by Richard Macintosh

July 7, 2003


"We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are."
--Anaïs Nin

Some time back, I began an essay called "On Lies." The idea was to discuss lies, much the same as Mark Twain did, covering my own experiences as a child and working forward to societal lies and perceptions at an older age. I underestimated the difficulties I would face. I attempted to attack and poke fun using the societal framework of the time. I had not yet realized that the "rules" (so called) had changed and that my approach required a sense of morality that had been buried by the social revolutions following World War II.

American anthropologist Margaret Mead once noted that persons born before World War II were refugees in time.

That's me.

So as I pursued lies, whether with humor or rage, I ran into the twin problems of perception and/or reception. In short, the person I was trying to communicate with may not have the background required to receive my message. Was I going to be able to communicate with all sorts of people, or just with guys like me?

To illustrate the problem, allow me to digress a bit. A few years ago, twenty-six to be accurate, I ran across an old volume of T. E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" in a San Francisco used book store. Naturally, I had to have it. In reading Lawrence, I was struck by his style and depth. This Victorian Englishman stretched my understanding. I was having a problem with perception and I knew that I was not receiving his entire message. I thought of myself as an educated man, and this revelation was a shock -- a warning.

In Chapter III, Lawrence discusses the religious concepts of the Bedouin, perhaps the last pure Semites on Earth. To make a point about their perception of God, he used Greek. Greek! What American knows Greek? But allow me to quote Lawrence:

"God was to him not anthropomorphic, not tangible, not moral nor ethical, not concerned with the world or with him, not natural: but the being αχρωματοσ, ασχηματιςτοσ, αναφησ, thus qualified not by divestiture but by investiture, a comprehending Being, the egg of all activity, with nature and matter just a glass reflecting Him." (1)

Could Lawrence have crafted this description using Standard English? No. No, because the classic Greek was less apt to be altered by time and was therefore, more precise. An educated Victorian Englishman, Lawrence could read and write in both Greek and Latin. In describing Semitic religiosity, he merely went to the language that would best present his meaning. Of course, he was writing for people like himself, those with a Victorian (classical) education and not the hoi polloi. Needless to say, most Americans would be left in the dust. (One can almost hear H. L. Mencken laughing from the grave.)

So now what?

How should a thoughtful person proceed in the attempt to create a medium for understanding? First, as Gandhi pointed out, by realizing and accepting one's own limitations as well as those of others. Strangely enough, the limitations may be positive as well as negative. A positive limitation is one where an individual may exceed the perception level of his or her audience. A negative one would be the opposite. In the former case, it is incumbent upon a thoughtful person to adjust. If this adjustment is not made, little meaningful will occur.

In establishing "the rules" of discourse, look to directional ideals. A directional ideal is one that sets a preference or a direction for an individual, or a collective. These "givens" set boundaries and limit discourse. Transcending a directional ideal requires much time and preparation, as in collective bargaining for a union contract. The task is for both parties to be able (and willing) to communicate on the same plane. If the levels are too different (or disparate) attempts at communication are futile.

This is the sort of problem that peace activists face in trying to communicate with those who favor war. The "givens" of each side are so different that civil discourse is impossible. Both sides are "patriots," or "traitors," depending on the directional ideals of each group. This difference becomes most stark in instances where violence occurs. The police attack on a non-violent anti-war protest at an Oakland, California harbor facility is a case in point. (2)

So what to do?

The key to political change is in getting to the minds of those who disagree with you. This is why governments tend to be secretive and limit information. They want the minds of the "people," (so-called) to be in a foggy state: witness the "embedded" journalists during the campaign against the Taliban, the second Iraq War and the continued obstruction of information by the Bush II administration. Knowledge and Information are enemies of power and the powerful know it. This is also why revolutionary movements seek to gain knowledge and expand information.

Knowledge is the enemy of the status quo.

Mohandas Gandhi, the "Mahatma," mastered the technique of changing how an adversary culture sees itself -- deconstruction, if you will. He did this through consistent purpose, honesty and non-violence. Essentially, he placed the British ideals beside British Imperial actions and held them up for comparison.

