This may be attributing far too much to semantics (and I’m no linguistic expert), but I’ve recently come up with a word to express a major qualm that I’ve had with military epistemology (the militaristic mentality - or ‘the way people think about stuff’ - of a massive proportion of our great country) for some time:
This standardized codification specifically manifests itself in verbage. In normative speech (in this case, the speech carried on by us mere civilians) standardization and generic-ness carry negative connotations. When asked (disregarding price) if you’d rather have ‘generic’ canned corn or ‘Green Giant’ canned corn, you’d probably choose the name-brand (that is, the individualized, differentiated corn because it’s probably of a better quality and, more importantly, you’re averse to standardization).
It can be said that the negativity of these ‘generic’ connotations seems to increase exponentially and congruently with an increase in education on a person-by-person basis. Of course it can be said that financial security is (largely, since branded items cost more than generic ones) a contributing factor to this increased taste for the unique, but there’s also a direct correlation between unique expressionism and education proper. Poor but educated people still exhibit a taste for the distinctive, relative to their less-educated financial peers.
But under a militaristic episteme (that is, the epistemology that they cram down the plebes’ throats at boot camp, ostensibly to foster order and streamline efficiency) ‘standardization’ is embraced thoroughly. To be the ‘standard’ military being is to be the best military being. Presumably, a truly militaristic being would opt for the store-brand, the generic canned corn, rather than spring for the branded Green Giant version.
And here’s where the semantics (or ‘linguistic stratification’) come into play: The term ‘generic’ is a derivative of another word; ‘general’. And it’s synonymous with poor quality, with the blasé, in civilian life, with a monotonous, proletarian existence.
Yet in the (capital-A) Army a ‘General’ is an honor bestowed upon the best of the best; it is the position that the generic (for lack of a better, more hierarchically-satisfying term) officer seeks. He spends his life mastering his ability to be nonspecific. To be ‘General’ military being is to self-actualize; it is an end in and of itself.
And this is where my world-view conflicts with militaristic epistemology. General is not something I aspire to be. In fact, as a broad concept, it is antithetical to my aspirations in life. Admittedly, I'm so ideologically nonconformist that I've probably come full-circle and conformed in my spiting of conformity (I’m so non-conformist that I’ll conform, etc.).
But I know a great deal of you share similar views, whether you’d care to admit it or not. You seek to be individuals, blithely eschewing generic store brands and opting for a more distinct, superior can of corn. This taste for the unique, for specialization, does not, as some will allege, make us elitists. It renders us postmodernists of a sort, complicit in our understanding of a global village yet respective of individuality and multiculturalism.
And so we so-called nonconformists are the vanguard party (I know, I’m using loaded terminology recklessly here, but bear with me) resisting a modern revival (or perhaps an unmediated persistence) of militaristic epistemology, the wave of which has breached the estuaries of rationale and flooded Americana with voters who will back a generic cowboy of a president.
Of course, that’s what I’ve been getting at here all along. I have the leanings of a pacifist, I’m a supporter of diplomacy, and as such, I am outraged with the current American regime and its militaristic ways. We need to move on; military supremacy and its epistemology are archaic and outdated. There are other far more pertinent international concerns (the environment, world health, sustainable economic development...the list goes on and on) that require our collective time, energy and expense.
It is my fear that the current regime will continue along in a de facto manner in 2008 (with the installation of another unilaterally militaristic republican pseudo-incumbent) long after the Bush is planted back in Texas.
If the old adage ‘ignorance is still bliss’ still lives on in this country, then, sadly, standardization and generic-ness are corroborative in its persistence. But I try to be optimistic. For a lot can change in three years...
Mark Hillinger is a staff columnist for the DSJ. His views do not necessarily represent those of the entire staff.