Philosophy of “As If”

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“As if” is the name of the system espoused by Hans Vaihinger, who proposes that man should willingly accept falsehoods or fictions in order to live peacefully in an irrational world. Vaihinger, who saw life as a maze of contradictions and philosophy as a search for means to make life livable, maintained that in order to survive, man must use his will to construct fictional explanations of phenomena “as if” there were rational grounds for believing that such a method reflects reality. Thus in physics, man must proceed “as if” a material world exists independently of perceiving subjects; in behaviour, he must act “as if” ethical certainty were possible; in religion, he must believe “as if” there were a God. Kevin D. Williamson follows this philosophy, probably unwittingly, in his piece “Trump’s Omar Comments Erode Our Sense of Citizenship”, writing “as if” everything was all right in the USA, save the inevitable amount of political brinkmanship. He focuses on the concept of citizenship but, as usual, it boils down to talking about symptoms without even mentioning the disease.

In the background of the affair on which Williamson is commenting there are four young women, members of the House of Representatives, who were called by the president of the United States “four horsewomen of the Apocalypse” or “Dem squad” –among several other epithets. Recently, he attacked these four lawmakers on Twitter, saying they should not tell Americans how to run the country. (Only Omar is foreign-born.) The women are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. He also accused them of hating the USA, telling them that if they were not happy “here”, they could leave. Earlier, he told them in a separate tweet to go back to the “totally broken and crime infested” countries from which they came. He is also in the habit of calling them “left-wing cranks” and “whack jobs” who are “destroying the Democratic Party”.

Not everyone agrees that Trump’s battery of tweets on the “squad” was racist –Williamson himself beats about the bush while commenting on this aspect of presidential rants (“Donald Trump is incapable of being a racist in the traditional sense of that word”). Interestingly, the president’s job approval rating so far does not appear to have been negatively impacted by his racist, in our opinion, tweets. We maintain they were racist, especially if taken together with many other of his comments –beginning with “shithole countries” and how “happy” he would be to welcome immigration from Norway. (Norwegians don’t appear to be interested).

Williamson begins his article, and he as if hits the nail on the head (without ever being aware of having done so):

SEND HER BACK! they chanted, meaning Representative Ilhan Omar, the Somalia-born Jew-hating weirdo elected to Congress by the ghastly fruitcakes who run things in Minneapolis. President Donald J. Trump, elected president by the ghastly nut cutlets who run things in much of the rest of the country, basked in the chant, glowing like a gopher sauntering forth from Chernobyl –he was, in effect, hearing his own daft words shouted back at him ecstatically, and he has a real weakness for that sort of thing.

So –Minneapolis (and by extension a couple of other places, at least nearby) is run by the “ghastly fruitcakes”; while “much of the rest of the country” is run by the “ghastly nut cutlets”. Would we be right to assume that what remains is run by ordinary freaks and thus have an accurate and complete portrait of the present-day population of the USA?

The author does not think that examining the alleged racism of Trump’s publicly expressed opinions is worthwhile:

What is more interesting — and more troubling — is what the exchange says about our eroding sense of citizenship.

And this is where we sink deep into the linguistic quicksand because the term citizenship originated in the times when there were no countries, only cities, or city-states more correctly, such as Rome for example. Nowadays this term is equivalent to nationality, and if someone can tell the difference, please do. Therefore, unless we define what is meant by citizenship and how it is different from nationality, the point Williamson is making, the quicksand will close above our heads forever.

The author maintains:

The American Revolution was the process by which our Founding Fathers elevated themselves from subjects to citizens, and citizenship is the foundation of the American identity.

For the reasons mentioned above we must repeat that if citizenship is the foundation of the “American identity”, then American identity has no foundation whatsoever. Furthermore, if we are to assume that “America” is the same as “the USA”, and that consequently the USA is the one and only America, then we should become open to the argument that Williamson is a racist, having discarded the citizenship of all the other countries, which are many, located in the Americas.

There is something even more important. There has never existed such a thing as “Founding Fathers”. The colonies were established not by pilgrims or fathers (as school textbooks and mainstream journalists transmit) but by adventurers as a business enterprise. The Mayflower was chartered by a group of English merchants called the London Adventurers, ancestors of Virginia Company of London (also called London Company) and that of Virginia Colony of Plymouth –both commercial trading companies. Their shareholders were merchants of Plymouth, Bristol and Exeter on the lookout for profit, and Plymouth was the first permanent colony in New England. Of its 102 colonists, 35 were members of the English Separatist Church (trouble makers in modern terminology), who negotiated with the company their voyage to North America. Two centuries after their arrival they were called by Daniel Webster, who else, first –the Forefathers, and then –the Pilgrim Fathers. Thus, the “as if” American history began.

