UQ Wire: The Madness Of America

Published: Thu 10 Oct 2002 12:26 AM
Unanswered Questions: Thinking For Ourselves
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The Madness Of America
by Jennifer Van Bergen
t r u t h o u t | Opinion
Wednesday, 9 October, 2002
Dark Forces & The Game of Mass Destruction
As we approach a preemptive war with Iraq, in violation of just about every known principle of civilized nations and, more particularly, of international law, certain things have become clearer in my mind. Yesterday I was talking to someone about whether there is a "lemming gene" in the human species. Remember the lemmings? Every seven years, hoards of them make a mass suicidal exodus to throw themselves into the sea. Scientists think the lemmings offset the effects of their rapid population growth this way.
Could humans have some built-in lemming gene: something that makes a large group of us go head-long toward our own destruction in order to depopulate and preserve the species?
I would like to think not. I would like to think there are other solutions for population growth and our current ills have a different origin.
Rather, I believe that people are afraid. Fear stops them from thinking clearly and puts their minds into a highly suggestive state. Once they are in a suggestive state, war seems like peace to them, aggression ensures safety, and throwing themselves into a sea of trouble saves them.
It is classic trance logic.
Since September 11th - no, since Election Day 2000 -- people are not thinking clearly. The world is turned upside-down and we still think things are right-side-up.
This fuzzy thinking is being capitalized on by our current leaders, who are so good at drumming up enemies that one wonders who their friends are -- other than themselves.
Think about what our leaders are saying. More and more of the world is being designated a dark force by our leaders. Does anyone wonder where all these dark forces suddenly came from?
No. We just take it for granted that they are there. Obviously, the events of 9/11 have a lot to do with this acceptance.
We are willing to blindly accept the naked words of our leaders and forget our duty as citizens to wonder and question, always question. We think maybe our leaders know better than we do. Even if we do not believe in the national security argument, or the "It's classified!" excuse, we might want to believe that it is okay to turn our heads away and not look too hard at what our President is suggesting: the willful unprovoked destruction of another nation.(1)
But, whatever we think, has anyone asked why? Why do there seem to be more and more bad guys out to get us good guys?
If it is true that there are more and more wars to be fought, more and more fronts for America to protect, more enemies, more terrorists who want our blood,(2) why is this so?
Does it really make sense? They hate us because we are "free" and they are not? They hate us because we can offer them the liberties they do not have? They hate us because they are inherently bad people who hate liberties?
Or, what?
They think we are rich, greedy, and powerful. They think we are morally undisciplined, live profligate lives, parade and prostitute our women and children, rape the land, steal from the poor - of other countries - and protect the wrongdoers.
Is this not what the other half of the world - the Islamic half - thinks of us? Well, they are just plain wrong, aren't they? Or, are they?
It is not just a special filter we are looking through that makes us unable to see what our enemies see. It is an entire construction of ourselves. We lead good lives. We raise our families, visit our friends. We work hard and make money. We keep our cars and lawns and bodies in good health. Our enemies must be wrong about us.
Here is the thing. There is a huge gap between how our enemies view us and how we view ourselves. This gap is the measure of something profound. It does not measure mere differences in ideologies or worldviews. Or mere differences in political agendas. Or even differences in psychology - as in, one nation being neurotic and the other healthy.
The gap measures the distance we are from destruction.
The farther apart their view of us gets from our view of ourselves, and the farther our view of them gets from theirs of themselves, the farther past the Point of No Return we have gone.
Why? Because the more invested we are in the picture we have of ourselves as good people, the harder it becomes to see our faults. The less we look at our faults, the more we blame others. The more we blame others, the more rage we will elicit in those we blame. The more we do this without allowing those we blame to be heard, the closer to mutual destruction we are.
This is a game of mass mutual psychological projection and murder and it is a game that can never be won. It is a game of mass destruction. It's the lemmings' race to the sea.
This was well understood back in the 1960's, when nuclear war seemed imminent. What happened to the wisdom we had then?
The Madness of King George and His People
Was it September 11th that separated our reason from our primal fears?
In my opinion, no, not completely. September 11 just sent us inevitably and tragically over the brink of a madness that had been approaching for a long time.
The madness is a slow, creeping disease that has been incubating inside of us for decades, since the Industrial Revolution, or before. At first, it seemed benign enough. It began with the rise of corporate entities. What can be wrong with them? Corporations are just groups of people banded together for a common goal. But corporations are legal entities that are treated in certain respects like people. Yet, they are not people and the illusion created by this fiction was the first step down a long and winding road to a dark tomorrow.
