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Dianoetic Laughter


By Charles Snyder

“… laughter, a humorous excitement that permits man to prove his essential freedom through a kind of serene superiority to his own failures.”

— Hannah Arendt, “Franz Kafka: A Revaluation” in Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954: Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism

Enter Michael Rubin. Resident scholar of Mideast policy at the American Enterprise Institute and former Pentagon official during the first term presidency of George W. Bush. It is important to grasp the reality of this person. He has written as an expert on the mentality of Iranians, and he asserts that Iranians and Americans “think in very different ways.” Rubin worries aloud about projecting our values onto those who “think” differently. To great effect, Rubin cites his knowledge that most Iranians are imperialistic and nationalistic, even condescending to other states. The expert attributes to Iranians possession of the concept “near abroad.” With this concept, Iranians chalk up nearby states in the same manner Vladimir Putin considers the “near abroad” of Russia, that is, by assuming a right to exert major influence in that region. For dramatic illustration of how different Iranians “think,” the expert invokes the image of inexperienced Americans and Europeans being fleeced in Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square. That’s right. Rubin can also be funny.

michael rubin

Michael Rubin (Source: Right Web)

Our expert renews the criticism found in a playbook recently commissioned by the C.I.A. That playbook goes by the title Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. For the same reason Rubin cautions against projection, the C.I.A. playbook cautions against the intelligence-analysis-technique of “mirror-imaging.” The technique intends “to fill in gaps in the analyst’s own knowledge by assuming that the other side is likely to act in a certain way because that is how the U.S. would act under similar circumstances.” “Mirror-imaging” is dangerous “because people in other cultures do not think the way we do.” Now that we know from Rubin that the mentality of Iranians is different from our own, we now know that the “mirror-imaging” of this mentality malfunctions because of that difference.

But hold. Notice that our expert applies with perfect bliss his own kind of projection. His ignorance of the projectile that issues from his expertise enhances the comedic effect of Rubin’s words. In the course of criticizing those who saddle Iranians with non-Iranian values, the expert projects his rigid mentality onto the other. Iranians emerge as inert and as dogmatic in their contrary beliefs as the expert himself. Have a look at his tight grip on clichés of juxtaposition. They are nationalistic; we are not. They are imperialistic; we are not. Journalist Jon Schwarz “points and laughs” at the cartoonish juxtapositions of such an expert so querulous about projection. The sarcasm of Schwarz makes reference to the exotic nature of nationalism for humble Americans and something called, I think, the Monroe Doctrine. Reading the ludicrous words that ring from the expert, one laughs with Schwarz. His curtain draws to a close: “Rubin’s article (and numberless articles by his numberless ilk) sets out to prove that mirror-imaging doesn’t work because our enemies don’t think like us. But what they actually demonstrate is that mirror-imaging generally doesn’t work because we don’t understand how we think.”

A laughter more risible rejoins. A silent dianoetic laughter: a laugh laughing at the laugh, which beholds how much more miserable Rubin’s expertise really is. It’s not just that the expert doesn’t understand how we think. Rubin doesn’t think, at all. Thinking is a silent dialogue of “oneself asking and answering oneself.” Plato’s Socrates identified “thinking” with the term διανοουμένη (dianooumenē, Theaetetus, 190a). And Hannah Arendt later described the dianoetic character of thinking as a “duality of myself with myself that makes thinking a true activity, in which I am both the one who asks and the one who answers. Thinking can become dialectical and critical because it goes through this questioning and answering process, through the dialogue of dialegesthai, which is a traveling through words, a poreuesthai dia ton logon …” (The Life of the Mind). Rubin surrenders the dianoetic activity of thinking in the course of attempting to establish his expertise about how Iranians think. The expert projects this lack of dianoetic activity onto the Iranians. There can be no dialogue between the duality of imagined Iranians and the expert since the expert does not converse with himself. He only reproduces the same absence he projects onto the other. How silly that one can’t converse with the other who is, really, one’s own projected self. How miserable for the world that this should pass for foreign policy expertise.

In Watt, Samuel Beckett identifies the highest form of laughter, or the laugh of laughs, the dianoetic laugh. And it carries on here with Schwarz silently, in a dialogue of laughter without cheer or mirth. Unlike other forms of the laugh this laugh takes as its object laughter itself and it converses with itself in a way similar to the reflexivity of dianoetic thinking. For a taste of this kind of dianoetic laughter, you may want to converse with Schwarz laughing at Rubin. Or Arendt laughing at the clown Adolf Eichmann. In such laughing, one makes the travel from laughing aloud at thoughtlessness to laughing at the laugh at thoughtlessness. In such silent laughter, there appears a momentary reprieve in beholding the miserable state of affairs that haunts such thoughtlessness. In that silence, we pause to actualize the difference given in human consciousness and we free ourselves, if only for a moment, from the misery that arises from the constant failure of human beings to converse with themselves.

(Featured image sourced from Huffington Post)

Posted on 26 July 2015 | 8:00 pm

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