Tuesday, December 05, 2006

SURREAL IS REALLY REAL

R.W. Behan has a very informative piece “The Surreal Politics of Premeditated War” (www.truthout.org/docs_2006/120406P.shtml).

He’s basically tracing the events and political-economic and government-corporate elements that led the Bush administration to wage pre-emptive war in the oil-rich lands around the Caspian Basin. Rightly, he notes that included in this awful package have been assorted governmental Acts that have served corporate interests at the expense of the environment, corporate interests at the expense of citizen health and education, government interests at the expense of citizens’ rights (the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act), and not only the public embrace of, but also the retroactive legalization of, torture.

Wrongly, he asserts that we have practiced this surreal politics “since George Bush was first put in office”. It’s been pointed out elsewhere on this site that bad things in this department have been going on for almost 40 years. And that all Bush and Rove and their reprehensible co-conspirators and accomplices did was to take advantage of a degraded civic capacity effected through manipulations in the domestic policy arena and use those very instruments of civic degradation to carry out their own scams in the arena of foreign affairs. And that we are going to miss yet another opportunity to pump out our ship if we enter the post-Republican era secure in the belief that the Republicans were the devil and the devil is now exorcised (through our own marvelous efforts, if we do say so ourselves – although the mainstream media and punditry will be glad to say it for us).

We, The People, invited these vampires in. And we invited them over our thresh-hold, into the ancestral home we inherited from Washington, Lincoln, and an unseen host of true patriots, because we could no longer tell ‘real’ from ‘surreal’. Our politics have become “surreal” because we as citizens have over the past decades become increasingly less capable of carrying out our duties, yet have continued carrying on as if we really were maintaining our ability to People this Republic. That, I think, is the core surrealism that possesses this country and needs to be exorcised – as it were – or rather exercised out by our return to Citizenship, our turning back (‘metanoia’ is the New Testament term for it) toward our fundamental democratic identity as We, The People, the foundation of the Republic.

Behan notes that there were previous unsavory incursions into other nations’ affairs in the postwar era, and especially in the Reagan and Bush 1 years. One can point out for the record that we have amassed a record of incursions against the Indian tribes, against Mexico, against Canada, then Hawaii and the Philippines and the northern tier of South American countries, and indeed with the Rainbow War Plans we had every intention of successfully deploying poison-gas and aerial bombardment against Mexico, Canada, and Great Britain (the Plans were buried – and very quietly – only with Hitler’s aggressive expansion in the late-1930s). Numerous inhabitants of our own Southern tier of States might want to make a further addition to the foregoing list. Should our economic and national interests have dictated it, the Marines might have stormed ashore at Quebec instead of Iwo Jima.

But never has the government (the ‘gummint’ as our Southron siblings would say) tried – or dared to try – the pre-emptive, invasive wholly unjustified war-waging the results of which now drain the blood and treasure of a nation reputedly dedicated to the protection of children and the shrewd accumulation of wealth.

It’s not enough to claim that the bad stuff has only been going on since Bush took over. This treacherous Incumbency was handed a golden opportunity: the hugely weakened Peopling capabilities of our citizenry. Debauched by decades of calling one thing another; of not-seeing what was there to be seen in front of our eyes; of not demanding evidence for the most extraordinary assertions, claims and accusations; of not imposing perspective and patient deliberation upon helter-skelter urgings … thus debauched, we were low-hanging fruit for an engorged ‘gummint’ and its corporate keepers. And we have to accept responsibility for that. It happened on our watch.

Behan quotes what may be one of the enduring proofs of this Incumbency’s witless arrogance: the assertion by a high operative that “… when we act we create our own reality”. But that’s pure postmodernism: there is no Reality, there is only the reality that is the sum total of what actions we take. And more: there’s no reality ‘out there’, but rather it’s all in how you perceive it. Yet these axioms are not a couple-six years old: they were force-fed into the body politic decades ago by the Democrats in their robust pandering to the Revolutions of the Identities. And it is here that we must look to see the American polity cast adrift from its moorings, from its foundations, to drift along on rip-currents and at the mercy of winds that Congress after Congress, pol after pol, has pretended to control.

