Tuesday, January 02, 2007

PUT UP YOUR DUKES

Michael Donnelly outlines the Duke lacrosse (non-)rape case in “Injustice in Black and White” (www.counterpunch.com/donnelly12302006.html). What he describes is a classic example of very bad things, done in a very worthwhile cause, solidifying into a Standard Operating Procedure, and indeed erected into a Plan. And thus taking us into the dark territory (yes, Mr. Cheney’s “dark side”) of things Soviet, which decent folks figured had been buried in 1991 along with the Soviet state itself. And this is the key reason why it’s commented upon here: we’re dealing with something very clearly representing Soviet praxis, and – as noted elsewhere on this site – it was present at the creation of the Iraq invasion (a mission, the White House asserts, whose success has simply not yet actualized).

The DA in the case had said the newspapers early on “One would wonder why one needs an attorney if one was not charged and had not done anything wrong”. The answer of course, is that by the Year of Grace 2006 it had become clear to any number of defense-attorneys that any male even distantly associated with a ‘sex-offense’ already had one extremity in the sausage machine that has become sex-offense ‘justice’. No defense-attorney in his or her right mind, even before formally being retained and simply asked for advice, could advise any one in such a position to just go down to the station and have a chat with the folks down there.

Nor – as Donnelly accurately notes – were the defendants mediagenically ‘sympathetic’; indeed they were rather unlovely in a 1930s sort of way: macho frat-boys, many from well-heeled families, attending a powerhouse school with no small connection to the gummint and as close to an Ivy as one is going to find in the Carolinas.

The DA himself was up for election in a heavily black ‘town’, and going after such ‘gowns’ was a shrewd re-election gambit. That such political consideration would of itself be largely incompatible with the careful administration of criminal justice is so contrary to historic political praxis as to seem, like adherence to the authentic vision of Christ (or Gandhi), both ‘quaint’ and hopelessly ‘idealistic’.

But among the fuels for this fire the unholy mix of politics and criminal justiciaring was merely wood compared to the magnesium effect of the sex-offense phenomenon as it has now metastasized under the nurturance of advanced-level Advocacies and a media that has – to its own great profit – turned pretty much ‘yellow’.

And the whole concoction has been distilled to the point where it has become a Script: it has its own roles, its own plot, and – worst of all – its own set of reactions and opinions which are to be assumed by the public, to be delivered on cue. Any deviation from whole-hearted support for the approved opinions bids fair to land the opiner in some modern-day, ‘democratic’ form of gulag.

There were few trees not flattened so as to smooth and clear the path for the winds that were generated to fan the flames; firestorms like the one that blitzed London on December 29, 1940 are now a common development. Courts and legislatures, media, even the free and full expression of the voice of the citizenry were all flattened, watertight-doors jammed open to make it easier for ‘justice’ against these ‘monsters’ to be efficiently wreaked.

The professionalism of our modern (and militarized) police and investigators – so brightly, brassily, and proudly limned in numerous current and recent TV series – was clearly compromised, the only real question being: was that professionalism eroded by the effects of this thing or was that professionalism itself purposely skewed to become part of the problem before the fact? The philosophy of Muldoon of the Strong Arm Squad seems not to have really been buried, and it is quite possible that beneath the SWAT chic and learned discourse on the varieties of hi-tech weaponry by starry-shouldered, crew-cut paragons, the rough peasant justice of the 1890s has been brought back from its grave.

A Duke law professor noted that the self-proclaimed victim was helpfully prodded by police in a line-up, to the point that they removed any speed-bumps – embedded in lawful procedure precisely for the purpose of discerning truth – that might deflect her from identifying, or at least choosing, a couple-three defendants. The rough peasant Southern justice of the 1950s has been brought back from its grave, if indeed it was ever truly staked through its heart in the first place.

