Reinhold Niebuhr, Irony, Absurdity, and Tragedy
Of the moral perils the United States faces, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “They are the perils which can be understood only if we realize the ironic tendencies of virtues to turn into vices when too complacently relied upon; and the power to become vexations if the wisdom which directs it is trusted too confidently.” He warned that, “Idealism is too oblivious to the ironic perils to which human virtue, wisdom and power are subject.” So, this is the position in which our government finds itself today as it seeks to influence events in the Middle East and remain relevant by launching drone strikes as the forces of history render moot any such pretensions of our ability to manage history.
With regard to the Progressives and Liberals violently attacking and brutalizing American citizens for exercising their voice in a truly democratic process, the Progressives ironically claim the political process will lead to violence since Trump was elected to the presidency as they attacked those who elected him. This is the very violence the political process is supposed to prevent by allowing peaceful change to be possible, especially a change that is not just a change in the name of the person holding the office, but a change that represents major shifts in policy that are so long overdue that people who are usually tone deaf to many political debates suddenly have an understanding of these important issues. Accordingly, Niebuhr was concerned whether Americans were truly able to exhibit awareness for such irony as when a very vocal minority becomes drowned out by a silent majority.
This irony surely seems lost to those members of the media, who after having exhibited political bias while viewing themselves one step below that of true intellectuals, decided those who have exposed themselves as the unruly masses know better than the American people what policies should be enacted and by whom. The media and chattering political classes hold on to this belief even as they edit and redact the commission of violence from the peoples’ perception when such an agenda serves their ends. When their ends are served by calling attention to violence by the left, they provide legitimacy and momentum to those who victimize their political opposition and threaten democratic rule through rioting and lawlessness while providing the most ridiculous rationalities and apologetics for such behavior. Yet, when the opposition of those who have appointed themselves Social Justice Warriors use force even in self-defense, it is criticized and propagandized to such an ideological level as to turn reason on its head. This is the type of behavior you would expect from the media in a Banana Republic.
After Wikileaks showed that there were hired violent instigators funded by the DNC to bring violence to Trump’s rallies, this fact was deep-sixed by the mainstream media after having made the violence front page news when the onus was being placed on Trump and the meme was that it was Trump’s rhetoric that was engendering violence. This lie became an on-message screed that was adhered to with the single-mindedness of a radical political party’s ideology. Yet, the media sees no corruption in its acts and now shows its ugly head by providing proof that this repetition of lies by the MSM is a form of thought control and a means to manufacture consent for the unaware and gullible. Once again we see the irony of how media is supposed to be a force for relevant facts of importance, but instead we get from them accusations of unflattering remarks about a woman when the news of other nations being laid to waste and nuclear war being imminent get “Bleachbitted” from Americans’ consciousness in the same manner that thousands of emails were Bleachbitted from Hillary’s servers and computers. That Obama promised to be the most transparent president in history while prosecuting the most whistleblowers of any president in the history of the republic shows just how badly this situation drips with hypocrisy and irony, shows the media as incapable of telling the truth, and proves just how biased the media is by relegating important facts to the circular file while taking drivel and making it the primary topic of concern.
After the media having made fools of themselves on election day, we hear less than a week after the election that the transition of administrations is a chaotic disaster as the media accuses Trump of not being transparent because he decided he would not allow media to tag along during his meeting with Obama. Conversely, it remained quiet about Hillary setting up a “homebrewed” email server and then destroying hundreds of thousands of emails to hide her entire tenure as Secretary of State. It failed to mention Obama’s crusade on whistleblowers and complained more about Hillary’s lies being exposed than it did about her rigging the election and cheating Bernie Sanders. Is the media really that blind to these ironies and hypocricies? The media’s opinion-makers like Colbert, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers and other comedians who have no concern for non-college white middle-class America, show disdain for that population’s concerns and aspirations as they bombard us 24/7 with anti-Trump propaganda and exposed themselves as globalists who have no love for those who oppose their CFR agenda or even more simply just want a job and middle class lifestyle. As long as the talking heads are wealthy, the middle class can wither and die and all we will ever get from them is jokes. How is it that someone becomes branded a “white nationalist” for participating in country’s political process to ensure the government provides border security and makes sound economic decisions that protect a nation’s wealth and jobs while providing opportunities to its citizens?
