Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The "Banality of Evil"

The Bush regime and radical right have built their appeal to a significant extent on the really outrageous claim of being "morally superior" by wrapping themselves in the cloak of religion. In reponse to the question: "Who would Jesus torture?" their answer, among those who lead this movement, is: Iraqis, Afghanis, people of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent, Jose Padilla, Muslims, anyone, in other words, who they think stands in their way of conquest. Among this movement's followers the question seems like a non sequitar because they don't recognize, don't realize, or are in denial that their august leaders are liars, thieves, murderers, tyrants and torturers. For some of them it's too much of a stretch to believe that their "god-fearing" leaders could be such monsters.

Yet I don't want to personalize this too much, even though despising "W" and Dick comes spontaneously to anyone who understands even a little about what's going on - and has a conscience. What is more to the point here is that these two bastards personify larger forces than any individuals and any personalities. They personify, concentrate, and embody a specific set of social and economic relations in the world wherein imperialist plunder and oppression are the accepted and legal norm; where certain nations such as the US can carry out murder on a grand scale and steal resources willy nilly from other countries; where the richest 497 individuals in the world own more than the bottom HALF of the world's population (who live on less than $500/year); where the very survival of this planet is being endangered and criminally ignored by these leaders because it suits their short-term interests for profit and their anti-scientific, anti-rationalist outlook; and where literally hundreds of millions of people are either living on the edge or falling off the edge of existence every single day.

The theocratic fascist movement's leaders have gotten away with their crimes so far because their allies in the right-wing media have lied, twisted and bullied their way to power and dominant influence. And what of the corporate, mainstream media, who have been full and willing participants in this as well? What about the New York Times and CNN? As Hannah Arendt pointed out in her work on Adolf Eichmann, one doesn't have to be a moral monster to commit crimes against humanity. One need only accept the basic premises of the state one is serving to commit horrible crimes. Arendt aptly dubbed this the "banality of evil." This helps to explain the role of mainstream corporate media in their colluding with the radical right. Accepting the basic premises of the state also helps us explain the bizarre excuses being offered by Democrats and certain "leftists." They tell us that the only "realistic" way to seek change is by backing someone like John Edwards, who says that no options are off the table in our confrontation with Iran (by which he, of course, means to include nukes), or someone like Hillary Clinton, who says that the problem with the war on Iraq is not that the invasion was wrong, immoral and illegal, but that it isn't being carried out competently! These answers are acceptable only if one accepts the basic premises of this state. The Democrats and their apologists are telling us, in essence, that mass murder is acceptable and that illegal invasions of countries that haven't threatened and haven't attacked you is acceptable.

The genius of the A28 formulation is that it reframes the issue of impeachment on the very issue that the radical right/Bush regime have staked their claim - the moral high ground. As I see it, there are two central problems that the movement for impeachment faces at this point. One: many, many more people must come to understand the true magnitude of the crimes committed by Bush and Cheney and their movement as a whole. As this happens and to the extent that it happens, more and more will feel driven to becoming politically involved in resistance and the movement's ranks will swell. We already have at least 58% of the people supporting impeachment according to polls, but I'm speaking here of the ranks of those who come into direct political participation.

Two: the vacuum in leadership created by the bankruptcy of the existing leadership and opinion-leaders must be filled by an alternative leadership. Otherwise the people cannot move, because leadership is critical. One of the reasons that more of the public has not moved into direct political action is because they see that the Democratic Party and the mainstream media aren't acting like there's a problem so this must mean then that it must not be that serious. Another reason is that people are accustomed to following the lead of the existing leaders. It takes a lot to get people to stray from the existing leaders. It's a wrenching process. For them to do so requires that they, frankly, be shocked into awareness by what this government and its apologists/enablers have been doing. We need to heighten the contrast and the contradiction between Bush et al's lofty words of freedom, demcracy and liberty and their actual practices. If we think that downplaying any of this will get us further, by making concessions to ethnocentrism, national chauvinism and American exceptionalism, we make a critical mistake. Remember that scene from The Matrix when Neo (Keanu Reeves) discovers that he is in fact hooked up to the matrix with tubes?

Both these goals are extremely challenging given what we're up against. The first goal our book Impeach the President is designed (in part) to meet. (That is why it is the most comprehensive of the impeachment books: we are, after all, facing a movement, not just a handful of despicably evil individuals.) The second goal can be met if we very clearly articulate the moral choice that we face today and advance a crystal clear moral authority in opposition to the other side's utter immorality and inhumanity. Moral leadership in this sense constitutes an extremely potent alternative. I don't mean necessarily that this moral leadership must come from religious figures - although this must happen as well.

Our adversaries are committing and advocating war crimes and have legalized torture. Think about that for a minute. Not even Hitler dared to openly legalize torture! What does this tell you about the brave new world of US imperialism that they are routinizing torture and war crimes? The sharper that we draw out this contrast, the more we make clear to people that our own government is daily committing war crimes and torture, the better. Given the fact that we cannot rely upon - what could be clearer? - the existing political leadership and mass media to do this and that we ourselves must do this, we have a very tall order to fulfill. But what choice do we have? As World Can't Wait succinctly puts it: Silence = Complicity.

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