstream of history. Planting rice by hand or tending to their camels, they too wanted to be a part of modernity. And they knew the formula: machines tools were good and live humans were a problem.

In religion, there are two approaches. When you wish for something, you can try to accomplish that. But if you cannot accomplish that on your own, you pray for that. For example, when the Aztecs needed rain, they would sacrifice a few humans, and if they needed rain a lot, they would sacrifice a lot of humans. Religions are like that. You could say that clapping one’s hands or singing, “Penny Lane” has exactly the same chance of causing rain, but the religious people would not understand you: in this instance, they believe that only human sacrifice can, and will, cause the rain.

Same here. The Khmer Rouge knew that a few machine tools would not bring them any closer to modernization, as their country was too backward and was at the time being bombed by very sophisticated jet planes. Therefore, they set about methodically killing themselves, assuming that when they are all inanimate the Holy Machine Tool will come to like them.

And now we come to Iraq. Iraq was a backward country, and it was populated by people who believed in God of the Koran. And what? People lived essentially in the same way they did a thousand years ago. Until about mid eighteenth century, that was still tolerable, but when the advanced industrial countries started to experience explosive growth, this stagnation was no longer acceptable. A camel is fine only until you see a jeep. Saddam Hussein assumed a role of Iraq’s modernizer, and he was quite successful in that. Soon there were tanks and airplanes, engineers and physicians, television and universities. There was very little Islam, and a political stability based on the certainty of violent death for any kind of dissent.

But then Iraq, a midsized Industrial Age state, picked a quarrel with the United States, the Information Age powerhouse. The US did to Iraq what Hitler did to France during the WWII: showed that their God, a Soviet-made T-72 tank, was outmoded. The US mapped the Iraqi tanks and destroyed them with guided munitions, and it took even less time than it took Hitler to reach Paris.

OK, said the Iraqis, so the Machine Tool is no longer God, but who is? And here the United States came up against an unexpected problem. Modern Information Age democracy requires that a sophisticated new technique of social interaction, one that is known as win/win, be well developed. Iraqis are not mature enough for that. Bush is wrong when he claims that peoples of the world can take to democracy as fish to water: democracy requires quite a long time to develop and the acceptance of win/win is possible only as a consequence of a significant social and psychological adjustment.

Since the Information Age democracy is not yet an option for Iraq, the Iraqis went back to what they knew, and this was the Koran. Even the traditional Islam cannot be combined with real democracy: you cannot flagellate yourself with bicycle chains until your back is black and blue to honor the Prophet Ali and then put on a suit and tie and rush to a New England style town meeting.

But the actual situation was even worse than that: what they reverted to was no longer the Koran that sustained them for the last millennium: this was the Koran fortified with skills and approaches learned during the time they worshipped the inanimate Machine Tool. It became possible, and indeed desirable, for a supposed “believer” to blow himself up, taking with him as many lives as possible. A nice mixture of religions, particularly if as a homage to the Information Age, the act of faith is being filmed to be shown on TV.

Now, from the point of view of the win/min, Saddam may well be a disgusting character. Yet, I do not think we should have subjected the Iraqi version of Machine Tool worship to such a thrashing. For us, it may have been an old tank, but for them it was a religious artifact, an object of worship and a symbol of literacy and social advancement. I doubt we wanted them to revert to Islam, and certainly not to the death worshipping version of the post-Industrial-Age Islam, aided as it is by a good number of capable munitions experts.

The US went to Iraq “to fulfill people’s aspirations”, assuming that people everywhere aspire to good things. But in reality people aspire to things that would give their inner world a meaningful context, and thus these things can be good or bad. As a result, the US appears to be building what it most wanted to avoid: an aggressive Islamic state. Today, we are hearing that the Iraqi Shiites are “for us” because they “gained political power”, while Sunnis are “against us” because they are “losing their influence”. But a person flagellating himself with bicycle chains cannot be for democracy because democracy is based on win/win and self-torture is not.

We need to be conscious of what people’s religion is and appreciate that some unpleasant social movements, such as the Baath party in Syria did help people to start using electricity and to drive cars.

Finally, mindful of the great impact on human history left by the Machine Tool worship, we need to discover what our own religion is. And that discovery starts with the basic question, “Are we alive?” The point of this question is that the impact of the modern technology may be imperceptible to contemporaries, and yet, it is very profound. If it was true as far as the relatively primitive Industrial Age technology was concerned, it is doubly true today.

Here is one example. We say that each human life needs to be protected because experiences of each human being are unique. But if a billion people watched the Superbowl, their experiences were not unique, and we need just one person to tell us the whole story: New England won, 24:21. More and more people have sex with internet images, socialize with TV characters and eat at McDonald’s. These experiences are not unique, animate, or relevant to life. A country that causes such experiences to proliferate and bases its entire lifestyle on such experiences, does not know where the world is going or should be going. Its strong belief that it does know is as ideological as was the belief in the Communist Revolution. Bush seems to think that we are about two thousand plane sorties and an odd Tomahawk here and there away from achieving the final victory of democracy in the world. He thinks that the End of History predicted by Francis Fukuyama is almost here, and a Thousand Year Old Reich of Democracy can start while he is still in office. And that only means that we should be watching less TV and find some time to walk barefoot on green grass, just to reassert our animate nature.

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