Tuesday, July 15, 2008

fear or morality?

A question came up a few days ago about what would you ask Senator Obama if you had the opportunity to speak to him directly. I really have only one question and it's the one Sir Thomas More, who was a Chancellor of England when Henry VIII was king, asked his overzealous son-in-law in the film 'A Man For All Seasons':

"When the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

More put his faith in society’s system of judgment—the law. The great beyond remains unknown to humankind. Earthly society and laws offer the only shelter from the uncertainties of the universe.

That's the problem that faces us now - the one that may finally break this great social experiment called the United States of America. I read a review in the Washington Post by Andrew Bacevich of Jane Mayer's new book called 'The Dark Side' in which she has written a vivid account of our leadership's deliberate undertaking to make torture the law of the land.

Above all, the story Mayer tells is one of fear and its exploitation.

"That fear should trump concern for due process and indeed justice qualifies as a recurring phenomenon in American history. In 1919, government-stoked paranoia about radicalism produced the Red Scare. After Pearl Harbor, hysteria mixed with racism led to the confinement of some 110,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps. The onset of the Cold War triggered another panic, anxieties about a new communist threat giving rise to McCarthyism. In this sense, the response evoked by 9/11 looks a bit like déjà vu all over again: Frightened Americans, more worried about their own safety than someone else's civil liberties, allowed senior government officials to exploit a climate of fear.

"Her account suggests implicitly that the present period differs in at least one crucial respect. Whereas the earlier departures from the rule of law represented momentary if egregious lapses in democratic practice, the abuses orchestrated from within the Bush administration suggest that democracy itself is fast becoming something of a sham."

For the first time in my memory we find ourselves living in a country where our highest officials risk arrest if they visit certain other countries.

I guess my main question to Barack Obama would be, 'How do you feel about returning this country to the rule of law?'


CDP said...

I think I'd ask the same question. I'm voting for him, of course, but a few things he's said and done recently make me worry a bit that he's going to move too far to the right to assuage the fears of centrist and Republican voters.

Anonymous said...

I think that's an excellent question. I'm not sure that people realize what we've lost now that we live in a country that has allowed "protection" and "safety" to trump the rule of law.

Randal Graves said...

"I'll let you know after I talk to my corporate paymasters."

Americans will always choose "safety" over their civil liberties. We don't have 'anything to hide' since we're a nation of narcissists. Tyranny of the stupid majority.

If only we could take the progressive brain and heart of Kucinich and implant them in the body of someone with movie star looks. It'd be better than voting for middle-of-the road Dems all the time.

Any Dr. Frankensteins out there?

Seraphine said...

susan, i love your thoughts here. The thought goes 'round and 'round in my head that we used to be the "good guys." america stood for the principle of law- everyone had equal protection because it was the right thing to do.
now we're building walls around ourselves and justifying torture? it's against everything this country was founded upon.

susan said...

cdp - Now we can also thank the wry sophisticates at the New Yorker for adding fuel to the right wing fires. Any parody that has to be explained inside the front cover did not work and now the image belongs to those who imagine it real.

dcup - It's all too sad but true and I'm very concerned that the average intelligence level is plummeting.. not that it was much to scrawl home about in the first place.

rg - I would have voted for Kucinich just as he is but I know what you mean. "A man For All Seasons" won every Academy Award it was nominated for in 1967. It couldn't get funding now.

sera - I had to do my own post about this subject because I couldn't be bringing down the 'hope' level elsewhere. All of this stuff is interconnected - the torture, domestic spying, destruction of the departments that regulated food production, environmental oversight, banks, healthcare, energy production and the rest. It's been deliberate and people just don't appear to be ready to demand change rather than just 'hoping' for change.

lindsaylobe said...

Wonderful post with striking examples from history.

It’s as if our brains have 2 hemispheres, one has evolved to be able to invent so many wondrous things, the other from an ethical and moral standpoint hasn’t progressed at all, to repeat the past follies.

Here is a poem I composed about it all which draws upon your posting, I hope it makes sense.

Count we now the human cost
Of our precious life blood lost
Fear is one almighty rage
Fear now rules the centre stage

Laws enacted in fearful haste
Liberty forgone, new laws replaced
War on terror, born of political pride
Enemies now stand side by side

Once there was a national debate
Vietnam refugees now hardly rate
Many amassed on the shores
Where are those age old sores?

Laws enacted, time to overturn
Freedom wheels awaits its turn
Freedom guest book please re-design
War on Terror, phony war this time

Pagan Sphinx said...

Susan wrote:
"For the first time in my memory we find ourselves living in a country where our highest officials risk arrest if they visit certain other countries."