It is sentimental pandering – intentional or not – to let The People off the hook by claiming that the long delay in even beginning to assert its authority was due to Americans being “trusting” and that they believed that “the war on terror was the just and moral response to a brutal terrorist attack”. Phooey. After decades of distracting ourselves with shopping, spectating, and Feelings of all sorts, and of even our more intelligent members stifling themselves in the face of increasingly dysfunctional, unexpectedly unsuccessful initiatives, and of letting wave after wave of Advocacies deconstruct not only the long-standing conceptual bases of Western civilization but also the actual legal floodwalls that uniquely and solely protected us from the toxic surges of an engorged ‘gummint’ … after all that, do a majority of us now expect to be let off the hook and be allowed to assume a position on the sidelines as un-trumpable Victims? Baloney.

It’s time to blame the so-called Victim, time for the so-called Victim to assume responsibility. We must blame ourselves, we must assume responsibility for our actions. Hundreds of thousands of innocents – women, elderly and children – are dead and more maimed; thousands of our troops are dead and dozens of thousands wounded physically and/or emotionally. And do we think that each of us isn’t going to wind up on the offender-Registry that is kept Above? Or is there no responsibility because there is no Above? Is there no need to worry because the Supreme Court agreed you couldn’t be prosecuted? There are Prosecutors who aren’t under the Court’s authority but under a Higher Authority. Or did we think that the postmodernists and the Advocacies were right: that there’s nothing except what’s here and it’s all political and if an outrage isn’t immediately handled by extraordinary means now then the bad guys will ‘get away’. The patience of this Republic’s and the West’s jurisprudence over millennia, but especially as it has evolved and been refined over the past few centuries, is inseparably grounded in the belief that even if a bad guy escapes our poor power to add or detract, there will be a Reckoning, so we don’t need to turn ourselves into a police-state in order to fulfill the too-big shoes of Ultimate Justiciar. That title belongs to a greater entity than this simple human Republic, marvelous a construction as it is among the governments of this world.

The work of the Project for a New American Century should live in infamy. But the weapons it used to hijack the Republic were all lying around unsecured and unsupervised. The judicial acceptance of accusations without evidence – hesitatingly at first in matters racial, then with statutorily-jazzed vigor in certain provisions of violence-against-women and then presented as an undeniable moral certainty in the sex-offender craze, is echoed in the WMD scam. The automatic labeling of any accused as an ‘enemy’, a Manichean and immature categorization first wielded by feminists against ‘men’ and by Fundamentalists against everybody else, bore poisoned but ready fruit when The People were easily stampeded into accepting the gummint’s either-or approach to the dangerous complexities of international relations and the awefull unleashing of the dogs of war. The suppression of doubters by instantly labeling them as accomplices to Evil, and the very equation of transgression with Evil itself, served the cause of each of the Revolutions, and provided a bridge for accommodation with Fundamentalist righteousness and arrogance.

And everywhere, the suppression of individual thought and responsible deliberation in the public forum, created a herd-in-stampede where there should have been a People who maturely and with a becoming adult seriousness executed the responsibilities assigned to them. When push came to shove the Americans of the early 2000s behaved no better than the Germans of the early 1930s. And one election isn’t going to make it all better. Because one election won’t make us better Citizens, won’t make us a People. It’s going to take a lot more than that. In the eminently Catholic wisdom, we are going to wind up living with the consequences of what we have done for a long time, so we’d best make a penance out of it and redeem the time.

