L.B.: Going to the UN

Left Behind, pp. 239-241

Much of Left Behind is difficult to understand without grasping the authors' bizarre understanding of the role, function and jurisdiction of the United Nations.

I've noted earlier that they seem to view the UN as a kind of federation — not so much like an international version of the United States as like a merely international version of the United Federation of Planets. But that's still not quite right. It's still too democratic. It doesn't quite capture the unidirectional lines of authority they imagine emanating downwards from what they think of as the pinnacle of power.

Their actual view of the UN and its relationship to its member states is more like a feudal model in which the many nations are like quasi-independent baronies and fiefdoms, but in which all are subject to the king. "Secretary General," they believe, is just fancy UN-speak for "High King Over All the World."

Thus, right now, in 2007, they truly believe that Ban Ki-moon outranks, and is more powerful — politically, militarily, internationally — than U.S. President George W. Bush.

Let that sink in for a moment. Here's an article on the new Secretary General: "New UN Chief Focusing on Darfur Crisis." Ban Ki-moon seems sincere in hoping for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to that crisis, and he seems intent on using the full power of his office toward that aim. The "full power of his office" constituting, essentially, two things: A) talking to people, and B) getting other people to talk to each other.

It's difficult to reconcile LaHaye & Jenkins' view of a uniquely sovereign United Nations with the actual reality of the UN, but L&J's view is not derived from looking at actual reality. Their view, rather, is retroengineered from what they think they know about the future. In the future, they are certain, there will be One World Government ruled by an all-powerful monarch and structured just like the feudal system described above (or rather, not coincidentally, like the Roman Empire under some of its first-century tyrants).

And since they believe the present is made up entirely of a series of small, inexorable steps toward that preordained future, the UN must be a stalking horse for the Antichrist's future OWG.

Keep that view of the UN in mind and it's easier to understand why Buck Williams, who is supposed to be working on a story about the Event — the as-yet-unexplained disappearance of one-third of the world's people including all of its children — and his editor, Steve Plank, decide to drop everything else they're working on, to set aside all thought of those disappearances and their aftermath, and to pick their way (without comment or notice) through the still wreckage-, carcass- and empty-clothes-strewn streets of New York to attend a speech at the United Nations by the president of Romania.

Steve pulled from his breast pocket two sets of press credentials, permitting the bearers to attend Nicolae Carpathia's speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations that very afternoon. Buck's credentials were in the name of George Oreskovich.

That, you may recall, is the pseudonym Buck is using in his half-hearted effort to convince his would-be assassins that they succeeded. He has contributed to the illusion of his death by telephoning his relatives and strolling around JFK Airport and Central Park with his well-known boss. Oh, and he's wearing a baseball cap — one he apparently got from Clark Kent's optometrist.

Steve and Buck then discuss Nicolae Carpathia for a bit, managing for once to do so without comparing him to a young Robert Redford. "He wants to meet you," Steve says, meaning "You, Cameron Williams," which is a bit of a problem, since Cameron Williams is supposedly dead, replaced by "George Oreskovich," whom Sundance has expressed no interest in meeting.

Buck seems dimly aware that keeping his appointment with this rising global celebrity might be a strong hint that he's not actually dead, but he's a bit too addled by egomania to formulate this objection clearly:

"He reads, doesn't he? He's got to think I'm dead."

"I suppose. But he'll remember me from this morning and I'll be able to assure him it will be just as valuable for him to be interviewed by George Oreskovich as by the legendary Cameron Williams."

"Yeah, but Steve, if he's like the other politicians I know, he's hung up on image, on high-profile journalists. Like it or not, that's what I've become. How are you going to get him to settle for an unknown?"

Buck assumes that everyone, even the newly elected president of a newly childless country half a world away, has read about his death. And then, in the middle of this laughably pompous and self-important ode to his own reputation, he chides politicians for being "hung up on image."

This might have worked as a satire on journalists who are so full of themselves they can't see the story. (You know, the kind of people who get so dizzy with their own "high profile" when granted a presidential nickname that it becomes difficult to distinguish them from the male-prostitute shills planted alongside them.) Yet it doesn't seem like that's what L&J intended from this passage. Once again they have presented a portrait of Clouseau while seeming to think they were painting James Bond.

Steve, who agrees with the assumption that every literate human being on the planet would be fully acquainted with every detail of Buck's supposed death because what else could they possibly have to read or think about one week after the Event, comes up with a plan:

"Maybe I'll tell him it's really you. Then, while you're with him, I'll release the report that your obit was wrong and that right now you're doing a cover-story interview with Carpathia."

