I was captivated by another Throughline that aired on January 19, 2023. This episode explores possible Extremist Futures as envisioned by Omar El Akkad in his novel American War.
Omar’s novel is about America’s second Civil War. He imagines 50 years into our future. A time when climate change has turned Florida into an underwater theme park and climate disasters devastate the world. His vision is very similar to mine in my novel Sapience: The Moment Is Now (not yet published).
In American War, the world finally understands that it has to stop burning fossil fuels and bands them–but it’s too little too late. The US is the last to band fossil fuels. All states agree to switch to more sustainable energy except Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. These three states take up arms, deciding they would rather secede than stop burning fossil fuels.
They lose, again, but what follows is a years-long insurgency. This is where his story is mostly centered.
Something Omar says in the beginning of this Throughline needs to be emphasized. He says, “We read to feel into another.”
This is how we come to know and understand each other. A country or a state (I’m thinking of you Florida) that bans books because they might be subversive… God Forbid… they might give children ideas… is a system that seeks to keep its citizens in ignorance.
Break down the word: ig — nor — ance. States and countries that ban books are teaching their people to ignore what they see with their very own eyes.
And, people who are kept in ignorance are a heck of a lot easier to manipulate too!
He also says, “Story is the final act of Resistance!“
The New York Time’s describes his novel: “Omar El Akkad’s “American War” is a disturbingly plausible case in point — a tale of a future America torn asunder by its own political and tribal affiliations.“
This is what caught my attention too.
Throughline plays some from the audio book of American War that includes sound effects. Had I not caught the beginning, I might have thought I was listening to real, on-the-ground reporting.
Omar’s story feels real, very real. It feels like it is already happening.
He grounds his story telling by his real life experiences as a boy in Lebanon where he was a witness to the devastation of war and what happens to people in refugee camps.
Omar says, “A society subjected by warfare is akin to moving backwards in time.”
Think of what Putin is doing to his people and to the beautiful people of Ukraine. Every image coming out of his sick ego trip is likened to images from WWI.
The Academy Award nominated movie All Quiet on the Western Front vividly paints the insanity of rich, powerful men who send other men to die for their personal power and glory. In this movie (and of course the book), Paul Bäumer and his classmates are just cannon fodder for a fatherland that has gone mad.
If you are having a hard time remembering the horror and senselessness of death of WWI, then watch All Quiet to remind yourself that quiet means dead. Watch as these young, gifted boys sign up for service and get pumped up by grumpy, old narcissistic men who stuff them full of overly romanticized, patriotic notions of war and how they are defending the fatherland. It’s on Netflix, so you have no excuse.
Omar describes this souped-up patriotic messaging as euphemistic fraudulence.
Texas University’s McCombs School of Business published an article that was written by Robert Prentice titled: Euphemisms Inflict Collateral Damage on Integrity.
This article begins with the college admission scandal that caught up actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli in acts of fraud to get their children into the best schools.
Robert writes, and this is important:
In an earlier blog post we suggested some reasons, grounded in behavioral ethics, that might help explain why reputable people and loving parents became involved in these frauds. The conformity bias, the self-serving bias, and incrementalism all may have contributed. The evidence disclosed in the indictment offers additional clues.
A euphemism, say’s Webster’s, is “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.”
Famed Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura writes of “moral disengagement,” suggesting that people, such as Loughlin and Giannulli, who think of themselves as good people can do something bad so long as they can selectively suspend morality for their activities. One way people do this is by use of euphemisms. Bandura notes:
“Language shapes the perception of events and the thought patterns on which people base many of their actions. The personal and social acceptability of given activities, therefore, can differ markedly depending on what those activities are called. Euphemistic machinations are used widely to detach and depersonalize doers from harmful activities. Cloaking detrimental activities in euphemisms can be a powerful weapon.”“Working the System” – Euphemisms Inflict Collateral Damage on Integrity
Examples of the “sanitizing and convoluted language” (Gambino) of euphemisms that have helped people make their peace with wrongdoing include the following:
- Dead civilians = “collateral damage”
- Mass firings = “right-sizing”
- Lies = “alternative facts”
- Burning down villages = “pacification”
- Fraud = “creative accounting”
- Genocide = “the final solution”
Empirical studies indicate that “euphemistic labels can psychologically sanitize unethical practices, facilitating our participation in them.” (Moore & Gino).
