Sunday, September 18, 2005

Malignant Indifference

Last Thursday night we saw and heard what this Bush administration is truly all about: a man with the blood of hundreds reeking in his nostrils, surrounded by the devastation caused by his own malignant indifference, proposing to bury his criminal negligence beneath a mountain of lucre. It is vile.

He promises to "rebuild this great city." But even he, the most powerful man in the world, and with a personal earpiece connected to the Holiest of Holies, cannot resurrect the dead. Nor can he turn back time and start over again; and he certainly lacks the insight to perceive his own incompetence and hollow incapacity to meet a terrible moment with great and natural leadership. He also lacks the ability to truly admit wrongdoing and accept the cost of his grievous and irremediable error. In short, he can't lead, doesn't even follow very well, and he won't get out of the way.

The rest of us will have to insist on his doing that, with the impetus of the Constitution. Meanwhile, we have to attend to the lessons of these events, these horrible losses to humanity and Nature. We owe it to the hundreds who have needlessly died; to the hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—who have suffered and will suffer; that some great sea-change of insight and activism will grow from this mud of ignorance and sloth, and lead us toward a more democractic nation with a more responsive and responsible government.

We must rigorously question authority—question its most hallowed presumptions and most rigid projections made upon our minds and souls. It is a task that much wiser people than I—Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky, and Bill Moyers come to mind—have urged upon us. For example, in 1977, Chomsky wrote about the insidious dangers of propaganda within a democratic state, in the wake of the end of the lost war in Vietnam; his message still resonates in this very moment:

Here we have a marvelous illustration of the functioning of propaganda in a democracy. A totalitarian state simply enunciates official doctrine—clearly, explicitly. Internally, one can think what one likes, but one can only express opposition at one's peril. In a democratic system of propaganda no one is punished (in theory) for objecting to official dogma. In fact, dissidence is encouraged. What this system attempts to do is to fix the limits of possible thought: supporters of official doctrine at one end, and the the other...But we discover that all share certain tacit assumptions, and that it is these assumptions that are really crucial. No doubt a propaganda system is more effective when its doctrines are insinuated rather than asserted, when it sets the bounds for possible thought rather than simply imposing a clear and easily identifiable doctrine that one must parrot—or suffer the consequences. The more vigorous the debate, the more effectively the basic doctrines of the propaganda system, tacitly assumed on all sides, are instilled. Hence the elaborate pretense that the press is a critical dissenting force—maybe even too critical for the health of democracy—when in fact it is almost entirely subservient to the basic principles of the ideological system: in this case, the principle of the United States to serve as global judge and executioner. It is quite a marvelous system of indoctrination.*

Fairly eerie stuff, considering it was written nearly 30 years ago. Perhaps it reminds us of the resemblance between the administration currently in power and the one that Chomsky was recalling in these remarks—that of Nixon and his criminal cronies. Both of these nests of power were conceived in the complacency of aggression; perpetuated amid the spin of falsehood and the obsession with appearances; and ultimately undone by those very same inner forces of egomaniacal deceit, arrogance, and faith in the invinciblity of money, a program of lies, and the depredations of power.

As Barack Obama pointed out last week, the people of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast were abandoned by this nation's leaders long before a President decided to continue a vacation of bicyle riding and golfing rather than looking into the management of an impending catastrophe in a corner of his realm populated largely by the same destitute masses who had been driven into the depths of poverty by his own administration's policies of malignant neglect. Throwing money in their direction now may cause Barbara Bush to pursue further Marie Antionette-musings on the good fortune of indigents who are dumped by a violent Nature onto the golden doorstep of Power. It will also further enrich corporations and their contractors—many of the same which have profited from the excesses of the Iraqi occupation. But will it restore life to the innumerable people who had been left to a living death by the same imperial forces that now pretend to resurrect them?

Maybe there is no other practical response now; maybe with all that has happened, there is no other recourse but to spend what is necessary to heal the appearances of this disaster. But if that's where we leave it, then the suffering, the death, the poverty, and the negligent homicide of this administration will continue—in another place, at another time, amid other tragedies of man and Nature.

While the story of the Katrina disaster has been told through the images, sound bites, and printed columns of our mass media (and, it must be said, with considerably more truth and courage than we have been accustomed to getting from them), hundreds more have been killed and maimed in Iraq—a continuing carnage of inconceivable horror and human waste. At the same time, more lies, hypocrisy, and posturing have been wrought within the United Nations (see Nicholas Kristof's excellent op-ed on this in the Times); while the suppression of evidence on Karl Rove's crimes and the imperialistic designs revealed in the Downing Street Memo continues in Congress.

All of us must make the effort to expand our awareness of all these crimes of negligence and deceit, so that this nation's leaders are forced by the will of a free and conscious people to dispel the insanity of arrogance and deception that has brought us to this shameful and agonizing moment in American history.

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