Saturday: Burning Planes and Leprechauns (p. 11-18)

The data recovery fairies, bless ’em, are hard at work restoring the AU/JP travelogues. In the meantime, here’s another Saturday entry!

This wouldn’t be a post-9/11 novel without a post-9/11 leitmotif. In other words, we’re about to waltz right into the burning plane scene.

I’ll spare you the purple and give you the short version (be grateful!): the good doctor’s looking out the window when he sees what he thinks is a meteor, but what is actually a burning plane descending toward Heathrow. As this is a year and a half after 9/11, this sets Perowne on edge. We begin:

It’s already almost eighteen months since half the planet watched, and watched again, the unseen captives driven through the sky to the slaughter, at which time there gathered round the innocent silhouette of any jet plane a novel association. Everyone agrees, airliners look different in the sky these days, predatory or doomed. (p. 15)

This is going to be a drinking game. Take a sip when 9/11 or the effects thereof are referenced. I fear for my liver.

This whole scene illustrates what the Horror felt like from the perspective of the coddled elite. You wake up, everything is well, the city is a success…and then fire and destruction and death, seemingly out of nowhere. There’ll be callbacks to the plane throughout the story.

Speaking of the coddled elite, this is the first time we get a serious earful of Perowne’s politics. Specifically, we are subjected to a filibuster on the good doctor’s religious views.

If Perowne were inclined to religious feeling, to supernatural explanations, he could play with the idea that he’s been summoned; that having woken in an unusual state of mind, and gone to the window for no reason, he should acknowledge a hidden order, an external intelligence which wants to show or tell him something of significance. (p. 16)

I are bamboozled. Does Perowne seriously believe he’s constructed an accurate sketch of theists’ thought patterns? I don’t know, and I don’t care. That’s not the point here.

That it should be him and not someone else is an arbitrary matter. A simple anthropic principle is involved. The primitive thinking of the supernaturally inclined amounts to what his psychiatric colleagues call a problem, or an idea, of reference. An excess of the subjective, the ordering of the world in line with your needs, an inability to contemplate your own unimportance. In Henry’s view such reasoning belongs on a spectrum at whose far end, rearing like an abandoned temple, lies psychosis. (p. 16-7)

Of course, when one’s perception of Christianity religion is as simplistic as “God has compelled me to walk over to this window so I could see this burning plane,” one could be excused for dismissing the whole affair as “primitive.”

But that’s not the point here either. Perowne’s thinking—neither original nor revolutionary—is part and parcel of an inimitably repulsive and childish philosophy endemic amongst the British intelligentsia, a sort of bourgeois liberalism that I haven’t found a good name for.* This philosophy isn’t very thoughtful, deep, or even self-aware, and therefore allows the believer the delusion that his** politics have a rock-solid foundation of rational inquiry and Enlightenment values, untainted by any prejudice, when it’s actually shot through with white supremacy. The otherwise wonderful Stephen Fry articulated this in an interview once:

It seems to me that the greatness of our culture, for all its incredible faults, is that we have grown up on the Greek ideal of discovering the truth, discovering by looking around us, by empirical experiment, by the combination of the experience of generations of ancestors who have contributed to our sum knowledge of the way the world works, and so on.

Yay, aren’t white people, like, totally awesome? Look at us! We inherited empiricism! You know, never mind that China and the Mideast were once more advanced than we were, that China gave us paper and the Mideast gave us the zero. Never mind that amongst our “incredible faults” is this compulsion to go to other continents and raid, pillage, plunder and otherwise pilfer our weaselly black guts out. And also to enslave or slaughter the locals en masse, can’t forget that. Somehow inheriting empiricism excuses the fact that we white people are basically barbarians with guns and superiority complexes.

*I flat-out refuse to dignify it with “rationalism” because none of this philosophy’s adherents are rational people.
**With the conspicuous exception of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, pretty much every bourgeois liberal I’ve encountered is male.

Hence, empire. See, the logic goes, we inherited empiricism, so we’re rational and enlightened; not these poor souls over here, they did not inherit empiricism, so they’re not as rational and enlightened as we are. Let us invade and take over their land and (if we’re feeling testy) blow the crap out of ‘em, y’know, teach them the way of the white man, and they will become as rational and enlightened as us! If imperialists aren’t justifying their country’s adventurisms with “ooh look at those shiny natural resources we must have them,” they’re saying a sanitized version of that up there. Remember how we justified Iraq?

This obvious racism is partially why Islam gets it with both barrels whenever the bourgeois liberal opens his mouth on religion. Not only is it a religion (!), it’s not a Western religion (!!), and is practiced by a lot of people of color (!!!) and is the majority religion in a politically unstable region (!!!!) from which people are coming to Europe in droves (!!!!!). So of course, watching the burning plane streak across London, one of the thoughts swimming through the head of the good doctor, by all accounts a devout bourgeois liberal, is about Islam:

And such reasoning may have caused the fire on the plane. A man of sound faith with a bomb in the heel of his shoe. (p. 17)

Never mind that the 9/11 plotters’ motivations for, y’know, doing 9/11 were a lot more complex and (more importantly) political than “God said do it,” hey look at all those mean scary Muslims! If we ascribe to them motivations as inscrutable as, say, religious impulse, we can keep on pretending the Horror wasn’t a reaction to anything we did!

Retch. And drink.

This section closes with some navel-gazing about Schrodinger’s Cat that would make anyone who knows anything about quantum physics foam at the mouth. Who in their right mind blathers on about “quantum wave[s] of probability”?

Brain surgeons, clearly.

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About theoditsek

I like going places.
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