The World is Either Good or Evil
This is a lie. Every modern human being born today is told this lie.
Omar talks about how this idea is used to twist us into doing all sorts of evil things. It is a notion, an idea, a belief drilled into us since the day we are born until the day we are dead.
It is this very idea that the world can be cleaved into a good side and a bad side that allows us to be manipulated.
I would add it is precisely splitting the world into Good and Bad parts that lets us justify just about any abominable violence we can dream up.
It is also what allows ruthless rulers to turn plain, ordinary, decent human beings into killing machines and monsters.
Ruthless Rulers are already monsters and include men such as Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Ali Khamenei, Kim Jong-um, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Abdullah Aziz Al Saud, Bashar al-Assad, and there are many more (see the list of Current World Dictators).
We live with these monsters right here, right now on our planet. And they are pounding our world straight back to the Stone Age just as fast as they can.
What do you think? Are they winning? The Red countries that is… are there more red countries than yellow or green?
That is exactly what they want you to believe. But, perhaps you are beginning to sense out it is precisely this idea of division that is the problem.
One of Omar’s characters is an empathetic lair. He is the character that goes into the refugee camps and radicalizes the kids there.
Omar says there is no such thing as exotic suffering, but empathetic liars make you believe there is. Empathetic liars parse the fine threads of what we do and what is done to us. Empathetic liars play upon the lack of self-agency in a place like a refugee camp (or one of Putin’s prisons) and use it like a gleaming lure to hook their targets–kids (or Russian prisoners) whom they plan to turn into cannon fodder.
Omar says, “People go to bad place when their self-agency is taken away from them.” And the more damaged a person is, the more their circle of Trust closes in, making them extremely vulnerable to empathetic liars
And that is exactly what autocrats, dictators, and pretty much most of the Republican Party in the United States are doing. Whoever they are…all close ranks around their strong man, hype their followers up on Fraudulent Euphemisms, and close the circle of Trust until only one man can be trusted.
And, there sure are a lot of want-a-bee dictators who desire to be the one and only man the entire human race can trust–Putin, Trump, Xi Jinping, Ali Khamenei, Kim Jong-um, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Abdullah Aziz Al Saud, Bashar al-Assad, or pick your poison.
Yes, Omar is very right to envision the coming of America’s Second Civil War! Heck, we might be staring down the path to WWIII.
I think Empathetic Liars is another name for Dark Empaths. Dark Empathy is not a good thing. Dr. Ramani does a very good job in this video explaining why all of us need to be on the look out for Dark Empaths and Empathetic Lairs.
Reality? What Reality!
Omar talks about when a group of people believe anything they want to believe is real… you’re living in a very dangerous place and time.
Add the element of violent insurrection being a central part of a country’s narrative, and you have a tinderbox waiting to explode.
He admits he’s been amazed how reality has out did his fiction.
He warns, “There is a particular Force that when it emerges within a group of people, it must be stared down directly.”
I would add that when this Force is encountered: You cannot blink. You cannot turn away. And, if you falter, it will destroy you.
I’m writing about such a force too. I was reminded of a prologue I was playing around with to describe my story. I realize it is exactly what Omar is warning us about.
Will we listen? Can we listen anymore?
Feature Archetypal Animation
Image from: American War by Omar El Akkad, book review: Should be read as a cautionary tale | The Independent — This impressive debut imagines a second American Civil War set from 2074 to 2095 and is set apart from other dystopian novels because of the fully realised plausibility of the scenario
Image from: Penguin Random House Audio | “Powerful . . . As haunting a postapocalyptic universe as Cormac McCarthy [created] in The Road, and as devastating a look as the fallout that national events have on an American family as Philip Roth did in The Plot Against America. . . . Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, American War, is an unlikely mash-up of unsparing war reporting and plot elements familiar to readers of the recent young-adult dystopian series The Hunger Games and Divergent.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Image from: Book review: American War by Omar El Akkad | The Times UK
Image from: The American Civil War, a Summary | AAREG
Image from: A Fictional (So Far) History of the Second American Civil War | The New York Times
Music: 1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War Anonymous 4 |  Home, Sweet Home / Polly Put the Kettle On
First Archetypal Animation
Music: Heaven Or Hell | Don Tolive |  Heaven Or Hell