Behan rightly points out that international terrorism is best handled by international police action; wars are fought between nations and you can’t fight a war against a technique or a method. Of course, it has proven hugely lucrative to media, gummint, and assorted domestic interests to conduct ‘wars’ on this or that: on Poverty, on Drugs, on ‘homelessness’, on ‘men’ and on sex-offenders (defined so broadly as to fuel an endless round of gummint intervention, sorta like Iraq itself). Without commenting on the substance of the foregoing revolutionary ‘wars’, just the very act of going into ‘war’ mode – against this or that purported Oppressor as the Advocacies urge or against this or that Evildoer as the Fundamentalists urge – is itself degrading Americans as a People. In that sense, all that’s happened in Iraq is that the consequences we have been able to hide from in our own domestic affairs now unavoidably demand our attention in foreign affairs. No amount of ‘spin’, no amount of tarring with the ‘backlash’ label, no amount of claiming that we are the victim and we are being blamed unjustly – no amount of any of that is going to work. The ferocious forces we have set loose in Iraq and around the world won’t be deprived of their bloody reality by our poor power to spin and explain-away.

And Behan sails right along, mentioning Israel as being a successful example of international police work. Has he forgotten that one could make a very reasonable case that it was Israel’s international kidnapping and rendition of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 that was actually the first example of the international government lawlessness that has infected our modern reality? It wasn’t just that Israel, for domestic as much as foreign policy reasons, stalked Eichmann in a sovereign foreign country, had its agents kidnap him and sneak him out in a plane, brought him back to Israel, and tried him and executed him. Not only that, but the kicker is that the Israeli government then sought to be congratulated and supported for what it had done. Eichmann had been a Nazi, he had worked on the mechanics of the Holocaust, and Israel had a moral right to do anything to bring such a man to its justice. God’s Justice was apparently not enough; and so not only did a government violate a raft of international laws (strictly speaking, it may have committed an act of war) and execute a citizen of another State, but that government expected to be congratulated for doing the Right Thing. Because the awfulness of the Holocaust created an Emergency, and outrage at the Holocaust trumps all law; and vengeance for the Holocaust is indeed the fundamental Law.

Here, surely, is a candidate for the starting-point of a modern societal Lawlessness in which governments and societies openly ignore their own laws and legal traditions in order to satisfy the demands of ‘outrage’, and fully expect to be praised for it, and consider themselves moral and upstanding and decent every step of the way. We had all better hope that Heaven doesn’t permit itself such debauched liberties, as St. Peter wisely realized ‘back in the day’. But Peter was no Fundamentalist, and did not permit himself the liberties that God’s present-day self-declared deputies wield with a pandaemonic zeal.

And within a few years – only – of 1961, it was the sense that Outrage trumps Law that became the fundamental operational principle, the Standard Operating Procedure, of Advocacy. From one Identity to another it was passed on throughout the later 1960s and into the 1970s and beyond, and even unto now. No doubt, no skepticism, no reason, no common sense, no law, no tradition, nothing would be allowed to stand in its way. No civic discourse would be encouraged. The government under the Democrats rose to that ‘emergency’ of the Identities like a trout to the fly; Bush’s government simply rose to a different fly, but equally determined to gorge. And so it has.

Dwight Eisenhower had written to the photographer Karsh of his own “belief that universal understanding and knowledge offers some hope that order and logic can gradually replace chaos and hysteria in the world”. By that same 1961 Eisenhower was “old” and had been replaced by “youth”. By 1967 his very language would seem quaint, its granite clarities disappearing in the dual haze of the Summer of Love and the toxic spew issuing from gummint spokesmen describing the victory just ahead in Vietnam. By 1972 “order” and “logic” would be dropped from elite discourse, “chaos” would be considered life-giving, and “hysteria” banned as a patriarchally oppressive term. Whatever wisdom Eisenhower might have had to impart was lost in the opprobrium accruing to him as a “man” (a recently discovered being who, it was learned to the outrage of elite opinion, had been existing under the world’s very nose for millennia, perpetrating the most terrible outrages, and only by virtue of this enlightened generation of today – who did ‘get it’ – would this scourge finally be named and conquered).