No need to worry about Buck's life being in danger if his cover is blown. His proximity to this rising star of the UN puts him under the implicit protection of the High King Over All the World, and with the Court of the Emperor itself guaranteeing Buck's safety, he won't have to worry about a conspiracy of assassins who have merely infiltrated the lower echelons of power. They may control the multinational banks and the British and American governments, but such institutions pale in comparison to the all-encompassing might of the United Nations.

That's so staggeringly odd that you may have missed the other astonishing thing we just learned from Steve Plank: the first post-Event issue of Global Weekly will feature on its cover a picture of the president of Romania.

It's probably a good thing that Buck's previously assigned cover story — his Big Picture look at the Event and its possible causes — is getting bumped. After all, instead of working on that story, he flew to England to investigate the death of his emotionally unstable friend Dirk. Buck hasn't taken the first step towards investigating or gathering evidence about the Event, and from what Steve says here, it looks like Global Weekly as a whole has decided to take a pass on the story. That's kind of a bold editorial decision.

Or maybe Buck's Event story just got reassigned to somebody else at the magazine. After all, it's a weekly, and we first met Buck and Steve a week ago. So even though there's been no mention of it, or any indication of their lives being structured around their weekly publication cycle, maybe we're supposed to assume that, despite their apparent preoccupation with all the things we've been reading about them doing instead, Buck and Steve also managed to crank out another timely issue of GW during the past seven days. Maybe we're even supposed to assume they did what any real newsweekly would do and cranked out a special edition as soon as possible after the Event. Maybe they did that while we were reading about Rayford and Chloe.

Because otherwise — and this is the impression one gets from reading only what's on the page and not making any guesses or assumptions beyond that — they missed a publication deadline last week and whatever issues of their magazine still remain on newsstands would be artifacts of the pre-Event world. If that's the case, I suppose, then the good news is that they will only have to deal with about two-thirds as many angry subscribers and advertisers as they had before the disappearances.

Steve doesn't act like the editor in chief for a weekly magazine that just screwed up that badly, but then again he doesn't act like the editor in chief of a weekly magazine at all. He acts like a star-struck TRL fan who has just been given a backstage pass to meet [insert name of current disposable tween heartthrob here, a detail I'd likely get wrong on my own]:

"I was at the press conference, Buck. I met him. … You're going to find this guy the farthest thing you've ever seen from the typical politician. You're going to thank me for getting you the exclusive interview with him."

As they head to the U.N. building, Steve adds, "this is going to be a refreshing change from the doom and gloom we've been writing and reading for days." So maybe Steve has been writing for days about the Event, even though we know Buck hasn't been?

Editing a weekly magazine is like being an NFL coach during football season. Everything you do and think and say should be structured around Game Day. Steve Plank gives the impression that he isn't sure when or where his next game is, or who he's playing against. Maybe we're supposed to assume that he found his way to the stadium in time for his last game, but I have a hard time believing his team won.

  • hapax

    “Graphic novels” aren’t a genre; they’re a *format.*
    opoponax, what do you mean by genre?

  • hapax

    “women’s studies” isn’t a genre, it’s *subject*; or alternatively, it refers to the gender of the author.
    opoponax, what do you mean by “genre”?

  • Alexela

    Well if you’re talking about nation states as in the “I’m a frenchman” vs. “my local king is X” kind of way, the current orthodoxy traces that concept back to the Peace of WestPhalia in 1648. That makes it a VERY new system, just 3.5 centuries old, much of which has been quite turbulent and seen incredibly rapid change. On the other hand, it’s firmly confounded with increased access to hi tech travel, communications, huge economic changes, etc.
    I think the more important distinction, though, rather than the exact structure of the political system, is whether you are living in a complex, differentiated society, with strong public institutions (banks, schools, taxation agencies), etc. We’ve seen these long enough to know what they feel like to live in… or at least, what they’re like before population / resource demand reaches capacity (or overdepletes that capacity). I wonder if this is like the golden age for hunter gatherers pre-popoulation saturation. I sometimes wonder what people will think of our times when they look back to them. Will they be jealous?

  • hapax

    oops, sorry, that was supposed to be a single post.

  • Blabbermouth Duane

    How about being a cat. Cats don’t get beaten. Or at least it’s got to be pretty rare.
    Yes, but in some places they get eaten. So I’d have to qualify a cat choice with location. Ancient Egypt might work.

  • the opoponax

    hapax — my point wasn’t about genres, just that one can’t construct a model on what literary types exist based on how bookstores shelve books, because each specific store has its own shelving system (for everything, not just prose fiction genres). to make a genre-specific example, small bookstores tend to shelve fantasy along with sci fi, whereas other larger bookstores will have seperate sections for each genre. i’ve seen bookstores here in new york that have specific Chick Lit shelves, whereas i’ve also seen other bookstores which lump it into “fiction”. same goes for mystery. i’ve seen certain bookstores that don’t have genre shelves at all, all prose fiction is shelved together irrespective of genre.

