February 17, 2004

THE ROOTS OF HORROR: Instilling Obedience and Denial in Childhood

As I indicated in an entry last week, just at the time I became so deeply discouraged about the state of public debate (yet again), I had been about to begin a series of articles concerning a subject which is almost entirely neglected -- a subject which is crucial to understanding the precise manner in which world events are now playing out, and which is indispensable to grasping why people cling to ideas and theories which facts repeatedly demonstrate are incorrect and, what is much worse than being merely false, are profoundly destructive.

I have decided that I will go ahead with these posts -- although I do not delude myself that they will be widely read, or much discussed. For reasons which will become clearer later in this discussion, this failure to pay attention to these issues, and the stubborn refusal to acknowledge their demonstrable importance and explanatory power, are in themselves confirmation of the crucial nature of these ideas. For the majority of people, certain identifications -- no matter how well-documented and how strongly proven -- are simply too dangerous to be countenanced. And thus the tragedy of world history is reenacted over and over, and into our own times.

Before proceeding to my primary subject, I want to note two recent stories which reveal the reasons for my profound depression about the lack of seriousness in current public debate. In fact, and to be blunt about it to the point of rudeness, my reaction is much more than depression, sadness and discouragement: it is, in a word, disgust. The first story is the one which led to my recent outburst: the one concerning John Kerry's alleged adultery. It should be noted that there is an element of this "controversy" which is genuinely worthy of Pirandello, the playwright noted for his blurring of the lines between art, reality and theatrical artifice. What is reality? What is pretense? Who can discern the difference? Is there any difference worth noting? Those are some of the questions that Pirandello placed at the center of his work.

And with the Kerry story, Pirandello has fully entered our political discourse (although one could convincingly argue that the writer had taken over the reins of our public discussion long before). Note that the original story on Drudge did not concern the actual story itself: Drudge's story was the story about the story. In other words, Drudge was reporting on the reporting allegedly being conducted by certain news organizations. Subsequently, certain of those news organizations denied they were pursuing the story at all -- but in all cases, the news organizations in question had not yet carried the story. If they were pursuing it, they had not yet found anything worth reporting.

But Drudge reported the "story about the story" nonetheless, confident in the belief that the story would soon become about the underlying "story" itself. And so it did. With barely a blink, the story focused on whether the underlying allegations were true -- whether Kerry in fact had had an affair. But again, please note that no one had even made such an allegation yet, and no news organization had reported it. This is media irresponsibility carried to the edge of dementia -- when one individual (albeit with a huge readership) can literally create a "controversy" out of absolutely nothing, out of a meditation, as it were, on the nature of media considering whether to report a story that another news outlet might have considered reporting if only they could have discovered facts to support the allegations in question, if only...

And the elements that are entirely dispensable in this deplorable exercise are facts and, of equal significance, relevance. In the final analysis, even if the allegations had been true, they are irrelevant to Kerry's policy views, and what he would be likely to do if ever elected President. That is all that ought to concern us, but in the current media climate, that is precisely the last subject that anyone cares to address. (There are certain circumstances under which Kerry's "affair," if it had ever occurred, might have conceivably been relevant, depending on how Kerry himself dealt with the charges -- but those circumstances were not present here.) For the resulting continued deterioration in the nature of public discussion of supposedly "important" issues, I hold everyone responsible who discussed, or continues to discuss, the "merits" of this story at all. It deserves only to be ignored entirely.

The other current "controversy" that I want to mention briefly is the one about Bush's National Guard service. The strongest case for its relevance now is that, in the recent past and continuing into the present, Bush has misrepresented his service during the Vietnam years -- that he portrays himself as a man who was willing to serve his country, and that he did his duty and allegations to the contrary are scrurrilous and not to be credited. According to the view of certain of Bush's critics, Bush thus seeks to divert attention from the fact that he unfairly took advantage of the privileges conferred by his family connections, and his family's power and wealth. And that may well be true.

But if one wants to make the case that Bush is not worthy of respect, or that his reputation as a man of "honor" and "service" is not merited, or that (in my own view) he is worthy of the deepest condemnation, there is a much simpler way, which almost no one appears to want to make. Or, to be more precise, people's sense of moral priorities appears to be damaged beyond repair at this point.

Consider the following. It is now indisputably clear that Iraq presented no serious threat to the security of the United States. In addition, it is obvious from any number of news reports that the Bush administration had decided to invade and occupy Iraq regardless of whether that nation represented any threat to us at all. The only remaining justification for the invasion of Iraq is the Utopian delusion -- the "reverse domino theory" by means of which we will "democratize" the Middle East, the fatal defects of which I have examined in detail. In subsequent parts of this series, I shall discuss why people continue to cling to this dangerous delusion, despite overwhelming evidence as to its falsity and its potential for uncontrollable and deeply damaging consequences.