And thus we came to Saddam and his connection to terrorism and his WMD and our love of Democracy and our cakewalks and our slam-dunks and our being welcomed as liberators. Charles Oliver, a contributing editor at Reason magazine, says in the January 2007 issue: “The challenge of liberty will be to show how philosophical arguments about liberty and order, freedom and safety, bear on debates regarding the powers assumed by the government in the War on Terror.” He’s absolutely right, but it’s anybody’s guess if his advice will be given the weight it deserves. So many forces operating in this country today do not want citizens who are capable of, or interested in, looking seriously at any issues at all, and this has been true now for decades. Corporations don’t want thoughtful consumers – they want ‘shoppers’; Advocates don’t want careful deliberators – they want citizens who can instantly shift into ‘outrage’ and stay there; the Fundies don’t want people who think – just people who believe the right thing and tell a good story about it; the neocons and the Fox-ists don’t want citizens who debate – they only want obedient and pliable fodder. And like a spider at the center of a web, shrewdly metabolizing such dreck whether churned up by the Left or the Right, the gummint insinuates itself into the abyssal vacuum left by the shrinking civic consciousness of The People. The damned ice-caps aren’t the only things melting these days.

A generation now still children may wonder – and not kindly – as to how it was that a generation that won the Good War, the Greatest Generation in its own estimation, in turn raised a generation that endured the awfulness of a Vietnam war that its parents cheered, and then – still possessed of the many strengths of later middle age – that second generation went and blew the promise of Communism’s well-deserved end by celebrating America into the maelstrom that has become “Iraq”.

No, 9-11 doesn’t explain it. Nor does the fathomless treachery of this Incumbency. We must look into ourselves. And how can we dare do otherwise? Suppose there will come not a Rapture but a Reckoning? Suppose that the blood now crying out from so much ground – American, Iraqi, old, young, male, female, religious, secular – is finally ‘heard’? We’re all offenders now; our power – loosed ultimately on our authority – has abused, molested, beaten, starved, shocked, shot, bombed, blown up, and in divers ways maimed or obliterated more human lives than anybody ever perp-walked in front of Fox’s leering, drooling cameras.

Or maybe the revolutionaries have been right all along and there is no God. Only preachers who pass the ammunition and allow as how God will sort it all out, and bishops who opine with shifty sweetness that decent folks can agree to disagree.

The promise of 1991 is irretrievably lost. Let us so bear ourselves that the promise of 2007 is not as lightly betrayed. Let this be our finest hour, we who are alive now, in whose hands the destiny of the Republic has been – however briefly - placed.

And in order to take back our Republic, we shall first have to take back our Selves. A good start: each of us looks into the mirror and repeats: This Republic is MY inheritance and it’s MY job to keep an eye on its managers, because it’s so big that it has serious effects around the world. . Then: There’s too much money at stake to imagine the managers are going to do things right. We need to develop the skepticism of the decent Russian who read the planted ‘stories’ in “Tass” and “Izvestia” but we need to avoid the fatalism of the Soviet citizen who felt there was nothing s/he could do – we are, still and all, Americans, and that heritage counts for something yet.

And then we need to lay hands on politics again. The People are required for American politics to work properly; and The People have been shut out as effectively by the Left as by the Right in the past decades (see above and see elsewhere on this site). We need to get a grip on ourselves and then get our hands on politics again, as mature, deliberative, members of a ‘polis’ (no, not members of an Identity, nor as ‘victims’ in any of that category’s sub-species or pseudo-species, nor as God’s ‘deputies’, nor as the world’s ‘policemen’). We have all got to take to the oars and start rowing again, because this remarkable vessel is heading for the rocks; and we’d better let those up at the helm know that it’s ain’t gonna be enough for them to pound their damned chests and say that all they have to do is to steer Right or steer Left. They need to STEER, and then they need to suggest a course we can all agree on.

Let’s do this, People.

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