Friday, September 14, 2018

Terrorism of the Absurd

In recent months the governments of Syria and Russia have stood accused by the US and the UK governments of carrying out attacks using chemical weapons and have found themselves in a rather challenging situation. The charges against them nothing short of absurd. It is very difficult, often impossible, to formulate a rational response to an absurd accusation beyond pointing out its obvious absurdity. But that’s usually not at all helpful because the contemporary Western political actors who revel in absurdity eschew the neoclassical principle of verisimilitude and ignore rational, reasoned arguments as uninteresting. This is a calculated choice: most of their audience is too bored, ill-informed and impatient to form opinions based on facts and logic but responds well to various kinds of conditioning.

Officials charged with formulating responses to Western informational warfare have been forced to acquire new skill sets inspired by théâtre de l’absurde, for many of the recently alleged terror plots bear the hallmarks of this genre: “broad comedy, often similar to vaudeville, mixed with horrific or tragic images; characters caught in hopeless situations forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions; dialogue full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsense; plots that are cyclical or absurdly expansive; either a parody or dismissal of realism and the concept of the well-made play” [from Wikipedia]. In processing the recent British allegations, a particular British font of absurdist comedy, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, is proving invaluable. Here, the “Chemical Weapons Shop Sketch” and the “Dead Special Agent Sketch” are most apropos. A quick education in absurdist theory is turning out to be most useful in devising counterattacks.