Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hubris Over Easy

The Torture Guy finally resigned on August 27, and one wonders why it happened at this particular time. At first I assumed that Boosh’s “reluctance” to accept the resignation was pure bull, like everything else he says. Gonzales wouldn’t leave unless his master wanted him to, right? But emptywheel offers some interesting speculation over at The Next Hurrah. It’s possible that Gonzo was unwilling to perjure himself further. Not out of principle, of course. Everything is naked self-interest with these folks, never principle.

Understanding what’s really going on in Washington always means reading between the lines. It has become a simple fact of life that the public pronouncements of our “leaders” hide the truth rather than reveal it. It’s either empty rhetoric or carefully crafted code. This is because the government takes a stance against the public—its primary purpose is to hide the facts from their own people. No matter what kind of flattery and baby-kissing one may see on the stump, the citizens are seen only as a mass of stupidity, if not potential treachery, and everything is done to keep them passive and ignorant. One symptom of this is the casual dishonesty that permeates the public discourse at every level.

For instance, in Gonzales’s brief resignation speech, he said the following: “It is through their [the DOJ staff’s] continued work that our country and our communities remain safe, that the rights and civil liberties of our citizens are protected, and the hopes and dreams of all of our children are secured.”

Come again? Rights and civil liberties? Since when has Gonzales given a crap about that? Under his authority, the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ was crippled and demoralized. Experienced attorneys were replaced by Bush toadies with no interest in civil liberties whatsoever. His role in the justification of torture, and the odious policies regarding “enemy combatants” is enough to make you sick just hearing the word “rights” emitting from his lips. Then there’s his participation in the subversion of our voting rights through voter suppression and other means, his undermining of the Fourth Amendment, and the list goes on.

But Gonzo can stand there and say “rights and civil liberties” without blinking an eye. Does he really believe it?

I had similar thoughts listening to Rove when he resigned last week. “At month's end,” he said, “I will join those whom you meet in your travels, the ordinary Americans who tell you they are praying for you. Like them, I will ask for God's continued gifts of strength and wisdom for you and your work, your vital work for our country and the world, and for the Almighty's continued blessing of our great country.”

Here’s a guy who would do anything, and did—slime McCain for having a “black baby” in order to win a primary in South Carolina; reveal the name of a CIA agent in order to punish her husband for opposing Bush; and undermine one of our most precious legacies, the right to vote, without a second thought. And this only scratches the surface of what this scumbag did to the country. And here he goes, talking about God and prayer. I would bet everything I own that Rove doesn’t believe in God or prayer. But when he stands up in front of a microphone and mouths these words, maybe there’s a part of him that believes his own bullshit?

I guess it doesn’t matter. When the only value is political power, and nothing else, then the very idea of truth becomes outmoded, or “quaint” (as Gonzo termed the Geneva Conventions). Since you don’t really believe anything, you can choose to believe whatever rubbish comes out of your mouth in the moment. You can choose to believe that you’re a public servant, that you’re actually doing something for the country, that you have a “cause.” And because your capacity to fool yourself makes you impervious to criticism, or indeed reality, thousands of people die.

The age of arrogance will not endure. We must hasten its end.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Our absurd, illegitimate bizarro President made a speech to the VFW comparing Vietnam to Iraq. Apparently if we leave Iraq there will be chaos and bloodshed. This argument assumes that you’re ignorant enough not to know that chaos and bloodshed reached obscene levels in Iraq some time ago.

Bush making a speech at the VFW is nothing new. He appears publicly only at military events, where the audience isn’t allowed to boo, or at meetings of the VFW, American Legion, Raving Wingnuts for Christ, Stupid Sons-of-Bitches of America, and other patriotic groups. Next week, President Queeg will be addressing the United Spooks Against the Rest of Us on the subject of the strawberries. Yes, you laughed at him and made jokes, but he will prove beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with geometric logic, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist.

The armchair killers still want to believe that Vietnam was just about winning. There’s no admission, no mention at all that maybe napalming the shit out of people, and wiping out men, women and children on a daily basis might have been wrong. When it comes to war, there is no right or wrong any more, just the prestige of victory or the shame of defeat. This is Kissinger’s old idea. If only the people weren’t such wusses, if only they were tough like us, we could have won, but you see, they lacked resolve. It wasn’t the fault of those clever men who sent 60,000 Americans down the pipeline to their deaths, it was our fault for saying we’d had enough.

