Thursday, January 29, 2009


The ‘Boston Globe’ reports that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has agreed to hear former priest Paul Shanley’s direct appeal of a lower court refusal to grant his Motion for a new trial.

This is actually important news far beyond the scope of Shanley’s personal legal toils and travails.

He was convicted in February 2005 of "digitally raping" a 7-year-old; after the one plaintiff whom the DA finally dared to put up delivered a ‘recovered memory’ that differed substantially from the memories of other witnesses. After the trial, in a remarkable by-the-by, a juror mentioned that although the jury had a difficult time coming to its finding, the ultimately deciding factor was that if they didn’t then it would send ‘the wrong message’. In other words, Shanley’s fate ultimately came down to social and political issues beyond the fact of his own provable guilt, which otherwise had not seemed so clear to the jury. Ach. Such is the fate of those who somehow become ‘symbols’ in Our new, symbolic national order.*

Shanley's record is not that of a monster. A vigorous and remarkably active ‘street priest’ in his younger days in the 1970s, his chosen métier was ‘street kids’. He was gay, although that means little as it stands, given the many variations on that theme.

At some point in the 1980s, while a pastor at a well-to-do parish in the metro area, he allegedly called youths between the age of 6-12 out of class, raped or indecently assaulted them, and returned them to class.

It was not until 2002 that several of those individuals, now 20 or so years older, suddenly ‘remembered’ it all. That year, on January 2, the ‘Globe’ had initiated the third (or fourth, depending on how you count) phase of the priest sex-abuse campaigns. It was a new-media dream: salacious and outrageous actions alleged; a hierarchy that apparently had tried to deal with matters by taking actions along a spectrum from ‘get-him-help’ to outright ‘cover-up’; a Cardinal-Archbishop who was a self-assured Macher in local, national and Vatican politics and affairs; and an Archdiocese (many of them, ultimately) with an awful lot of money.

Hiding, I would add, in the deeper background were a dark gaggle of other elements: a national government bent upon preventive war that did not wish a replay of the early 1980s Catholic hierarchy’s influential support for nuclear disarmament and military adventure; an engorged Fundamentalism now at the zenith of its Ascendancy and looking to supplant the Catholic Church’s position and stature in national affairs; a feminism that was looking to place its constituents into officially ‘male’ positions in the priesthood and that was possessed of an abiding resentment at the Church’s refusal to officially support the feminist abortion demands; an already-established sex-offender mania that had merged with a ‘child-abuse’ anxiety of substantial proportions; and a priesthood that appeared to be comprised of a very large percentage of gays, closeted or ‘out’.

The Church in the United States faced opponents without but also within, where ‘liberals’ were pressing for both recognition of abortion and of female priests, and ‘traditionalists’ were fuming about ‘gays’ in the priesthood and the hierarchy’s ‘softness’ and ‘liberalism’ on key issues. The ‘liberals’ were looking for a best-case (not to say fantasized) ‘new’ Church, and the ‘traditionalists’ were looking for a best-case (equally fantasized) return to the ‘old’ Church.

Anyhoo, in that year, by remarkable coincidence, the several former-youths suddenly ‘remembered’ their abuse, which they had apparently ‘repressed’, individually and collectively.

After exhaustive calculation and some last-minute re-arranging, the State chose to bring the case of only one of the rememberers forward, and it was on the gravamen of his case that Shanley was convicted in 2005.

One might wonder about such a coincidence, but in modern victimist jurispraxis it is considered bad-form, and actually an overt act of re-victimizing, to question or even notice such ‘coincidences’. It is simply not done.

The key to the whole Appeal now appears to be this matter of ‘repressed memory’. The State and the victims had insisted and still do insist that the recently ‘discovered’ phenomenon of ‘repressed memory’ is valid, and thus admissible as evidence.

This results in something most uncomfortably akin to ‘spectral evidence’. We recall that in the Salem Witch Trials, the only ‘evidence’ was that the accusers – young girls – told the Court that they (and only they) could see the witchy form and actions of the accused (mostly, in the beginning, elderly single females). Predisposed – indeed required – by theology and religion to admit the existence of evil spirits active in this world and, logically, of the possibility of human connivance with them, the Court then attempted to blend this layer of belief with the principles of a law and jurisprudence struggling rather successfully to emerge from the Medieval mishmash of superstition into the hard, bright light of provable fact and due process. The Justices did so – catastrophically – by accepting the validity of the ‘spectral evidence’. They wound up making such a lethal (many died in custody or on the gallows) hash that a few months later those Justices who had not resigned in disgust quietly destroyed the records of the trials after the Governor, on the orders of the Crown, stopped the trials and suppressed the use of ‘spectral evidence’. When the trials started up again for a final time, with no ‘spectral evidence’, the acquittal rate – by remarkable coincidence – skyrocketed and shortly thereafter the whole witch trial process was stopped permanently. (See my Post ‘Traveling Backwards’ of December 23, 2008 here). It was not a happy chapter in the annals of American law, but the blood of the condemned served to purchase hard-won advances in American evidentiary rules and due-process.

Fast-forward to Our own ultra-modern century (or so it seemed it would be in the 1990s and even in 2002). Certain scientists, or at least ‘experts’, all proud to be ‘advocates’, reported the major new discovery that a victim of an outrageous alleged act might indeed be so ‘traumatized’ that she (almost always ‘she’) would ‘forget’ the incident; her mind would bury it, repress it, and there it would lie, until at some point, for whatever congeries of reasons or catalysts, the said ‘memory’ would suddenly pop back to the surface of consciousness, almost like Titanic suddenly re-floating herself into the sea-lanes off Cape Race on a fine day decades after her ‘trauma’.

Furthermore, it was asserted that – sort of like a computer file – having been ‘un-accessed’ all these years, the ‘memory’ would be in almost perfect ‘shape’, hence accurate as an original photo or recording, and hence not only admissible as evidence but irrefutable in its perfection … and its accuracy. The victim-witness, therefore, by telling her ‘story’ as suddenly ‘remembered’, could take judge and jury on an almost time-machine-like journey back to the moment of the incident itself. No questions need be asked. Titanic would emerge from the depths whole and intact, utterly seaworthy, pristine as the moment before her ‘trauma’.

We live, let Us admit, in amazing times.

But let Us not then imagine that We should abandon all effort to kick tires. The times may be amazing; the tires probably not so much.

Frederick Crews, reviewing the book “Remembering Trauma” by the Harvard psychology professor Richard J. McNally, (‘The Trauma Trap’, The New York Review of Books, March 11, 2004, pp.37-40) recaps the key issues that militate against this ‘new discovery’ of repressed or recovered memory. What effects does psychological trauma have on memory? Is it possible that the species would have survived if it was not able to recall dangerous experiences (and thus avoid them in the future)? Can a ‘memory’ leave a discoverable trace in the chemistry or structure of the brain such that the actual presence of the ‘memory’ can be independently confirmed by someone other than the rememberer? (Outside of ‘Star Trek’ medical science or the Vulcan mind-meld?)

Does anybody really want to bear in mind that after their ‘rapists’ were put in prison and their lives rather comprehensively destroyed, children ‘raped’ during the preschool mania of the 1980s were discovered, years later, to be intact? Even Holocaust survivors, comprehensively interviewed and evaluated, remembered their trauma; “traumatic experiences may not always remain in the forefront of memory, but unlike ‘repressed’ ones, they can be readily called to mind again”.

As is so often sadly the case in times of public mania, even the most responsible institutions fail Us. In 1999 the American Psychiatric Association gave a prestigious award in legal psychiatry to a book that – among other things – not only supported ‘repressed memory’, but asserted the existence of ritual-abuse cults and urged the admissibility of hypnotically-retrieved memories in court (although one such patient produced through such ‘therapy’ a clear and distinct memory of her father murdering a person who, upon investigation, was found never to have existed). Further, Crews outlines how the Association has continually played with its diagnostic criteria in its master manual – the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” or DSM – in order to accommodate the ‘possibility’ of such non-physical maladies.

The American Psychological Association, under pressure from its many ‘therapist’ and ‘clinician’ members, refuses to issue a list of recommended therapies for traumatized individuals, for fear of either having to approve outright whackery (hypnotic regression, touch therapy, past lives, etc.) or, by excluding a therapy, depriving some members of their livelihood. We recall that this organization also had military psychologists on its military-psychology committee, and when doubts were raised about organization members’ participation in torture, the military-psychologists were assigned to ‘investigate’ and reported back that everything was just ducky, thank you. Much like the American Bar Association has a military-law committee comprised largely of – wait for it – military lawyers, all of whom seem rather certain that military justice works just fine, thank ya vurry mutch. Go ahead, let yourself laugh – had more Germans laughed and not kept a straight face in the late-‘20s and early-‘30s, the little brute with the funny mustache might not have gone as far as he did.

So for example, one group of serious lab researchers note that their animals seem to recall any incident that happens to them accompanied by strong negative emotions (such as electrical shock), and will avoid what they perceive to be the source of the shock quite reliably from then on. Another group notes that some negative stimuli might be somehow suppressed in the interests of the animal’s better functioning. Another group speculates that if a memory is not often recalled, it might actually retain more of its original integrity (another question altogether, they admit) than a memory constantly accessed; the theory being that ‘memories’ are similar to genetic division: the more you do it, the greater the chance of a mistake, so conversely, the less you do it … and so on. None of the very reputable studies and scientific research teams were ‘advocating’ for anything and in the matter of human repressed memory they drew no conclusions, especially since – on top of everything else – they were experimenting with rats and there is no guarantee as to how memory works in human brains.

The scientific justification for recovered memory got a tad tendentious, once you got beyond the anecdotal ‘stories’. One researcher associated with “The California School of Professional Psychology” (is there a school for un-professional psychology?) has put out a longish paper**, chock full of proper style and usage.

The best she can come up with is that repressed memory is ‘possible’, and that there’s no reason to assume that such a memory is any less reliable than a ‘continuous’ memory, i.e. one that you haven’t repressed. How it’s possible to distinguish between a false memory and an actual one; how it’s possible to know a repressed memory is ‘there’ if the patient doesn’t recall it; how it’s possible to study scientifically something that’s non-material and - let’s face it – pretty much ‘spectral’; how you can equate an adequate level of ‘psychological’ accuracy with the far more stringent and exacting level of accuracy required in a court of civil – let alone criminal – law … she’s not quite up to tackling those.

I’m not quite sure how far all this is beyond medieval theologians trading blows over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or Chinese mandarins studying the unicorn to learn about the horse. So I’m not seeing the ‘progress’ here, let alone the ‘science’.

And in addition, it must – must – be presumed that a rememberer would never purposely lie, for money or revenge or just for laffs, say. In which case, We really are dealing with unicorns and not with horses. If you get my drift.

