Monday, December 11, 2006

IS THE ESSENTIAL ALSO THE REAL?

David Swanson has written an article “Honesty in Iraq” (www.truthout.org/docs_2006/120706N.shtml). He notes that a large metropolitan newspaper has editorialized about Incumbent Bush that “his pronouncements now bear no resemblance to reality”. Acutely, Swanson immediately asks “Now?” and he’s spot-on.

We begin to see the tremors preparatory to and indicative of a tectonic shift in public opinion. Such massive shifts are not simply two-dimensional, however. Even as public opinion shifts from one pole to the other, that shift must simultaneously serve to preserve the popular sense that the said public’s opinion is, will be, and always has been right – or, at least, well-intentioned. The Pentagon has evolved a nifty solution to this challenge: it will issue a press statement to the effect that Nothing is wrong and repairs are being made and no harm was done. But what has to happen now among the populace is even trickier: matters must be arranged so as to a) generate approval for change, without at the same time b) kicking the tripwire of anger that things have been so badly managed that they need to be changed as all, and all the while c) stroking the ego of the populace so that they don’t get feeling angry at being tricked or guilty about making the wrong choice in placing their trust or – worst of all – pissed at whomever made them look like inattentive, gullible herbivores bunched up at a shallow creek-crossing. And when they are in the latter state, a guilty party WILL be found, and no politician wants to be at the business end of THAT pointing finger.

Blaming the Iraqis is a good start. It gets everybody off the hook, on the American side of the polygon, anyway. The government only wanted to help, the media only wanted to help the government help, the voters supported the government that had nothing the best and most disinterested of intentions, the generals did a fine job … it was simply that the Iraqis were as ungrateful a bunch of liberatees as any redeemer nation could ever have the bad luck to invade. God won’t force people, y’know; it’s not His way. Our dispatch of most of the Army, much of the Marine Corps, and frequent visits by Air Force and Navy air ‘assets’ was not intended as a deployment of force as much as it was a powerful rescue operation. The secret, torture-authorized CIA squads and legions of under-guided mercenaries were similarly boons of benevolence, not steps in a sequence of in-your-face Plagues redolent of fire and brimstone. In fact, as Deputized by God to bring the entire world under His authority, the U.S. is double-00 authorized, just like James Bond only without all the kinda queer good taste and culture. Further Affiant saith naught. Except that perhaps, as Bishop Limbaugh piously reflects, the next time we should just go in and flatten’em all and let God sort it out. Then the suffering would be God’s fault and – as is well established by precedent and statute – if God does it, then it’s not a crime.

It was as clear as a bell from the first debate with Gore that Bush was Eddie Haskell. When the camera turned to him he had the look of a kid who was surprised by parental authority, kept his cool, deflected judgment with a combination of sugar and oil, and yet – true teenager that he was – KNEW he was getting away with it and just couldn’t keep the smirk off his face. That actor was good, the one who played Eddie Haskell. Who knew fifty years ago that he was back from this future to warn us of what was coming? But a generation that could grow up with Vietnam and then go on in the full bloom of adulthood to get into Iraq … well, that’s a truly special generation. Soooo speshull.

In the alternative, it can be embraced that Bush is losing his mind. Who knew? Who could be blamed for not foreseeing such a mysterious and sudden malady? And who’s to blame? Poor Bush? The well-intentioned folks who cheered him and cheered him on? Nope. No guilty parties here. Lot of wreckage, oceans of blood, danger blasting across the Iraqian landscape like wind at the South Pole. But it’s nobody’s fault. I wonder if a large fraction of American viewers don’t simply imagine that after the nightly-newsclip the bodies just get up and walk down to the Iraqish equivalent of Starbucks for a coffee.

All legitimate topics for reflection. But nowhere near the significance of his best point: “Is aggressively attacking another nation in an illegal war something that can be done without catastrophic results if it’s done right?” In other words: can Success make a Bad thing Good? Or are some things so fundamentally and irrevocably Bad and Evil that not only can nothing make them Good, but that because they are fundamentally Bad and Evil they actually create Bad and Evil outcomes (sometimes initially camouflaged as Successful outcomes) such that no Good can come of them because they will turn every outcome that flows from them and everyone associated with them into Bad and Evil … ?

