Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Tragic Lunacy: Avoiding The Obvious Fact Leaves A Hole No Words Can Fill

I sat on my hands when Chris Floyd replied to a post by Paul Curtis regarding an excerpt from Glenn Greenwald's soon-to-be-published book, "A Tragic Legacy".

I was thinking "If this were hockey, Chris would be gone!" It is, after all, the third man jumping into a fight who opens up the potential for a brawl.

But this wasn't really a fight at all, and as I continued to sit on my hands while more words flew, it dawned on me that there had never been any danger of a fight. And that's how I knew it wasn't hockey, by the way. Chris came to see it as something akin to rowing; in his view, we're all pulling together, even if we each see the course a bit differently. And I was still content to watch.

But that only lasted so long, and all of a sudden I can't restrain myself; now in addition to demanding a spot in the boat I also insist on standing, as the live-action photo at the top of my sidebar attests. You may salute now and later. But please don't drop your oars in the water while doing so...

The full title of Glenn Greenwald's book is "A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency". Much of the discussion which I intend to quote here swirls around the purported physical basis of that mentality -- what Greenwald calls a Manichean world-view.

I'm such a political know-it-all that I actually had to look it up: I learned that Manicheanism was an ancient Persian religion and then of course it was obvious: clearly 'twas an old Middle Eastern religion that "destroyed" the Bush presidency! The Iranians were behind it -- of course. Glenn nails it again!

But unfortunately it's not that simple. Glenn Greenwald is not attempting to pin all the horrors of the past six years on the ancient Persians after all. He's merely using the name of their religion to evoke its dualism, its view of the world as divided into two fundamental (and fundamentally opposed) concepts (such as Good and Evil) as well as, of course, the physical, spiritual and other manifestations of same.

Glenn Greenwald writes:
One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness -- who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil -- is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations -- moral, pragmatic, or otherwise -- on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.

Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.
He has much more to say about this, including:
Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone.

It is from these premises that the most amoral or even most reprehensible outcomes can be -- and often are -- produced by political movements and political leaders grounded in universal moral certainties. Intoxicated by his own righteousness and therefore immune from doubt, the Manichean warrior becomes capable of acts of moral monstrousness that would be unthinkable in the absence of such unquestionable moral conviction. One who believes himself to be leading a supreme war against Evil on behalf of Good will be incapable of understanding any claims that he himself is acting immorally.
Later Greenwald says:
The president has been able to engage in this conduct because the country collectively accepted the dualistic framework with which he views the world, whereby the goal of "protecting" ourselves from the "forces of Evil" outweighs every other consideration and justifies every means employed in service of this battle. When President Bush acts in the name of fighting The Terrorists, with the goal of battling Evil, what he does is by definition justifiable and Good because he is doing it.

This absolutist Manichean mind-set venerates physical safety above all else. When President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act into law in October 2006, he dismissed objections to its Draconian and tyrannical provisions with one very simple and straightforward argument (emphasis added):
Over the past few months the debate over this bill has been heated, and the questions raised can seem complex. Yet, with the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few: Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat? Every member of Congress who voted for this bill has helped our nation rise to the task that history has given us.
That paragraph summarizes the Bush movement. Because the threat posed by The Evil Terrorists is so grave, maximizing protections against it is the paramount, overriding goal. No other value competes with that objective, nor can any other value limit our efforts to protect ourselves against The Terrorists.
Glenn Greenwald may say "Manichean" in other parts of his book -- and if so he may indeed blame the "destruction" of the Bush presidency on ancient Persians and/or current-day Iranians. I don't know; I certainly hope he doesn't and I assume we'll all find out shortly.

In the interests of showing due diligence if nothing else, I have quoted all the occurrences of "Manichean" in the excerpt published by Salon. I've chosen these excerpts not only because they contained the word I had to look up, but also -- more importantly -- because they embody Greenwald's argument very well -- if (and in my mind that's a big if) the Salon excerpt is representative of the entire tome.

