Monday, June 23, 2008

Requiem for Morality

Michael Lazzaro, a columnist for Daily Kos with the byline "Hunter," wrote the following article on Sunday, June 22, 2008. I thought you might like to see his whole article instead of my excerpting from it. He titled it "Requiem" but I have added the words that make up Hunter's epithet for the Bush administration, "Requiem for Morality." Take care, the language is harsh. You'll have to decide whether or not it is appropiate.

Of all the things I despise about the Bush administration, the one I will forever loathe most is how they made morality a minority position(bold mine). It was the standard operating procedure of the Bush years that ethics was considered quaint, that pride in government was considered hopelessly idealistic, and that morality was the stuff of starry eyed fools.

I could believe that the United States would be reduced to torture; we have tarnished our history with more and with less, over the last two centuries, and it would be naive to presume it had ended, say, with the internment of Japanese Americans, or with the officially sanctioned witch hunts of the paranoid and rigorously manipulative McCarthy era. But I would have found it harder to imagine, even eight years ago, that human torture would be considered the more noble choice than refraining from it, or that those that opposed it would be met with such mockery, or such flag-waving revulsion.

The concept, after all, is simple: one should not torture potentially innocent people. Forget the more unambiguous version, one should not torture anyone -- we are not even halfway there. We can base the premise simply on the notion that one should not torture innocent people to find out whether they "know" something, and you would still find that central element of morality, of basic human principle, of Christianity or any other religion you can name, to be, in America, in 2008, a controversial statement likely to get you condemned as a fool or worse. If you are opposed to the torture of the innocent, you will face the wrath of fat, hateful radio blowhards. You will face condescending, patronizing, entirely amoral lectures on newly discovered legality of the acts from administration lawyers speaking from the editorial pages of our newspapers. You will be told that what you consider torture, what every other society including our own has considered torture up until this very moment of time, is not in fact torture, and that you have affection for terrorists if you think otherwise.

This is the legacy of the Bush administration, and likely the one that will stick long past the other violations of law or ethics. We have glorified brutality, and demonized compassion, and sought to make pariahs out of any that object. And, as a society, we have accepted these premises, and adapted them into our culture, and made them American.

It is always foolish to presume that one era is better or worse than another. America, like any other country, meets fearful times with fearful actions. Brutality justifies brutality; an external threat trumps internal freedom; fear begets simple-minded belligerence from whatever portion of the government or population happens to be simple-minded. It has been the same in every era of conflict. Surely, if previous wars required the systematic purging of Asians from the American landscape, or required careful monitoring of the perceived loyalties of entire industries, a few stray innocents kept without trial or recourse, abused to break their spirit, declared without protection of any treaty or government, hidden from the Red Cross to prevent evidence of their abuse from being known, a few killed... we are supposed to be grateful, for that. It is, after previous wars, moderation.

In all of this, however, the more unambiguously moral the position, the more despised it is. I will remember the Bush administration not for any bold speeches, but for an unending sequence of snide, guttural croaks in front of podiums, in which the latest blasphemy against mankind or God is uttered with perfect assurance, or with a dismissive sneer, or with ominous opines on the motivations of those that think differently.

There were those that considered "preemptive" war an abomination; they were considered naive, and dismissed as artifacts of an earlier time with shamefully rigid thinking. There were those that thought bombing the cities of Iraq, regardless of the viciousness and corruption of their leader, under the confused banner of maybe al Qaeda or something was too high a price for an uninvolved civilian population to pay, regardless of the actions of that leader. An opinion like that was taken as evidence of secret sympathies for that leader.

There were those that thought the Geneva Conventions should apply; they were dismissed as rubes. There were those who thought those that were turned in to United States forces as terrorists should have, at some point, a trial: the larger voice howled of the danger of giving any voice to those people, whether innocent or not.

There were those that thought that, even casting aside evidence that torture does not work, even casting aside laws against it, even casting aside the impossibility of separating guilty from innocent in front of the teeth of a barking dog or using water and a rag, torture is immoral; for speaking such thoughts, the speakers become hated.

At the same time, we were lectured on the will of God from those that see hurricanes as divine judgement against tolerance; we were told that intolerance is the moral position. We were told that if there is even "a one percent" chance that someone is a terrorist, granting them doubt or mercy was a fool's game.

We were told, in short, that calculated brutality was a requirement of government. In the end, the greatest condemnation of the Bush administration is not that they believe that, but that they have almost managed to get us to believe it.

If it were merely the war on terrorism, that would be something different, though not necessarily better, but in every aspect of governance we continually have been told that the ethical position is the stupid, foolish one, or that being offended at corruption is the childish position. No news outlets demanded answers, when the Justice Department was staffed with those loyal to party, not country; it was considered expected. The outing of a CIA agent as payback was politics as normal; the urgings to prosecutors to prosecute Americans differently according to party affiliation was for a long while presumed merely one of the perks of power. The task of rebuilding Iraq was considered secondary to staffing it with die-hard conservatives, even if they had not even the slightest bit of expertise towards the job. Scientific reports by the government were either quashed or the findings changed in order to fit The Approved Version Of Reality; it barely resulted in whimpers. Forget the difficult or controversial decisions, even the most basic ones were reduced to simple equations of party advantage and ideological loyalty.

Myself? I do not believe it is anything unusual. And if I did, I would not say so, lest I be branded an idealist, someone incapable of understanding the intricacies of how a fine structural web of corruptions and misrepresentations and outright vicious cruelty is a required element of good governance. I know these corruptions are good, because the editorial pages and airwaves are filled with people telling me they are good, or at least nothing to worry about; I can only presume that they have an expertise I do not, because they are in ink, and on the screen, and you and I are not. Our opinions are too controversial. We are against the torture of innocents, and that is enough to disqualify us from being serious about the fate of our nation. We believe illegal acts should be investigated and punished, and that makes us too naive to be proper guardians of discourse. We once thought even a president was required to follow the law; we have been disabused of that notion not only by the President, but by Congress as well.

Surely, we do not understand the intricacies of these things.

I would like to believe that one of the main reasons why President Bush's approval rating is as low as any president since they've been polling is that in the name of religion he actually made morality a minority concern. I would be interested in knowing what you think.

No comments: