Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Reflection: Error's Uninvited Guest

The depth and scope of the depravity and corruption of the Bush administration—here, in Iraq, and around the world, in fact—has been abundantly documented here and in many other places on the Internet (not to mention the published literature on the same topic). It may seem difficult to understand, then, how Congress has been so ignorant of what to most of us is as plain as a drowned city in the Gulf Coast or a chaos of medieval proportions in Baghdad.

Clearly, the author of our banner quote shares the same confusion. How can these politicians, most of them Senators, even think of campaigning around the country, some 20 months ahead of the election, when the nation is under a constitutional crisis (several of them, in fact) and a losing war is being ramped up amid a tightening knot of tyranny at home?

Anyway, the author of the remarks we quoted goes by the name "The Pen," whose email dispatch I receive regularly. You can click on the "Join the Peace Team" graphic at the top of the sidebar and sign up for it yourself.

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Friday Reflection: Error's Uninvited Guest

Something we always try to do here, whenever we write about the BushCo tyranny or the Iraq War, is to scratch deeper at the surface of world events and figureheads of state than others do. The point is to go beyond the spin and then keep digging from there. Often, as you've seen, we only come up with more questions rather than any conclusive answers. But that's not a problem, after all: I would suggest, in fact, that if we conducted our own lives that way, we'd experience some amazing results.

But this time, I think I have an answer to offer to a nagging question that is contained in what was discussed in the first part of this post. Our question today is: "Why can't Bush, Cheney, and their ilk admit error? Why do these guys continue to preach their own perfection to a narrowing chorus of ignorance?"

The answer, as I often say, lies within ourselves. I think the question is important because it reveals truths about our culture that the mass media entirely ignore, and that we ourselves often overlook.

In our culture, the admission of error rarely happens in isolation: you don't just say "I was wrong, I'm sorry" and move on. Something else happens instead: to confess to a mistake in our society is to accept guilt. It is this uninvited guest, this dark companion to error, that causes all the trouble and incites all our inhibitions to admitting error.

I personally sense this in Bush's famous and frequent malapropisms, word salad speech, his stiff and skittish mannerisms, and his blatant distortion of both facts and their meaning. I sense the insidious, toxic influence of hidden guilt in his persistent and flagrant acts of denial. If I had time and some grant money to do it with, I'd study this and see whether these feelings are supported by analysis of events and data.

But for now we just have our own inner laboratory to work in, and that should be enough to come to some understanding. It is difficult enough to admit one's error in a mistake at work or a misunderstanding with a spouse, because the projected stain of guilt that goes along with many such moments tends to stick our feet to the very spot that we should leaving behind. We can be thus trapped in an error that is perhaps years or even decades old, if we cannot detect the inner tar of guilt that is falsely holding us back in the swamp of a mistake that we've already confessed. As I mention in the text quoted below, this is one reason why recidivism rates for convicts in our society are so shockingly high: guilt as an inextinguishable stain, as the spot that never washes clean, is programmed into our religion, our morality, and our law.

If we in our personal lives face so much struggle with error's uninvited guest, imagine that you happened to have started a war four years ago; a war that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents; a war that is being irretrievably lost amid a vortex of human and economic waste. Then imagine that more than two-thirds of your nation's citizens now realize the extent and depravity of your error. You have been personally steeped, from childhood on, in the very ideology that we've been talking about here—the indissoluble marriage of error and guilt—and you know that the weakest admission of a mistake would bring down a mountain of guilt upon you. Well, doesn't that explain something about the positively psychotic cult of denial that has defined this Bush administration?

