The Methods of a Mad Nation
David Samuels’ insightful commentary addressing a day at the United Nations — the day President Obama and Ahmadinejad of Iran spoke — is definitely worth a read:
This odd fusion of religious dogma with the rhetoric of the Frankfurt School is characteristic of Ahmadinejad’s speeches to Western audiences. The historical dialectic as he understands it is shaped by “the widespread clash of the egoist with the divine values” that are, apparently, incarnate in himself. His goal here is to undermine the legitimacy of the global institutions that falsely “promise to bring about peace, security, and the realization of human rights” – promises that he spits at daily in the name of God, truth, justice, fairness, national self-determination, the people of Palestine and Iraq, and whatever else comes to mind.
The point of his polymorphous approach is not to present a coherent argument for his faith or foreign policy but rather to fracture the legitimacy of whatever language might be used to oppose Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. He deploys a counterlanguage that aims to cancel out the claims that might be posed by the more familiar language of morality and human rights.
Of course the main purpose of Ahmadinejad’s discourse is to inspire fear. His counterlanguage is simply a tool to heighten the disorientation that the listener feels in the presence of a maniac.
Most folks, upon a little reflection, will be able to bring up an instance from life experience of sudden revelation that somebody with whom one has come into contact is simply not playing by the same rules of communication. The person’s use of language is not to communicate an idea, but to manipulate. There’s a spectrum, here; the best salesperson, after all, will believe in the product, and the best liar will believe in the lie. If there’s manipulation, in those cases, it’s first and foremost of the self.
Those with wholly indefensible intentions fundamentally cannot allow language to beget clarity. Rather, they must establish that they are operating by different principles and rely on relativism to prevent their opposition from asserting conflicting beliefs nonetheless.
We cannot win a logical argument with the likes of Iran’s leaders, because they will not acknowledge a common intellectual language. For the same reason, we cannot really negotiate with them without the plausible and proximate backing of action beyond language, whether economic or military.