The basic gambit seems to be: if it’s been ‘proven scientifically’ that a ‘traumatizing’ (thus ‘negative emotional’) event can make you remember more vividly than anything else; and if that ‘memory’, is ‘repressed’; and if that ‘memory’, if not accessed, would actually be in better shape than your usual ‘remembered memories’ … well then, if there’s a perfectly scientifically established ‘possibility’ that all of these things might come together and create an utterly reliable, evidentiary-grade, ‘recovered memory’, then ‘repressed memory’ or ‘recovered memory’ is a ‘scientific fact’. Even if its probablity is somewhere in the neighborhood of a gazillion to one, at the very best.

Even if all of the above works – and it don’t hardly – then there’s the question of whether you’re dealing with the type of hard science that sent man to the moon or the type of ‘sensitive’ science that somehow seems to have developed alongside the influence of Second Wave Feminism and victimism. The latter has less evidentiary value than the term ‘science’ would normally lead one to presume, but then again I’d say that you’re dealing here with ‘revolutionary science’, and the job of ‘revolutionary science’ is to ‘prove’ the revolution. Can you say 'Lysenko'?

And, after all, you don’t want to get too ‘logical’ and get in the way of a ‘good’ cause. Do you want to let an abstraction like ‘proof’ prevent the rescue necessary in such an emergency? Do you want to let a perpetrator escape? And surely achieving ‘closure’ and ‘preventing more outrage’ is as ‘good’ an objective as stamping out demonic activity in the world. Surely.

I haven’t seen any of the Court documents for this new round. I’m thinking that the Appeal is based on error coram nobis, a Court’s reconsideration on the basis that the original Decision or conviction was based on faulty information or a fraud committed upon the Court.

There has been a steady and substantive scientific literature dealing with the gross difficulties of ‘recovered memory’ theory amd the whole sex-offender thing in general.*** In the logic of evolutionary survival, the mind appears more liable to ‘remember’ something seriously ‘negative’ rather than to forget it. And if under overwhelming negative pressure a ‘memory’ is indeed encoded, then there is every possibility that it will be deformed by that pressure when it is laid down in the memory. And that upon being ‘recovered’, rising to consciousness, there is every possibility that it will be somehow impacted by the layers of will, desire, and consciousness through which it will ‘pass’ on its route to the ‘surface’, and even by the capacity or incapacities of the host mind to process information in the first place.

And beyond that, there is the always-classic scientific knowledge – accepted even by prosecutors – that ‘eyewitness testimony – while the most ‘convincing’ to a jury, is hugely shot through with the potential for mistakes. Any two ‘eyewitnesses’ will differ in what they are ‘sure’ that they ‘saw’. And that possibility is hugely increased with the passage of time – especially decades.

Since all of this information was public and well-known before the ‘repressed memory’ cases, then perhaps the defense is going to go the route of claiming that the Court was – to be most polite about it – misinformed.

Surely, in many of the sex-offense cases, even the Supreme Court has simply refused to ‘notice’ even the government’s own statistics as to the lower recidivism and dangerousness rates among such offenders as a group. But there is a massive body of scientific and legal research and study indicating that many of the most ‘popular’ laws in this overall mania were passed on the basis of incorrect information or without considering the large body of professional material that contradicts the most favored presumptions on which the laws are based; and that many of even the Supreme Court’s Decisions in the assorted cases having to do with sexual and domestic violence are based on incomprehensibly one-sided selectivity as to what ‘facts’ and ‘knowledge’ are accepted as valid.

Selectivity in facts to produce a desired outcome … sounds familiar. Can We say ‘Iraq’?

We have to stop this monstrously baaad habit of accepting uncritically ‘selective facts’; this hugely dangerous propensity, so favored by assorted Advocacies in stampeding public opinion into supporting – or at least acquiescing in – their demanded agendas and ‘reforms’, has migrated to foreign affairs (‘Iraq’ again) and the waging of a type of war that was condemned by the free and victorious nations at Nuremberg. And it is no coincidence that that type of war, waged by a government authority that refuses to see any but the ‘facts’ most compatible with its own dreams and desires, results in military failure, at huge cost. And full-spectrum cost: in foreign credibility, militarily, economically, physically, ethically, morally. Think of what the Pearl Harbor ‘victory’ did to the Japanese.

I wonder too if We are ready to see exactly how dangerous the ‘revolutionary’ metaphor and mindset and agenda is, not only to Our democratic politics but to Our law. Recall how Felix Dzherzinsky put it: “The Cheka does not judge and it does not investigate: it strikes.” The earliest Soviet equivalent of the FBI, the grand-daddy of the KGB, saw itself not as a ‘law enforcement’ agency, but as the Sword and the Shield of the Revolution: it would thwart and strike at any enemy of the Revolution ‘by any means necessary’. It was not there to enforce any law or any justice except the law of the Revolution and of revolutionary justice. And the law of Revolution is that you may never oppose the Revolution. And the law of revolutionary justice is that if you have opposed the Revolution – or we even think that you have, or that you might – then we will strike you down … that is what Soviet ‘law enforcement’ was for.

Revolutionary law is ‘the law at war’. Revolutionary justice is simply the summary elimination of anybody who opposes the Revolution. (The neocon supporters of the Iraq occupation and of torture and preventative-detention refer now to ‘combat law’ or the ‘law at war’, as if they had just thought it up, and as if it were as American as apple-pie.)

Now imagine, as even Gerald Ford acknowledged, that the country has been (and for decades) in the throes of several simultaneous ‘revolutions’. And that the advocates of the various revolutions see themselves, and comport themselves, as ‘revolutionaries’.

There is fierce urgency, an unbending and elite and exclusive purity, an implacable hostility to any opposition or doubt or dissent, in the revolutionary mind and modus. These are not characteristics that best suit one for participation in democratic politics, nor is the polity grounded in the American Constitution going to be a suitable vessel for the revolutionaries’ efforts. If you get my drift.

Lincoln himself resisted the fierce urgencies of the abolitionists, and was roundly condemned by them. He saw that no matter how evil slavery was, to simply turn the country around on a dime in 1861 would simply destroy whatever hope there was of keeping the country together. Had he espoused the abolitionist’s position in 1860 – a position not shared by the majority of citizens even in the North – he would not even have reached the Presidency.

Nor can We accept with a resigned smile the claim – now being floated – that ‘it takes irrational people to get rational things done’. The past decades of calculated or frenzied irrationality, in no matter how ‘good’ a cause, have wreaked great havoc. And the fact that it is mostly down below the waterline, out of sight to the average person, means as little as did the relative ‘invisibility’ of Titanic’s damage … time would tell, and by then it would be too late.

More on all this as things go on. As I’ve said, the doings of the domestic and sexual violence legislation have resulted in deep, structural damage to American law and polity. That has to be corrected. We are running out of time.

That is the fierce urgency of now.


· *See my Post “Can’t Tell Your Priests” from July 6, 2008 on this site here. See also Alexander Cockburn’s article “Back to Salem’ on Counterpunch on February 19, 2005 here.

· * *Constance Dalenberg, ‘Recovered Memory and the Daubert Criteria’, in “Trauma, Violence, & Abuse”, Vol. 7, No. 4, October 2006, pp. 274-310.

· *** See, for example, the entire 600 page double issue of “Psychiatry, Public Policy, and Law”, Vol. 4, Nos. 1-2, March-June 1998. This is a hefty collection of professional articles from law and psychiatry and public policy experts, all of them tackling one or another of the relevant problems in the sex-offense and domestic-violence realms. Note that it was compiled in 1998, by which time all of the core problems and their projected consequences were evident to the professions involved.

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Monday, January 26, 2009


Truthout publishes a piece Matt Yglesias wrote for ‘The American Prospect’, entitled “Getting Rid of the ‘War On Terror’ Mindset”. His excellent point stems from Obama’s campaign comment that he wanted to “end the mindset that got us into the war in the first place”.

It is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

There has been much discussion of whether the ‘war’ on terror is actually a war at all, in any sense recognizable to Western diplomacy and law, and all of that needn’t be repeated here. Suffice it to say that the Westphalian ‘genius’ as it was refined over the years was to assign a limiting ‘shape’ to fighting: it had to be between sovereign nations, had to be formally declared, conducted only among official military forces, and waged by official troops (preferably in uniform) who were readily identifiable.

Thus, the thing could be contained in time and space. It would have a beginning (when a ruling authority ‘declared’ it) and it would have an end (when the warring ruling authorities officially declared hostilities to be at an end). The fighting would not overflow like a flood to engulf entire populations and their livelihood, but rather would be confined – as much as the thing can be confined – to those persons officially engaged in it.

It was an improvement over the Catholic Church’s not insignificant Medieval efforts to limit the whole mess by instituting a staggering number of religious feast-days on which ‘fighting’ was not allowed; a ruler, petty or great, would have to sit down and perform complex calculations like a Babylonian astrologer to figure out just how much fighting could be gotten done and just when it could and could not be conducted; it was not a radical Gospel ‘abolition’ of war, but it was an effort to curb what seemed to be, like sex, an immutable characteristic of the human species.

Clearly, a war against a congeries of entities, none of them a sovereign government, in pursuit of the eradication of a tactic – terrorism – that is as nebulous as fog if not as perennial as sex, is not militarily advisable. Such a war can neither be shaped or contained, and such profound complications, on top of the usual elements comprising the commanders’ ancient nemesis – the fog of war – pretty much guarantee that no such military undertaking will achieve successful closure. Which would be an earthly incarnation of hell, unless some leader actually wanted to institute just such an international Hobbesian state of affairs.

You could date yourself by exclaiming that once they had outgrown the fatuous phantasms of ‘world revolution’ and ‘permanent revolution’ (and they did that pretty early on) then not even the Commies wanted such a dangerous condition to exist. You could, those evil madmen shrewdly figured, wind up having the whole thing blow up in your face, and the cost to yourself might be many times greater than any good your hapless soldiery might achieve when they started shooting where you told them to. Or whom you told them to. Or whomever happened to wander into their sights.

The whole ‘war’ thing as a useful conceptual tool for organizing an effective and accurate grasp of reality, of your situation, has always been dubious. William James wished for “the moral equivalent of war” as a way for the post-Civil War generations to prove themselves without shedding the rivers of blood that the Civil War generation had spilled. Oliver Wendell Holmes , Jr., an officer in that war who lived long enough to be a Justice of the Supreme Court in FDR’s first administration, was always holding forth on how the lives of his generation had, in their youth, “been touched by fire”. He didn’t consider war a good thing, no jingo like Teddy Roosevelt he (Teddy was a child during the Civil War, and like many of his era, never quite got over it). But Holmes was convinced that, if you survived it, the experience of war made a serious adult out of you, and he meant that in the best possible sense.

War can do that, if you can not only ‘survive’ it physically, but actually metabolize emotionally and psychologically and spiritually the lessons that come hurtling at you in blood, terror, boredom, frustration, and loss. Not everybody did. Not everybody can. We are seeing that today as the ‘unbloody’ casualties of the willfully-started frakfest in the East start to come home.