  • Jeff

    if you went to roman-era egypt, people would probably answer “Gaul” or whatever and not “Rome”, unless they happened to be from Latium itself.
    But Gaul wasn’t Rome, it was a client state. If you went to the Belgian Congo, you wouldn’t expect the natives to call themselves “Belgian”. Depending on how you define “nation”, city-states like Athens, Sparta, Carthage* and Phoenix** could fit into your definition.
    * Which must be destroyed!
    ** Do I have to say that this is a joke? Too late; I already did.

  • Bugmaster

    Yes, the H-G society absolutely does not coddle the weak (as the Klingons might say), because in such a society, every member needs to participate in keeping the tribe alive. If you can’t do that, then you’re a drain on resources that actively endangers the tribe, and should be dealt with accordingly. So, in such a tribe, autistic people, nearsighted people, asthmatic people, and especially Stephen Hawking, would not survive.
    From our perspective, this may seem awful, but it may be a worthwhile tradeoff to achieve long-term stability, as the opoponax says. I’m not prepared to make an unequivocal judgement on the subject.

  • cjmr

    And then there are the bookstores that insist on shelving sex manuals from the floor to three feet off the floor on the bookshelf directly adjacent to the children’s books. Don’t get me started on that…

  • Jeff

    there are the bookstores that insist on shelving sex manuals from the floor to three feet off the floor on the bookshelf directly adjacent to the children’s books.
    You’ve never heard of cause and result? :-D

  • New Duane

    Hmm.. maybe THAT is what is causing the children’s section.

  • hapax

    opoponax, I understand that. But you haven’t answered my guestion: what do you mean by genre? I’m seriously asking. I make my living in large part by assigning genre (it’s one of my more boring but time-consuming tasks), and I am in the midst of a series of long blog posts trying to wrap my brain around the term. Saying “I know it when I see it” doesn’t really help, because for every easy case, I can give you a very difficult one.
    To condense several longish essays into one convoluted sentence, I see genre as having less to do with plot or setting or character, and a lot more to do with a set of unstated but powerful reader expectations about mood, tone, style, spirit, which govern the so-called “conventions” of the genre.* And yes, that has everything to do with marketing. Pratchett can be the best writer in the world, with the most wild imagination producing the most outlandish creatures beyond conceit, but in the end, if I slap a “fantasy” label on it, and the readers who picks it up do not have the expectations satisfied that that label generates–EVEN IF THEY LOVE THE BOOK–I’m eventually out of business.
    Now maybe you have a better working definition of “genre” than I do. If so, I sincerely would love to hear it — it would save me tons of work!
    *Think of the TV show “Firefly” — which I loved. It was labelled as a science fiction adventure because of the setting and plots. But lots of sf fans (surely no one here, or if so, I don’t wanna know you) hated it, because it didn’t fulfill the expectations of sf adventures**. (For example, there was no indication that human problems could be solved by the application of intelligence.) Everything about the mood, tone, theme, style, pacing, etc. screamed “Western” — but it wasn’t marketed as a Western at all, so it flopped.
    **The companion movie, Serenity, was however definitely sf adventure, in my judgment.

  • ako

    As mentioned, in historical terms, nation-states are extremely modern, but if you’re talking about complex societies with government (which is what I believe led us into this), Ancient Egypt would be a fair example. So would most empires, which weren’t nation-states but had a complex system of government far closer to that of a modern nation than a hunter-gatherer band. And there’s good evidence for the Harappan civilisation of the Indus Valley developing an ordered social system at least since 2600 BC (with major urban centers, and exceptional public sanitation. There’s identifiable written records of city-states in ancient Sumer as far back as the fourth millenium BC, before being conquered by the Akkadian empire in 2334. And the Code of Hammurabi, which had laws featuring trials, judges and evidence, and was publically displayed so that citizens could follow the law (in theory; it doen’s account for illiteracy), is something like four millenia old. As you mentioned, there’s China. Classical Mayan civilization, which was primarily small kindgoms with serious urban development dates back to 250 BC. And the First Dyansty of Egyptian Pharaohs, which combined two separate kingdoms started in 3050 BC.
    So if you’re looking at things like urban centers, people with more connection to the governing state than a tribe or clan, formalized laws, division of labor, trials, judges, and treatys with other governing entities, it’s closer to four millenia than one.
    But nation-states specifically have considerably less than a millenium of history.

  • Hopea

    The difference between modern states and ancient ones has more to do with the dominant secular religion of the last 200 years; Nationalism than with the details of their political organization.¨
    Nationalism, which is a totally different thing than from say Roman patriotism, is the real difference.