From the ensuing multi-way conversation, I gather that in some way it isn't; and for some reason it strikes me as strange (to say the least) that we're off on this particular tangent. And yet here we are: Glenn Greenwald and Paul Curtis and Chris Floyd and What am I even doing on this list? Yet I insist on standing up in the middle of the boat, which we are supposedly all rowing along together.

Paul Curtis is saying:
Greenwald's critique is tremendously important. Right-wing Manicheanism has taken over the national debate on security matters, operating as a literally totalitarian thought system, in that it subsumes all discourse into its own unanswerable internal logic. We've become familiar with the notion of framing in political discourse: well, this is the meta-frame. It quashes every attempt by liberals and moderates to raise rational points and does tremendous damage to constitutional liberties, the national interest, and global well-being.

It's a sort of cousin to the most disastrous forms of secular utopianism history has seen, echoing the logic that drove the Khmer Rouge and the Cultural Revolution, and if saying this means I've blown completely by Godwin's Law, so be it -- we're talking about the governing philosophy of the world's sole superpower, and the stakes really are that high. Moreover, as Greenwald points out, it's un-American:
But our entire system of government, from its inception, has been based upon a very different calculus -- that is, that many things matter besides merely protecting ourselves against threats, and consequently, we are willing to accept risks, even potentially fatal ones, in order to secure those other values. From its founding, America has rejected the worldview of prioritizing physical safety above all else, as such a mentality leads to an impoverished and empty civic life. The premise of America is and always has been that imposing limitations on government power is necessary to secure liberty and avoid tyranny even if it means accepting an increased risk of death as a result. That is the foundational American value.
Because it is a totalitarian framework of logic, the only way to defeat it is to attack it at its foundations, to root out its very premise, as Greenwald is doing. Conservatives have often gained the advantage in American public discourse because they build and re-enforce these meta-frames with great care; for liberals to bring reason back to the debate we'll need to do a considerable amount of foundational work of our own. This means, in the present case, repeatedly making the argument that Manicheanism is foolish and destructive, that we cannot afford to make policy according to a worldview defined by a simpleminded division of Good v. Evil.

When we make this case, we'll be accused of "moral relativism," which argument is the meta-frame's self-defense mechanism. But the point, of course, is that moral relativism is actually the product of the Manichean worldview, because it permits its adherents to justify any action -- no matter how depraved -- as taken in the service of "Good."

We've already seen that the current crop of Republican presidential contenders are holding tighter than ever to the Manichean frame, desperate as they are to win support from the right on war and terror, since there is nothing else on which the GOP can run. They're betting that liberals will be unable to destroy that meta-frame. Greenwald has the right idea: let's get started on destroying it. Now.
Chris Floyd has added some historical context to the discussion, an excerpt from which follows:
when has a strict Manicheanism not "taken over the national debate on security matters"? The "simpleminded division of Good v. Evil" reigned in all-triumphant glory throughout the decades of the Cold War, as anyone who was there for all or most of it can readily attest. Anything that could remotely be associated with "communism" (however plausibly or implausibly) was irredeemably evil; anyone who opposed communism -- by whatever draconian or murderous methods -- was on the side of the "good." This "meta-frame" also struck a deep chord in vast swathes of the public, which is why it was so effective in militarizing our republic and its economy over the course of half a century -- a process that James Carroll's remarkable Pentagon history, House of War, chronicles so well.

If anything, the Cold War "division of Good v. Evil" was far more "simpleminded" than what we see today. Imagine a Cold War president stating in public that Communism was a worthy doctrine, dedicated to human betterment, but had unfortunately been hijacked by extremists and rogue states, etc. Yet Bush has consistently made such remarks about Islam (for public consumption, at least). And of course, many of his allies in his "Terror War" are Muslims: the Saudis, the Pakistanis, the Egyptians, the Kurds, the militant Shiite factions he has empowered in Iraq, the warlords and drug kings and woman-hating clerics he has empowered in Afghanistan, etc. While in no way defending Bush's policies, his alliances or his murderous Terror War, there is simply no way that this murky, chaotic, shifting miasma can be compared, ideologically, to the rigid fault lines of the Cold War. (I'm speaking here of those who are actually in power, making policy, not the innumerable bootlickers, sycophants, extremists, cranks and idiots on the ideological right, who are cynically used -- and occasionally dropped -- by the power-players as needed.)

