L.B.: Willful stupidity

L.B.: Willful stupidity February 26, 2008

Left Behind, pp. 412-414 (a few days late)

Imagine trying to convince yourself that curling and cricket were more popular in the U.S. than baseball and (American) football.

It wouldn’t be easy. You’d have to ignore massive evidence to the contrary while also overlooking the lack of any supporting evidence. Every time you walked down the street, you’d have to come up with some explanation or evasion for all those people you saw in baseball caps and football jerseys as well as for all the people you didn’t see in licensed apparel for cricket and curling teams. You could never watch Sports Center on ESPN. You could never pick up a newspaper or even walk near a newsstand. But your best efforts to shield yourself from all of that evidence could never be 100-percent effective (or 100-percent unconscious), so you’d also have to concoct increasingly elaborate conspiracy theories about why so many people pretended to follow football and baseball while millions of others apparently disguised their passion for curling and cricket.

That would be a lot of work. It would be difficult to do that much work without it being at least somewhat deliberate. This is the problem with any extensive self-deception — part of your self is necessarily engaged in the act of deceiving and is therefore aware of and immune to it.

This same kind of deliberate evasion and willing self-deception is what it must take for Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins to be able to persuade themselves of all the strange things they claim to believe about the United Nations.

To summarize what we’ve previously seen, the authors of Left Behind apparently claim to believe that the U.N. is a kind of global federation, something along the lines of the Federation of Planets in Star Trek. Every member nation is thus subject and subordinate to this higher, larger, more authoritative global body. Ruling over all is the secretary-general — the king of kings and lord of lords who wields more power and influence than any mere head of state. The secretary-general is thus the precursor to the coming Antichrist and the U.N. is a precursor to his One World Government. (As with much of premillennial dispensationalism, this is an explicit perversion of mainstream eschatology and the “now and not yet” doctrine of the kingdom of God.)

The authors’ disproportionate sense of the U.N.’s importance and their utter ignorance of its actual role and function cannot be easy to maintain. How do you convince yourself that a topic is of unrivaled significance while simultaneously preventing yourself from learning anything about it? To maintain their beliefs about the U.N., the authors need to avoid all newspapers, magazines and television. Failing that, they also have to devise theories that would make pretty much everyone who isn’t them complicit in a conspiracy of silence masking the supposed “true” nature of the supra-national global authority.

But no matter how intricate or comprehensive such theories are, the authors can never rest. Unreality cannot withstand the ever-present and unavoidable contact with actual reality, so the lie must always be reinforced and reconstructed. It must be exhausting. Consider what happens when Tim LaHaye stumbles across a magazine profile of the current secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon. If he really believes that this man is supreme ruler of the world and not merely a toothless diplomatic figurehead, then it would be irresponsible not to read the article and thereby learn as much as possible about the supposedly Most Powerful Man on Earth. But some part of LaHaye will also realize that such an encounter with reality would be fatal to the beliefs he is struggling to maintain. He knows — knows — that he cannot allow himself to read that article if he wants to continue believing the things he wants to continue believing. In other words, he knows — or at least some part of him knows — that the things he wants to continue believing are not true.

Whether we call it denial or compartmentalization or cognitive dissonance or willful stupidity, this deliberate self-deception plays a huge role in the authors’ view not just of the United Nations, but of the entire world. Left Behind is marked throughout with touches of the overly aggressive sincerity that masks not just unacknowledged doubt, but the unacknowledged knowledge that what they are saying can’t be true. This not-quite-successful embrace of contradictions is, for instance, what allows the authors to assert that they are certain the world will come to an end very soon while simultaneously investing their profits in long-term investments and estate planning.

That’s a rather long and winding introduction to the passage we’re about to examine from LB, but it seemed necessary due to the astonishingly strange and impossible things this passage simply assumes to be true about the United Nations, journalists, pacifists and the entire world.

Nicolae Carpathia is about to announce that he’s taking over the world. Buck Wiliams knew this announcement would be happening this very afternoon, but in his new capacity as executive editor of a national newsmagazine he decided that instead of witnessing the event firsthand in Manhattan, he would spend the day hanging out with the staff of his regional Midwest office. But then Buck already knows all about Carpathia’s plans and the machinations that allowed him to come to power. In exchange for that inside scoop, he has already promised both Carpathia and Steve Plank that Global Weekly won’t report any of it.

Buck camped out in Lucinda Washington’s old office, interviewing key people at 20-minute intervals. He also told each about his writing assignment and asked their personal theories of what had happened. …

More than a week ago (despite its name, GW seems to have the leisurely lead time of a quarterly) Buck was assigned to report on the biggest event in the history of the world. His research so far has consisted of the unsolicited opinions of a doctor in an airport lounge and interviews with two pilots (one chartered, one commercial). Now he is conducting man-on-the-street interviews with his own staff. Buck’s idea of reporting doesn’t involve shoe-leather or even working the phone. He’s working the office intercom. This makes New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s research method — serendipitous interviews with implausibly quotable cab-drivers — seem thorough by comparison.

