3/15/2005

The beast within

I found a great blog called "Body and Soul," whose author is an excellent writer. I put together a few posts that I found particularly compelling with regard to the moral cesspool our country is sinking into:

(2004) was an election to decide whether this was a country of human beings or of monsters. After the election...I think I was more disturbed by what Bush's election seemed to tell me about my neighbors than I was by what it boded for the future. Over the past few months I've caught myself many times, in traffic, staring at a Bush bumper sticker still clinging to the back of a car, and wondering about the people inside, glancing over at elderly couples, and college students, and vans with a carpool's worth of kids, and wondering how come I see no signs of anger or irrational fear. These are the people who voted for torture? That girl singing along with the radio in her car? That lady to whom people have entrusted their children? Quite illiberal, that thought. I get furious at Bush for dividing people into good and evil, as if evil were not something that runs through all of us, and here I am, trying to see it stamped on faces like the mark of Cain. I decided it was too difficult to believe those nice-looking people chose evil, and so I made every effort not to believe it...Most people did not know that torture went far beyond the pictures from Abu Ghraib that they saw on tv. (I did my best to ignore the fact that the pictures were shocking enough that they should have caused any decent human being to want to find out what was behind them.) People voted on other issues entirely. (I tried hard not to think about what kind of people thought any issue discussed last year was more important than this.) Americans are idiots. (Why is it so much more comforting to believe that people are stupid than that they're dancing with Mr. D?) I've been very depressed about politics the past few days. My comforting illusions are shattering...I've been following these stories for a long time, probably longer than is good for me. They don't surprise me. But I've been telling myself for a long time that if these things started pouring out, day after day, people would not be able to turn their backs. A lot of it is coming. And I don't think anyone who didn't care six months ago cares now. Last weekend, the excuses for torture sounded panic-stricken to me. It seemed to me that facts were becoming harder and harder to ignore, and people who needed excuses were coming up with ones so feeble even they knew it. God help us, I think those feeble excuses will do the trick. Even the excuse that exporting torture to cheap-labor foreign prisons keeps our taxes down will work. The Wal-mart frame is already available.

A culture of abuse doesn't stay in the box...The problem isn't just that certain people, already prone to that sin, will be given license to practice it and won't know when to stop. Evil isn't something that exists over there in the other guy, but not in me. Whatever penchant for cruelty exists in each of us will come to the surface. And at some point you end up with a country in which people can look at pictures of abuse, read about men beaten while hanging from the ceiling, or children raped and set upon by guard dogs, and move on, perhaps even find some sick enjoyment in the spirit of vengeance. They won't react to the evil done by their leaders. They won't care. Or worse, they will approve. Maybe we're already there, in which case this is less a matter of politics than of saving souls. I can't think of any effective political response to this situation. There's no way to "frame" abuse so that people who don't care will care. The only way to talk about it is -- with or without religious language -- as the most important moral issue we face.

(One group) strikes me as especially hard to reach. These I call Right-Wing Postmodernists: most of them are media folk or educated young people. They regard arguments from liberal premises as tired, old hat, so Sixties, been there done that. The Right-Wing PoMos will be there when the trillion-dollar arena opens, to cheer on the torture and death of American enemies on the sand, and call the entertainment "inspiring." Oh, I forget. They're already doing that. From the RWPMs' point of view, our gladiatorial circus is Iraq, brought to us by TV and the Internet. From the POV of the Right-Wing Postmodern media, the WOT has been the greatest show on earth, and they aren't going to allow a rewrite of the frame story so late in the production.


This last paragraph provides a great description of some of the students I teach. To quote one of them who was defending her conservative views to her fellow students a couple of years back: "I love Fox News, and I love the war."

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