Regarding the alleged hacks that the DNC and Clinton have lied about in an anti-democratic attempt to delegitimize Trump’s election, operatives with definite political agendas working inside various 3-letter agencies have lamely attempted to make out Trump as a Mancherian candidate. As the left and neocon right try to claim foreign influence had spoiled the election, these same people were silent concerning the influence that the Zionist lobby has had on American politics. Israel, through various neocon think tanks populated by hundreds of dual citizenship Israeli-Americans, in conjunction with numerous Christian Zionist groups that receive funding from organizations and individuals who represent Israeli interests, dominate the American political process and media culture in which information is skewed and distorted, hidden and ignored, or magnified and propagandized all based on creating a single narrative from across the entire media and political establishment. All of it is pro-Israeli, pro-Zionist, pro-banking, pro-Wall Street, pro-militarism, pro-welfare, pro-globalism and pro-surveillance.
What needs to be asked by the critical thinker is: How is it the media and political establishment are even taken serously anymore? It has become apparent who the mainstream media works for and what agenda they are supporting. The ironic thing is that it was the DNC lies and violence which ended up discrediting both the media and Clinton as Americans knew all of this was paid theatrics because no 300-pound African-American Trump supporter was going to beat up a 150-pound liberal white guy protesting at a Trump rally. The more the media went after Trump, the more people tuned out. Now the media is frantic in its attempts to discredit the Trump administration though all their reporters are supposed to be unbiased professionals. Even Glenn Greenwald, a hardline progressive, complained about the media dog-piling on Trump and ignoring that a progressive political agenda was sacrified for a corrupt establishment politician. The mainstream media now tries to compensate for its failure at manipulating Americans by spewing yet more anti-Trump propaganda and making up with quantity what it lacked in quality.
The media coverage continues to be a farce as a battle rages between the average American and the forces of propaganda and disinformation. It was at this point that the media coverage ceased being a joke and progressed to becoming an institution caught in irony and finally rendering itself pathetic and irrelevant. I predict that the mainstream media will find it has done irreparable damage to itself and its influence will be soon cut in half with new media outlets growing rapidly. If I were Trump, I would cut much of the MSM’s press credentials and give them to new media outlets that can be trusted to be unbiased or are partisans for Trump. Why let your enemies take false messages to the people? Once again we see the MSM be a victim to irony as it promotes the screed of “Fake News”. The MSM has not only manufactured false news, but also mass-produced it. The CIA brags that it no longer needs to control reporters because it controls editors. It mocks journalists by making the now-famous CIA pronouncement that a good reporter can be had for less then a good call girl. As the MSM relies on CIA operatives and government officials to get its story line, criticism, objectivity and skepticism have all been abandoned. This obsequiousness of the MSM to the establishment has given rise to a vibrant alternative media that has and will, as RT pronounces, “Question Everything”. Now the MSM has to rely on fake websites like PropOrNot to create fake news to hide its bias and to discredit true journalism and alternative media.
With regard to those college-educated progressives and non-college educated liberal thugs and their use of violence paid for by groups controlled by oligarch George Soros to achieve what they believe is social justice, and with regard to whether one can identify the irony in such a situation, Niebuhr wrote, “One must answer that question by insisting that there are elements in current history so obviously ironic that they must be patent to any observer who fulfills the conditions required for the detection of irony.” The thing that makes such a situation especially ironic is the failure of those involved to discern their behavior and the irony it engenders. What scares me is that while I, a well-read individual of average intellect, sees this, the people so refined in the realm of political thought and analysis, with expert presentation skills and polished oratory, find neither the interest, sense of duty or desire for fairness to cover these important issues that have allowed the media to blatantly and obviously cross the Rubicon into the realm of political action. It seems we are in need of getting back to a time when the media was required to provide time for dissenting opinions. But, that was a time when media had no opinion and sought to report both sides of a controversy.