Not half a century after William James (who also managed to miss the Civil War though he was old enough to go) uttered his hope and desire, We experienced the first somewhat metaphorical ‘war’, the Cold War. It wasn’t a war conducted by vast military forces conducting hostile operations against each other, but it was close enough in purpose and time to an actual war (World War Two) that We could see the connection. Nonetheless, it gave rise to much ‘mischief’, as the US government began to exercise a war-time-ish proclivity for secrecy and extensive grasping for powers overtly and covertly and as Our politics started to bend a bit under the strain, and increasingly so as the years went on. And then came Vietnam.

In the middle of that frakfest, desperate to mobilize a now-doubly divided American citizenry in order to support his domestic embrace of ‘civil rights, LBJ declared a War on Poverty; although not a ‘real’ war, it would seek to get the citizenry used to the government deploying all manner of extended powers domestically. A little dicey, maybe, but in a good cause – that ‘War’ on Poverty.

It was much easier, then, for Reagan to declare a ‘War’ on Drugs. And that ‘war’ was quickly accompanied by all sorts of expansions in police power – not all of them constitutional, and almost all of them setting Us on a course to a more police-ified American experience (while, at the same time, the police themselves were going gaga over everything military: the hardware, the weapons, the vehicles, the uniforms, the haircuts, and the attitude of the cocky combat soldier).

So I would say that the current mess in the East is not the first ‘war’ since Vietnam to have caused Us far more damage than any good it achieved.

Now comes the feminist advocacy (by which I do not at all intend or imply that it speaks for all actual women). They are using this opportunity to surf on or piggyback on a topic of significant national interest: they demand that America “end torture, end domestic violence”. Domestic violence, We are meant to mindlessly conclude, ‘equals’ torture.

The article is by Rhonda Copelon, originally published in ‘On The Issues Magazine’ but reprinted on Truthout.

“When one compares what is done to a woman in an advanced domestic battering cycle and to prisoners subjected to torture, the situations are frighteningly similar.” So it opens.

A couple of thoughts right off the bat.

It is wise to take a lesson from Our Soviet counterparts when that long-suffering, bethumpt citizenry had to open the pages of ‘Pravda’ or ‘Izvestia’ or any of half-a-hundred other media sources: read what isn’t there.

I recall just recently reading a newspaper article about sexual abuse on college campuses. It’s a fraught subject since unlike ‘children’, college students cannot reliably be presumed to be non-sexual. As in Iraq – by the most amazing coincidence – it’s hard to tell who’s guilty, who’s not, and of what.

Interviewing one of the now-ubiquitous paid counselors who are on the college staff to address issues of sexual misadventure, as to how the financial downturn might affect funding for the program, the reporter notes that the counselor is confident because there is a great deal of activity (always of frightening and alarming proportions) on the campus that “can be construed as rape”.

The phrase caught my Soviet eye. Why not just say “rape”? That there is a great deal of rape on the campus? Why toss in the extra stuff about “can be construed as”? Why waste the ink and the space? The answer, of course, is that nowadays a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t at all think of as rape “can be construed as rape”. Somehow the college regulations – and the law – define the term ‘rape’ to include a lot of stuff that isn’t.

But it helps keep the numbers up. And the fear. And serves to lull folks into letting a lot of expanded police activity by: ‘Well, if there’s that many rapes, then … just until they get this situation under control …’ That sort of thing. Sort of like the Patriot Act, come to think of it – where it is legally and officially a ‘terrorist’ act (and a federal felony) to throw a soda can on the cabin floor to make a point. Imagine if they still served rubber chicken on planes!

And, recalling what one ‘expert’ said when asked to justify her figures of “5 million green jobs” that a certain initiative would create, she couldn’t, saying that “Honestly, it’s just to inspire people.” Or, in the case of the assorted ‘violence’ lobbies, to inspire folks with fear and outrage … at the huge numbers of … and so on and so forth.

Why say, then, “an advanced domestic battering cycle”? Why not just say “battering”? That should do the trick, especially now that one can be legally “battered” by not being talked to on a long-distance phone call. Why “an advanced domestic battering cycle”?

It sounds scientific and ‘expert’, first of all. And that, in turn, gives the impression that the whole thing is a scientific phenomenon whose laws are known to ‘science’ and – with enough funding and friendly legislation – can be ‘solved’. And that’s always nice, whether you’re a lobbyist for Boeing or an ‘advocate’ for this or that.

And yet it’s suitably vague. What would a non-advanced cycle look like? How, again, is ‘battering’ being defined here? And how many ‘advanced’ cases of this ‘cycle’ are there?

“How would the world be different for women if domestic violence were treated as torture or as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?” This starts to remind me of Teddy Kennedy at the recent Democratic convention, going on about nothing but “the dream”. Assault, even in the domestic setting, is already a crime, and has been for quite some time. Why would it need to be metaphorically “treated” (and what does that even mean – in the press, in therapeutic practice, in law?) as torture when it’s already a crime as it is? What, pray, is the frakking point?

And although it’s a lawyer-ish observation, isn’t the phrase “cruel, human and degrading treatment” a legal descriptor applicable to the acts of government entities in regard to prisoners, detainees, or persons otherwise deprived of their liberties under the colorable legal authority possessed by said entity? Why is the author introducing it into the area of domestic-violence (however that is defined)?

She goes on to propose that it may now be time to “understand domestic violence as a form of torture” because it is “a violation of human rights in the home”.

First, why “understand” domestic violence as anything other than what it already is, and other than the very elements of it that are already a crime and justify state intervention, legal or custodial or therapeutic? What purpose useful to the common weal is being served?

Second, this is a clear example of the ever-increasing justification for government intrusion into the home and the family – and this starts to border on the Soviet in its expansiveness. If the weight and urgency of ‘human rights violations’ are going to be brought to bear on family problems then this is a baaad idea. The actions it seeks to address, as noted above, are already covered in criminal and civil law.

Further, ‘torture’ is fundamentally understood as involving a person who is taken against his or her will from a safe situation and placed in a situation of danger where great and unwanted pain is inflicted. The domestic situation, where it is excruciatingly hard to accurately unravel the elements of coercion and either active cooperation or passive acquiescence in the infliction of pain … is precisely not akin to the key element of the ‘torture’ scenario.

Granted, this has been a problem for the ‘domestic violence’ advocacies from the beginning. Unlike a stranger kidnapped by a perpetrator and then assaulted in whatever way(s), the domestic-violence scenario presents with much more complex assessment problems, not the least of which is the honest and accurate determination of the dynamics created by each member of the dyad.

The advocacy solution to that problem, as so often, has been to attempt (often successfully) to sidestep or overrun the daunting assessment problems and simply demand ‘action’, insisting that ‘assessment’ disrespects the pain of the erstwhile victim; that any hesitation for any reason whatsoever constitutes the state’s ‘complicity’ in the crime; and that the burden of proof should lie with the accused (i.e. the male, at least until the advocacy, essentially feminist, was forced to make common cause with gay advocacies concerned about ‘battered partner’ syndrome among their own constituencies). And since any ‘investigation’ would only disrespect the pain of the victim, then one doesn’t have to be a Supreme Court Justice to see what the justicial outcome, granted the strictures demanded by the advocacy, is going to have to be. Neat. Wheeeee!

There had been, We are then informed, “a tenacious worldwide epidemic of gender violence”. Since feminist doctrine – as best it has been codified – presumes that ‘gender violence’ (however defined) has been going on since the dawn of time, then it raises far more questions than it solves to call it ‘tenacious’; ‘perennial’, perhaps, would be a more accurate descriptor here, but that too raises far more questions, and interesting ones, than it resolves.

And the very concept of ‘epidemic’ indicates some extraordinary, unusual, physiological outbreak. If this sort of thing has been going on for as long as the species has existed, then how can it be an epidemic? By definition, a several-hundred-thousand year-old ‘epidemic’ is a contradiction. Why confuse an already fraught matter with – as the ancient Chinese might have said – ‘unrectified Names’? It seems professionally irresponsible, if nothing worse.

She goes on to note that “domestic anti-violence movements transformed what had been considered ‘private’ into ‘public’”. Precisely. And with ‘public’ you get the government and its already over-gorged police power. And at this point, just what more can legislation achieve? It’s already a crime. Are We going to authorize the government to ‘do whatever it takes’ to ‘stamp it out’? Look what that sort of philosophy has achieved in the matters of drugs and sex and terrorism … is that what these advocacies are pressuring Us to get into all over again?

And, she points out, examples of wartime atrocities are applicable. This kind of gambit goes back at least to 1965 and Betty Friedan in her book ‘The Feminine Mystique’. We may recall that Friedan took an observation of Bruno Bettelheim’s about the psychology of concentration-camp inmates (how some of them became baffled and repressed, apparently muzzling or muffling their own human emotional responses to the horrors of incarceration in the camps) and she observed, with a modest conceptual applicability, that the modern American housewife (of that era) evinced, in Friedan’s opinion, some of the same symptoms Bettelheim and Primo Levi noted in the inmates at Dachau.

Well. Conceptually, it was an interesting and legitimate potential connection, and well worth some careful looking. But it was the Sixties, the nascent Advocacies were just starting to copy the Israeli playbook (in the matter of the Nazi murders of the Jewish populations of Europe) that the Israelis had taken sort of as spoils of war from Goebbels’ brilliant modus operandi, and the old American weakness for thinking that if something might be ‘good’ than to get it ‘fast’ would make it even better, was agitating the imaginations of a lot of voters.

Suddenly, the ‘home’ was a concentration camp, the women were ‘the Jews’, and the ‘men’ were the Nazis. And the vote-desperate Democrats sort of said Yes to it all, hoping that they could smooth everything out as time went on. And, as is said at Santa Anita, they were off! And here We are. “Off” don’t hardly cover it – what We are now.

The vision inspired by that set of images was, for a brief shining moment back then, seen for the almost repulsive exaggeration that it was: that the American home, the thing everybody dreamed of having in the ‘30s and ‘40s and that a lot of folks managed to get by the ‘50s and early ‘60s, was a concentration camp, the picket fence the equivalent of the electric wire and guard-house and dog-patrolled perimeter; that the ‘man’ was a Nazi guard, the vet who got back from the war in more or less one piece and started a family and managed to provide for it; that the house itself – with all the appliances and the food and drink in the fridge, the phone and the TV, the car in the garage – was the equivalent of Dachau’s dank, death-stalked charnel houses. It was more than an exaggeration. It was obscene.

Copelon goes on: “The next step in this legal and cultural revolution [oy, that word again] is to treat gender violence as torture”. Her thinking appears to be that if a government fails to take steps against torture that it knows is going on within its borders, then in modern international human rights law that government and its agents become complicit in the torture. Now, she gallops on, if ‘we’ can apply this law to her own advocacy-topic, domestic violence, then if the US government doesn’t ‘stop’ the domestic violence as thoroughly and peremptorily as international law requires governments to stamp out torture, then the US judges, cops, prosecutors, and pols will all be war criminals. Wheeeee!

Is this a bit … ummmm … overreaching? She figured We’d ask: “Violence in intimate relationships is no less heinous and damaging than violence in official prisons and interrogation ‘booths’”. We can frakking hope that Homeland Security doesn’t read that.

