I’m reading a new book by John Gray titled “Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia”.
He makes a point that grabs my attention.
Talking about Tony Blair (you remember him) and his unswerving support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq even in the face of his own high-level people telling him that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”, Gray observes that “Here Blair has been the modern man he claims to be: for him a sense of subjective certainty is all that is needed for an action to be right. If deception is needed to realize the providential design it cannot be truly deceitful.” [Italics mine.]
So many things, and all important.
I had mentioned in the immediately previous Post and in other Posts the concept of ‘migrating’: a way of looking at things or doing things is introduced into one area of activity and it can start to bleed over into other areas of activity; folks talk about it, other folks from other areas of activity think they might try it in their part of the garden … that sort of thing. One such example would be the defense-industry tactic of submitting a very low initial bid, getting a clause in the contract that enables them to add charges for this, that or the other thing, and then suddenly the price keeps rising and rising. The infamous Big Dig up in Boston started out with a bid of 2 billion, and wound up costing 16 billion plus.
It works in the realm of concepts, ideas, and strategies of all sorts too.
Since the early 1970s the gender-feminist movement has worked hard to delegitimize ‘reason’, ‘thinking’, and ‘abstractions’ that might slow down or cast doubt upon or otherwise interfere with the achievement of their many urgent objectives. In place of all that the movement cadres raise up ‘intuition’ (shrewdly called ‘lateral thinking’ just so it doesn’t sound so touchy-feely and 1960s-ish).
In the mid-1980s and throughout the 1990s, ‘victimism’ spun off from ‘gender feminism’, picking up the support of both the Democrats and their ‘sensitivity’ and Republicans and their get-tough-on-crime proclivities. The core idea here is that the purported victim’s ‘feelings’ trump many things such as ‘facts’, established jurisprudential principles, and even Constitutional principles. Even Rules of Evidence were changed to enable a ‘story’, unsupported or perhaps even contraindicated by the available facts, to take precedence over any evidence that anybody else other than the ‘victim’ can see (and evaluate).
You can already see the ominous and lethal effects of this bleed-over from cultural struggles to criminal law.
One young woman from a local college opined recently that “when you are feeling like the world is beating you down, then it is”. While anybody can sympathize with that feeling, the fact that you ‘feel’ that something ‘is’ does not actually make the thing really so. Yes, in the therapy setting the therapist would accept that sense of things from the client, at least at the outset, for the purpose of creating a space for discussion and some therapeutic growth, but no competent therapist immediately and as a matter of principle or procedure accepts that everything that the client ‘feels’ about life or the world is actually the real situation. Back in the day, famously, there were those folks who were convinced that they were Napoleon or Marie Antoinette and felt it deeply, but that didn’t make them Napoleon or Marie Antoinette.
But procedures valid in the therapy setting are not necessarily good to be transferred to, say, the criminal justice forum where a sustained and searching assessments of evidence leading to facts is essential because you are deploying the massive police power of the government against an individual citizen, with the stakes being very high and permanent indeed.
And of course, the gender-feminist and victimist assumption is that in the service of a ‘good’ cause such as ‘women’ or ‘victims’, then nothing can stand in the way, not truth, not laws, not Constitutional practice. (Again, read Christina Hoff Sommers’s “Who Stole Feminism?” for extended discussion and examples.)
Now here is Tony Blair, head of a powerful nation’s government, going along with invasive war, even in the face of evidence that the whole justification for the war is being ‘cooked’. And he goes along with it (getting British troops and untold numbers of Iraqis killed in the process) because he feels personally convinced that he is doing the right thing. (Yet he hid his intentions to participate in the invasion and war until the very last minute from his own Parliament and citizens, and when you feel you have to hide what you’re doing … well, that doesn’t indicate anything very good.)
When a government is no longer bound by anything ‘beyond’ itself, by Constitutional and legal requirements, by a responsibility to truth and accuracy and to honesty with its own citizens – when that happens a government has effectively departed from the path of moral and political integrity, and quite possibly of reason.
When a Constitutional democratic government starts doing it (and Bush was even more ‘personally convinced’ about the rightness of his actions than Blair was) – when that happens then that government has effectively escaped from all controls. It has become in effect a divine-right monarchy, which, as the Framers saw, shades rather predictably into tyranny.
If all it takes to ‘be right’ is that you reely reely deeply ‘feel’ that you are right – well, individuals who present in therapy with such a firm belief are certainly in the right place.
But when a government does that, then all Hell is capable of breaking loose in the world. And it’s not simply that the government shares the same delusory convictions as the college student mentioned above. The government stands to gain tremendously if it is ‘right’, and it is claiming to have examined itself and is certain that it is ‘right’, and so it is right and it is going to do what it wants to do. This is hell-and-gone from a healthy polity in any Western democratic sense. And from any sense of checks-and-balances.
Nor is it a good thing when Blair also assumes that in the service of what he personally feels certain is a good thing, anything that might usually be judged to be a baaad thing is OK because it is in the service of the Great Big Good Thing that Blair feels so sure he is helping to bring about (and, indeed, on top of everything else, something quite the opposite of what he hoped for came about).
As an aside, it has to be noted that this is precisely the profoundly immoral mess that the Israeli government has gotten itself into: it is pursuing tactics literally copied from the Wehrmacht and the SS in order, it is so absolutely certain, to prevent what the Wehrmacht and the SS did from ever happening again. Which, eerily, sounds a lot like the old Vietnam-era bumper sticker: fighting for peace is like f***ing for chastity. (From a political point of view, it’s not hard to see why the embattled Israeli government, already in a state of constant ‘war emergency’, would like to see its largest benefactor also be transformed into a nation and citizenry under a condition of permanent war-emergency.)*
You see where highly dubious concepts and procedures can ‘migrate’. And not simply from, say, one part of a country’s domestic activity to another, but even to its foreign policy. And then even to another allied government, so that now two large and heavily-armed countries are taken to war by leaders who accept no higher authority than their very own ‘deep personal feelings’. There’s a sort of swine-flu aspect to large-scale immorality and illegality. The 'migration of concepts and practices' is one of the most lethal but unseen migrations going these days.
Oy. You can do it even if most people would call it bad, because you personally believe it’s good; and you can also then do bad things in order to achieve your ‘good’ thing, because anything done in a ‘good’ cause must be itself ‘good’.
And don’t forget the corollary: anything that opposes your intentions, no matter how good it may actually be, can only be considered as ‘bad’ because it is opposing the ‘good’ thing you’re sure you’re doing.
It all becomes a hall of mirrors, unanchored in any genuine reality and ungoverned by any criteria of good and bad, law and illegality, truth or untruth, morality or immorality.
The Beltway, even more than Blair, has now gotten into this nightmare quicksand-field and it is not going to be able to get out. Not without admitting it did baaad things, which their lawyers will tell them never to admit for fear of prosecution or loss of income … you can see where this is all going.
Somehow, The People are going to have to get a lot closer to governing than they have been for quite some time. That’s how bad things are.
*In an only modestly unrelated thought, it comes to me that Obama himself has lamented the 96% re-election rate of Congress; rightly so, because it is a lethal insulation that prevents The People from being able to genuinely express their will and do their job of 'Grounding' the Congress. But it is also - among other things - certainly in the interests of the various Advocacies, corporate contributors, and the insidious Israel lobby that this situation remain in place; after all, once a pol has been bought and paid for (and reliably intimidated by the threat of exposing his-her treachery to his-her Oath) then those who have 'paid' do not want any unpleasant changes. Except for their own taking-down of anybody who dares to strive for integrity and loyalty to the Oath - those few will be cast into outer darkness, pour encourager les autres.