Again, it was a matter of comparing "words and actions." The British words were at variance with their actions; thus they were untrue to their own directional ideals. No society that pretends to be "free" can sustain such a lie once it is out in the open. Gandhi understood this.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II, was aghast that Gandhi expected the British to simply pack up and leave India after the war. On November 10, 1942, Churchill made his famous statement on maintaining the British Empire.

"I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire." (3) In addition, Churchill vowed to "crush the naked fakir."

Gandhi replied:

"You are reported to have the desire to crush the "naked fakir," as you are said to have described me. I have been long trying to be a fakir and that, naked -- a more difficult task. I therefore regard the expression as a compliment, though unintended. I approach you then as such, and ask you to trust and use me for the sake of your people and mine and through them those of the world. Your sincere friend. . ." (4)

Gandhi knew something that Churchill did not. He understood the power of ideas, not only for his own people, but for the British as well. The British, so successful in building their Empire, best understood force and the power of guns. Because they were unwilling (or unable) to think on a different plane, the British were at a distinct disadvantage. Britain was a "known" adversary; an Empire limited to predictable moves. Furthermore, the more success is gained with a certain policy, the more it is repeated.

The powerful, mired in hubris, are unable to see danger to themselves from their own policies. The danger is always from "others," whether the danger is an internal "fifth column," or an actual foreign enemy. The Bush II administration is an excellent example of this sort of mind set. Rather than ask if our own foreign policies might have something to do with the negative state of the world, all blame is heaped on the others -- led by the bogey man du jour.

The powerful also fail to adjust if an adversary is seen as "backward." (The term "Third-World" comes to mind.) Because "backward" peoples do not do things the way "First World" peoples do, they are discounted and disrespected. But the powerful are in danger precisely because of a blindness that in turn facilitates a further unwillingness to adapt. It is a problem as old as the world. It can be seen in politics, war, business, sports competition of all kinds, legal battles and even love relationships. (Perhaps especially in love relationships.)

So what does this have to do with us?


Those who seek to build a more just and peaceful world must be willing to communicate on different planes, while remaining true to the original purpose, and never be caught in a one-dimensional, lateral-thinking stance.

The first step is to evaluate how the domestic oppositions see themselves and then show them how their actions, and that of their leaders, are in conflict with their own values.

That is the task. Yes, there will be trouble because people dislike being taken out of their comfort zones. Hold the moral ground and stand fast before threats and epithets.

Lift the American directional ideals high for all to see. They are glorious ideals. Then, let Americans see what their government officials have done in their name. No people who pretend to be free can withstand conflict with their own values.

Does that mean that someday in the future the American government will just stand down from its outposts of Empire and bring its legions home?


Empires are anti-democratic and exist by force and intimidation. They are, therefore, ultimately untenable in a world where the idea of self-determination of peoples has taken root. The unraveling of the American Empire may take a long time, or it may occur in an instant. That is not for us to know.

Take courage from the admonition of Hunter Gray:

"We cannot run away from the Winds of Challenge and change. We have to take History and ride with it. Always ahead, always toward the Sun. And always aware that Democracy is natural and given half a chance, it will always flourish. We have a big fish to fry and we're going to have to do it in an American skillet -- over a long burning fire from the timber of our own forests." (5)

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References and Resources

1.  Lawrence, T. E., Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., New York, 1935, p. 40.

(achromatos, aschematistos, anaphes: colorless, without form, impalpable.)  (back)

2.  Fleming, Scott, "Getting shot on the docks," CounterPunch, May 3, 2003.  (back)

3.  Fischer, Louis, "Quit India," The Essential Gandhi, Vintage Books, New York, 1962, p. 344.  (back)

4.  Ibid. p. 344.  (back)

5.  Gray, Hunter (Hunterbear). Website: The Lair of Hunterbear, 2003.  (back)

Iraq on Swans


Richard Macintosh was a Public High School Teacher in California (1956-1989). Ed.D, Educational Leadership, BYU, 1996. MA, Liberal Studies, Wesleyan University, 1982. BA, history, Stanford University, 1956... Macintosh is currently a part-time consultant on Personnel/Team matters in Washington State.

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Published July 7, 2003
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