But in case you were beginning to wonder, she’s thought this through: “Torture is defined internationally as involving a severe infliction of physical or mental suffering, which is intentional and not accidental, and is done not only to extract information, but also for such purposes as punishment, coercion, intimidation or discrimination of any kind”. So, ya see, that’s what the (Nazi) men do to the (Jewish inmates) women in the (concentration camp) home. It all works out neatly on the board.

This strikes me as a prime example of what’s gone wrong and is still going wrong in American law. It’s a board exercise, like kids playing Gotcha with tendentious little verbal constructions around the breakfast table.

A trained lawyer would point out the many ways in which violence in the domestic setting is not formally torture at all; that Copelon is trying to criminalize something that is already a criminal offense; and that, simply in terms of judicial and even political prudence, it would be deployed in domestic law only with the greatest danger – especially in terms of the possibility that it would a) undermine the legitimacy of law and b) undermine the credibility of the government itself.

And given that this is – for all practical purposes – a gender-specific sort of thing, then such ‘understanding’ of the law and its enforcement would effectively make it the official policy of the United States government that men were at great liability for being declared torturers, and the government thus required to deploy itself against almost one-half the civil population. Not that the Dems haven’t wound up sort of doing this already, but do they really want to make it official policy backed by the weight of international law?

Copelon surges: To declare domestic-violence torture “signals to battered women or partners that this violence is not their fault or their shame, but someone else’s very serious criminal act”. But the act is already criminal and who in this country after 25 years of agitation doesn’t know it? This is a replay – on an almost ludicrous level – of the arguments made decades ago for the purpose of ‘raising awareness’ about ‘domestic violence’; have the changes made since then not-worked? If so, then tell Us that and let some serious deliberation get started on how to address the problem more effectively (with whatever monies are left in the national till). And if the original programs did ‘work’, then what is all this about ‘torture’?

Or is she thinking that ‘laws’ are best made just to ‘signal’ ‘encouragement’ or ‘reassurance’? Has she no concept of just what American law is supposed to do and how the perennial problem of government over-reach was an abiding fear – hardly unjustified – of the Founders?

I got to the end of the article thinking that Oy, she could stand a night-school course in Introduction to Law somewhere.

She is, it turns out, “professor of law and director of the International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic (IWHR) at the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School".

As Mark Twain would say: “So there it was.”

I was driven forthwith to my bookshelves to double-check something I recalled reading a quarter-century ago. In 1982, in her book “In A Different Voice”, the psychologist Carol Gilligan worked from several angles the idea that ‘women’ do not deal in ‘abstractions’ but rather in ‘personal relationships’, not in logic but in connectivity and connections – they process information differently, using a different conceptual paradigm or heuristic. For women, it struck me back then, it’s all personal.

I remember thinking back then that if Gilligan was right, then whatever else feminism was going to do to the country, it was going to raise hell with the law. First, the ‘abstraction’ and conceptual precision and carefulness and logic and rationality of law were precisely what distinguished it from ‘victor’s justice’ – it was not motivated by the heat of emotions, especially of revenge or ressentiment, nor was it driven by fear, but rather sought to develop a clear position that was comprehensible to all the citizenry, was ‘fair’ and clearly appeared so, and did not demonstrate the type of favoritism that is the death of its legitimacy in a polity.

Then came Oprah and her cohorts, ‘victim’ stories, ‘repressed memories’, and the long panoply of corrosive inroads – ‘reforms’ – in the hard-won structures of evidentiary rules and statutes of limitations, all of which had been put in place after much misadventure precisely to keep at bay both the unsleeping, voracious police-power of governments monarchical and otherwise, and the unlovely tendency of large groups of humans to stampede as if a herd.

I get the verrrry disturbing image of Copelon and her sorority (male and female) sitting around the faculty lounge, having coffee as if holding a Kaffeeklatsch at an old Viennese cafe, and excitiedly stringing these things along - setting each other off like a bunch of tuning forks vibrating together, and then rushing forth to call their pandering pols or their advocacy PR flaks. Against American culture and Law they are waging, as it were, a Klatschkrieg.* As well as - to repeat - a revolution. Oy. And gack.

Copelon’s method, and I imagine it to be illustrative of the ‘feminist’ approach to law, is to limn a frightening situation (immune to analysis or skeptical or even prudential evaluation), then paint a picture of lovely and desirable what-ifs, and then to construct, out of hugely selectively chosen snippets and factoids from here and there, a legal rationale – you should pardon the expression – and ‘strategy’ (ditto) that would justify the demanded ‘reform’ . This is law-making by fantasy, supported not only by ‘story’, but by considering only a best-case outcome ‘story’ that ignores all the possible dangers and consequences. Again, by amazing coincidence, this is precisely how the neocons ‘strategized’ the Iraq invasion.

At this point, feminism (not to be equated with ‘women’) has riven the Democratic Party over the matter of abortion-on-demand, insisting now that it even be declared a positive social good. But it has also pulled the government down further toward that level of functioning which precisely the Founders had been seeking so urgently to climb beyond: the unboundaried police power of the government supported by the unboundaried emotions of the citizenry. This constitutes a dangerous regression.

When it comes to these alarums let Us all take Our example from the former Soviet citizenry and not be stampeded. Not only do ‘facts not matter’ for many of these advocates, but they appear to be completely unaware of the dragons they will unloose, or are witless enough to think that the beasts can be controlled, or ‘baptized’ into their ‘good’ cause.

It also strikes me that this feminist (and is it genuinely female or feminine?) emphasis on ‘intuition’ and the ‘feeling of rightness’ rather than of deliberation and ‘abstraction’ and ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ is remarkably similar to the now-former President Bush’s fabled reliance on his ‘gut’ rather than on the almost-unmanly emphasis on analysis and careful assessment. From the ‘base’ of the Democratic Left there is a profound synergy with the worst and most anti-rational excesses of the chimpish extremes on the Right.

And further along that line, it thus seems that We are in the hands – both the Right and the Left hand, as it were – of an anti-rational dynamic, hardly characteristic of either individual maturity or civilizational gravitas, that constitutes a profound regression from the achievements – incomplete though they may be – of the West’s cultural contributions to humanity’s development. This is not good.

And it is clear that this approach is now being taught, by ‘professors’, at major law schools. And has been for quite a few years, meaning that graduates so (de-)formed are now major attorneys, legislators, and judges at all levels.

And that this type of 'professional' and 'elite' legal 'thinking' is precisely what is being passed off to hardly deliberative legislators and pols as the 'best' thinking on the subject. And then laws are made, either based ont he legislators' ignorance or on their desire merely to have some 'scientific' and 'professional' 'cover' when they pass the egregious demands put before them by political Identitites to which they pander. A bad law here, a bad law there, adds up to a corruption of the polity after a while. As We are now seeing.

And let Us not forget that it was the assertion of John Rawls, so-called philosopher-extraordinaire, that ‘elites’ trained in law – including attorneys and judges at all levels – were the best group for implementing his visions of what is best in this country. Congress and even the constitutional rights were, in Rawls’s view, ‘fungible’, as the Pentagoons might say.

So whatever is going on – and has been going for some decades – in the nation’s law schools may not be helping matters at all, and indeed may be contributing precisely to the degradation and debasement of the American ethos as We are now seeing that decline take place before Our eyes.

If We ever want to clean house, We shall first have to keep the house in Our possession. These advocates are betting the farm that they know just what they’re doing and that the rest of Us ‘just don’t get it’. After what We’ve recently seen in Iraq and Wall Street, I would be very, very leery of those ‘elites’ who bray that they know just what to do and have everything under control. We are enroute to doing to Ourselves what We allowed to be done to Iraq. This is more than a hot-irony; it is proof of the existence of God.

When the full consequences of their folly become unavoidably clear, they’ll be the first ones to insist that the law not seek ‘revenge’, that juries not engage in ‘witch hunts’, and that since they meant well, they should just be allowed to ‘move on’ with their lives. Yah. And Mussolini just wanted Hitler to have a car drive him back to Predappio, where he would live out his sunny golden years as an avuncular, benign, local sage. Yah. Nuts.


* It's worth taking a look at Daniel Heleniak, Esq.'s 'Domestic Violence Courts in America',on Counterpunch from 10/13/07 here.

** Just to get a sense of what's actually going on in Domestic Violence and how it's distorting American law and jurisprudence, you may want to check the website of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children here.

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George Scilabba reviews “The Wreck of Western Culture” by the Australian sociologist, John Carroll.

It’s been true for a while that you want to consult more than just American ‘scholarship’ these days. Political Correctness has taken its toll, along with the extremist bi-polarity that has infected American thought and culture since the Revolutions of the Identities began long decades ago. Some credentialed authors have come to the conclusion that there’s a better chance of ‘sales’ and enhancing one’s creds and stature if one addresses a selected ‘base’; “Democracy, Incorporated”, a work by Sheldon Wolin, an American professor with an established record of respectable professional achievements, recently won a Lannan Award (and 75K) for sharing – just before the elections – his considered illuminations to the effect that ‘everything’ is the Republicans’ fault. Mussolini’s last excuse – “The Germans are responsible for the whole thing!” – comes to mind (Benito, We hardly knew ye).

Or a professor with an eye to keeping the union card and his publishability might pull punches, coming up with insights but not following-up on them, for fear of alienating the book-buying ‘consumer’ and bringing down the wrath of the punditry of the Left or the Right ‘base’, as well as the obloquy of numerous professional colleagues. Thus Thomas Sugrue and Clay Risen (the latter a journalist, but there’s always think-tank and ‘commentator’ slots to be had – if you’re on the appropriate approved ‘list’), both of whom have put out books mentioned in Posts on this site recently: ‘Sweet Land of Liberty’ (Nov.26, 2008) and ‘When Did It Go Wrong?(Jan.24, 2009).

And of course, there is the unsleeping ‘weather eye’ to be kept on which Party is now in power, since you or your university would very much like to remain on such ‘lists’ as the current Beltway ownership might keep. The current edition of the magazine “First Things” has an article by one R.R. Reno, opining that the American people love to be governed by “elites” and that it’s not a bad thing at all. As I had mentioned in my recent Post on the death of that magazine’s guiding light, Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, it’s apparently time for that publication to start re-ingratiating itself with the Democrats, if not the Left’s ‘base’, in compensation for its decades-long friendliness to the Republicans and the Right in the culture wars and – ach! – the current debacle on the Eastern Front. It will do so, apparently, by burbling all praise to the governing “elites”, to Our own intellectual nomenklatura and Party vanguard cadres.

Nor can it any longer be denied that the American media’s uniformly happy-face and upbeat ‘take’ on the blood-soaked misadventures of the Israeli realm leaves Us woefully under-informed, especially in comparison to the rest of the planet’s thinking folks.

So We have this book by John Carroll and this review by George Scialabba.

