Sunday, December 14, 2008

VICTIMIZING

I have from time to time talked about Victimism and ‘Victims’ as an ‘Identity’, a particular, identifiable ‘group’ whose ‘voice’ must be heard and demands acceded to, and as an Identity so defined, then metastasized to a Level III or IV ‘Advocacy’ the well-arranged purpose of which is not to ‘inform’ or ‘persuade’ public debate but rather to manhandle public opinion in order to ram through changes in law or jurisprudence with no debate. Identities passed the Norman Rockwell ‘speaking out’ phase a long time ago; blew through it, actually, on their way to major agitprop assault operations.

Actually, Victimism is a sort of second-tier Identity. All ‘Identities’ started out, almost by definition, as ‘victims’ since each of them had to have an initiating and ‘defining’ grievance, an ‘oppression’ which – cast like a well-waxed (and sharp-edged) board upon the cresting wave of the ‘civil rights model’ - required immediate public recognition and redress … and that redress was due ‘yesterday’, since the ‘oppression’ was a violation of ‘rights’ that had been going on for centuries or even millennia.

But in the beginning, all those decades ago when We had half-a-million troops on the backlot that could be sent to Vietnam and hundreds of naval vessels to supply and support them, one was whatever one’s Identity was, and a victim only by the working of that Identity’s particular oppression.

Then in the Reagan years the very act of being ‘victimized’ became a free-standing Identity of its own. Since a Venusian ‘sensitivity’ had already replaced a Mars-besotted male ‘insensitivity’ – of the kind so often displayed by such violent lumps as factory-workers and union-members – then to declare oneself a ‘victim’ – and it would hardly be sensitive to inquire further – was pretty much like putting a flashing light and siren on your personal minivan and heading downtown to see what would happen, joined by others who discovered themselves in the same situation.

I particularly recall when all of this struck me: in 2001, Year One of the Beginning of the End (though maybe I’m being too hard on the Bushling, given what he was left by the Clinton neolib and Reagan neocon administrations), We finally got around to executing Timothy McVeigh, in June of that year.

Few, I hope, need prompting as to the execrable terrorist act he perpetrated at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma in the spring of 1995. The gravest penalty that the justice system could apply was certainly merited for that action. And may God have mercy on his soul and the souls of all whose lives he took.

But the shocker was to listen to the assembled crowds the night of his execution. And to compare it with his own demeanor. Here among the crowd were displayed a seriously rattling set of emotions: vindictiveness, revenge, an almost frenzied glee in the presence of Death (whose presence or proximity no wise adult human being should ever take lightly). The intensity of such violent – perhaps primitive – emotions was so great that it overshadowed the unpleasant sensation of seeing adults comport themselves in public, especially when the histrionic quality that microphones and cameras always seem to engender is factored into the mix. It struck me that if a significant number of the citizenry were operating on this level, or were capable of letting themselves descend to this level, and not only in this instance of McVeigh but as a matter of habit or reflex, then democratic politics were in far greater danger than I had previously imagined.

McVeigh, on the other hand, displayed a self-possession and even insight into his situation (and impending condition) that – contrasted with the crowds – constituted a profoundly disturbing dissonance. He quoted the poem about being ‘Captain of my soul’ and ‘Master of my fate’ (I’m going on brute memory here.)

It struck me that in almost any other circumstance such an aspiration to the high road of self-mastery would be taken, especially in one so young, as particularly encouraging, especially in light of the beating ‘maturity’ and ‘character’ had been given in the previous decades, not only by the deconstructionists and the Second-Wave Feminists, but also by Our own homegrown ‘philosopher’, John Rawls, who ‘philosophized’ that there is utterly no way of saying that one approach to life is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another and that folks not only shouldn’t be ‘judgmental’ because it wasn’t ‘nice’ but that indeed there was utterly no basis in reality for making such distinctions or ‘judgment’, which was really just another form of ‘discrimination’ (and everybody knew what sort of person did that). A person who counted blades of grass as a life project was ‘equal’, therefore, to a person who developed a cure for an ancient and deadly disease. Thus Rawls. (And perhaps working with blades of grass will soon be the daily occupation of more than a few of Us, due in no small part to the ‘conceptual framework’ Professor Rawls sought – not without success – to have imposed upon Us.)

But as the time moved toward the actual execution McVeigh’s stance seemed to enrage the vast majority of those present for the occasion.