As Obama and Clinton wanted to make us safe by waging more war, protect our rights by creating the NSA spy operations, ensure prosperity by giving Wall Street the right to steal, have police protect our rights by giving them the authority to brutalize and even kill without accountability, protect our liberties by enacting the PATRIOT Act, the NDAA, the DHS and NSA spying, all of which strangle our liberties as the FBI fabricates terrorist plots and allows those who were supposed to protect American secrets the tacit authorization to allow intelligence to be hacked, stolen, hidden and destroyed to obscure the fact that the State Department was handing out uranium to Russian interests, weapons to the Saudis to slaughter tribal civilians, billions of dollars to Israel to slaughter and steal Palestinian land as the US provided weapons and other aid to ISIS and al Nusra, Niebhur wrote, “These ironic contrasts and incongruities, though obvious, are not always observed because the irony cannot be directly experienced. The knowledge of it depends upon an observer who is not so hostile to the victim of irony as to deny the element of virtue which must constitute a part of the ironic situation; nor yet so sympathetic as to discount the weakness, the vanity, and the pretension which constitute another element. Since the participant in an ironic situation cannot, unless he be very self-critical, fulfill this later condition, the knowledge of irony is usually reserved for the observers rather than the participants. If participants in an ironic situation become conscious of the vanities and illusions which makes an ironic situation more than merely comic, they would tend to abate the pretensions and dissolve the irony.” Neibuhr bristled at the fact that many times people are even fully aware of the irony in which they find themselves when in a group, and yet are unable to extricate themselves from such a situation either individually or collectively. Can any better explanation be given regarding Bush’s illegal war in Iraq, Obama’s expansion of the war in Afghanistan, the US’ supporting the Saudis in Yemen, Hillary’s destruction of Libya and Syria, or the MSM bringing up the issue of fake news?
Reinhold Niebuhr went on to write that, “Ironic contrast and incongruity have an element of comic in them insofar as they exhibit absurd juxtapositions of strength and weakness of wisdom through foolishness or foolishness as the fruit of wisdom, of guilt arising from pretensions of innocency or innocency hiding behind extensible guilt. Yet contrasts are ironic only if they are not merely absurd, but also have hidden meaning. They must elicit not merely laughter, but a knowing smile. The hidden meaning is supplied by the fact that the juxtapositions and contrasts are not merely fortuitous. They are related to each other by some foible of the person who is involved in both. The powerful person who is proved to be really weak is involved in an ironic contrast only if his weakness is due to some pretension of strength. If pride cometh before the fall, the fall is ironic only if pride contributed to it.” How ironic it is that the lies Hillary worked so hard to keep from the American people became manifest. But, even if Russia did hack to expose those lies, why is it Americans should not be happy they were told the truth by her lies being exposed? What value is free will if you support the right of others to deceive you? Why would the media argue for her right to be able to deceive you?
We now see that there are many ironies that occur as a result of being a superpower and economic hegemon. We see that in our drive for more power we have become less secure. We see that by seeking economic opportunity we have created toxic derivatives that destroy wealth. We see that by seeking comparative advantage for increased profitability, we have exported American jobs. We see that by attempting to spread democracy we have supported dictators. We see that we have waged unspeakably brutal wars as we claim that by doing so we are promoting peace. We see irony in saying like: Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” Orwell pronounced that, “Those who can be made to believe absurdities can be made to commit atrocities.” Can anyone deny that atrocities now abound?
With regard to the media becoming pathetic, Niebuhr wrote, “If virtue becomes a vice through some hidden defect in the virtue; if strength becomes weakness because of the vanity to which strength may prompt the mighty man or nation; if security is transmuted into insecurity because too much reliance is placed upon it; if wisdom becomes folly because it does not know its own limits -in all such cases the situation is ironic. The ironic situation is distinguished from the pathetic one by the fact that the person involved in it bears some responsibility for it. It is differentiated from tragedy by the fact that the responsibility is related to an unconscious weakness rather than to a conscious resolution. While a pathetic or tragic situation is not dissolved when a person becomes conscious of his involvement in it, an ironic situation must dissolve, if men or nations are made aware of their complicity in it. Such awareness involves some realization of hidden vanity or pretension by which the comedy is turned into irony. This realization either must lead to an abatement of the pretension, which means contrition, or it leads to a desperate accentuation of the vanities to the point where irony turns into pure evil.” Clinton is intelligent enough to know that her pretensions have gone far beyond ironic and engender the type of evil that those who opposed her felt intutively and viscerally. What may be ironic regarding Hillary’s actions leads to a pathetic situation for those in the military she seeks to have fight her wars and those who are subject to the loss of opportunity because we have become our own worst enemy on the world stage.