Dostoevsky’s insight is highlighted: “Man was created a rebel” but that only a very few human beings are capable of truly fulfilling that stance, sustaining the journey along the genuine rebel’s darkling path.

A couple of thoughts.

It’s nice to see the use of “created”. Before Feminism of the Second Wave decided that “God” was getting in the way of ‘women’, their ‘equality’, their ‘progress’, and their ‘right’ to abortion whenever they feel it’s the thing to do; before that Feminism added its energies to the forces of rationalism, materialism and consumerism that had been dragging American culture, society, and civilization toward a lonely and windswept precipice of ‘utter freedom’; before all that, both Left and Right, as then understood, accepted more or less without question that human beings were indeed “created”. That ‘creation’ provided the Star-Tekkian ‘prime coordinates’ without which the marvelous starship vessels could not navigate in the trackless expanse of deep space; it provided - depending on how one construed ‘God’ and ‘God’s Plan’ and God’s ‘will’ and how God acted or did not act in and on ‘the world’ and ‘life – a Trellis of some sort.

Hobbes, not so theologically interested as politically concerned, went so far as to assert that the nature of the human is to be utterly ‘free’, to “feel no sides” whatsoever, no limits, rather than to be contained as water is in a water-bag. Of course, the fact is that water so ‘contained’ is of more use than water simply ‘loose’, that some sort of ‘containment’ provides not simply ‘obstruction’ but also ‘shape’ (it’s important enough a concept that I am here taking the liberty of capitalizing it – Shape). Water will tend to simply spread itself all over the place unless it is given a Shape. As will vines, no matter how vigorous, run all over the place unless they have some sort of Trellis (the capitalization ditto again).

He goes on to work out what he sees are the consequences of this ‘utter freedom’: a jungle world where life is “nasty, sharp, brutish and short”. Though, as is well known, Hobbes did not have the concept of Original Sinfulness to somehow then help explain how and why it is that humans, when largely or utterly unconstrained, demonstrate so consistently the darker potentials of that freedom, violating the rights of others and even perhaps their own best possibilities (or ‘natures’) with stunning vitality and depravity.

A world like that, populated with such competently voracious animals, requires a Leviathan, a government power (whether Monarch, Tyrant, or Parliament was not his immediate concern) that would function – and far more ‘efficiently’ than God – as an arbiter of justice, or at least retain a monopoly on violence.

It was Locke who wanted to put together a government that would prevent Leviathan from running roughshod over the best political and societal potentials of the citizenry. Suffering and evil there would always be, but Locke envisioned a limited and constrained government, answerable to its citizens, that would permit them the freedom to realize the potentials at the higher end of their range (if you don’t mind a little social-work-speak here) while providing such constraints as would be judged necessary to contain the darker potentials. Locke, it could well be said, ‘accentuated the positive’ in human nature. Hobbes took a darker view.

I can’t help but think that a dynamic factor of regression and of decline was introduced in the formative years of the Revolutions of the Identities. Each Identity required its constitutive ‘outrage’ and its constitutive ‘enemy’; according to the Goebbelsian playbook borrowed from the waxing Israeli State by the nascent Identities, such an ‘enemy’ had to be monstrous indeed, and had to create a certain class of ‘victims’, i.e. the member-class of whichever Identity was running the play.

With numerous Identities, each reporting (thanks to ‘advocacy scholarship’ and ‘advocacy journalism’) huge and outrageous numbers of truly depraved actions being perpetrated against its members, there was a veritable orgy of demonization as each Identity’s advocacy-apparatus swung into action against this and that suddenly-identified ‘monster’ and ‘enemy’. The country’s public life became a maelstrom of demonizations, sometimes conflicting, sometimes creating a toxic synergy, always creating the impression – if not outright asserting – that America was indeed a Hobbesian nightmare.

Can it be any surprise at all that the government – eager to maintain electoral viability and to distract attention from the fact that it had no workable plan to sustain or maintain America’s fading broad postwar gains after about 1970 – became more and more a Leviathan? And this is before We take into account the National Security State’s 1948 birth-certificate (the ominous document “NSC-68”)that required public ‘fear’ as a nutrient to its flourishing as indispensable as mother’s-milk.

Nicely, in light of Our present privacy concerns in regard to government snooping on citizens’ communications, the recently-released Hollywood film “Milk”, relating the rise to influence in the 1970s of the ‘out’ gay politician Harvey Milk, has its Milk-character opine (in an accurate quote) that “Privacy is the enemy” in these burly times. Leviathan heard – and obeyed. The feminists’ insistence on bringing government police power into the hearths and bedrooms of all American homes is another, larger, contributor.

Surely neither Milk nor – one can only hope – the feminist Advocacy actually sought to regress the entire country to a Hobbesian condition, Leviathan and all. But then again, who’s to say how many Advocates wouldn’t at all mind having such a Leviathan, so long as their own favored cadres were the “elites” who ran the whole thing? Power, like Truth, is a heady wine – but most activists/Advocacies don’t realize it until it’s reached the stage of a debauchery of repression and – ach! – ‘prevention’. And who then is going to re-chain the beast of Leviathan? Is there another Founding generation among Us? Could such gentlefolk ever be elected now?

Scialabba continues: “The burden of freedom, the responsibility of finding – or creating – one’s own purpose and meaning without the guidance of authoritative, inherited creeds and values, is too heavy for all but a few”.

“Freedom” is indeed a burden – “strenuous Liberty” as one 17th century English thinker put it. And not simply ‘fighting’ for it – either with arms or ideas. Rather, the burden of living a life constantly under the weight of such a purpose and such a task: to struggle toward the widest possible distribution of a genuine Freedom and Liberty – not simply politically, but morally and ethically. “To ensure a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations” as Lincoln put it.

It was a task that aged Lincoln tremendously before Our very eyes, as the succession of Lincoln images clearly reveals. And warns.

And Lincoln believed in some form of guidance and support from the Beyond. Whether he could have managed to bear up under the strain – simply as an individual human adult – without his sure and certain belief (however vaguely he allowed himself to limn it in his imagination) in such Assistance, is a profound matter for consideration.

Imagine if one undertook such a task – lifelong – without such assurance (or Assistance). Into what deformities would a human spirit be pressed under the titanic pressures of human weakness and human folly and human evil?

The Grand Inquisitor sees it clearly. ‘Religion’ – an overloaded concept meant to describe an organization that would mediate and channel that Assistance and assurance to vast numbers of human beings too limited to sustain the task, the course, the mission, on their own – and the conformity to religion are his only solution.

Dostoevsky somehow senses that ‘organized religion’, especially in the form of the Orthodox Church of the Tsarist Russia he knew, had become too enmeshed in the very this-worldliness that it had originally been formed to temper with the Grace of God. Human beings have a capacity for freedom and for governing themselves and their own affairs, he insisted.

True enough. If enough human beings can ‘platform’ that awesome and awefull mission. Most, at any given time, do not, as best as anyone can tell.

The Founders sensed that. It was not simply the ‘economics’ of a ‘ruling elite’ preserving its social power and position (as Charles Beard thought) that drove them to distrust broad democracy as much as they distrusted tyranny and monarchy.

But not all ‘elites’, alas, were the compleat human being – well-rounded, well-educated and informed, morally and emotionally mature, societally responsible, primarily concerned for the common weal. “Elites”, as the Russian people were to discover after 1917, were themselves far too liable to start carrying-on as if they were an aristocracy, and every ‘aristocracy’ requires its ‘peasantry, and every revolutionary vanguard requires its Lumpenvolk, those who would and could never ‘get it’ and were to be kept in a state of productive repression.

Jefferson hoped for an American “natural aristocracy”, gentlefolk who would be greatly talented yet morally committed to subordinating at all times the exercise of their gifts to the needs of the common weal, with no slippage into ambition, self-enrichment, or the darker potentials of the human self. He might have been thinking of angels, but then again the Enlightenment didn’t really believe in them; human beings, it was hoped, could do it.

Or – later on – there was the ‘existentialist’ gambit: human individuals come from ‘nowhere’ nor are they headed toward nor supported by any ‘Beyond’; each individual must shape and fuel his or her own life in this dimension (the only dimension), realizing ‘freedom’ however s/he sees fit, and that’s about it. The ones that don’t ‘get it’ are not the existentialist’s concern: they are the doomed background extras in a plague city, and if they have drawn the short-end of the stick, well the existentialist individual can’t assume the burden of their fate. At least the existentialists didn’t pose the threat of creating and administering a Leviathan. But they were no friends of ‘democracy’. If the ship went down and you couldn’t swim or you couldn’t get to a lifeboat, well – that’s life.

“Modernity” dispensed with any functioning acceptance of ‘limits’ by other-worldly or non-material factors or forces. There is no Beyond, there is no reality to ‘ideals’ except insofar as this individual or that group accepts them, and human beings are ‘in this life’ pretty much ‘on their own’. They can band together, they can make common cause, they can subordinate themselves to Leviathan, with any combination of military, political, or – after the Industrial Revolution really got rolling – corporate powers imparting whatever shape and – ach! – purpose and meaning that there was to be had.

“Modernity” collapses what I say is a complex and layered reality – human existence as it was created by that ‘Beyond’ – into a Flattened ‘world’ where only Leviathan can shape the many bright and many dark potentials of human being, individual and communal.

And the fight for control of Leviathan is all that is left to Our politics, increasingly controlled only by the “elites”. And that ain’t good. It represents a profound decline, a regression, from the Founding vision (as imperfectly as it was first embodied) that itself was seen as the culmination of the gifts of Western civilization.

The last 40 years – seeing the embrace of Leviathan by the Left as well as the Right – have been, whatever their accomplishments, a dangerously comprehensive falling-away.

To bray that the West’s vision was no-good or ‘quaint’ or such betrays an ignorance – willful or otherwise – of what a unique human treasure has been so gravely damaged. To bray that whatever happens ‘next’ is bound to be ‘better’ is childish if not also ‘barbarian’ – those folk whose unwitting destruction of the very Roman culture and society they invaded in order to enjoy led to almost 1,500 years of European and Western struggle to recover the quality of life enjoyed by Roman citizens at the height of the Empire.

Are We going to set the planet up for a replay of that on an even larger scale?

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Saturday, January 24, 2009


Clay Risen has a new book out, “A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination”; it is reviewed in ‘The Boston Globe’ by Daniel Akst on January 18th, 2009.

It’s an interesting take on things, dealing with “the pernicious long-lasting consequences of the riots that followed MLK’s murder”.

Well, certainly yes and yet no.

Dr. King’s murder was an abomination. I still can’t stop thinking that J. Edgar Hoover had something to do with it; if nothing else, there would be no thorough investigation. (If so, that same dynamic would have been in play two months later when RFK, Hoover’s nemesis, was assassinated.)

It’s courageous to start talking about the consequences of the riots of that era. For quite some time the shrewdly camouflaged and highly effective ‘blaming the victim’ ploy suppressed all discussion along such lines. But if there’s any good news at all these days, perhaps it’s that some of the old Political Correctness (that insidious, monstrous Leninist invention) has started to wear away.