The USA is and always has been a business enterprise, a company so to speak, but appearances must be kept of it being a country. But because they are mere appearances they tend to be overdone –honestly, nobody who has a real country behind does something like this:

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You can become an American because you can become a citizen –you can move to Poland or China, but you cannot become Polish or Chinese, no matter how long you live there, no matter how the state classifies you, no matter how well you learn the language.

Williamson writes as if his expertise in moving to Poland or China were deeply grounded in an out of body experience (without providing any proof of it, however). On the other hand, we would have a lot to say about the Polish and the Chinese, or Irish or Italian for that matter, expertise in moving to the USA and what is experienced in the process –no matter the state’s classifications. The truth is, one can easily become Polish –albeit not in the first generation, obviously. However, one’s children will be Polish because, precisely, they have an identity to assimilate into –that of the native population. Not so in the case of the USA, where there’s no-one left to whom one could get assimilated. As is well known all the natives have been wiped out and the population of the USA consists of immigrants, marrying other immigrants, who will marry yet other immigrants –a never-ending immigrant chain, of which Trump’s family is the best example.

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Left: Polish bigos. Right: Chinese niu za tang; both mentioned in Williamson’s article.

Citizenship and nationality are both legal terms, under control of the government –any government. Once the legalistic jugglery (mumbo-jumbo as Williamson puts it) is penetrated we can easily perceive that those terms can be expanded or contracted, even combined, as need be. To give an example or two –until quite recently “American Indians” were often referred to as “noncitizen nationals” (whatever that means). The Romans, mentioned later by Williamson, saw citizenship in a way that permitted expansion. For one thing, they were in the habit of replenishing its citizen ranks with freed slaves. The extension of Roman citizenship continued during the middle Republic until such openness became more than problematic on account of large numbers of non-Romans who wished to migrate and take up Roman citizenship, the fact which wreaked havoc in all Italian and Latin towns. Finally, in 177 BC Rome abolished their right of migration and forced Latin and Italian migrants to return to their hometowns –plain and simple.

It (America) is a nation in which relations among the people and between the individual and the state are defined by the terms of citizenship.

Yes, but what exactly are those terms? Could it be that they are a sort of bubble gum, inflated out, and a little more out, until it bursts? Clearly, another meaningless affirmation caused by the meaningless term citizenship –see above. It is this meaninglessness that makes it confusing. Unless, as we said before, we state clearly at the very beginning that citizenship equals nationality, or else re-define it entirely. All other implications of Williamson’s favourite concept are groundless.

The next paragraph, the truly vital one, needs to be quoted almost in its entirety:

Citizenship is a precious thing. To be a citizen is more dignified and more honorable than to be a subject. When the Romans lost their republic and slid into empire, it was not democracy they were losing –they never suffered from that particular superstition –but their status as citizens. There were things the Roman state could not do to a Roman citizen –crucifixion, for example. The state had to respect the citizen because the citizen was the building block out of which the republic was built. The conversion of the Roman republic into an empire under god-emperors was a catastrophe for the Roman citizen –not only politically but also culturally and spiritually and, eventually, economically. God-emperors are not traditionally real big on property rights and due process.

To begin with, no-one in the U.S. has any property rights. All U.S. title deeds are illegal and blood stained. The adventurers arrived, disembarked, and immediately set up the signs “Private Property, No Trespassing” all over the place. Simply put –the properties owned by the U.S. citizens have been stolen and their previous owners exterminated; at best –they were obtained by extortion.

Despite increasing initial prosperity in Virginia, the company’s role came under attack as disputes among the shareholders grew and as king James I himself became offended both by the trend toward popular government and by the colony’s efforts to raise tobacco, a product he disapproved. What issued was the investigation of conditions in the colony and a trial before the King’s Bench in May 1624. The court ruled against the Virginia Company (we are not surprised), which was then dissolved, with the result that Virginia was transformed into a royal colony. Thirteen other colonies followed, all of them royal, but the trend toward popular government, which existed from the very beginning, citizenship as Williamson puts it, did not disappear. In fact, it kept growing. Why on Earth should one pay taxes to the king when one can just as well collect and enjoy them oneself? Hence citizenship is basically about taxation, then comes voting and military service. And then there was Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. Obviously, the king, George III, was not amused.