Niebuhr goes on to write in the next paragraph, “Our modern liberal culture, of which American civilization is such an unalloyed exemplar, is involved in many ironic refutations of its original pretense of virtue, wisdom, and power.” When you consider that all Americans view their nation as a force for good while the rest of the world views the US as a hypocritical, arrogant, violent threat whose self-deception is maintained through a media disinformation campaign directed against the American people, we begin to see the irony that begins to turn to pathetic farce as we then begin to use pretensions that lead to mass violence on an industrial scale and finally to a tragedy in which humanity is stuck. What is plain is that many of the things our government does supposedly in our name would never have been supported by the American people if they knew the truth, nor would our reactions for the unintended consequences that resulted from the false paradigms that were created. People are beginning to realize that lies can only be maintained through increasingly greater amounts of money used for bribery and violence.
While it would be quite impossible to list all the situations in which we have found our military, political, financial, justice, media and national security establishments engaged in comical, farcical, ironic, pathetic and tragic acts with their accompanied consequences, our inability to stop and examine and reset has placed our nation on autopilot as we head towards cataclysm. Future generations will wonder how we could have been so blind. They will be amazed at the missed opportunities to lead humanity towards a better world and will have a case study in how the things we hold on to so greedily end up being ripped from our grasp as we become our own worst enemy and the maker of our undoing. Some of Trump’s work will be very easy as blatant abuses have long begged for redress. And, let’s hope Trump will lend and ear to those who value liberty as he seeks to begin to re-order resources and priorities in a coherent fashion.
Niebuhr has warned that our dreams of managing history, dreams born out of a peculiar combination of arrogance, hypocrisy and self-delusion, pose a large and potentially mortal threat to the United States. This idea can almost be summed up in two words –Middle East. Niebuhr warned that even the most powerful nations can not manage their own destiny, and yet we place on full display arrogance itself as we try to manage the destiny of other nations while ignoring the vast forces of history that are beyond our ability to recognize, much less control, as the desires, hopes, wills, ambitions ideals and beliefs that are operative outside of what we deem for or against our interests make us labor in a vain attempt to stem the tide of history.
They say life is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think. This is because the grand stage of life allows a platform for human endeavor in which to play out in front of a captive audience. Unfortunately, there is no other game in town and we often find ourselves relegated to that role of movie extras or audience members and will remain so until we make ourselves aware of the fact that contradictions, ironies, absurdities, oxymorons and paradoxes are very real things, all made worse when impacted by the frailties of human ego with unforeseen and unintended consequences that involve events we know and can’t change, things we know and consciously won’t change, and things we never see coming.
History has a way of allowing major events to sneak up on you when current events are camouflaged by self-deception. So, let the next act begin and let’s see where the chips fall and what we will next see and learn for good or for ill in the endeavor of human advancement or entropy. As we become self-aware as a nation, it is with great hope that I wish such awareness leads to a national resilience that will guide our leaders through the day-to-day minefield of contemporary politics. For it is in understanding timeless moral truth we find a present clarity that tells us, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9
I hope this brief article has opened your eyes to considerations that are often lost in translation when thoughts become action. I hope that as issues for which we remain completely unaware turn ironic and become as unassuming as water is to a fish that swims in it, we have leaders we can get from outside the fish bowl who will bring change. Think of all the lessons the politcal establish can learn from the recent election. We have learned that progressivism trumps (no pun intented) a corrupt establishment orthodoxy. We have learned that populism and change trumps the status quo. Although I hold little faith that awareness of present events will motivate the mass of humanity to stop working against its interests as existence itself becomes the existential equivalent of the economic principle that explains the “tragedy of the commons” as the elite have their minions battle for and deplete resources, I hope at least every now and then we can get a leader that will force us to undertake self-reflection.
There is much more Reinhold Niebuhr had to say that demands a consideration that ought to result in corrective action, and so I beg you to listen to retired COL Andrew Bacevich’s speech whose impressive credentials ought to be considered when he suggests that there is a critical need for a “Niebuhrian revival” in American foreign policy. His incredible speech, one that I find to be the best and most powerful I have ever heard, has a Youtube link located at the bottom of this article. Andrew Bacevich’s credentials are as follows: American historian specializing in international relations, security studies, American foreign policy, and American diplomatic and military history. He is a Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at the Boston University Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies. He is also a retired career officer in the Armor Branch of the United States Army, retiring with the rank of Colonel. He is a former director of Boston University’s Center for International Relations (from 1998 to 2005), now part of the Pardee School of Global Studies.