The point here is not that Greenwald or Curtis are wrong in asserting that "Right-wing Manicheanism has taken over the national debate on security matters." Of course it has. They are entirely right about this, and Greenwald especially has done great work in delineating the deeply sinister effects and implications of the Bush gang's thuggish rule. But the fact is, such Manicheanism has been long been operative in American history.
Since those words were written, Paul and Chris have had an interesting exchange of ideas full of flickering glimpses of our history through the Cold War and now into the War on Terror, well-documented at Empire Burlesque and worthy of a read.

I don't imagine I'll have more than one chance -- or one urge -- to stand up in the middle of such a distinguished boat, so I'll cut straight to the core of my argument:

I keep reading all these fine writers -- good thinkers, too -- and I can't imagine why nobody has asked the question that's been bouncing around inside my frozen little brain since I first saw the title of Glenn Greenwald's book:

How a What Destroyed the Come-Again???

The obvious implication in Glenn Greenwald's title is that there was originally something of value in Bush and his administration which was capable of being destroyed -- some potential treasure that was lost when this particular president was -- what? suddenly? inevitably? understandably? post-9/11? infected with a dangerously simplistic world view of Good vs Evil, Us vs The Terrorists...

I'm sorry, but I'm not buying it. In my opinion, to subscribe to such a view -- to even consider allowing a phrase such as "How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency" on the front cover of one's book -- displays either an acute case of Head-In-Sand Disease or a degree of moral corruption I do not care to contemplate.

Let us instead contemplate a question that may indeed be pivotal:

What If It's All A Lie?

What if the whole thing -- the entire national swill -- 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the entire GWOT -- is a deliberate, pre-fabricated, mass-murdering, war-mongering lie?

What if the government -- the Bush administration -- the Cheney-Rove-Bush axis-of-evil-propaganda machine -- the authors of the "Manichean" talking points which dominate our national swill ... What if they know, as surely as you and I do, but in much more detail, that 9/11 was an inside job?

They do know that, you know! How could they not know?

Otherwise, why did they refuse to testify under oath? Why did Bush refuse to testify without Cheney? Who did they think they were fooling, appointing Henry Freaking Kissinger to chair the sham "investigation"?

For that matter, how could they get the PATRIOT Act written and presented to Congress so soon after 9/11, if 9/11 was so unexpected? Why were they so ready to bomb and invade Afghanistan that they could initiate offensive operations in-country less than a month later? Why were the bin Laden family flown out of the country so fast, and who chartered the plane they flew on? And is the FBI's ObL "WANTED" poster really "out-of-date", or does it merely reflect a reality that relatively few Americans -- even among those who position themselves as implacable foes of the current administration -- are willing to examine, lest the truths they discover should become too obvious to ignore any longer, while their implications remain too painful to accept?

What if? Guess what!

What if the Manichean world-view of Good vs Evil upon which rests the entire foreign and domestic policy agenda of the Bush administration -- what if that world-view was in fact chosen for bureaucratic reasons?

What if, like the "weapons of mass destruction" that didn't exist in Iraq, the "terrorist organizations of global reach" against whom we are supposedly fighting have no basis in reality independent of all the usual suspects, and merely represent the most plausible lie that happens to be available?

What if this lie is not only the most plausible lie available, but also the most powerful? What if it was chosen -- and therefore made available -- for the very reason of its power? For who could dare to stand -- even against creeping tyranny, even against a plan to unleash death and destruction on the rest of the world -- knowing he will be accused of aiding the terrorists who "want to kill us all"?

The power of the lie is such that whoever owns it can have anything else he wants.

What if this is why it was chosen?

It's not as if it doesn't matter. It's not as if anyone could even semi-plausibly pretend it doesn't matter. Every single issue under debate on the national scene -- or not! -- now and back in time nearly six years -- has been touched by the War on Terror. We don't have any money for anything else because of the War on Terror. We have to give up some of our civil liberties because of the War on Terror. We have to do anything possible to keep our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- against the will of the vast majority of the electorate -- because of the War on Terror. The president is commander-in-chief until he says otherwise because of the War on Terror.