In other words -- and this is the central and completely damning point -- Bush went to war for no reason connected to the demonstrable, genuine security interests of the United States. And in the course of that war and in the subsequent occupation, at least 540 Americans have already died (to say nothing of those Americans who have been horribly injured, and whose numbers appear to be criminally underreported) -- and without doubt, more Americans will die in the coming months (and years, most probably). To put the matter plainly and simply, which appears to be the one thing that almost no one is willing to do: Bush condemned innocent Americans to death for no justifiable reason.

And what makes it even worse is that these innocent Americans, the ones who are now dead, are precisely those Americans who had volunteered to fight for the defense of their country. But most of them probably did not volunteer to take part in deluded, doomed attempts at "nation building," attempts of the kind that Bush himself once derided (before he decided that such campaigns might be useful in pursuit of other political aims). If one is looking for a reason to damn Bush as he now deserves, what more reason could one possibly need? I will repeat the point, to drive it home:

Our own President condemned innocent Americans, those Americans who had volunteered to fight for the defense of this nation, to death for no good reason, and for no reason connected to the legitimate requirements of our nation's security.

If you want a reason to damn someone to the lowest rung of hell, I do not know what other reason you could possibly require. In the face of this truly monstrous fact, who gives a damn what Bush may or may not have done thirty years ago in connection with his National Guard service? Yet again, this reveals how deeply distorted our media coverage has become (a phenomenon which carries over in spades into the world of weblogs) -- people are faced with a hugely significant fact, which they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge or deal with, and instead spend endless amounts of time dealing with issues which are tangential at best, and probably irrelevant, even if one could ever ascertain a full version of the facts, which one can't.

I have discussed these two stories to make one point above all: in our current cultural climate, people will do almost anything to distract themselves from the issues and the facts that ought to matter. The great majority of people spend almost all their time discussing issues about which it is close to impossible to obtain a complete version of the facts, issues which are largely irrelevant in any case -- when facts which are staring them in the face, and which carry unmistakably significant implications, are completely ignored.

If you have followed me along thus far, I think you might agree that this phenomenon is one worthy of note. One might well wonder at this point: what could possibly explain this studied refusal to acknowledge what is staring one in the face? Why would so many people be so resistant to facing what is plainly right in front of them? And the majority of people will not even acknowledge the existence of this problem: they will not admit that they are ignoring a crucial topic that is lying in plain view.

Nonetheless, they are. When the world continues to hurtle to what may well be its destruction, and when people refuse to even acknowledge what is happening, you are witnessing a worldwide version of The Big Lie: the lie is so huge, that its very size prevents people from identifying what it is right there in front of them, screaming the fact of its existence in their face.

Now I will share with you a story from last week. It is not a story that received much notice -- and that lack of attention is the most significant confirmation of what I have been saying, as will become clear. Here is the story, in its entirety [link no longer working]:
RICE, Texas - A fifth grader with a rare deformity says two teachers put him on display for a science lesson.

Robert Will Harris has Stahl's ear, which causes points to form on the ears. He and family say two fourth-grade teachers at his school used his deformity to teach a lesson in genetics.

The boy says the teachers pulled him from his class twice in one day and took him to their classrooms to show his ears.

Officials with the Rice Independent School District acknowledge the incidents happened, but say the teachers meant no harm. They say the teachers were simply trying to teach genetics and family traits.

The family says the boy's ears have nothing to do with genetics. His parents say they no longer want their son used for show and tell.
Several aspects of this exceedingly brief report deserve the most serious attention -- and as I indicated, that very brevity is central to its significance. First, note that the adults involved -- who were teachers, keep in mind -- insist that they "meant no harm," as if that insistence on their "innocent" motives exonerates them of responsibility, and blame.

Second, and much, much more important: please note what is not mentioned in this story. How do you think these incidents affected the child? Robert Will Harris is in elementary school -- and he is probably no older than nine or ten. How do you think a ten-year-old would feel about being used for "a lesson in genetics," because of "his deformity"?

Despite my very deep revulsion at the unnecessary deaths in Iraq, the deaths of both American soldiers and of innocent Iraqis, I have to say that this may well be the most deeply disturbing and most disgusting story I have read in the last year. And I say that for the following reason: it is society's refusal to acknowledge the profound damage that is inflicted on innocent children in innumerable ways, every single day, that is the deepest root of most, if not all, of the evils that confront us today.

Most adults reading this news story will probably react by saying something on the order of the following: "Well, yes, that is terrible, but after all, all of us are exposed to cruelty as children. And we all survived, and we're okay. It's just part of life. So it's not that bad. Remember, too, that cruelty is part of life, so it's probably just as well that children learn what life is truly like at an early age."

And that is the other part of this overwhelmingly significant and largely ignored problem -- this denial by almost all adults of the pain that was inflicted on them as children. This is the manner in which adults demonstrate how disconnected they are from their own pasts, how they deny and become dissociated from their own souls, and how they become so willing to pass on unthinking cruelty to children of the next generation.

And this is also why people are willing to cling to political beliefs and ideologies which lead to nothing but destruction and death, as we shall begin to see in the next parts of this series.