“Near the end of the day,” CNN cuts away from Dan Bennett’s 24/7 coverage of Chantapalooza at the Western Wall to announce Carpathia’s election as Supreme World Leader. Lucinda apparently didn’t spring for cable in her newsroom, so Buck invites the staff into her office to watch the report:

“Romanian president Nicolae Carpathia was catapulted into reluctant leadership of the United Nations by a nearly unanimous vote. Carpathia, who insisted on sweeping changes in direction and jurisdiction of the United Nations, in what appeared an effort to gracefully decline the position, became secretary-general here just moments ago.”

The apparent “effort to gracefully decline the position” is, of course, a charade. We learned about this earlier when Plank briefed his former colleagues on Carpathia’s strategic pose as the humble, reluctant leader. This is a crude attempt to describe a real phenomenon — such a pose of reluctance is a common tactic employed by some of the least humble, most ambitious political power-seekers. That tactic is rarely as successful in real life as it is here. The authors portray every other diplomat on earth as gullible rubes wholly taken in by Carpathia’s clumsy theatrics. Just how gullible becomes clearer when you consider the full extent of those “sweeping changes … in jurisdiction” that Nicolae made a condition of his “reluctant” acceptance of global sovereignty.

The nameless CNN reporter cuts to an interview with departing secretary-general T’Challa of Wakanda Mwangati Ngumo of Botswana, who seems to indicate that he has remained the leader of that nation throughout his tenure at the U.N.:

“I have long been aware that divided loyalties between my country and the United Nations have made me less effective in each role. I had to choose, and I am first and foremost a Motswana. …”

Carpathia, likewise, will apparently retain his role as president of Romania while serving as secretary-general. The authors don’t see this as noteworthy. They seem to assume that this is standard procedure. One wonders if they believed that Boutros Boutros-Ghali — secretary-general when this volume was written in 1995 — was also the Egyptian president (or, as they probably think of that post, “pharaoh”).

Then, almost as an afterthought, the CNN reporter turns to Carpathia’s oddball list of demands/reforms:

“In only a matter of hours, every request Carpathia had outlined in an early morning press conference was moved as official business, voted upon, and ratified by the body. Within a year the United Nations headquarters will move to New Babylon. The makeup of the Security Council will change to 10 permanent members within the month, and a press conference is expected Monday morning in which Carpathia will introduce several of his personal choices for delegates to that body.”

Where to start? The relocation plan is dazzlingly arbitrary. It would’ve been less strange if Carpathia had instead insisted that the U.N. headquarters be repainted mint green and mauve. (“Well, I’d do the Reichstag bathroom in purples and gold …”)Try to imagine some candidate for president of the United States expressing that he would condescend to grudgingly accept the office, but only on the condition that the capital be relocated from the District of Columbia to the Badlands of South Dakota. The idea is so bizarre that it would be impossible to know how to respond, but surely part of that response would be to ask, “Why there?” No one in LB asks this. The diplomats of the U.N. just cheerfully start packing boxes, apparently eager to leave Manhattan for the exciting environs of an archaeological site in the deserts of Iraq.

Buck and his fellow “journalists” at GW aren’t the least bit curious about the hows or whys of this move. Buck already has some idea that Carpathia’s sponsors have a financial interest in New Babylon and that this is, in part, a corrupt and blatant real estate development scheme — but he has, of course, already promised not to report on any of that. His colleagues simply seem to have accepted their role as extras in an End Times novel and thus are comfortable with the authors’ notion that the Fulfillment of Prophecy doesn’t have to make sense.

The reconstitution of the Security Council would seem like an even bigger deal except that, as we’re about to see, Carpathia’s remaining condition renders the existence and function of that council irrelevant. As outlandish as both of those “sweeping changes” are, the least plausible part of this passage might actually be the idea that the United Nations was able to act on this entire agenda in a single morning. Arbitrary relocations and global surrender are one thing, but efficiency and unanimity? From the U.N.?

After all of this, the CNN reporter finally gets to his buried lede: The assembled diplomats at the U.N. have, without consultation with their respective governments, begun discussing their unconditional surrender and the elevation of Carpathia to global Caesar:

“There is no guarantee, of course, that even member nations will unanimously go along with the move to destroy 90 percent of their military strength and turn over the remaining 10 percent to the U.N. But several ambassadors expressed their confidence ‘in equipping and arming an international peacekeeping body with a thoroughgoing pacifist and committed disarmament activist as its head.'”

The alleged pacifist demands a global monopoly on the use of force — what’s not to trust?

These two sentences may be among the stupidest ever written in the English language. The authors here misuse and misunderstand so many words and concepts — “pacifist,” “nations,” “member nations,” “the U.N.,” “ambassadors,” “international,” “peacekeeping body” — that I’m not even sure this counts as the English language.

We’ll unpack this astonishingly awful passage at greater length on Friday when we turn to Buck’s colleague’s response to Carpathia’s announcement. That response illustrates an even more dismaying aspect of L&J’s deliberate, willful stupidity: Not only have they chosen to pretend to believe many ridiculous and impossible ideas about the United Nations, but they cite these beliefs as support for an even more ridiculous and impossible set of ideas that they have chosen to pretend to believe about the pernicious liberals who don’t share their animosity to this imaginary U.N.

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