We have devoted all the resources of our society to a war against "terrorist organizations of global reach" even though it is more true than ever before that no terrorist organization of global reach can possibly exist -- much less operate -- without the knowledge and consent -- not to say the active cooperation -- of the CIA and the NSA and all their friends in high places, like MI6 and ISI.

And still we have supposedly meaningful debates on such topics as whether the president should be able to detain indefinitely those whom he designates "enemy combatants", "unlawful" or otherwise.

Knowing what we do know about the illegitimacy of the official 9/11 conspiracy theory, how can we possibly sit and debate such a thing? Prior to the Bush administration, such a debate would have been unthinkable.

Reasonable people would have said, "the President cannot possibly make such a designation; besides, there's no such thing as "an unlawful combatant"! And we don't hold people indefinitely without trial or hearing, no matter what they're called! This is America, remember?"

But instead we now live in what appears to be almost like a dictatorship except that the rules are a little bit fuzzy. So now it's a matter of (a) If you don't think the president should be able to detain indefinitely those whom he designates "enemy combatants" then you must be a terrorist, or at the very least a terrorist sympathizer, and assuming that maybe you're not one or the other but merely terminally un-serious if not mentally ill, (b) If not indefinitely, then how long should the president be able to detain those whom he designates "enemy combatants"?

To his credit, Glenn Greenwald usually lands on the right side in such debates; he makes his points very clearly and he documents them very well. But what exactly is he saying? And what impression is he conveying by debating these issues from inside them, rather than stepping back -- out of the meta-frame and into full-bore reality -- and calling them what they are: bogus?

It seems to me that the daily swill which passes for national discourse often boils down to this question:
"Is the GWOT the correct response to 9/11, and if not, what kind of WOT would be the correct response to Islamofascist terrorism?"
And while Glenn Greenwald does a fine job arguing that the GWOT is not the correct response, he never stops and says:
Hey! Wait a minute!!

The correct response would be to investigate 9/11!!

We always act as if 9/11 were a legitimate event and the only possible questions now involve the correct response to that "act of war", that awesome manifestation of unprovoked Evil. But what if there was nothing legitimate about 9/11? What if it was never properly investigated? What if the official story doesn't even make any sense? How can we even speak of waging war in response -- let alone two of them? Let alone actually doing it!

As a matter of strict semantics, Islamofascism is a contradiction in terms. As a matter of political reality, Christofascism appears to be something of a threat. And yet we're devoting all we've got -- all we are -- to a fight against a made-up word that appears to be mostly meaningless! What is wrong with this picture?
Many supposedly dissident authors who wish to be considered "serious" persist in ignoring -- or dismissing -- or banning! -- such questions, declaring that there's no evidence to support the lunatic fringe notion of 9/11 as anything other than whatever the government said it was according to its most recent report, which may very well be obliterated by its next one, in the same way that the previous one was.

But that's all ok with them, and they don't talk about the PNAC, and they don't talk about how the "path of action" taken by the Bush administration prior to 9/11 shows clearly that it was preparing for war -- endless, limitless, unrestrained war against the rest of the world -- as well as unprecedented secrecy and an attempt to concentrate all power in the Oval Office. They may admit that these things are happening, and they may wail bitterly against them, but do they ever suggest that these abuses of power were not simply a reaction to 9/11 -- but the plan all along? They don't talk about the abundant and very clear evidence that our electoral system is an obvious fraud. They don't talk about false-flag terror in any meaningful way. And they certainly don't talk about 9/11.

It's not hard to see why. There are rafts of reasons why one might choose such a course; to be as charitable as possible I'll single out those who believe there's been enough malpractice in the Bush regime that there's no need to speak of deliberate malfeasance -- and that to appeal to a much more narrowly-held view -- to admit in public what everybody seems to recognize in private: that the Bush regime has never even meant well -- would be bad tactics.

In my view, it is not, nor can it ever be, bad tactics to write the truth -- regardless of how obvious it is, regardless of how appalling it is, regardless of the number of people who already believe it. Only dead fish move with the current.