And by placing the MLK riots at the core of things, Risen nicely pre-empts any ‘hurtfulness’ that might stem from any inference that the black riots were gratuitous or even irrational, without any immediate cause, and in view of long-term black interests, horribly counter-productive, and doing the cause of American blacks great harm. And doing the American polity great harm as well, but let me not get ahead of myself.

In the Post ‘Sweet Land of Liberty’ from last November 26th, I had commented on Thomas J. Sugrue’s book “Uncommon Ground”. Sugrue’s thesis is that there was a first and Southern phase of the Civil Rights movement and then a second and Northern phase. The latter has received almost no consideration, Sugrue says, and he is right.

But it’s even more complicated than that. Whenever We think of the ‘Civil Rights Struggle’ We imagine the long lines of those nicely-dressed Southern black youths (and the even more numerous black adults), facing, along with an impressive number of white ‘Freedom Riders’ the assorted slings and arrows of the assorted Southern law enforcement agencies, such as they were at that time. It was very much the film and photograph images of those brave souls, and as contrasted to the chimpery of the Southern police and a disconcerting number of Southern citizens, that – I strongly sense – convinced Americans that this sort of thing had to stop or be stopped right now.

But that was the Southern phase. After the signing of the Voting Rights Act in July ’65, and mostly unimagined by the electorate, the ‘struggle’ moved North (into what Sugrue calls its second phase). This was the world of the Northern urban black population (I think it would be condescending to call it a ‘community’, nice as that sounds). And Sugrue points out that it was a whole different kettle of fish.

This, in Risen’s approach, is the vision that exploded onto the nation’s screens and into its consciousness in April of 1968 when the city of Washington, D.C. was pretty much attacked from within. Nobody who had reached the age of reason by ’68, recalling manned, sand-bagged machine gun emplacements on the steps of the Capitol and armed patrols of combat vehicles on Pennsylvania Avenue, can forget that; more recent breezy assertions of Unitary Executive powers and ‘sweeping powers of detention’ and ‘Northern Command’ can’t but stir up awareness of what a country looks like when the military starts driving around the streets. What this country looked like when that happened.

It was a shock to the majority of non-black Americans, who had been carrying about in their heads images of the Freedom Marches and sit-ins of the early part of the decade, and that marvelous moment on the Mall in August of 1963, to see what appeared to be a different black population altogether, and in many ways, as Sugrue enumerates, it was.

Risen does some enumerating of his own. “It disrupted the momentum of the civil rights movement and undermined white support for it; it hollowed out cities and accelerated the flight of urban whites to the suburbs; and it enabled the coalescence of a powerful new political force opposed to government initiatives on behalf of society’s less fortunate”.

He’s right. Although it also indicates that ‘racism’ as the all-purpose cause of those phenomena was never sufficient or wholly accurate. Fear of having a city explode like that around you; concern that any further “initiatives” (nicely and so vaguely put) would actually spark more such explosions; perhaps even a lingering suspicion now that the Southerners, so vigorously and soundly trounced by the Federal Government, a Federalized National Guard, and the US Army itself, might have had a very prudent reason for ‘keeping the lid on’ all those years … these are not the thoughts of visceral, hate-besotted racists. They may themselves be incomplete, but there was a great deal of legitimate concern.

And there is the darker fact that the riots in the black urban settings did not start with the MLK assassination riots of April 1968. They had been going on for three years by then. The first of the Sixties’ ‘black riots’ or, if you prefer, ‘inner city riots’ was – stunningly – just a few days after LBJ signed the Voting Rights Bill into law, in July 1965. Following that catastrophe, LBJ was unable to get even a paltry $60 million for housing assistance out of Congress. It marked the end of his ability to achieve anything more for ‘civil rights’ through the standard political processes. It was surely the end of the ‘classic’, first, Southern phase of ‘civil rights’.

That, no doubt, helped fuel the ‘Northern’ black infatuation with ‘revolution’ and ‘Black Power’, with ‘rage’ and the gun and the bomb and the riot, although MLK was starting to see his leadership and his nonviolent, American-ideal-regeneration model of civil-rights be nibbled away by the ‘urban’ and ‘revolutionary’ approaches even at that early date.

It was a terrible synergy: the sense that somehow – after the riots – ‘democratic process’ wasn’t going to be able to accomplish much more for blacks in quick, large, easy steps; the infatuation with ‘revolution’ and revolutionary methods that by definition was hostile to and wholly incompatible with, democratic process; and the concomitant urge away from ‘integration’ (ah, that takes me back) and toward ‘separatism’ – which later went to college and emerged as ‘identity’, and spread like toxic kudzu throughout the American polity.

The Democratic Party, as noted, was desperate for reliable voter constituencies. Whatever its constituencies ‘came up with’ became the ‘policy’, but prettified and rendered almost ‘inevitable’ by the combined dynamics of Political Correctness and advocacy ‘packaging’, assisted by supportive ‘scholarship’ and friendly media looking, increasingly, for reliable ‘consumers’ of media product that makes them ‘feel good about themselves’.

It’s not hard to imagine why Risen preferred to focus on the MLK riots: that choice provided at least an implicit semblance of ‘justification’ for the violence, although not quite for the jaw-dropping orgy of urban black violence that destroyed its own home turf, a sort of comprehensive infrastructure-suicide.

From watching those earlier riots of ‘65-‘67 on TV – and in color by the mid-Sixties – it can hardly be surprising that many Americans wondered just what the frak was wrong that at the moment of such a stunning success, and hardly ‘symbolic’ but rather quite palpable, the response would be so self-destructive and self-defeating. There can be little doubt that Political Correctness had as one of its first tasks the suppression of any discussion of this profound dissonance, this utterly disconcerting fact and whatever connection it might have to ‘civil rights’ and ‘black rights’ and the general capacity for stability among urban blacks, if not – though an inappropriately arrived-at conclusion - American blacks in general.

Probably, the hyper-emphasis on black ‘rage’, generalized, so often backward-looking, and apparently unappeasable, was part of this technique and strategy of the distraction and suppression of public discourse. (And this gambit would become a tool for all of the follow-on Identities, the Second Wave of Feminism not least among them.)

The Democrats, alas, having written off the white vote of the South, couldn’t afford any such public discussion. Their urgent need to maintain electoral viability required them to simply apply more pressure to ‘nurture’ what they had decided would be their replacement constituency. That decision was to have powerfully negative (and hardly unpredictable) consequences for democratic process and the democratic ethos: what came to be known as Political Correctness was applied here, and for the same reasons that it was applied in Russia after Lenin took power: to prevent the ignorant but still uncontrolled masses from wasting time discussing (and disagreeing with) what the vanguard elite of the Party had already determined was to be the national policy.

To their dismay, when applying this beyond the South in that second, Northern phase, the Dems began to alienate white Northern voters as well (the Republicans watching the whole thing, taking copious notes). This resulted in the Party swinging wildly in search of yet more replacement constituencies, and adopting ‘women’ – not in the sense of all American females, but ‘women’ as represented by the cadres of Second Wave Feminism, not a few who aped the Soviet – or at least East German – approach themselves. So that by 1972, when the Democrats gushed and brayed – almost incomprehensibly – that they were “the Party of women”, on top of being clearly perceived as the Party that somehow was still trying to enforce its ‘visions’ and ‘dreams’ in regard to matters racial … well, that just layered a new Political Correctness on top of the older, 1965-8 version.

For while the Southern, first phase was cast – and not simply through the efforts of Dr. King but by its many participants – as a hearkening back to the American ideal, the second, Northern phase was tinged with the elitist assertions of European experience: revolution and overthrow, ‘A-power vs. B-power’, elites and vanguards, those who ‘get it’ and those who are the lumps who ‘just don’t get it’.

The Second Wave Feminists, of course, never had an equivalent to the Southern Civil Rights first phase, the call to the great American ideal; they went straight to ‘the revolution’, much as their now-horrified political enablers tried though with no small success to put a happy-face on it: it was justice, it was rights, it was equality, it was something you just had to ‘get’, it was progress, it was good, it was what it was, it was here so get used to it, it was not to be looked at critically because that would simply be re-victimizing the ‘victims’.

And so, huge and wrenching changes were force-pumped into society, with no thought as to consequences – intended or unintended, easily forseeable or subtly veiled – small or large. Kinda like the Iraq war and all its pomps and all its works. So this baaad methodology ‘migrates’ from one area of national affairs to others.

And in addition now to the matter of race itself, there entered the concerns of those who were made greatly uneasy by the ‘revolutionary’ consequences of this or that ‘initiative’; that even without considering the ‘content’ of this or that individual government ‘initiative’, the simple fact of so many ‘initiatives’, all at once, interacting in positive or negative ways without serious oversight or critical assessment, was enough cause for grave concern. Gerald Ford burbled in 1976 that one of the ‘great’ things about America was that it could entertain many revolutions all at once. Not hardly. It’s like having committees of self-serving doctors assigning what amounts to be dozens of drugs to the same patient, with no thought as to the individual drug’s effects or to the cumulative effects of all of the drugs interacting and acting upon the same patient.

Congress, which might have been presumed to provide some sort of comprehensive overall assessment and supervision, turned itself into Santa Claus to the interests groups, corporate or advocate. Until it became so addicted to PAC money and so fearful of examining the consequences of its pandering binge that it refused to do any serious and responsible work at all.

Lots of ‘symbolism’, photo-ops, and spin though. After all, you can't afford to actually let The People examine your changes, because it could quickly become obvious that those changes aren't really working so well at all. So you have to show that they look like they are working, and hope that after a while folks will get used to them like old furniture - the Israelis call it 'establishing facts on the ground'. It's shrewd, intelligent, and manipulative - thus hell-and-gone from open, honest, democratic process. It's a plague bacillus to the polity.

What a frakking hash. Congress wasn’t ‘duped’ or ‘blind-sided’ by 9-11 and the Bush push for ‘sweeping powers’; by that time Congress was so used to giving in to whatever pressure was brought upon it that pols voted for the Patriot Act without even bothering to read it. Nor, when Bush insisted upon ‘immediate’ passage of the massive Bill, did they demand at least a few days to do so. Let somebody else take the hit for slowing things down. The buck no longer stopped at Congress – and there went the core of the Constitutional vision of how the government would operate. Hasta la vista.

Generations of kids are grown up now, unaware of such complexities, and far too many of them now insufficiently schooled in the vital citizen skills of deliberation and critical thought to really understand.

Let me be clear: I am not speaking here in the accents of Nestor, about ‘times’ that have ‘changed’, pure and simple. Something, some things, went very very wrong back then, and as an indicator that ‘things’ are still not working right in Our polity I offer the two terms of the Bush Administration whereby a sleazy witless unripe not only was considered acceptable Presidential material but was elected (as the term is understood now), and was then elected (ditto) again.