Now we see the same attitude about Iraq. Do they really believe that if Iraq was really a threat to our security, and the citizens of this country knew that they were fighting in defense of our land, that we wouldn’t support the war? The country’s sick of the war because we know that it was founded on lies, that we’re not fighting to protect our country (in fact the war continues to make us less safe) and that the people running it are greedy, incompetent fools whose every move creates further destruction. Bush pretends to stand “firm” against the opinion of the majority of the citizens of this country, as if he were principled and we’re just a bunch of idiots scared by images on our TV. Faint-hearted and impatient, we don’t have what it takes, we don’t have the far-ranging vision to see that the war is good and noble, and by God the surge is succeeding.

The real problem is that Americans aren’t dumb enough to be fooled by anything these evil clowns say anymore. It’s only the 25-30% who still support Bush who are still shitting on cue when the Commander says the code word “terrorist.” We are left with the saving remnant of old farts at the VFW who still applaud the ravings of this little psychopath.

The perpetual drumbeat of fear can only work for so long before people get tired. You can’t base an entire nation on a single event (9/11) or on the constant dread of an over-inflated enemy. That’s why we have a Constitution. That’s why we have laws. Mad dictators just don’t have staying power in America, if only because people need some kind of stability in their lives, and the neo-conmen only know how to exploit instability.

The utter and complete failure of the neoconservative movement is inevitable. The only question is whether they’ll take the rest of us down with them. Let’s not be shy. Speak out while we still can.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The plan

I got into a spirited discussion recently about the whole notion of a cosmic “purpose” or “plan” behind what happens, or as I put it, behind “history.” Of course I was adamantly against this notion, and although the talk was friendly, I came away with a familiar feeling, a sort of guilty conscience for challenging beliefs that seem to provide meaning and comfort to those holding them.

Part of the problem in such discussions is that the boundaries between the principled and the personal are inevitably blurred. When I drew inferences from the notion of purpose that resulted in justifying the unjustifiable, I was assured that the other had no such intent.

But you see, someone’s intent is not the issue at all. Ideas need to be evaluated on their own merits without regard to the character of the person advancing them. This is a point that is very difficult for many people to grasp in the middle of conversation, because we are involved personally in the interaction. We are afraid not to hurt someone’s feelings, or offend their cherished convictions, or somehow damage our friendship by engaging in contention. In fact, all this is beside the point.

One argument that I did not make, but which is actually foremost in my estimation, is that self-importance lends a sense of significance to human activity that we then project onto the cosmos. To seriously believe that the Divine (however you may conceive of it) would need to bother about a purpose or a plan behind the Thirty Years’ War and the Peace of Westphalia, is to betray a very pedestrian idea of divinity. Uncountable life forms are born and pass away in the space of a moment, and the number of galaxies exceeds the mind’s ability to calculate—surely there’s no need for a creator or cosmic demiurge to arrange the pathetic drama of human history like a puppet show.

Furthermore, if there is a plan, it’s a damn lousy one for sure. No plan that requires the cruelty, barbarism and savagery that we have witnessed, even only in the last hundred years, is worth my reverence or consideration. Earthquakes, disease, and other pains that are part and parcel of conditioned existence I accept as the natural order. Torturing people, throwing them in gas chambers, wiping them out en masse with bombs, etc., I don’t see as part of a plan, nor would any supposed higher purpose make them worthwhile.

I think that reality is too great to have a meaning. But this truth has a disturbing effect on many of us. Human beings require meaning, and I think this need is based on an intuition of absolute truth. However, we don’t see that spirit (the divine metaphor) is identical with subjectivity. Instead we are hypnotized by the so-called outside world, not realizing that this is an abstraction. Not an illusion, as the traditions of the East seem to say, but a conception of reality. This conception serves us, but our bondage begins when we serve it. That’s when we become objects in the game of an historical spirit. That’s when we start frantically looking for meaning behind things instead of in ourselves.

Regular readers may know that I posit a link between this abandonment of spirit to an objective concept of reality and the fear of death. I’m not sure that this can be demonstrated logically, however. I only sense that the intuition of spirit as identical with the unconditioned (reality itself) clashes with our conscious identification with this soul (the ancient metaphor), this particular mind-body complex that I call myself and associate with traits of personality. This identification is, in my view, what the Buddhists mean by “clinging” or “attachment.” It is not a mere mental operation or belief, but a kind of primordial act, based on the simple need for survival.

