From Harper’s, July 2009: D. Graham Burnett and Jeffrey Andrew Dolven on Irony
From “The Ironic Cloud,” by D. Graham Burnett and Jeffrey Andrew Dolven in the July 2009 Harper’s.
From “Irony in the National Defense.” Last winter, Lockheed Martin Corporation approached Princeton University with a request for research initiatives. In April, Burnett, an historian of science, and Dolven, a professor of English, submitted the proposal, the cost of which they estimated to be $750,000; Princeton declined to forward it to Lockheed.
Irony is a powerful and incompletely understood feature of human dynamics. A technique for dissimulation and “secret speech,” irony is considerably more complex than lying and even more dangerous. Ideally suited to mobilization on the shifting terrain of asymmetrical conflict, inherently covert, insidiously plastic, politically potent, irony offers rogue elements a volatile if often overlooked means by which to demoralize opponents and destabilize regimes. And yet while major research resources have for forty years poured into the human sciences from the defense and intelligence community in an effort to gain control over the human capacity to lie (investments that led to the modern polygraph, sodium pentothal–derived truth serums, “brain fingerprinting,” etc.), we have no comparable tradition of sustained, empirical, applied investigation into irony. We know very little about its specific manifestations in foreign cultures; we understand almost nothing about the neurological basis of its expression; we are without forward-looking strategies for its mastery and mobilization in the interest of national defense. This project–a sustained three-year, three-pronged, interdisciplinary investigation, drawing on social scientists, engineers, and neurobiologists—will position Lockheed Martin for field leadership in a crucial new area of strategic and commercial growth.
From the Web
The men who seek help from evangelical counselor Warren Throckmorton often are deeply distressed. They have prayed, read Scripture, even married, but they haven’t been able to shake sexual attractions to other men– impulses they believe to be immoral. Dr. Throckmorton is a psychology professor at a Christian college in Pennsylvania and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He specializes in working with clients conflicted about their sexual identity. The first thing he tells them is this: Your attractions aren’t a sign of mental illness or a punishment for insufficient faith. He tells them that he cannot turn them straight. But he also tells them they don’t have to be gay…. In a striking departure, the American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical– and can be beneficial– for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions…. According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn’t signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation. But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God. —“A New Therapy on Faith and Identity,” Stephanie Simon, The Wall Street Journal
If we were transported forward in time, to an Earth ravaged by catastrophic climate change, we might see long, delicate strands of fire hose stretching into the sky, like spaghetti, attached to zeppelins hovering 65,000 feet in the air. Factories on the ground would pump 10 kilos of sulfur dioxide up through those hoses every second. And at the top, the hoses would cough a sulfurous pall into the sky. At sunset on some parts of the planet, these puffs of aerosolized pollutant would glow a dramatic red, like the skies in Blade Runner. During the day, they would shield the planet from the sun’s full force, keeping temperatures cool—as long as the puffing never ceased…. Humans have been aggressively transforming the planet for more than 200 years. The Nobel Prize–winning atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen— one of the first cheerleaders for investigating the gas-the-planet strategy— recently argued that geologists should refer to the past two centuries as the “anthropocene” period. In that time, humans have reshaped about half of the Earth’s surface. We have dictated what plants grow and where. We’ve pocked and deformed the Earth’s crust with mines and wells, and we’ve commandeered a huge fraction of its freshwater supply for our own purposes. What is new is the idea that we might want to deform the Earth intentionally, as a way to engineer the planet either back into its pre-industrial state, or into some improved third state. Large-scale projects that aim to accomplish this go by the name “geo-engineering,” and they constitute some of the most innovative and dangerous ideas being considered today to combat climate change. Some scientists see geo-engineering as a last-ditch option to prevent us from cooking the planet to death. Others fear that it could have unforeseen—and possibly catastrophic— consequences. What many agree on, however, is that the technology necessary to reshape the climate is so powerful, and so easily implemented, that the world must decide how to govern its use before the wrong nation—or even the wrong individual—starts to change the climate all on its own. —“Re-engineering the Earth,” Graeme Wood, The Atlantic Monthly
Cheap is having a moment. Each day since the financial collapse brings a new story about the countercyclical discount sector. Dollar stores, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s– all are going great guns. But it’s not just acceptable to pinch a few pennies these days, it’s downright fashionable. Magazines like Vogue, tone-deaf to cost in the prelapsarian recent past, have creakily bent their editorial stance to include new features on low(er)-priced clothing. The too-cute-by-half buzzword “recessionista” has entered the common lexicon (alongside the William Safire-approved “frugalista”). Google the very word “cheap” and (at the time of this writing) the fourth hit is a guide to the new low-rent lifestyle by New York magazine, a publication previously distinguished by its slick, housing bubblicious commodity fetishization. —“Cheap Thrills: In this economic climate, bargains come at a price,” Noreen Malone, The American Prospect