And add the plight of the urban blacks, made so much worse by the Second Wave Feminists’ ‘deconstruction’ of family and fatherhood as part of their strategy for supplanting the ‘male’ with the ‘female’ as a source of societal and cultural identity. The two ‘revolutions’ – the Black Power and the Feminist – began to interact, in ways not only harmful to each other’s purported constituencies, but to American society and polity as well. A situation that has not ‘receded into history’ in the ensuing three or four decades. Not hardly.

We are sinking. As a Republic, We hit a rock on the starboard side in 1948 when the National Security State decided it had to instill enough fear in Us to power the Cold War; but then the Left simultaneously thrust the Ship of State against even more jagged rocks on the port side, and began to undermine democratic process in the service of ‘revolution’ (revolutions-plural).

And nobody could stop this vicious feedback loop because, according to Political Correctness, it didn’t exist. Everything the Democrats were doing was for ‘liberation’ and everything the Republicans were doing was for law, order, and enrichment, so nobody was doing anything wrong. Except the other Party. And the ‘necessary enemies’ raised up to fuel the next ‘initiative’ … ‘men’ and so forth.

Nor can it be realistically imagined that the ensconced elites of the Left are going to let go of the power that has, in great part because of their forty years of effort, been drained from The People and hoarded (and then squandered) in the dark, marbled alcoves of the Beltway.

We need to become The People. Again, I’m not implying that there was some ‘wonderful’ time in American experience when the citizenry functioned perfectly in that task. The ‘destiny’ of Our present generations is to write an entirely new chapter to the history of the American concept of The People. This hugely expanded government, this greatly unbalanced constitutional contraption, requires not less of The People but far more. It requires more Peopling, not less.

And President Obama is going to need that help, if he is ever to avoid the fate of becoming just another one of the Beltway banditti or the first black Jimmy Carter (whose services to the country since he left the Presidency have been exemplary, it has to be noted).

And if We are to avoid the fate of looking like those peoples of Europe of a century or 70 years ago, in those old newsreels, staring blankly into the camera.

Or, worse, cheering madly as the Leader’s motorcade goes by.

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On Counterpunch, under date of January 19, 2009, the ever acute Israeli thinker, Uri Avnery, has an article about the Israeli misadventure in Gaza, entitled “The Boss Has Gone Mad”.

He points out that “In this war” the military doctrine has become “only if we kill them disproportionately, killing a thousand of ‘them’ for ten of ‘ours’, will they understand that it’s not worth it to mess with us … it will be seared into their consciousness … [such that] they will think twice before launching another Quassam rocket at us, even in response to what we do, whatever that may be”.

This was the philosophy of the Imperial German Army when it invaded the Low Countries and France in 1914. It was the philosophy, as well, of the Wehrmacht in its many invasions. It was, to put it gently, monstrously counter-productive and helped greatly to seal Germany’s fate twice in a quarter of a century. In essense it goes: there aren't enough of us and there are wayyy too many of them so we have to make them so terrified of us that they won't even think of trying to interfere with us.

It is shocking to grasp that a strategy so utterly lethal and morally outrageous has once again been deployed in this world, and – numbingly – by the very victims of the Third Reich’s own unimaginable beastliness.

And with America’s full support (or at least that of the American government, such as it now is).

Nor is it comforting to realize that this Israeli approach seems very similar to the Israel-friendly neocons’ vision of how things in Iraq would go: that the ‘enemy’ would be so shocked and awed, so bloodied by American military strength, that no enemy would dare arise to interfere with, or even object to, whatever plans the American government chose further to implement.

Nor do Avnery’s further comments offer solace. “It is impossible to understand the viciousness of this war without taking into account the historical background: the feeling of victimhood after all that has been done to the Jews throughout the ages, and the conviction that after the Holocaust, we have the right to do anything, absolutely anything, to defend ourselves, without any inhibitions due to law or morality.”

It may seem strange, that the nations of the civilized world are (though mostly under US pressure) willing to accept as ‘moral’ and ‘legal’ an operational philosophy which is the utter and profound antithesis of everything Western civilization has managed, through many toils and much blood and tears, to achieve in the way of reasonable relationships among states and peoples. Three and a half centuries of the Westphalian conduct of affairs, embracing all of the accumulated and blood-bought wisdom that preceded that Treaty, and Western civilization now valorizes an operational philosophy that throws it all out the window. This cannot be good. Nor will it end well.

Worse, We can see, I think, even more ominous similarities between the Israeli outlook as limned above and certain weird, almost anti-constitutional and anti-democratic excrescences that have in recent decades arisen here in the US. ‘Victimization’ becomes the trump that overrides all logic, all law, all morality. Against the ‘pain’ of victimization nothing can be allowed to stand, nor can any tradition or thinking or analysis be allowed to delay for even a moment the fulfillment of its demands.

I have mentioned before that America’s assorted ‘Identities’, each of which required an ‘enemy’ who ostensibly inflicted the outrage of ‘victimization’, had borrowed the Israeli playbook, itself borrowed by them from Goebbels, the arch-manipulator of public opinion and illusion.

The adamantine insistence, the maintenance of the illusion of its inevitability, that the genuine horror of the Third Reich’s effort to destroy European Jewry, had had a most perverse effect: it drove the survivors to create in the postwar era a State founded in blood and theft, while simultaneously insisting that they had every right to do so and that – anyway – neither law nor morality mattered; their ‘grief’ elevated their actions above any law or morality. No civilization can survive when such a philosophy is permitted to shape events and lives.

The damage such ‘victim’ legislation and jurisprudence has done in the past several decades to American law and politics cannot be underestimated. And indeed, as I mentioned a couple of Posts ago, Attorney-General nominee Eric Holder seems ready to plump for taking some of the most insidious elements of that type of law – the sempiternal preventive detention and civil commitment of ‘sex offenders’ – and apply the paradigm to US foreign relations, thinking that the US can do to foreign nationals what it can to its own designated unfortunates and ‘monsters’.

To imagine it is morally deranged. To try to implement it is strategic and diplomatic lunacy.

In one of the hottest ironies of History in this era, the US is locked in a lethal, perhaps fatal, dance with the deranged ‘State’ that for its own domestic purposes it has enabled and supported for decades. As each government’s moral and strategic insanities now interacts with the other’s, both descend in an increasingly sharp spiral of decline, morally and societally and spiritually even more than militarily.

Already, gravely weakened militarily and economically, the US has lost its unique postwar position of global leadership and hegemony, a scant 18 years after the collapse of its old (but so useful) nemesis, the USSR.

Worse, both the US and Israel seem locked into the ultimate death-spiral: in the face of the failure of one’s plans, the new plan is to continue applying the old plans with intensified vigor. As if the Germans’ executing two hundred hostages bought them more security than if they had executed fifty.

Certainly over here, the sense of God and any concept of Higher Law have suffered grievous erosion from the combined effects of revolutionary and consumerist materialism; the impatience and ignorance of grossly under-educated, un-Formed youth; and the purposeful, sustained and government-abetted effort of the cultural-revolutionaries to undermine any ‘authority’ that might block or doubt the agendas that they demand be filled.

The Israeli ‘realm’ suffers from an even more profound wound: the pervasive and deep doubt that God has any reliable efficacy in the affairs of this world at all. While the Third Reich’s efforts failed to eradicate all of Europe’s Jews, the extent of its murders did result in unleashing upon the war-battered planet a religious ‘people’ now armed to the teeth and convinced that only its own capacity and willingness for serious violence, liberally and unhesitatingly applied, can preserve it.

With equal cynicism and disregard for actuality, let alone Truth, the Israelis seek “the picture of victory” in Gaza, whether or not they have actually achieved it. Symbol over substance, ‘dream’ or ‘perception’ over reality. If people just ‘perceive’ us, ‘see’ us as victors, then that’s ‘Good’ – say the Israelis. As do so many fact-deficient’ Advocates over here in their brassy trumpeting of ‘reforms’, ‘triumphs’, and ‘victories’.

How well can this end? For anybody.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009


Over at ‘America’ magazine, there’s a little dust-up over chaplains in the armed services. It’s of interest more widely than might at first seem apparent. The original article that started it is here.

I have written about chaplains, mostly in regard to professionals (doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, and – at some length – lawyers) in the military. The Post ‘Bishops Bomb’ from November 2, 2006 comes to mind.

A proposal was put forward in the magazine by a Catholic deacon that while the ministry of Catholic priests is necessary in the military, they should be civilians, in order to be more effective.

In response, a sub-bishop of the Catholic archdiocese for the military has written a piece. He is a former Navy chaplain, who after 27 years retired after holding some hefty billets and is now a sub-bishop for the archbishop who oversees Catholic ministry for all the Services.

He wishes to refute the idea that priests (and clergy generally) who are not actually military chaplains would be a good idea. The concept of non-military chaplains would not work very well, he says.

I won’t repeat here all the arguments about professionals in the military and chaplains specifically. The November 2006 Post is the first of several that deals with that in the period from late 2006 through the Watada trial of mid-2007 and again around the time that military psychologists were discovered to be involved in the ‘BISKIT’ torture teams (with, rather relevantly, the connivance of their ‘parent’ organization, the American Psychological Association).

I’ll just go with the thoughts prompted by the points that the good bishop raises.
Bishop Estabrook begins by reciting his own career record in the Navy. What caught my eye was his comment that he has “taught” courses on conscientious objection, privileged communication, and confidentiality at the Navy’s school for chaplains in Newport, R.I. I’m sure he did. But military ‘schools’ at the level he’s talking about aren’t exactly university post-grad courses on bosky campuses, in oak-paneled libraries or class-rooms, reading and discoursing upon ancient hefty tomes.

Bets are that they are held in an old barracks or today’s equivalent of a Quonset hut. The course probably doesn’t last longer than a few months. The classes probably involve a great deal of Power-Point and photocopies of assorted regulations. There are probably few essay questions on the ‘test’. Nor would spelling be a priority.

The ‘school’ would be open to chaplains of all faiths, and some form of it would be mandatory for all as an introductory course. Given the vast differences in formal schooling, let alone aptitude, among the ministerial schools of the many faiths recognized by the military, it would be a Lowest Common Denominator course, and the bar, as above implied, would have to be set rather low, especially, I imagine, in the past decade and more of the Fundamentalist Ascendancy.

The bishop follows his creds with a story, or an anecdote: Marine General James Mattis “claimed that his most trusted resource was his chaplain”. There are two possibilities here: the General’s comments were made in some sort of after-dinner speech or address to a chaplains’ gathering and he was being polite and upbeat, the military equivalent of Rotarian rubber-chicken boilerplate. Or, in the alternative, a significant reason that our forces have not been doing so well on the Eastern Front is that the General commanding seems to be spending way too much time with his staff chaplain rather than the officers entrusted with advising him as to matters military and implementing his operational plans.

In this particular story, the General – as the bishop tells it – had ordered his troops to “demonstrate a show of force in full battle gear”, when suddenly a chaplain, a priest named Bill, suggested that instead the troops sort of meet-and-greet folks and pass out bottles of water. And the General, after considering the advice “bizarre” yet goes ahead and so orders it.