The madness now permeates just about every aspect of our society. One fact alone almost illustrates it all: the corporate ethic -- eg. "to make a profit."
Making a profit is considered the highest calling, and earns the highest status, in America and the western world. Neither scruples nor morals, family ties nor emotional ties, goodness nor generosity can dispose of the great imperative of making money ... and more money, and more...
What is wrong with profit-making as a life ethic is that it endangers the very life it seeks to promote, simply because it supersedes and overrides the two fundamental bases of life: connection to one's fellow human beings and connection to the planet on which we live.
Now, it might seem otherwise. It might seem that those who live by the profit-making ethic can do so without hurting each other or the planet. After all, do not the wealthy have lots of friends? And they look out for each other just fine. Survival of the fittest, right? If the poor do not happen to be as fit, is it the fault of the wealthy? Does not evolution simply favor the wealthy, then?(3)
It is not so. Corporate money-making is mere nepotism. It is like in-breeding. It's not good for us. We know innately that marrying our sister or brother is bad, even if the law were to allow it.
So, why don't we know this about the business of money-making? Simply because we long ago went down the wrong road. We do not want to walk back again and start all over.
However, as wrong and dangerous as the corporate ethic is, it is neither the cause of our woes nor the greatest concern. It is only a symptom -- just as the idea of using nuclear weapons is a symptom of something far deeper and more disturbing in ourselves.
I think the apocryphal phrase attributed to G.W. Bush is a good example of what lies beneath: "I believe in mother and child bondage."
What Bush meant to say was that he believed in mother and child bonding: the process of a mother a child becoming symbiotically close. Instead of saying what he meant to say, Bush accidentally said what he really thought.
Here hides and grows the cell which harbors the disease. However, because people do not know what to make of it, they stand perplexed and perhaps amused for a moment, then quickly move on and let the ill-boding phrase stand unchallenged.
What CAN one make of such a malapropism? At best, it was an innocent mistake. At worst, it was a Freudian slip that points to some deep-seated, misogynistic misgivings about mothers. But, who knows what it means, really ... and does it really matter?
Well, yes it does. Americans have an undeniable interest in the mental health and clear judgment of their leaders. But, more importantly - at least at this juncture - is not the individual psychological meaning of that isolated (and, according to Mark Crispin Miller, incorrectly attributed) statement with respect to Bush, but how it illustrates the cultural disease from which we suffer. Miller thinks it is a national disorder. I agree, but I do not see it as a form, or a mimicry, of dyslexia.(4)
It is a disease of reversals.(5)
It is rampant around the world. It is manifest in the African man who threw an aluminum can into a fire pit in Tanzania and said to me that someone would have to pay him to recycle it. This man, well-versed in western capitalist doctrine, would destroy his own country to benefit himself. Not for one moment did the awareness seep in that the nonsensical destruction of the land would likely be the destruction of his livelihood, if not ultimately his life.
The disease of reversals is manifest in anti-democratic processes that purport to protect our civil liberties by divesting supposed terrorists of theirs, as Bush has done by indefinitely detaining both visa-violating immigrants and "unlawful enemy combatant" Americans.
Or in the oxymoronic "First Amendment Free Speech Zones."
It can be as simple as the selfishness of the highway driver who won't let you merge into traffic, nearly running you off the road and endangering you both. Or the callousness of the bank representative who says that because they had not yet cleared your deposit to pay on a check you wrote, you must now pay more.
Or a phone company representative who says, in the memorable words of playwright Tony Sokol, "We're the phone company. We can do whatever we want."(6)
It is embodied in phone menus that will not allow you to talk to a live person until you listen for the zillionth time to the whole menu, and punish you for pushing the "0" button too soon by replaying the entire message again.
It is there when your landlord insists he will not continue to lease to you unless you sign away your rights to peace and quiet for the next year while he uses jackhammers to renovate your building (which will, of course, result in an eventual rent increase).
Or the property manager who tells a commercial tenant that one of her customers is not welcome to return because the customer complained about being harassed by a man on the managed property.
All these are true stories I have heard or experienced. In every one, there is a direct reversal of common sense and an abuse of the individual. How often have you heard someone say, "Sorry, ma'am (or sir), I don't make the rules; I just follow them." My reply to this is: "That's what the Nazi's said!"