Can that happen? For that to happen, we’d have to be living in a universe where events and actions can be characterized as Good or Evil, because they actually had an interior nature that was Good or Evil; and then that nature itself would have to be somehow connected with all the rest of Nature (or Life or Existence); such that the ‘vibes’ (in this case Evil) from one particular event or person could radiate out like shock waves, strong enough to deform whatever they encounter in their path. I know: it sounds kinda New Agey or hippie-ish; better to stick with sound science: legions of angels bearing flaming swords who will chopper out the Good in the Last Minutes and then whack everybody else in the Last Minute itself.

Or again: we’d have to be living in a world where all things have consequences, and that Good acts have Good consequences and Bad acts have Bad consequences. But can Bad acts have Good consequences, like two butt-ugly dragons mating and making a unicorn? Or is the Evil-creates-only-evil and Good-creates-only-good theorem pretty much the way it all works? And if a Bad act can have a Good consequence in theory, is that enough justification for going ahead and doing the Bad act, literally actualizing Evil, just because there’s a chance you will get the Good outcome you’re looking for? Can you risk your life over it? Other people’s lives? Can you kill for it? And avoid all the Evil consequences? Does “Life” or “the Universe” blow back? Lash back? Recoil? We know God does – or did, when He was the accepted Theory.

How can an Evil thing or a Bad thing be “done right”? If the technique is competent, is that all there is? Or does one have to have a Good purpose as well as competent technique and technical proficiency? Can you do an Evil act “well”? And where does that leave you? And what does it cost you? Now? Down the road?

Worse: if you are responsible for other people can you afford to ask questions like this? Shouldn’t you just go ahead and do what you have to and once people are safe hope that “God” or Something will recognize the risk you took for a Good cause and eliminate the consequences?

Anyway, is Violence always Evil? Can’t Violence be Good, in its inner essence, so that it wouldn’t be an accident that such ‘Good’ Violence brought about Good Consequences, but rather it would be a fulfilling of whatever laws run the world … ?

Or maybe it’s just that there is a type of person who will ask questions like this, wade into a swampful of conceptual thickets and never emerge to be successful in this world. And then there’s a type of person who will do what has to be done to get Success, and then worry about Good and Evil as a secondary, follow-on phase. Western civ would have a lot fewer works of art if medieval movers and shakers didn’t get to a certain point in their life where they realized that they were running out of phases and hoped that God would accept a new chapel or a painting in lieu of an eye for eye for each human life they had deformed while clawing their way to the top of the heap and staying there. Without Evil we’d have a lot fewer museums.

Once you’ve opted for Evil, is catastrophe certain to follow? Soon? Later? And if later, are there odds that it would be so much later that it would be worth it to do the Evil act now? Is it even sane to talk about an Evil act being ‘worth it’? If the catastrophe isn’t obvious, then does it count? If the catastrophe isn’t clearly connected to the Evil act, then might it just be an unhappy coincidence: you did Evil act A and Evil Event B happened to you shortly thereafter … ? Are all Evil events that happen to you ‘consequences’? Of your Evil? Of somebody else’s? How can you get stuck with somebody else’s consequences? Is the cosmic balancing act even so complex that it can track all that? But if there’s some “act” out there capable of tracking and balancing, then isn’t it possible that such an “act” is God? And if there’s a God, then shouldn’t we have some clear guidance in all this stuff? And if there isn’t a God but there is still something Beyond us, then what? And if there’s nothing Beyond us, then why ask all these questions?

Popular films and then TV all have one thing in common: things always work out well for our favorite people in the last reel of the film or the last segment of the show. Generations of Americans – almost all of us, by now – are so programmed to expect this that we hardly think about it any more. And the assorted Advocacies have not changed that: for every outrage, there is a court case nowadays that will bring the designated baddie to some form of ‘justice’. This is pure melodrama, which initially meant drama with music to heighten the effect. Even in so-called ‘news’ shows now the ‘music’ is there, playing in our heads: baddies get theirs and we – or our surrogates, the ‘victim’ – win. Our favorite people win, and who are our favorite people? Why, us, of course. It’s all a neatly tied-up bundle, a self-repeating, self-serving feedback loop. No wonder the news media – most of them – figure it’s easier to put out this kind of ‘reporting’ rather than do the hard and expensive and dangerous work of actually finding out facts and putting them out there.

But then we tried this in the foreign policy arena. It isn’t working at all. Even when the Incumbency – which had been banking on manipulating our melodramatic weaknesses all the way to Empire – captured Saddam, there was no sudden relief, no Win moment. Other peoples weren’t following the script, and we couldn’t spin them into it. With our homegrown perps it’s been easy: don’t let them speak, don’t let anyone speak for them, and to all appearances the melodrama rolls on to inevitable victory. The Advocates are welcomed as liberators of this or that victim of this or that oppression. Cakewalk. Slam-dunk.

