Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Case of Runaway Arrogance

Keith Olbermann expressed some confusion today about the seemingly pathological lapse of judgment on the part of President George, specifically regarding a few points of institutional behavior that seem to defy intuition and common sense (I think what he meant was the guy's defeating his own self-interest). I'll list the ones that Keith noted, and will add a few that came to my attention as well:

* Arresting Cindy Sheehan on a laughably ridiculous technicality (she was sitting outside the White House instead of marching, which is what her demonstration permit stipulated that she'd be doing).
* Keeping Mike Brown on the payroll and hiring him back on with FEMA as a "consultant" to help the beleaguered agency figure out what it did wrong in allowing a city to be washed off the map and over a thousand of its inhabitants to be killed.
* Having his official mouthpiece, Scott McLellan, to declare the President's support for Tom DeLay after the latter's indictment for illegal campaign activities using corporate contributions: “Congressman DeLay is a good ally, a leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people.”
* Speaking openly today about "the gains we have made" in Iraq (and then not naming a single one), while also warning of a likely increase in violence and killing among the insurgents (i.e., more U.S. deaths), as the vote on the so-called Constitution of Iraq approaches.
* Talking yesterday of the need for the military to take the lead in the management of future natural disasters. The Crawford Flash didn't bother to tell us where this military presence would come from, given that our military is already stretched beyond its limits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Canadian mercenaries, perhaps? Not a bad idea: rescue teams from Vancouver were on the scene in New Orleans before our own National Guard or FEMA got there.

So you can now easily perceive the cause of Mr. Olbermann's puzzlement. Why are these people in the Bush Administration saying and doing these things that would appear to further undermine an already damaged image in the realm of the public trust? Is it that they're stupid and incompetent?

The "stupid and incompetent" theory is very amusing, and it does earn some support when you consider the ancillary or residual figures in the Bush empire; but for the core of this operation, it doesn't hold an ounce of water. These people are very smart—intellectually, that is—and they know perfectly well what they're doing. They've proven their mettle in this respect, time and again.

But still, Olbermann's point is well taken: the Bushies' recent behavior seems anomalous, to put it mildly. This is exactly where you need the insight of a psychiatrist. Or, failing that, of a fellow like me, who has spent a fair amount of his adult lifetime studying psychiatric disorders.

In the DSM-IV (the current version of the American Psychiatric Association's 900-page manual of mental disorders), there is an entry for "Delusional Disorder," which seems to fit the bill. This diagnostic entity describes a situation where a person is operating under strange beliefs that do not specifically impair normal socio-cultural functioning—that is, you can't say the person is schizophrenic or psychotic (think of Nixon in the latter regard); only that he is acting very strangely under certain conditions or where certain sensitive topics are touched upon.

I'd like to take this definition a bit further and discuss the institutional profile of such a pathology. For what we are dealing with now, with the Bush Administration, is an institutionally-ingrained arrogance that has been successful in the past, in terms of advancing goals (getting elected President twice and winning a majority in Congress) and furthering a corporate agenda (enriching arms dealers, oil companies, domestic and world banks, and miscellaneous ultra-wealthy individuals). But now, the head of the snake whose tail the Bushies have ridden for five years has now made the circuit back to the riders.
Arrogance has a way of doing this—coming back to destroy you after you've climbed to a seemingly unassailable position through the use of its omnidirectionally destructive power. The problem, of course (as many psychiatrists who treat delusional patients will readily tell you), is that it is very difficult to retreat from arrogance, from a cult of inner and outer aggression. Not impossible—just very difficult.

Aside from the fact that arrogance is the fuel that has driven a cult like the Bush Administration to such repeated outer success, there is what Freud called the "repetition compulsion." Arrogance doesn't see a path of retreat or remorse, because it has never taken one—it doesn't know how to truly admit an error (grievous or otherwise) or a poorly-formed alliance. No: it has to "stay the course" (how many times have we heard that over the past three years?); it must insist that it is "making progress" when every objective indicator (that is, reality) reveals the length and breadth of the delusion. Arrogance simply doesn't know how to turn back, retreat, and make amends. And so, it inevitably begins to destroy itself as its delusory substance is increasingly made plain to anyone who encounters it (even the mass media). This is the way the delusion of arrogance works: it is a Penelope's loom of the psyche, repetetively and inexorably undoing what it has created. Those of us who care about how it all turns out cannot afford to watch lazily and enjoy the show, as entertaining or amusing as it may sometimes be. We have to insist that this snake of arrogance be stretched out in the public eye, its adherents removed from their thrones, and that the stolen, demonic energy that is arrogance be firmly dispersed from the consciousness of a free people.

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