Duke’s role is tortured. It pretends to the aura of the Ivy, but is actually deeply connected to the aforementioned gummint (and, at the risk of repeating myself, particularly to the JAG racket). Yet an echt Ivy nowadays must be ‘sensitive’ and ‘responsive’ (nor are those concepts in themselves at all undesirable). So the Duke honchos had to keep the ‘town’ happy, and not appear to be out of step with the Script, while at the same time not giving their alumni the impression that their fair-haired bhoys would be exposed to the crassery of criminal prosecution for frat-boy pranks from which great preparation for high-ranking or deep-connected government and business careers is irreplaceably derived. The battles of Democracy are won on the playing-fields and in the frat-houses, and we shall never surrender, and all that. Like a military now very Southron and evangelical – when not blatantly Fundamentalist – Duke wants to draw increased devotion from the quick-burning fuels of self-assurance and undisputed authority, leading to a clarity based not on deep, patient, sometimes tortured, always serious thought but rather based on having pushed all the troublesome pieces off the board. And yet simultaneously it wants to be seen as a major University in … some … sense. And, given our modern American reality, it most likely qualifies.

Prosecutor Nifong pulled some moves that could be called ‘sailing close to the wind’ but which are now securely ensconced within the Script: giving out inflammatory and skewed comments to the media, selectively releasing such facts as he chose, the thinness of the case cloaked by the lubricating miasm of ‘outrage’ and ‘sensitivity’ so that the public might not be given the uneasy impression that it was jumping the gun in concluding that the defendants were true ‘perps’, deserving of all the honors thereto appertaining in our prison-happy, perfect-security society. But then he went and outright lied to the court that there was no DNA evidence one way or the other, when indeed he had two sets of it that not only did not implicate the three selectees, but also did not implicate the other 40-plus members of the lacrosse team, and actually did indicate the ‘contributions’ (ah, the ever tasteful CSI!) of 7 other unidentified males.

This invites serious reflection on the effect that long-term (the Tawana Brawley episode took place about 20 years ago now) Emergency-ism and Outrage-ism is having on our domestic, civilian law enforcement personnel. Their sense of immunity to prosecution seems to be climbing toward that enjoyed by the JAGs and their investigative ‘organs’, who carry on that thing they do shielded and fortified by concentric rings of defenses: national security, special military concerns that ‘civilians’ wouldn’t understand, the gauzy, muzzy golden aura of the military as the embodiment of all things good and true as resurrected by the Reagan era, and now the even more useful waves of Advocacy-stoked ‘outrage’ that forgive without investigating any of their mis- or mal-feasances that inconveniently do manage to blunder out onto the stage. And all of this insurance on top of the foursquare organizational dogma that JAGs and military investigators are almost as free from Original Sin as generals and admirals. In the Southron theology, virginity seems to be enjoyed not only ,by the Mother of God, but also by the authority figures of the gummint (the aforementioned frat-boy forays and perhaps preacherly prayer-trips into gay sex and crystal meth not excepted).

A reflexive public response according to a Script – any Script – is hugely toxic to law enforcement and to society. Once a public response loses the vitality and unpredictability of serious sifting for the truth and becomes an almost completely predictable element, then the sad effects of Original Sin – especially when working within a so powerful and privileged an entity as a law enforcement organization – can figure a way around, just as water – however polluted – will still find its way in through any opening afforded to it through inadvertence or design. The hard job of Peopling means having to demand careful sifting for Truth, so that Our authority is not deployed in the service of un-Truth.

Nor let us be sidetracked by the pious bray that Nifong was ‘an isolated instance’, a ‘rogue’ individual: he had the bad karma to get caught doing the dirty, but he’s a full-fledged member of the fraternity. This very powerful fraternity.

Surely we’re seeing the problem in the Iraq war now. Other turkeys may be roosting over here already. Something other than concrete and steel structures has been seriously hit in this country, and not by furriners. This calls not for a tool as simple as the musket over the fireplace but rather for the inhabiting of those superior aspects of ourselves upon which the Framers and the beleagured (yet ever cagey) Lincoln pinned their deepest hope.

If the ability to People might be thought of as the Child, then each of us is a Joseph or a Mary, responsible for its safety and its thriving, against interests that wish our integrity great ill. Not a whit of which would be news to Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln … however much they may have refrained from the embrace of the Bible stories (and they did) to frame their arguments and analyses.