This is corporate America, but the disease of reversals no longer exists only in corporate life. It exists everywhere, even in schools, where rude teachers shout at children to get them to learn their manners and school administrators inform parents that it is illegal for parents to home school their own children without the school's consent.
Reversals are not always direct or obvious. They can be subtle and hidden, like the "No Child Left Behind Act," purportedly enacted to "close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and minority students and their peers," and give "increased flexibility and local control" (ostensibly to schools) and "expanded options for parents," -- but which allows army recruiters to have nigh unfettered access to high school students' personal information. That is hardly local control or an expanded parental option.
Or, for that matter, the misnamed USA PATRIOT Act, which authorizes the greatest, most unpatriotic shredding of civil liberties our country has ever seen put into law.
Or has anyone thought about the made-in-America John Walker Lindh? A perfect example of a reversal embodied in religious conversion. It is not religious toleration that forces someone to the opposite choice. It is a culture overflowing with reversals.
The madness is so deep now that it has even seeped into the grammar and syntax of the language itself in the form of double-speak. Worse, this double-speak is the lingua franca of our own president. Note some examples from Bush's own mouth:
"Unfairly but truthfully, our party has been tagged as being against things. Anti-immigrant, for example. And we're not a party of anti-immigrants. Quite the opposite. We're a party that welcomes people." (p. 234, Cleveland, July 1, 2000)
"Drug therapies are replacing a lot of medicines as we used to know it." (p. 224, Presidential Debate, October 17, 2000)
"I don't care what the polls say. I don't. I'm doing what I think what's wrong." (p. 134, New York Times, March 15, 2000)
"My point is, is that I want America to lead the nation - lead the world - toward a more safe world when it comes to nuclear weaponry." (p. 207, New York Times, January 27, 2000)
"Well, I think if you say you're going to do something and don't do it, that's trustworthiness." (p. 134, CNN Online Chat, August 30, 2000)
Is it any wonder that we are a confused and frightened nation, haunted and hounded by dark forces, on the brink of world war, ready to sacrifice the very things we are fighting for?
Our time is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" or Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels." The faster the Red Queen runs, the further she is from arriving; the Mad Hatter says "No room! No room!" when he clearly presides over an empty table. Gulliver is imprisoned by tiny monarchs whose land he is then called upon to save.
"In that direction," the [Cheshire] Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a Hatter: and in that direction," waving the other paw, "lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad."
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
(1) The law recognizes self defense as an excuse for use of deadly force only where the defender is in imminent danger. Imminence is strictly construed to mean "upon the instant," not at some undefined future point. The new legal doctrine of "preemptive war" divests us of centuries of common law, not to mention dissociates us from international legal norms, quite literally endangering democracy.
(2) See David Armstrong, "Dick Cheney's Song of America: Drafting a plan for global dominance," Harper's Magazine, October 2002.
(3) It is interesting, however, that many of the wealthy now in power promote Christian views of creation rather than the Darwinian doctrine of survival of the fittest, by which they clearly operate. It is also interesting that this group grew out of the Aryan myth of the master race and eugenics. See Linda Hunt, "Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990," St. Martin's Press, 1991.
(4) Neither does Mark Crispin Miller, despite the title. See his "Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder," Norton, 2001.
(5) The classic illustration of the disease of reversals is double binds. According to "A Psychiatric Glossary," published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1969, a double bind is "a type of interaction, noted frequently in families of schizophrenic members, in which one person demands a response to a message containing mutually contradictory signals while the other is unable either to comment on the incongruity or to escape from the situation." See R.D. Laing, "The Divided Self: A Study of Sanity and Madness," Penguin, 1960.
(6) In Sokol's darkly hilarious one-act play, "Hung Up," which I directed in New York City in 1998, the customer visits the phone company office because he has been billed for calls he never made. When he asks to use the representative's desk phone, the rep tells the customer that if he does not take his hand off the phone, the rep will have him thrown out the window. The customer says, "You mean out the door?" "No," says the rep, "I mean out the window!" "You can't do that!" says the shocked customer. To which the phone company rep says "Yes we can. We're the phone company. We can do whatever we want." (Recited from memory. I take full responsibility for any inaccuracy in the recitation.)
- Jennifer Van Bergen is a contributing writer for truthout. She has a law degree from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, and is a faculty member of the New School University in New York where she teaches in the writing program.

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