In Brattleboro, Vermont a measure was passed during the state primary to arrest Bush and Cheney for what they consider violations of the Constitution. If they ever visit Brattleboro, they can be arrested or extradited for prosecution elsewhere.

Gotta love my Vermont neighbors.

okjimm said...

Excellent post.

"..to exploit a climate of fear."

To fight a climate of fear takes incredible courage...a bonding of true hearts. It can happen.

"..confinement of some 110,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps."

and then google


"..rise to McCarthyism.."

and remember Joseph Welch's reprimand of the Senator at the Army hearings..

"..You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

To fight a climate of fear takes an Army of Hope.....no draftees, ya gotta enlist.

DivaJood said...

We live in a nation that values fear so highly that we abdicate responsibility to those who scare us the most.

Anonymous said...

A tough question, Susan, and probably one he'll take a pass on. Given the amount of power now vested in the Executive Branch of government, I don't know that there's a politician alive today who would want to return such ill-gotten gains because such men and women are viewed as weak and ineffectual leaders. I'm not ready to lump Obama into the dung pile of power hungry politicians, but his vote on FISA doesn't fill me with the "hope" he wants to spread.

Mary Ellen said...

Darn, I could have swore I put a comment in here before I got called away yesterday. Sorry...

This is such a great post, and I can tell you this...I never thought I'd see the day when illegal wire tapping would be excused and we would lose our rights to privacy and free speech. I used to question why the Germans allowed Hitler to go as far as he did, to take away their freedoms, to be allowed to kill or torture. Now I can see how it can happen...it's happening here and if we don't start to fight back soon, we are screwed. History does repeat itself. In Germany, those who spoke of what they feared for the future of German were mocked by others. Those who left Germany before it was too late were called cowardly.

When are we going to start fighting back? When I hear, "I'll vote Democrat anyway", it makes me wonder if we even have any fight left in us? I won't vote for anyone who voted yes on that FISA bill, period. My rights mean too much for me to give them up so someone can get elected in the GE.

susan said...

lindsay - You're right that something major about us as a species hasn't evolved. There are a lot of good people but there are predators among us who are fueled by greed.

pagan - I remember reading that about Vermont but had forgotten. Now I'll have to amend the post to say 'certain other countries AND Vermont. Thanks for the reminder.

okjimm - I'll look at the link once I'm out of this mode.. otherwise I'm at risk of having my train of thought derail &ihatethat. We do need to form a collective to lobby for the ideals that formerly defined this country and we have to do it for the sake of everyone everywhere because the place has a whole lot of influence. If we can't keep our own house clean..

divajood - 'we abdicate responsibility to those who SHOULD scare us the most'. The truly frightening thing here is that most people still aren't paying attention.

spartacus - The whole 'hope' thing never did ring any bells in my church. I suspect the reason the Democrats never got around to impeachment hearings is simply because they've been looking forward to wielding that level of power themselves. 'Power tends to corrupt but absolute power corrupts absolutely'.

mary ellen - I did a post last year about Leni Riefenstahl's film 'Triumph of the Will' comparing it to the things we've seen this past seven years and showing how easily a frightened, self-absorbed populace can be manipulated. This has been the most intensely propagandized country in the world for a very long time.. even more so than Russia during the Cold War where everybody knew that anything that appeared in Pravda was bullshit. The history of advertising (Noam Chomsky under several titles) is actually one of the more sinister studies you could undertake as you're probably aware.

In the short term there's nothing to be done about the two party system in the US but as moveon.org has shown there are ways for people to demand change from the candidates they support. We're seeing Mr. Obama's return to his U. of Chicago roots. I'm going to have to give this more thought and perhaps another post.

I'm very glad all of you liked it.

Randal Graves said...

susan, sure it could. Just get Michael Bay to direct and when the axe swings down, he miraculously breaks free and throws his secret weapon against Henry's minions, the recently rediscovered formula for Greek Fire, saving England and, refusing to become philosopher-king, walks off into the sunset with his lady love. Guaranteed hit!

susan said...

randal - I'd certainly pay to see that.

btw - It's so damned refreshing to be able to spend part of my day with witty, intelligent, well-educated blogonians.

okjimm said...

// with witty, intelligent, well-educated blogonians//

Blogonians? Weren't that in that Swift novel? Somebody's Travels?

The name kinda rings a bell....Blogonians....gees

DivaJood said...

I'm not well-educated. My Masters Degree is in fine art. I can't add two plus two. I'm just part of the common, unwashed hordes.

susan said...

okjimm - I believe it was 'Blogovers Travels' or maybe it was one of the obscure books written about the Magical Land of Cockaigne.

divajood - I wasn't talking about the NCLB kind of education.