But it is bad tactics to ignore the truth, if for no other reason than this: the most honest among your potential readers -- i.e. the great unwashed, who are not yet cleansed of their "lunatic fringe" ideas and scented with the poison of "political truth" -- will spot your omission instantly and avoid your work like leprosy.

And when you inscribe your massive tome with an enormous lie on the cover so that the great unwashed can see from a distance -- without even reading about the Manicheans -- that you're dismissing, or deliberately hiding, or otherwise lying to yourself about the single most significant geopolitical event of our collective lifetimes, well then I'm sorry, Charlie, but the great unwashed will choose to remain at a distance.

No matter how well-inscribed the rest of your tome may be, every now and then one of the cold and filthy ones will stand up in the middle of the boat and call you a shameless opportunist, for ignoring or hiding the most basic truths of your generation, in order to better insinuate yourself into the mainstream of American swill.

You'll have other critics, of course. The more generous among them may assume that for whatever unfathomable reason you have chosen to be utterly oblivious to the fact that our lives have all been changed -- significantly and for the worst -- by the single most deadly sleight of hand in the history of the world.

But none will dispute that the changes that followed this most appalling magic trick -- malignant and repulsive and everywhere, as so thoroughly and cogently documented by Greenwald himself -- are rapidly becoming permanent, and will certainly be permanent unless people such as Glenn Greenwald start acknowledging what the rest of us -- all us so-called "B bloggers" who are busting our asses every day to tell the truth to a few hundred people at a time, lest it die out entirely -- already know.

And when the lunatic fringe truth-seekers -- those people who cannot bring themselves to hide or ignore or dismiss the shameful truth -- when these miserable souls, tormented by their inability to forget about simple little things like appearance and reality and unable to shake their personal observations about how things are and how they got that way -- when one of those people stands up in your boat and looks you in the eye and says "How could you... ? How could you expect any of us to take you seriously, when you refused to acknowledge the most basic fact of all?"

What will you have to say then? What else could anyone possibly say, but "Oh yeah? Well how fast is your hit counter spinning?"

The sad fact remains that there are quite a number of supposedly dissident websites where 9/11 and false-flag terror in general are never discussed, where impeachment is never on the table and election fraud is never among the topics of the day, where everything that matters comes down to Democrats against Republicans, and where the webmaster sees more visitors before breakfast on a slow day than I have seen ever since I started blogging. Make of that what you will.

For me, it says that the truth -- the obvious, transparent, in-your-face-every-day truth -- a truth which I barely even approach here, even on my best days -- is far too awful for the vast majority to bear. So they go back to discussing just how long the president should be able to hold those whom he labels "enemy combatants". Two years? Three years? Four? What do you think?

As I was saying, not having read Glenn Greenwald's novel, I cannot begin to critique it. Judging the book by its title, and the excerpt provided by Saloon, may be less than fair.

Still it would not be possible to draw such an excerpt -- let alone such a title -- from any book which I personally would consider reading -- much less buying.

It pains me to see that one of the "leading lights" of the blogosphere can be so dim. It pains me even more to say so.

It pains me to see that none of the critics I've been reading and quoting has ventured anywhere near the point that seems to me central, and vital, and utterly bloody obvious -- at least not so far -- not in this conversation. And it pains me even more to say that.

I don't mean to demean the work of any other blogger; if I didn't respect them, I wouldn't even read them, much less write about them. Nor do I mean to insist that every conversation must revolve around 9/11. Certainly Chris Floyd has had plenty to say about it, although not in this conversation.

And I will freely admit that 9/11 is not the be-all and end-all of 21st century American politics. But surely no analysis of the Bush administration can afford to ignore it -- and the possibility that -- like everything else -- they are lying to us about who was behind those attacks.

And I always get uncomfortable standing up in a boat, but I believe that one cannot advance the cause of truth unless one is willing to stand up and speak it -- even in the middle of an unsteady boat, and especially when the light is dim. As Thomas Paine so aptly wrote:
"He who stands [up] now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."