  • wintermute

    To go back a while, I think I need someone to clear something up for me…
    Starting from: Any way, you are barking up the wrong tree if you think being a sheepdog was always such a picnic, what with smelly sheep, brutal owners and wolves to deal with.
    Duane commented that these were all acceptable to dogs, and I said that I didn’t think dogs were generally too happy with being beaten. And then a couple of people pointed out that even brutal dog-owners are apparently kind to their dogs.
    > Yeah, because BRUTAL OWNERS automatically means BEATEN DOGS.
    > Smart owners, no matter how brutal, won’t beat a working dog.
    Clearly I misunderstood the point, here.
    What does it mean for a dog to have a “brutal owner” (especially in the given context of this being a stated Bad Thing for the dog), if not that said owner “brutalises” said dog?
    Why bring up an owner who is in some nebulous way “brutal” but does not treat you poorly?

  • Hopea

    Duane was being sheepish because he did not want to admit that his choice to play a sheepdog sucked big time. He’d be much beetter of being one of the cool cats. Beats being a dog anytime.
    Whether the other commenters seriusly want to argue that working dogs are never beaten, I don’t know. Sounds like pretty hard case to make. I’d be willing to concede that working dogs probably get beaten less than other dogs.

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  • Ken

    Bugmaster: Are you serious? An accredited educational institution is teaching “Clan of Cave Bear” as anything other than a case study of tropes to avoid? It barely qualifies as fanfiction. It’s basically the Mary Sue Adventures of Dr. Quinn, Cavewoman: filmed for Showtime late-night soft-core.
    Rant on, Raka!
    When somebody says Clan of the Cave Bear, the first image in my mind is that Neanderthal sign language from the movie. (Clap hands once over your head, then clasp them in a wrestler’s grip before your chest and pull…)

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  • Skyknight

    (Granted, this thread could make the Burgess Shale Bed denizens look young in comparison, but…)
    Regarding the commentary on Probability Broach…I had the misfortune to run into some of Smith’s essays. To get an idea of his temperament, think Scott, except with lifelong atheism and a worrisome fondness for Rand, Mencken, and (I think) Nietzche (ressentiment–what anarcho-libertarians think is the REAL Original Sin of humanity?). Anyway, some things I picked up from him…
    –He regards the essential nature of the cosmos as one of unrelenting horror (the “horror”, at least, is the word he actually uses). “Good” only comes from ceaseless human effort…at least, the kind of effort that libertarianism would look well upon. In other words, his cosmogony can be summed up as apathetic malignity–the same sort of thing Lovecraft used as his pantheon’s substrate.
    –He regards the right/obligation (I forget the extent of this) to bear arms as the fount of all other rights. He even suggested that people should have been able to challenge political officials to “satisfaction”. I don’t think he had battle-to-first-blood in mind (try doing that with firearms). The idea was that officials would be in such dread of their lives that they wouldn’t dare encroach on others’ liberty (which makes me wonder what would happen in case of accidental encroachment…). This may explain, by the way, why that single information net could be relied on in Broach. The ones in charge were unwilling to court “satisfaction”, near or far, by accepting bribes. It’s as though he thinks this sort of dread, however sublimated, is necessary to life…
    –As far as he’s concerned, humanity needs to exult (I don’t think this is the word he used, but it’s the best I can think of…) in its predaceous nature (I’ve heard tell that he described his Pallas as a place where “man can be true to his nature as a predator”). He went so far as to say that his “Eastern” readers who recoiled from that might need to immerse themselves in a fresh kill of something half their height, breathing in the fumes of the viscerae (yes, the phrase he used IS something along those lines). {sigh} (1) We are treading perilously close to a case of testosterone poisoning/yang overreach with that, and (2) humans apparently didn’t evolve as predators in the first place, but as scavengers. Is this something to do with the Nietzchean nervousness about ressentiment? (I know he has a low opinion not just of vegetarianism, but also pacifism…I think he’s even gone so far as to say that discord is NECESSARY to true civilization! I know he wasn’t thinking of outright armed conflict, but…)
    ({sigh} I’m already thinking that his idea of paradise might be Ferenginar once the local misogyny has been dispelled…)
    I’ll own that I’d at least like to see assault weapons banned outright–to the military as well as the civilians, in any case. If your intent is to stop assault and battery, you’re not likely to get anywhere if gun laws are your main method. As Shakespeare had an assault-determined follower of the Duke of Gloucester put it in Henry VI 1, “If we be denied stones, we’ll fall to it with our teeth.” Good luck banning teeth. Still, to accuse all politician foes of guns as beasts of malice is overdoing it…


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