The secret of the sages and mystics, then—an open secret, really—is that the intuition of spirit as identical with the unconditioned (reality itself) needs to become conscious, and simultaneously the conscious identification with the individual self needs to be seen through. What is seen through doesn’t vanish. It’s just that its transparent (conditioned) nature is perceived. We survive, but without enslavement to the fear of death.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

End results

Where we are today is not an aberration. It is the logical outcome of Reaganism.

When Reagan said that "government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem," he summarized a right-wing agenda intent on abolishing public responsibility in favor of a pre-New Deal vision of unfettered capital. The Reaganites endowed the market with the magical power of making everything work towards the good.

In this vision, selfishness is the only real good. The profit motive is the only legitimate motive. In the years since Reagan, we have seen privatization create havoc in our health care system. Healing is founded on the idea of service, of working together for the good of individuals and communities. The profit motive has proved to be only a degrading force in this regard, but those who made money from exploiting the system continued to force health into the Reagan mold.

The inability to recognize the public good as a value is a prime characteristic of Reaganism. For this reason, it’s impossible for the right wing to make any progress in the country’s educational system. In fact, the system continues to get worse.

The rise of Reagan constituted a quite deliberate and overt repudiation of empathy and compassion as social values. His fairy tales about welfare queens were all about blaming the poor. If people were poor, it was all their own fault. In addition, racism was no longer a problem. Black people who criticized institutional racism were guilty of a victim mentality. It was black culture that was at fault. This is a vein that the Republicans have continued to mine up to the present. Reagan was actually George Wallace, but with a nice smile.

If I had to pick a slogan for the Reagan movement it would be, “We don’t care.” We don’t care about anything except standing guard while the rich make their money. To accomplish this, we will pour the tax revenues into the Pentagon, from which no ordinary citizens will experience any benefit. When your taxes go for nothing, then of course you’ll demand lower taxes. Lower taxes, more money for the rich, the poor stay poor, and the defense contractors stay fat.

After Reagan, every little hate-filled cockroach came crawling up from the under the rocks. They got AM radio talk shows, newspaper columns, and TV shows, along with high government positions. People who were rightly considered wackos in the 1970s were suddenly treated as if they were respectable. Reagan’s appointment of the nutcase James Watt to head of Interior was symbolic of everything that’s happened since. When your position is that government is the problem, and you run the government, then government becomes a topsy-turvy circus, a grotesque theater of hostility. Reagan’s America had a sneer on its lip and a mean glint in its eye.

Reagan secretly sold arms to Iran in order to fund murderers in Central America. All he got was a little slap on the wrist. Many of the players returned under Bush Jr. to play their illegal games again.

So don’t look around and act surprised that we have a vicious mobster in the White House, bleeding our future dry with dirty wars and secret plotting. Reagan won two elections, the second by a landslide. A lot of people voted for this shit. This is exactly what happens when you say “We don’t care. All I want is mine. To hell with justice, fairness, kindness. To hell with children, the aged, the poor.” This is exactly what you get.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Our Enemies

I was going to write a hard-hitting piece about the Bush administration’s NSA spying program, and how the Democrats caved in and made it easier for Bush to bypass the law.

But then I remembered that criticizing the President’s efforts to fight terror would play into the hands of our enemies. I’m sure they’re rubbing their hands with glee when they see liberals undermining this administration. So what’s a little wiretapping when the security of the country is at stake? I’m not a terrorist, so I have nothing to worry about. Besides, George Bush and Karl Rove wouldn't use their power to spy on domestic political opponents, would they?

I thought of writing a piece decrying Alberto Gonzales’ refusal to give direct answers to questions by the Senate Judiciary Committee about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

But then I realized how trivial this whole attorney scandal is compared to the war on terror. Just when we need a strong Attorney General to protect us from our enemies, along comes this story that nobody cares about. It’s obviously been blown out of proportion for partisan political reasons. Besides, George Bush and Karl Rove would never use their power to try to rig American elections, would they?

I then thought of launching an attack on the Bush Administration’s use of torture.

