Suppose that you are an astronaut whose spaceship gets out of control and crashes on an unknown planet. When you regain consciousness and find that you are not hurt badly, the first three questions in or mind would be: Where am I? How can I discover it? What should I do?
You see unfamiliar vegetation outside, and there is air to breathe; the sunlight seems paler than you remember it and colder. You turn to look at the sky, but stop. You are struck by a sudden feeling: it you don't look, you won't have to know that you are, perhaps, too far from the earth and no return is possible; so long as you don't know it, you are free to believe what you wish--and you experience a foggy, pleasant, but somehow guilty, kind of hope.
You turn to your instruments: they may be damaged, you don't know how seriously. But you stop, struck by a sudden fear: how can you trust these instruments? How can you be sure that they won't mislead you? How can you know whether they will work in a different world? You turn away from the instruments.
Now you begin to wonder why you have no desire to do anything. It seems so much safer just to wait for something to turn up somehow; it is better, you tell yourself, not to rock the spaceship. Far in the distance, you see some sort of living creatures approaching; you don't know whether they are human, but they walk on two feet. They, you decide, will tell you what to do.
You are never heard from again.
This was offered for consideration to cadets in 1974 as the opening of a Commencement speech delivered by Ayn Rand to the Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point. It has since come to be titled, Philosophy: Who needs It?
Last week, the media was busy chewing on the notion that it's ideological bias was affecting the accuracy and honesty of its reporting on the situation in Iraq. In a post entitled, "Toothpaste on a Cavity... ", I made note of recent, seperate on-air exchanges involving Conservative commentators Laura Ingraham and Hugh Hewitt where each highlighted and exposed the biased nature of reporting that was both fueling the insurgency and misrepresenting the value of coalition efforts weighed against the continued violence. As discussed, facing increased public frustration with their coverage, the Mainstream Media was clearly attempting to fortify their positions and defend their seeming lust for failure; to little avail. One of the MSM's more agressive defenders at the time, facing off two nights in a row on CNN against Hugh Hewitt , was Time Magazine's Bagdhad Bureau Chief, Michael Ware. He argued, in no uncertain terms, that the situation in Iraq looks negative throught the MSM lens of coverage because the situation there is nothing less than a catastrophe inflicted on the world by the Bush Administration. To Ware, this is not bias, but fact conveyed by he and Time Magazine.
This week, Hugh Hewitt extended Mr. Ware a gracious invitation to continue the discussion on his radio program. Given much more time for a direct exchange, the conversation was far more enlightening regarding his position, and his reporting. Radioblogger has posted the audio and transcripts for extended review. For the purpose of this discussion, and given the Rand offering at the beginning of this post, my interest in Mr. Ware's contributions are limited to his approach to her three fundamental questions with regard to Iraq.
Where am I?
In the Iraq theater amidst violent conflict, Ware travels between dueling entities and submits his experiences as information. Is he in a war? Is he in a civil war? Is he in a righteous war? Righteous for whom? What is the fighting about? Is he on a side? If so, whose? If not, why not? Does he have an interest in victory? For whom?
These questions and many others like them, must be addressed by Ware at some level in order for him to lend any degree of comprehension as to the conditions in which he has placed himself. Thus he may be a credible purveyor of that information. And yet, as he expresses himself publicly, he provides no discernable clue to having performed any aspect of this fundamental analysis to determine where he is both in space and in time, contextually speaking. Admittedly, he is not interested in that information, or any information that might help answer the question. If he is in a war for instance, how does it compare with other wars?... like World War II perhaps. On this he evades,
"Well, I don't know. I wasn't around in World War II, so I'm not sure I'm really in a position to determine. All I can talk to about are the circumstances that have presented themselves to me, and the wars I've found myself in. "And yet, knowledge on that and other Wars is quite well documented, and able to be learned in order for him to comprehend exactly where he is. Given the possibility that this may not be like any war he has ever experienced, information on other wars might be of value. But, like the wayward astronaut, "so long as you don't know it, you are free to believe what you wish--and you experience a foggy, pleasant, but somehow guilty, kind of hope."
In Ware's case, its a guilt-free type of ignorance he employs, from which he conjures myth peddled as fact for the currency of glory, mortgaged on the blood of others.
How do I know it?
Even as he conveys a sense of understanding of the conditions on which he reports, Ware provides no means by which to qualify his assessments of the situation at hand. Arbitrary observations are rendered as abstract evaluations, with no objective standard provided by which to measure value. Knowledge is abandoned to whim, when historic facts could easily provide an instrument for conceptualization. When challenged otherwise, again Ware slips behind the veil of protective uncertainty,
"All I can tell you that life here right now is extraordinarily difficult, and there's a lot of killing going on, and there's a lot of deprivation going on, and to be able to compare that to something I never saw is a bit difficult for me...Cognitive input becomes his primary basis for action, and emotion the tool of his measure. As with the astronaut, concepts are feared, by Ware. Afterall... "How can you be sure that they won't mislead you? How can you know whether they will work in a different world?"
... All I can tell you about is what I see, and what I experience. "
And what if they negate his preferred reality?... or compromise his protective veil?
What should I do?
Sharing no allegiance with any party to the conflict, Mr. Ware presents a valueless picture of human aggression. Its one in which players struggle meaninglessly for supremacy against one another for objectives that have no significance and principles that are arbitrary. Seemingly uneffected by consequence, Ware can roam freely among the creatures of the engagement sketching abstract images of their immediate condition trusting that regardless of the outcome of this particular situation, he will remain uneffected.
And like the Astronaut, he is never heard from again.
Michael Ware himself is not the problem. He is merely symptomatic of the affliction that infects the reporting of conditions in Iraq. One would be absurd to believe that intelligent professionals like Michael Ware, or any of the other media voices engaged in reporting on the ongoing battle for Iraq are operating in a conceptual vaccuum... or that, as Ware tries to claim, they have no stake in the political process whatsoever. Whether they know it or not, believe it or not, they all have a stake in the outcome... Ware included.
Further in her 1974 address, Rand reminds us that Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence,
"You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational conviction--or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.
As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation--or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified whishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown. "In some cases, many like Ware have simply chosen most unwisely, offerings from the junk heap, the consequences of which might ensure catastrophe. For in their abandon they imagine the subjective nature of virtue and depravity equally defining the creatures of the struggle... damning the benevolent, while embracing the monster that means to devour them as well. Absent is the reasoning to attain the truth that Michael Ware may never posess,
"The army of a free country has a great responsibility: the right to use force, but not as an instrument of compulsion and brute conquest--as the armies of other countries have done in their histories--only as an instrument of a free nation's self-defense, which means: the defense of a man's individual rights. The principle of using force only in retaliation against those who initiate its use, is the principle of subordinating might to right. The highest integrity and sense of honor are required for such a task. No other army in the world has achieved it..."Save one.
Philosophy.... Who needs It? Apparently Mr. Ware and many of his MSM media colleagues do... in order to continue to live on Earth.