It’s possible, of course, that his was simply an ‘act’ calculated to spit one last time in the eye and on the loss of the bereaved. But even if it was – and there is no way to know for certain – then it would say an awful lot about a person who could hold up such pretense in the face of immediately impending death. And if on the other hand he actually meant it, and that the consolation he derived from his philosophy (or – who’s to say? – faith – or some illumination, revelation even, that draws near or is sent to those who are aware of the approach of their own death) … well then, there were things going on in him and among Us that should give any sober adult serious cause for extended contemplation.

But either this possibility did not occur to the crowds or – if it did on some dim and deep level – it enraged them and goaded them to frenzy all the more.

At which point no student of human affairs could avoid the intimations of things-medieval in the crowd that bode darkly for the remarkable, if incomplete, achievements that ground Our culture and Our civilization (though huffily pooh-poohed as ‘founderism’ by far too many among Our current ‘elites’). “O brave new world” indeed, “to have such people in it”.

Needless to say, there was much cheering – lurid in the klieg lights – when the agents of the state carried out the execution. I couldn’t help but thinking that it certainly makes the government’s work easier, when its agents are cheered on in the dealing of death. It cost the Nazis a small fortune to keep their own executioners liquored up sufficiently to shoot folks, at least until agents were found who could work the machinery of the gas chambers and the ovens with a focused technical skill and loyalty to the mission, un-distracted by the presence of ‘the human’.

And hadn’t McVeigh himself been trained in advanced-level military methods of dispensing death?

In the roil of interacting forces and realities, wreathed in the smokes of superheated passions, sharp and clear boundaries were starting to become hard to discern.

No doubt many were agitated that McVeigh was not following the ‘script’: pure evil is unmasked by pure good, true justice is imposed, and the last task of evil is to acknowledge itself (and thus acknowledge the goodness of its captors). The Puritans expected no less a responsible discharge of the role from those whom their judges placed in the stocks or on the gallows; during the Inquisition the prelates fondly hoped for the same so as to edify and encourage the onlookers in their rededication to leading a ‘good’ life (Rawls would say that nobody - or anybody - could say what a ‘good’ life is). Indeed, the citizenry came to these things expecting some sort of ‘living sermon’ that would evoke an emotional wallop far more powerfully than any run-of-the-mill Sunday preaching might do, although it was also fun just to get together with other folks and hoot and howl at the death of somebody else, somebody who – as far as could be determined – deserved it.

Back in the day, it was accepted that ‘God’ would agree with the court’s verdict and with the public opprobrium, and would obligingly keep up the pressure when, after so brief a moment, the soul of the now-executed passed beyond all human jurisdiction and ken. Though not even the Church presumed to guarantee just how God would handle things once the soul was in His immediate jurisdiction; a well-grounded official humility not retained by Protestants, especially in this Chosen Country, who saw themselves as deputized by and speaking for The Divinity, Whose wisdom and righteousness they so completely mirrored as to be pretty much the ‘mouth of God’ themselves. Thus the Protestants.

Although, in secular America, as it has more fully become, there is also the probability that among those who don’t really accept that there is a ‘god’, or even a ‘beyond’, the rage could be sparked by the fact that they were not getting the ‘bang’ for which they had spent so many bucks. A bawling, groveling prisoner is certainly more emotionally satisfying and his very abasement advertises vividly the authority and moral stature of the system that is killing him. Roland Freisler, marquis judge of the Party Court in Berlin back in that day, went so far as to loudly insult and berate those brought before him, in the fond hope of reducing them to a blubbering mass or – if not – to get in some loud verbal whacks for the Propaganda Ministry cameras just so that the Party kept ‘control of the narrative’; the worst thing would be for a prisoner to display any traces of a stronger character or a confidence derived from a source far beyond the Party’s reach – although, in that unlikely instance, the film reels and tapes could always be ‘lost’ afterwards. In any event, the conviction of the accused was guaranteed, for Freisler boasted that his court deployed ‘the law at war’, and followed up that military insight with a military efficiency that surpassed anything the Wehrmacht could achieve in the empty wastes of the desert or the snows of the Russian steppe. ‘War’ is a lot easier when you control all the players and your mind is unshakably made-up, unwavering and ‘certain’.

By coincidence the film ‘Doubt’ is now in release and being reviewed. It has to do with a priest bethumped by a nun who is ‘just certain’ that he must be an abuser, although there is no evidence. For her, suspicion is all the evidence required. In this, whether she knows it or not, she is supported by Professor Doctor Freud, who was quite certain that ‘sex’ is the ultimate ground and reality of human motivation, when all pretense of ideals or virtue is smashed-through. His present views, alas, are beyond Us.