But I remembered that the President recently announced a new policy that makes it clearer than ever that we don’t torture. I think we need to trust him on this. If we talk too much about torture, we certainly aid our enemies. They need to be kept in the dark so that we can be safe. Besides, George Bush wouldn’t distort the truth about such a sensitive issue, would he?

Well, I could write another article against the war in Iraq. I doubt if it would make much difference, though. You know, every time someone criticizes the war, it emboldens our enemies even more, and damages the morale of our troops. Maybe if I’m quiet, the war will go better. Besides, if I protest, it could be argued that I’m trying to undermine the Iraqi government, and then all my assets could be seized by the government. And damn it, I would deserve it.

We all need to be stand unified behind the President in order to fight terror. If we lose this fight, it will be the fault of all those liberals and nay-sayers who protested and complained about one little thing or another. Boy, our enemies must be really happy.

They just keep getting happier too.

Let’s just shut up and be grateful that we have free speech. After all, that’s what our troops are fighting for.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Our pyramids

The first signs of mythological awareness we have found are the Neanderthal burial sites from about a thousand centuries ago. The recognition of death gave human consciousness a sense of urgency—the eternal present was bound within a finite time. With the advent, far more recently, of what we call civilization, we see the rise of the great tombs, most spectacularly in the pyramids of Egypt.

The pyramid was the burial mound of the pharaohs—that is, the kings. Is there not something awful about them? They were built from the dread of death. For we are born into a society—a family, a clan, a tribe, a city, a state. A huge mysterious world confronts us, and we need this society to survive. The single human being finds not only its security, but its meaning, in the many. There is one human being in whom all these single human beings are combined into one symbol, one metaphorical man or woman—a king or a queen.

The burial of the royal person effects the collective survival of death. The ritual killing of the king described by Frazer can never be fully grasped by our modern intellects unless we appreciate the depth of fear inspired by our mortality. Looking at the pyramids we realize that the human heart was gripped by cosmic dread and to this degree—the unimaginable labor expended in constructing these massive tombs. All eyes in the kingdom will see the tombs, just as all hearts will be one with the king who represents us.

The gradual realization of the individual consciousness—what we moderns call the “ego”—has posed endless problems for society. Foremost among these is the perversion of the king. If the king can be just a person, not a merely symbolic entity, then he can be a tyrant. And more often than not, he has been. Why? Because the fear-based society demands conformity to a single cultural norm, and when individuality creates fissures in that conformity, they must be plugged up by force.

The fear-based reliance on authority has persisted down to the present day. The establishment of democracies and republics ameliorated its influence from time to time, but it never died. It has stayed potent because the fear of death has retained its primal power in our minds.

The potentially free human being realizes that she is not projected onto a royal authority figure. She comes partly out of hypnosis, so to speak, but the underlying fear is still a force to be reckoned with. The individual suddenly feels opposed to society, in a contest for freedom that always seems hopeless. Surrender is a common regression, a return to sleep, and in the last century we’ve seen it manifest in the totalitarian regimes, where authority is reduced to its simplest essence.

The beginning of wisdom is the end of the fear of death. All spiritual truth, all poetry, all divinities, return to the self. The self lives in the eternal present. Humankind doesn’t need to attain anything in order to realize this—we need only see through the falsehood of what we think of as self. The struggling, naked little being who seeks to wield power over other beings in order to survive—that is a falsehood, an illusion. It is a creature of the mind. The quest to survive death is futile. We wake up when we know that survival is not an option. Then we can love others in fullness, without inhibition. It’s not just that we realize that we are the same as everyone else—it’s knowing that we’re actually one self, that there’s no real self or other. This is the end indicated by mystics, Buddhists, and other free spirits.

What they don’t indicate, or at least rarely ever hint, is that this end involves the end of the king. Not just the king out there with the crown, but the king in our heads. The sky god and the volcano god and all the other embodiments of the power principle disappear and we realize that no one is watching or listening. The society is embodied in each individual human being, not the other way around. For the mass of humanity (if you’ll pardon the expression) to realize this would require a spiritual revolution. It would not be merely rationalist, contrary to what most atheist thinkers seem to say. It would be emotional and ecstatic as well. It would not be the end of religion, but the fulfillment of religion. Will it ever happen on this planet? I don’t know, and I hesitate to let my pessimistic side have the last word. But I know that fear only leads us deeper into darkness.