Kevin Williamson is right when he draws his parallel between Rome and the USA. The latter is a faithful copy of the former, the greatest similarity lying in the fact that the majority of both Roman and American citizens suffered and suffer the consequences of living in a “nation” invariably interested in the far horizon and its plunder. However, it should be noted here in passing that the early Roman Republic and the preceding regal period, roughly speaking five hundred years (753-264) are so poorly documented that it can be said they remain unknown to us. Historical writing at Rome did not begin until the late 3rd century BC, when Rom had already completed its conquest of Italy, established itself as a major power of the ancient world, and become involved in a gigantic struggle with Carthage for control of the western Mediterranean. Thus, we simply ignore the most important things about Rome –its origins– but it’s clear that they must have produced their own Daniel Webster. The parallels, however, are so obvious that one could venture to say that the North American mission was carried out by the same people. After all, what’s the use of crying over the spilt milk? When one empire falls, one simply moves on, then in, and builds another one. Plain sailing.

And now the USA is sliding toward empire and Kevin Williamson is worried, and rightly so. As everybody now knows at this point –empires fall. Under the pressure of circumstances and problems than cannot even be tackled, let alone solved, there emerge god-emperors. When the employees have problems, the company has problems, and the U.S. employees have loads and loads of problems. Unless everyone goes home and the worst is avoided. We could offer another solution –the colonies return to the English Crown, which shouldn’t be that difficult given the fact that the Windsors, royalty in general, are quite popular in the USA, the president holds the queen in high esteem –on his own admission, and he, furthermore, constantly mentions his European roots. It is generally believed that going home, that is to one’s roots, is a good thing.

The proof of what we are saying here, one of them to be more precise, is that in a country which boasts more than 300 million inhabitants it was two people of the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump calibre, and not exactly spring chickens on top of that, who fought for the presidency in the 2016 campaign.

At an invite-only recently celebrated event called (fasten your seatbelts) Turning Point USA’s Teen Student Action Summit Donald Trump told his young conservative audience (on record):

Then I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as President.

And he is right, unfortunately. The U.S. constitution (as all the others) is an “as if” constitution –there is room for everything, depending on the spin. So much so, that the state find it necessary to establish the Constitutional Tribunal, “as if” independent of everything and everyone else, to decide –as if– what is constitutional and what is not. If the answer is deemed undesirable, the process can be repeated and the spin reversed a little later. The Congress (or Parliament) has its rights of course –it’s called checks and balances. Rome called them the patricians and the plebeians. During the middle Republic politics was largely a matter of senatorial families competing for high office and the ensuing lucrative commands. Because offices were won in the centuriate and tribal assemblies, senators had to cultivate support among the populace. Yet the system was not as democratic as it might appear. (As Williamson points out –it was a superstition. We call it as if democracy.) While aristocratic electoral competition was tradition during the Republic, this period began to exhibit the escalation in competitiveness that was later fatal to the republic.

Sounds familiar?

The idea of citizenship Williamson tries to convey is disproved by his own conclusions –he quotes the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, whose killing (2011) was ordered by Barack Obama. It should be added that his 16-year-old son, also a US citizen, was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen two weeks later. In January 2017 al-Awlaki’s 8-year-old daughter was killed in a US commando attack in Yemen that was ordered by president Trump. It’s possible that at that time the Congress was still entirely unaware of the U.S. role in the Yemeni war –so much for superstition; beg your pardon –democracy. Therefore, don’t be surprised when you come across headlines such as:

DO AMERICANS KNOW THAT WE’RE SENDING U.S. TROOPS TO THIS MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRY?

More correctly, the headline should run:

DO U.S. NATIONALS, THE CONGRESS INCLUDED, KNOW THAT THEIR GOVERNMENT IS SENDING U.S. TROOPS TO SAUDI ARABIA IN ORDER TO GUARD AND PROTECT THE BUTCHERS WHO GOVERN THIS MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRY AND THE COMMON DIRTY INTERESTS?

Williamson says:

The pretext of “national security” will cover a multitude of sins.

That’s why it was invented –to cover those sins. But the sins don’t disappear because of that and sooner or later their consequences are not only felt but they encircle those who committed them. That’s why we feel justified in saying that due process is “as if” and so are the U.S. “property rights” –as described before.

The process of sliding into empire may become uncontrolled in spite of the support of a large number of foreign republics and one washed up emperor but everything that goes up, must go down. We, as Williamson, are also worried, especially on account of a couple of people we know in the USA who, surrounded by Late Night Shows and dozens of as if independent news outlets (not to mention presidential tweets), are not so mysteriously entirely unaware of what’s going on.

(74) How many countless nations before them We have destroyed, who were even better in equipment and in glitter to the eye!  

Qur-an 19 – Maria

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(58) How many countless nations before them We have destroyed, who exulted in their life of ease and plenty!

Qur-an 28 – al Qasas

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