Nor can the role of the media in all of this be discounted. If it weren’t for the media re-embracing a form of ‘yellow journalism’, even when claiming that it was only the old Progressive ‘muckraking’ in a fresh Good Cause, then the scope and duration of the sex-offense mania – with all its truly dangerous consequences – could not have thrived as long as has been the case. And perhaps the entire run-up to the Iraq war might have been baffled, had the media hewed to Truth first, rather than down-playing slowly-brewed and expensive Truth for the cheap, fast red-white-blue lightnin’ of reflexive Outrage and patrioteering.

Now dozens of thousands of Our young remain obedient to Our word in the bloody wrack of the Eastern front, thousands of them are dead, and they have caused – willy or nilly – the deaths of further multiple thousands. We have much to do.

In his excellent little book “Postscript to Yesterday: American Life and Thought 1896-1946”, published in 1947, the eminently readable and insightful Lloyd Morris devotes a chapter, “The Uses of News”, to the development of the news-gathering trade in those eventful 50 years. Joseph Pulitzer determined that the best way to uncover wrongdoing was “to create by destroying, to affirm by attacking” [the quotations are from Morris], insisting always upon the truth of his facts but never failing to deploy them in the most sensational fashion possible, until it was finally observed back then that “trial by newspaper was becoming an increasing threat to judicial processes; the invasion of private rights was often without redress for the injured”.

William Randolph Hearst competed with Pulitzer for pre-eminence. He “was known far and wide for his opinions, not his standards” and “his editorial world was a world of sharp focus, lacking the light and shadow of profound moral conviction”. There is a texture to existence; it – like much of the desert – is not simply flat, lifeless, and predictable (as the Italian armored columns chasing Omar Muktar found out to their great damage and discomfiture). An inaccurate ‘clarity’, based not on a strenuously formulated awareness but rather on a juvenile ignoring of any complications, is bound to set one up for a world of hurt. And take maybe a lot of others into the blood and mire along with one. In the Cause of enhancing “democracy" Hearst poured gallons of garishly colored ink down the throats of the public, insisting that his hyped-up stories would make it easier for folks to grasp them, which as citizens they needed to do. About which the great Progressive muckraker Lincoln Steffens observed: “to give us a better government he would make us a worse people”. The thought cannot be avoided that some of our modern day ‘media’ honchos are channeling Mr. Hearst far more effectively than anyone in the White House used to draw upon astrological charts.

To the “New York Times” came Joseph Ochs, back in the 1890s. As he went on, observing the operating styles and philosophies of Pulitzer and Hearst, he decided that his newspaper would carry only “all the news that’s fit to print”. In other words, as against Hearst and even the truth-respecting but sensational Pulitzer, he would treat the intelligent American citizen to a wide and full and accurate record of all the important developments in all the relevant issues of the day, carefully presented. A ray of light, a light-house that – we would have to admit – has not been as well-tended of late; nor can the ship of the Republic any longer rely on it solely.

In an ever-spiraling cycle, the news media seem to be drawn down to frothy sensationalism rather than upward to serious deliberation. That it is in a good Cause – and toward increased profits – cannot justify it: Truth is being sacrificed. And if the rejoinder comes in the question “And what is Truth?” then a fundamental mistake has been made that, at the very least, should be clear to any who profess a working familiarity with the Old or the New Testament.

Whether Our own decreasing sensitivity to Truth and our own failing capabilities to determine it, and to demand It in our society – is a cause or an effect, is one of those questions that can indeed go on forever. The task immediately before Us is to take a more sober and serious road than heretofore, and thus to face full-on the massive and now monstrous issues that beset us and – through us – the world and its peoples. Whether the American thumb remains heavy enough to hold the world in place is a question of secondary concern; whether the American soul is still capable of being a Beacon and a Modell to the world’s peoples is the question of the day. How We answer it “shall mark us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation.”

The New Year waits with eager groaning the revelation of the children of the Republic. What say We?

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