The idea of not trying to shock-and-awe people whose country you are occupying, but rather to try to engage them as human beings, is a militarily sound one. That it had occurred to nobody including the General is, at this point alas, a credible possibility. That the single chaplain alone, on the basis of the wisdom of his advice and strength of his character, stared down the whole command structure like Luther in front of the Diet and comes up with an idea that has escaped the consideration of an entire senior command staff is an implication suitable only for a movie script (perhaps one is in the works). That the General could report that “it worked” and that there were smiles, embraces, and friendly relations all around is certainly possible, but it is most surely a script according to the stylings of Oprah.

The bishop does “doubt that a civilian cleric would have enjoyed such influence; security wouldn’t have allowed him into the war zone”. Two rather big points.

In order to enjoy that sort of influence in a tight-knit, hierarchical organization with its own very special ways of doing everything, a clergyman ‘right off the street’ isn’t going to gain much entrée. He isn’t ‘one of us’, as the officers would say. Of course, a clergyman who had some working familiarity and experience in dealing with military folk, and especially with senior staff officers and senior commanders, would be able to circumvent the potholes of operational malapropism.

But that brings Us to the second point: ‘security’ won’t allow that civilian clergyman to be there. You don’t get to ‘be’ in important places in the military unless it knows it can ‘trust’ you. And to unpack that word ‘trust’ in this context is an exercise well worth the time and effort. The military, especially at these exalted levels, has to ‘know’ you; and that only comes from ‘being around’. But also from having a ‘place’, keeping to your ‘place’, and knowing your ‘place’. Having a uniform and a rank as well as a job description is very valuable. But also expensive.

You don’t get ‘security’ clearance until the military knows it can control you, alas. And thereby the rub. You are a commissioned officer in the US military. You can be court-martialed, and can certainly lose a career, unless you stay within some very clear and distinct lines. Father Bill may have had a very good day (although probably not as simply and easily marvelous as the story would imply), but Father X assigned to the guard battalion at Abu Ghraib, or Father Y assigned to minister to the guard force at Guantanamo, probably had few of them, if indeed they even bothered to try.

Which also raises the point: did the good bishop, who by his own report was what appears to be the highest-ranking priest in the naval chaplaincy for a while, have any such good days there in the precincts of the Pentagon? Did he have bad ones and not tell anybody? Very possibly so – he would have lost his security clearance, perhaps been court-martialed, and all the rest. Chaplains are – must be – ‘team players’; there is precious little room for prophecy even in its best and most authentic sense; Jeremiah would have wound up in Fort Leavenworth’s walls quicker than you can say “Integrity and Christian Witness and speaking-truth-to-power”. You go along to get-along; there’s a price for that.

On the other hand, if they were not ‘team players’, or even if they simply weren’t on the team, then a clergyman would have a hard time getting ‘access’ at all. He might be able to come aboard a Stateside ship or base to do a service and perhaps counsel individual troubled souls, but he wouldn’t be going overseas on missions, especially to a war zone, and especially to a war zone where ‘stuff happens’ and continues ‘to happen’. For that you have to be ‘embedded’ in so thorough a way that it makes the modern media look fiercely independent.

The bishop would like it to be thought of as just another form of “missionary work” – you go to a foreign land, you learn the culture, you sort of ‘go in their door to bring them out your own’. But like so many other cuddly or at least familiar historical analogies that have been thrown at Us over the past years, this one doesn’t quite fit.

If you say something to piss off the tribal chief, something like say ‘Do unto others’, you could wind up in a world of hurt. It was for this reason that some of the most enterprising missionaries either found themselves reduced to merely being ‘models’ of a good Christian life and ix-naying the Christian preaching, or preaching ‘love’ to a culture that is based on ‘war’ and getting whacked.

Among Catholics, the Jesuits – if memory serves – back in the day when they were at the top of their game, got themselves into a big snit with the lesser Orders in foreign lands: the lesser Orders wanted to simply put it out there loud and clear – be Catholic, do this and don’t do that, or burn in hell; the Jesuits wanted to finesse things, especially with feudal hierarchies such as the Japanese shogunate and the daimyos. To the point where being ‘Catholic’ was quietly reduced to a much lower priority than ‘being patient’ and ‘keeping access’.

The Jesuit thinking was that it was counterproductive to force the Chinese and the Japanese to forego ‘ancestor worship’ and listen to services in the Latin, get them all annoyed, and then be unable to ‘really really’ have an impact on the long-term, ‘strategic’ (it might be termed today) changing of the culture. It’s not really varsity-level play, they figured, to alienate the entire ‘elite’ of a complex society simply over the basis of culture-bound particulars, when there was the possibility of ‘major change’ that might be, with a little indulgence and loosening up of ‘principles’, achieved. That was about the size of it.

The lesser Orders were more ‘realistic’, perhaps. Sumus quod sumus, as Garrison Keillor’s denizens of mythical Lake Wobegone might say; we are what we are. That being the case, let’s just show’em what to do, let those who truly wish Christianity (Catholic Christianity) come forward, and the rest can take their own sweet time or be damned or both. We do what we can; we don’t debase ourselves in the fatuous hope of achieving ‘bigger things’ that are, in all but fairy-tales, pretty much impossible; and thoroughly ‘Christianizing’ an entire complex, hierarchical civilization that had been in business for millennia … would fall into the realm of ‘not today’, without a doubt.

And it doesn’t take too long before insignificant particulars migrate from ‘telling the beads’ to Charity and Justice and such things. And Truth, as all knoweth full well, goes out the frakking door when diplomacy is ‘on the table’.

It's curious that the Jesuits might look down their noses at the military chaplaincy's considered soft-sell of principles in order to retain 'access' and for the abstract but strategic 'greater good', when that Order, even in its heyday now long past, did precisely that in its work on the foreign missions. And, more recently, I recall reading somewhere that Jesuits were the major players in helping Teddy Kennedy 'see' that one could be a good Catholic and be pro-abortion back there in the 1970s. The Jesuits and the military chaplainry are - wheeee! - 'sisters under the skin'. It's sobering to realize just what can be politely locked away if you're doing it in so good a cause as 'the greater glory of God'. The fate of Cardinal Wolsey and the more recent Richard John Neuhaus (deliciously, a nemesis of the Order for being too unprincipled) should have made that clear.

‘Christianizing’ the military, even the US military, falls into that latter category a whole lot more than any of Us might care to imagine. More and more of the younger troops, especially in these troubled economic times, have been raised in not-overly-churched situations. And the senior officers are now doubly ensnared. In the first place, military business is a tough and lethal business when you get right down to exercising lethal force. It’s not easy to follow the Golden Rule just in the nature of things.

But in the second place, although the military is bound to take its orders from the civilian Executive Branch (and in some ways from a Gongress that has pretty much abdicated any real responsibility), that Executive, in this day and age, has become somewhat aggressive. Nor is it only a ‘Bush’ problem or a Republican problem: an invasion ‘of the Left’, for ‘humanitarian’ purposes or to ‘save the children’ or ‘help women’ is going to wind up doing as lethal a job of shooting as an invasion for ‘imperialistic’ purposes. (Although I suppose a good case can be made that ‘humanitarian’ invasion is simply a ‘humanitarian’ imperialism, as opposed to the ‘nationalist-economic’ imperialism of the Right. In either case, and especially if both cases are in play, then I wouldn’t expect things to get too much better in a new Administration.) We are becoming a Reich, simultaneously ‘humanitarian’ and ‘nationalist’, simultaneously’ humane’ and invasive, simultaneously ‘sensitive’ and ‘patriotic’ as those words are currently bandied about.

That being the case, chaplains are now in the unenviable position of being – as it were – Reichspriests, and the good bishop himself a Reichsbishop. Ach.

The bishop then goes on to relate how, in the matter of protesting partial-birth abortion legislation, he was advised by Navy lawyers (the JAGs) that chaplains could not protest in uniform, since they were commissioned officers (as if they would be immune from consequences if they protested in slacks and Hawaiian shirts). But, he reports, he told them that “once they put on their vestments they represented the church [sic], and all the faithful had a constitutional right to hear what other Catholics were being told”. As if it would not be ‘noted’ what they preached, and such ‘word’ would wind up in the ‘invisible file’, that vast miasmic layer of opinion, truth, half-truth, factoid and ‘scuttlebutt’ that hangs over any Service, influencing who gets promoted and who doesn’t. A ‘prophetic’ military ministry would be a very brief one indeed.

The bishop then relates – in best ‘ecumenical’ form – that in the 1970s the senior chaplain at the Naval Academy, future Cardinal John O’Connor – threatened to “pull out all the chaplains” if the orders for a black Baptist chaplain’s assignment to the Academy were revoked. And they weren’t. Of course, O’Connor was shrewd enough to be surfing a national wave that the Navy brass of the era were sufficiently fuddy-duddy to be opposing; it helps a lot to be standing up to ‘power’ when the national government is on your side and your immediate bosses were such blockheads as to take up a position on the low ground.

But in all these cases, the military chaplains – and the ecclesiastical superiors who oversee them – are at best able to make a small difference here or there. No chaplain – Catholic or otherwise – was able to prevent the abomination of preventive war that was Iraq; no chaplain – Catholic or otherwise – was able to stop Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. Indeed, during the Fundamentalist Ascendancy, it can only be prudently presumed that the psychologists on the torture-teams and the JAGs (with some few very honorable exceptions) who went along with the torture were joined by a chaplainry far too given over to ‘the powers that be that are of God’ and of a militarism and outright jingoism that lubricated the skids along which the entire abomination has rolled these many years.

It’s anybody’s guess how much ‘truth’ has been suppressed in favor of maintaining ‘access’; a strategy that has utterly undone the American media and ‘the press’ (and ultimately did not serve the ‘Jesuit’ approach in 16th-century China and Japan).

One wonders what happened back in the days when Constantine suddenly made the Empire ‘Christian’ overnight. Did the legions do ‘their thing’ more charitably? Was it a kinder and gentler Empire?

One also recalls that in World War 1, famously, French and German bishops were both busily blessing their troops, as were Orthodox clergy to the vast, already-doomed Russian formations. Individual acts of true priestly integrity and ministry may have been – doubtless were – performed on all sides. But the war came, and went on, and ground out millions of soldiers’ lives before the nations finally called a halt. At its conclusion, no high-ranking prelate emerged as having played a great role in stopping it.

It seems an interesting coincidence to me that just as the Vatican report on homosexuality in American seminaries is (finally) being released, there is this small but steady trickle of articles about Catholic military chaplains and that special archdiocese – hitherto so reticent – that oversees the military ministry. The prelate who conducted that investigation – or review – of American seminaries was the same fellow who up until recently was the archbishop of that military archdiocese. He conducted his review, submitted his report some years ago; it was promptly sat upon, and he was promptly given a promotion to head the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Rome then appointed an American with lots of ‘Roman’ experience to run the military archdiocese. Wheels within wheels, and We shall see what We shall see.

But the good bishop – this Estabrook – is too clever by half, from the text of the article.

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