Well, it’s not working. And now we’ve got a whole lot of un-spinnable folks mad at us. And worse: there appear to be consequences. Big-time. For us. It’s starting to become the new illusion that it’s all the Republicans’ fault, but now all that will soon be over because the Democrats are coming in. In “The Nation” magazine for November 13, Eric Alterman takes the country’s elites to task for failing. Absolutely. But then he opines that the elites failed in refusing to stand up to the fundamentalists and Republicans. And for the forty years before that? Are the Fundamentalists to be held completely responsible for their whacko ‘creation science’ when for decades before that they’ve had to listen to the ‘science’ put forth in support of this or that Identity and this or that Revolution? The ‘science’ that led to the passage of an awful lot of legislation that we’re probably going to be stuck with for quite a while but that not many of its erstwhile proponents really want to talk about it anymore now. The elites who jumped on the anti-white bandwagon, the anti-West bandwagon, and/or the anti-male bandwagon … ask them now about the ‘science’ that apparently convinced them to do so and you’ll get the same look Allied reporters would get when they talked to certain well-fed Italians in late 1943: why yes, they do recall being in government service until very recently, but it’s all rather vague and – frankly – they’d just like to go home now and be remembered as dedicated civil servants; and no consequences please; they were different times, life is so complex, why look backward now? That sort of thing.

So does Badness/Evil/Violence ‘work’ if it’s just done right? Well, if there’s nothing to life and History except appearances and if you control the appearance-making facilities, you could probably make a neat little closed circuit ‘reality’. But you’d have to keep it controlled and closed. Any ‘outside’ events or thoughts that got into the circuit could make a hash of your neat little game. Mussolini’s Italy looked pretty cool, and worked smoothly enough according to its own lights until he went and took his show on the road, out into the wide world, where there were uncontrollable others with their ideas and their passions and their abilities. Once his armies couldn’t control them, and then couldn’t even defend Italy against their retaliation, that was that. So too for his Axis allies.

And so you can almost trace the fortunes of Germany through Goebbels’ press releases and speeches: the Wehrmacht is advancing all along the Eastern Front, the Wehrmacht is fighting to consolidate its gains, the Wehrmacht is advancing backwards to draw the unexpectedly numerous but inferior Red Army into a trap, the Wehrmacht is shortening its supply lines by moving closer to the borders of the Fatherland, the recruitment ages have been extended to teens and old men to give everyone a chance to be patriotic, we just have to “ausharren” (stick it out, in the marvelous double-entendre), Victory or Siberia, and at the end many many Germans – civilians as well as soldiers – killed by rampaging Nazi Party members for not fighting as the tanks of the Red Army came down the main drag of their city or town.

But if there’s more to History, and thus to Life and maybe even to Existence and to the Universe, than just the appearances and how you spin them, then we are into a game we hadn’t even imagined existed: not a simple flat chessboard, but Vulcan chess with several boards and interaction among them. And from the sounds of a lot of our erstwhile elites, they weren’t even expecting chess – only checkers.

So in that sense, Iraq is not only a crisis in its own right. It is also a symptom of what has been happening in this country, to us, for decades now: we have a far too simplistic vision of Life and it is rendering us incapable of maturely interacting with the world. And we have a far too simplistic vision of what it means to be a Self, and that is rendering us incapable of maturely interacting with each other, too.

“Adulthood” has to be re-claimed and ‘valorized’ again. Just as a British population besotted by the Princess-Di funeral couldn’t muster what an earlier generation of Brits had mustered in the Blitz, so too there are far too many Americans who, in thrall to their assorted and diverse besotments, cannot muster the skills of Citizenship and thus cannot People this Republic. No People, no Republic. That much is simple and as clear as a bell. A firebell in the night.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Davidco said...

For more on Bush administration attempts to 'make' history see Kucinich hearings on the Lancet Report at Atlanticfreepress.com Scientific sampling points to 650,000 civilian deaths directly resulting from the present Occupation. Bush acknowledges fewer than thirty thousand innocent Iraqis killed at American hands.

The Preznit's own Iraq Study Group picked a random day in July to check the accuracy of Pentagon figures for attacks on American soldiers. On that day, the Pentagon reported 93 attacks. The ISG found accounts of more than eleven hundred attacks that day in publically available sources.

The level of mendacity is astounding. Even Eddie Haskell would cringe to be associated with such agitprop.

6:10 AM  

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