Seraphine said...

i love the discussion your post has started!
you're right, it's all interconnected.
it's lack of leadership, true, but also complacency and inattention to what's important as a society.
we got fat.
we let ourselves go.
metaphorically speaking.

Randal Graves said...

You know, susan, thinking about it, so would I. Are we shallow Hollywood types?

diva, bah. Art is the real intelligence anyway. We're students of the human condition. Much more interesting than being a bean counter. No offense to the bean counters, I know there are a lot to count, especially around chili season.

okjimm said...

oh wowsers...it's a BOOK

'Blogovers Travels'

oh, gees, I had a apple blogover, once. with some tea and honey. it was good. somebody said I should try the cherry blogover.

Gosh, I never would have thought it was a book, too! Boy, this world never ceases to amaze me!!

susan said...

sera - I don't do much political blogging as you know but this issue goes way beyond politics as they were practiced previously. We're facing a whole new paradigm here and unfortunately you're right about the general complacency. I'm living proof that it's not impossible to be reasonably well informed and yet still have room for fun.. as a happy member of Blogovia.

rg - The possibility of gastric distress makes it more likely I'll count beans than eat them.

okjimm - Maybe 'Blogover's Travels' could be made into a film for the benefit of those who think Blogonians are a simple minded bunch who do nothing but share pictures of kittens and babies.

If I stay online too long some mornings I'll wake up with a wicked blogover.

okjimm said...

//who think Blogonians are a simple minded bunch who do nothing but share pictures of kittens and babies//

Waitaminute?! It isn't all about kitties and babies? Aw, shit! Next thing you are going to tell me is that blogging is all about loose collectives of like minded individuals of various ethnic, religious, social and intellectual strata using a unique form of communication to slowly erode and eradicate obstuse barriers that prevent people from bonding in search of peace love and understanding!

If that is the case, whoa, lemmee outa here! I want kitties and doggies and babies!!!

...and a beer. ;)

Ingrid said...

susie, Jane Mayer wrote a great article a few years ago re. Alberto Mora, a general counsel to the navy, questioned the use of torture. http://bloggerroundtable.blogspot.com/2006/06/time-line-part-one-alberto-j-moras.html

She has stuck with her research and I'm glad she wrote that book, however unsettling it is. I was just thinking last night how telling it was that republicans so much respond to fear moreso than Democrats. I don't understand how they can hide behind their excuses (end justifies the means) when so many profess to be 'Christians' or profess to be moral people and dismiss democrats as not. Of course, not ALL republicans have that mindset, but we are talking about those who are responding to those fears and consequently vote accordingly..


susan said...

okjimm - Drinking beer while watching kittens and babies (kept in separate enclosures) is excellent entertainment I've heard.

ingrid - Looking at her photograph it's hard to believe she's been a journalist for more than 20 years but her writing is full proof of her experience.
So far as republican paranoia is concerned some of them are paranoid simply because they know how bad they are themselves.

Scarlet W. Blue said...

Susan, that is the best question of all.

susan said...

scarlet - It's certainly a very significant one and I'd feel better knowing his answer one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

Of course this land is dangerous
All of the animals
Are capably murderous

---Janes Addiction

susan said...

pt - Nice to see your smiling face again. I have one for you too:

They say Jesus will find you wherever you go
But when He'll come looking for you, they don't know
In the mean time, keep your profile low
Gorilla, you're a desperado.

Warren Zevon

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Susan.
I'll be on Limewire now, wondering if my computer froze up.

Steve Emery said...

Franklin said that he who would exchange liberty for security shall have neither.

And if we want to see how far back this American see saw with violating our own democratic principles goes, you can look all the way back to the second president, and the Alien and Sedition Act. Editors imprisoned for writing opinion against the government. And enforced by John Adams, who had been the one to press so hard for Independence from tyranny in the first place.

To me this democratic experiment we embarked on over 200 years ago is like a true description of walking. The continuous act of falling, corrected just in time, over and over and over again.

I'm not sayin' we don't have a hell of a lot of work to do to fix what the last years have broken, but I never lose hope because it's been worse (and better) before, and we just keep swingin' back and forth. The hardest thing is the individuals who are hurt or killed in the meantime. Kids hurt by No Child Left Behind. Families hurt while parents are on deployment. Small businesses destroyed by the biggering of corporations. The growth of the dead zone in the Gulf because of lame brained energy and environmental policies (or lack there of). Soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we are sowing the seeds of generations of future discord with the Middle East.

Anonymous said...