For more on guilt and its insidious dangers, here is an excerpt from my book, The Tao of Hogwarts, where I discuss the meaning of J.K. Rowling's metaphor on government and its institutions, "The Ministry of Magic":

The ideologies of religion, law, and institutional morality—personified in Dostoyevsky's tale as the Grand Inquisitor—offer each person who will follow them the security of their protection, the comfort of a forced order, and the glossy emolument of their entitlements, but only at an incalculable price: that of the sacrifice of one's true, autonomous, and unique self. This is, in reality, a classic inner shakedown—the original bait-and-switch scheme. The need for the sacrifice has been manufactured via advertisement; the market is concocted. There is, in fact, no natural danger, disorder, or inner failing that requires the sacrifice demanded of the individual. Of even more concern is the consequence that the price of self-sacrifice conceals: a hidden tax or surcharge which will make it inevitably intolerable to the purchaser. This tax is the precondition of guilt; it is the ideological staining of one's true being. All have sinned, so all must repent (the religious embodiment of the tax); all of us are brutal, predatory, evil animals, and so must submit to the rule of a forced Code of Law in order to live peacefully with one another (the moral embodiment of the tax); all of us are lacking, incapable of living successfully out of the inner resources that Nature has provided, and so we must gain the additional support of institutionally-provided sustenance and social standing (the governmental embodiment of the tax).

Implicit in every one of these formulations is the threat of punishment: if you don't repent, you'll be punished (and according to some religious ideologies, you will even if you do repent, though not as badly or eternally as you would be if you didn't); if you disobey or question the code of conduct prescribed by the collective, you will be punished; if you attempt to live independently, according to the inborn means and social skills that Nature has given you, and without regard to the personal restrictions established by the ruling authority, you will be punished.

But mere physical punishment, while temporarily or sporadically effective, has proven itself to be an incomplete means of oppression, so the abstractions of guilt and blame were projected beneath our hearts by the collective ego—very much like the fires of the Grand Inquisitor's auto-da-fe. Through thousands of years of deep, behaviorist-style programming, these concepts have been driven deep into our psyches, forming a vast architecture of damnation. It has evolved into quite a massive structure, so perhaps a brief walk around this monument will help us as we prepare to destroy it.

  • Guilt is a blanket of blame thrown over all of human nature, and even over Nature itself. If you are human, you are guilty—to the collective ego, the proof is in the perpetuation of the delusion: "doesn't everyone feel guilty at one time or another?" it asks. If you are alive, you are stained; if you dare to reject, or even to question, the dogma that casts this blot on your being, then you are branded as one in denial, and you are threatened with "correction"—i.e., punishment.

  • Therefore, guilt is a part of your identity—you are forced to acknowledge that culpritude is a part of your nature—as an individual and as a representative of your species. Even God, in His human transmutation, was a sinner, and he admitted it! If God Himself was a sinner and therefore guilty, how much more so are you?

  • Guilt is an admission of the fact that one deserves to be punished by a vengeful God or an indifferent Cosmos (take your pick), and its human, self-appointed representatives. Many ideologies add to this axiom the codicil that the more painful and brutal the punishment, the better—this is the doctrine of asceticism in a nutshell. Again, God got himself nailed to a cross and only complained a little, right near the very end, so we may as well accept our punishment with open arms, whenever it falls our way.

  • Guilt is not only natural to humans, but also often perfectly justified. Many therapists will ask a client or patient who is feeling guilty about something, "is the guilt logical?" What they mean by this is, "did you do or say something for which you deserve to feel guilty?" They never stop to wonder whether the client should rather be undertaking an inner revolution upon the very idea of guilt itself, because they have accepted the reified notion of guilt that has been programmed into them by their culture—and even by their "science" (Freud believed that guilt was a perfectly natural consequence of the Oedipus complex, in which a child combined a sexual desire for its opposite-sex parent with a murderous wish against the same-sex parent).

  • Guilt is one of those spots that never washes clean. In America, the recidivism rate of ex-convicts released from prison hovers around 70 percent, closer to 90 percent in many areas. Their unemployment rates are also enormous—to have been deemed legally guilty in this society is a life sentence, whether you are within or outside of a correctional facility. This derives from our religious ideologies, which presuppose that sin can never be washed clean in this lifetime (which in turn, by the way, lies at the root of many obsessive-compulsive disorders).

  • _______________________

    This weekend, I'll offer another excerpt, which discusses ways that we can clear ourselves from within of that muddy delusion, error's uninvited guest.

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