OT: Rhetoric and Reality

The LATimes has an edited version of a commencement speech that is given in full in Salon and at TomDispatch: Words in a time of warpdf

Here is my favorite quotation about the Bush administration, a description of a conversation with the proverbial “unnamed administration official” by the fine journalist Ron Suskind in October 2004:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’ ”

I must admit to you that I love that quotation. The unnamed official, widely believed to be Karl Rove, sketches out with breathtaking frankness a radical view in which power frankly determines reality, and in which rhetoric — the science of flounces and folderols — follows meekly and subserviently in its train. Those in the “reality-based community” are figures a mite pathetic, for we have failed to realize the singular new principle of the new age: Power has made reality its bitch.

[…] We were asked what we were looking for; ‘upper half’ replied my companion, for I was rendered speechless. ‘Over there.’ We looked for our boy’s broken body between tens of other boys’ remains; with our bare hands sifting them and turning them.

“Millennia later, we found him, took both parts home, and began the mourning ceremony.”

These words come from those who find themselves as far as they can possibly be from the idea that, when they act, they “create their own reality.” The voice comes not from “history’s actors” but its objects — and we must ponder who exactly its subjects are.

Graduates, you have chosen a path that will let you look beyond the rhetoric that you have studied and into the heart of reality. Of all people, you have chosen to learn how to see the gaps and the loose stitches and the remnant threads. Ours is a grim age, this Age of Rhetoric, still infused with the remnant perfume of imperial dreams. You have made your study in a propitious time, and that bold choice may bring you pain, for you have devoted yourselves to seeing what it is that stands before you. If clear sight were not so painful, many more would elect to have it.

Related: An Egghead for the Oval Officepdf (responding, I think to Is It Wise to Be So Smart?pdf)