More to the immediate point, the government has now brought ‘victims’ to Guantanamo – that top-secret, national-security base where the ‘worst of the worst’ (a characterization that up until a few years ago had been reserved by the Pentagon for those whom its justice-system had sent to the military lock-up at Fort Leavenworth) are penned, pending the workings of ‘the law at war’. (‘Chaos in the 9/11 courtroom’, here ).

I have written before about the possibility that ‘victims’, whose cause in the beginning a couple of decades ago seemed to be coming from ‘the left’ – a ‘liberal’ concern for ‘sensitivity’ – appear to have become the cats-paws of the government, providing a handy, media-friendly, people-friendly cover for the government to expand its police power in ways that it could never have done merely by asserting its own will and purported authority outright.

Now the government – perhaps out of desperation – has opted to make its game-plan more obvious, revealing that it would very much like to be seen as merely the agent of ‘helping’, doing what it can to bring ‘closure’ to those oppressed – and quite naturally so – by ‘grief’. A sort of militarization-as-therapy, you might say.

If such a ‘narrative’ is successfully spun and controlled, then a President Obama might indeed be forced to continue the Guantanamo trials lest he risk being seen as ‘insensitive’, which is from the feministical point of view as lethal a charge as is the appearance of being ‘weak’ from the nationalist-macho point of view. (Our politics is truly debauched if these are the only two ‘views’ from which We can choose.) It’s a shrewd move in the unsleeping card-game that the military has always played in regard to the workings of its justice system, the one that Bush merely expanded – clumsily and recklessly, but that’s Our George – into fields far more exposed to the bright light of Klieg, but also of Truth.

Not all of the families (and upon their dead and Ours be much peace) are pleased. But members of the group (‘September 11 Families Denounce Guantanamo Trials’, here) asserted their ‘pride’ at “the rights the defendants were afforded”. The dark implication, so integral to ‘victim-justice’, is that a defendant is guilty anyway, so anything done on his behalf is something generous, and you can rightly be ‘proud’ of yourself and the system that has snagged him. “This is a very appropriate, fair venue” said one, whose status as one of the bereaved far outshines any PR flak – in uniform, male or female – that the Pentagon could deploy in front of the mikes and cameras. Another, a mother whose son died on that day seven years ago, unsurprisingly characterizes the defendants as “dreadful” and refers to “their miserable lives”, although – again – We really don’t know.

On its good days – if they haven’t completely passed – that was exactly what a genuine Western-civilization type of trial would be expected to determine, even though only “as through a glass darkly”. But such delays and distractions – especially if the snagged were determined to be innocent – are gall and wormwood to the law-at-war and to revolutionary justice in general, and ‘victim-justice’, sadly and very disconcertingly, has much in common with both of those types of justice.

But it is an unhappy coincidence – and perhaps more than that, God not being of a certainty dead – that on the same day that the Guantanamo statements were made, a Senate committee – sacrally ‘bipartisan’, and with John McCain’s name at the top – issued a report that “former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials are directly responsible for abuses of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.” The report goes on to note interrogation practices that We had once thought Ourselves to have evolved far beyond.

Which does not provide grounds for ‘denying’ or ‘minimizing’ grief and loss, but does suggest that perhaps a mind so overshadowed by a grieving heart – that particular and extraordinary sensibility – is not best relied upon to conduct the careful workings of justice, especially when such monstrous realities as death or even life-imprisonment are loose on the table.

There is, many would still admit, a God, after all; and even for those who don’t so believe, who wants to contribute more darkness to the world by stampeding toward so grave a consequence as a life ended or permanently imprisoned, which might also entail a mistaken determination? In this matter, We and Our judges would be exercising the prudent caution of the bomb-defusing expert, not the witless slackness of the morally unconcerned.

So it seems to me that commentators who recently have been trying to sidle toward truth without upsetting anybody, who justify Our hugely improvident reaction to 9/11 by purring that We were all just overcome by emotions generated by that day’s events, aren’t quite grasping the whole truth. We – or far too many of Us – were already operating on that level well before 9/11. ‘Victim-justice’ and its accompanying public ‘narrative’ and ‘script’ guided far too much of Our public consciousness long before that fateful day.

But fateful it indeed was. Having become used to relying on passion, and to letting Ourselves operate from and even dwell in, the darker passions, as the basis of Our public and Our common sensibility, We offered no effective resistance as the Bushist imperium surfed those waves of passion, dragging Us all into a war in the East from which this generation shall never recover, and for which future generations will hold Us all responsible, here and around the world.

Actions have consequences. So do passions. Is that news?

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