What is it like? Nagel’s “Life as a Bat”

We are shaped by our own individual realities, which are based on our singular relative perspectives. Every person faces a struggle and it is impossible to know the struggle of anyone else. Even if they were to tell you about their struggle you would have no way of understanding what it feels like to be “in their shoes”. In Thomas Nagel’s essay about what it is to be a bat he pokes fun at the concept of ever being able to understand someone or something. Socrates once said “I know that I know nothing”. Essentially Nagel is saying the same thing but about human understanding of alternate realities.

Nagel is pointing out that all things that make an individual behave a certain way is their past experiences and instincts. Just as it would be impossible for me to think like a bat, it would also be impossible for me to think in Chinese. Although I can become fluent in Mandarin I would still think in my mother tongue of English. I would be forced to cross reference any of my new found Mandarin vocabulary with my known English definitions. Just as there are cultural practices and traditions that I would never be able to fully comprehend. The moon festival of Tet in Vietnam is as foreign to me as Halloween would be to a Nepalese man.

Recently it has become easier to gain insight into others through the use of social networks. These networks create the illusion of understanding. New technologies along with globalization has increased the awareness of alternate perspectives. It is easy to see other’s likes, dislikes and comments. However, you are still only seeing what they want you to see or choose to share.

The conscious mind is formed from experiences and memories. If I were to touch a hot stove as a child my conscious mind would recall that memory and tell me to “be careful”. As human beings we are all capable of learning and growth. The ability to learn along with sentience makes us unique within the animal kingdom. Humans are aware of their own existence and have a fundamental need to be unique. The renaissance ideals of virtue and willpower are alive and well today. Humans want their lives to matter and want to affect history in some way. One of the most frightening thoughts for us is dying and not leaving any mark on this world. The human condition reminds us that our lives are finite but somehow tricks us into believing that we matter. People search all of their lives looking for some divine calling or purpose. Some of us have kids and tell ourselves that those kids will somehow matter.

Nagel writes that “Facts about what it is like to be an X are very peculiar, so peculiar that some may be inclined to doubt their own reality, or the significance of claims about them.” (Nagel pg. 437 of What Is It Like To Be A Bat?)

These claims further the argument that it is impossible to know what it is to be anything else other than what you were born as. Nagel even states that the act of being is “so peculiar” that we can’t even comprehend being ourselves. Furthermore, Nagel writes even if he were to become a bat “nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like” (Nagel pg. 439 of What Is It Like To Be A Bat?). So even if we could walk in the shoes of someone else it would be impossible to ever fully become them. As a man it is impossible to know what it is like to be born a woman even if that man becomes one. Again proving the point that all perspectives are relative and unique. Nagel uses the example that “The subjunctive character of the experience of a person deaf and blind from birth is not accessible to me” (Nagel pg. 440 of What Is It Like To Be A Bat?). Given all of this reasoning I concur with Nagel that it is indeed impossible to understand the life of any other person, place or thing. Although it is possible to feel empathy and compassion it is impossible to know exactly how another creature feels unless that particular experience is replicated from the time of conception.

Media in War

The importance of Media in War

Media and the public perception of wars is what allows societies to determine whether a war is virtuous or unjustified. In the twentieth century, Western countries had fought wars that easily portrayed them as the “good guys”. When the United States went over to Europe it was in the name of stopping the tyranny and fascism of the Third Reich. When the U.S. dropped the horrible power of atomic bombs in Japan, they did it to stop the advancement of a barbaric imperialist system that swallowed up smaller countries and enslaved its peoples. These wars were easily displayed as necessary and justified. One could even say that there were a clear goals in mind and adequate illustrations of how the war would come to an end. However, in the period following WWII the reasons for going to war would become increasingly muddled. The German military theorist Karl von Clausewitz stated that the ultimate goal of war is the subjugation of the enemy and “bending them to your will”. For the concept of old physical warfare the idea is brawn over brains but in new wars that are fought between superpowers and small countries media and perception is key.

The Cold War

The proxy wars of the Cold War era were no longer as easily justified as the goal of stopping Fascism or Imperialism but instead enlisted the flawed domino theory. The domino theory was used to justify the Vietnam and Korean conflicts by stating that if one country falls to communism surrounding nations will follow. It added a justification as to why a nation such as the United States could interfere in civil conflicts within countries such as Vietnam. Presidents such as Kennedy and Johnson would reiterate the idea that by keeping communism out of Vietnam or Korea the United States was in effect protecting all of its Asian Allies along with itself. At the beginning of the war in Vietnam victory seemed assured for the United States. Surely the United States had the resources, power, money and advanced technologies to take over a poor unindustrialized country like Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese knew very well that they were outmatched so changed the Strategy from all previous wars that came before. They focused on psychological manipulation and the influence of people rather than physical warfare. They wanted to make the war impossible for the U.S. to justify and prolong the conflict as long as possible. Once the U.S. started the draft they had already lost in the hearts and minds of its people. Vietnam was in a far-flung part of Asia that most people hadn’t heard of until the war started. The fact that the power of Vietnam did not pose an existential threat to the U.S. increased the difficulty of how to justify a proxy war to the public.


The Gulf War

“The Gulf War Did Not Take Place” as written by Jean Baudrillard expressed how important perceptions of war have actually become. Baudrillard described how the U.S. and other Western countries were fed pictures and news reels of slick tomahawk missiles and advanced fighter jets gracefully striking their targets. Western audiences were sparred gruesome images from the effect of these bombing but instead saw inhuman infer red images of Iraqi soldiers being struck by “smart” bombs. The U.S. knew that the public was still reeling from the experience of the Vietnam war and needed convincing propaganda to send people into feelings of war fervor. One such now infamous event was the “weapons of mass destruction” campaign launched in the U.S. to portray Saddam Hussein as being in possession of WMD’s. While whether WMD’s were present or not, intelligence agencies have admitted that evidence was not conclusive. Another lessor known event was when a fake news story spread about premature babies being removed from incubators in Kuwait by Iraqi invaders. It is clear that on the hierarchy of victim’s premature babies are by far the most defenseless. The Events of the Gulf War display how the U.S. had learned from its mistakes in Vietnam and made sure to make the war palette-able for the American public. America accomplishes this through concepts of “risk free” warfare, war fervor propaganda, and intense reiteration of justification for the war. Risk Free warfare refers to the images of soldiers safely piloting unmanned weapons in locations relatively far away from the battlefield. In effect the Gulf War was sanitized for the consumption of Western audiences.

If I have learned anything in University it is to question all media sources including the ones you trust. The Military industrial complex is real and every source of media is biased. Everything is said a certain way… to make you think a certain way.

The purpose of this post was just to write down some of my thoughts from my War and Media class. I hope you found my thoughts about the correlation between war and media usage interesting.