Friday, September 22, 2006

The Decline and Fall of Reason

The President of the United States wants to torture people. How mind-numbing is that? The leader of the most powerful nation in the world, one that has long been a beacon of hope and enlightenment during the dark times of the 20th Century, is actively pushing our country in a direction that would make us resemble the worst of South America’s or Asia’s tin-pot dictators. We have secret prisons into which people “disappear”. We can grab citizens of another country, such as Canada, and send them to places like Syria, where they essentially cease to exist. They are tortured and brutalized into providing their interrogators false information, which is then used to cause panicked reactions in government institutions and terrify the general populace. And then, they are just “let go” when (and if) it was decided that they were picked up by mistake. And this isn't even going into the fact that most people who know about such things say that the information gained by torturing people is highly suspect.

But what is even more mind-numbing is that a very large percentage of the populace of this country agrees with him. Their rationale seems to be something like this. The people in question are Arabs, they are obviously guilty. If they were innocent, we wouldn’t have picked them up in the first place. It’s their fault. Besides, Bush is a God fearing person who would never do anything wrong, and those beyond-disgusting bleeding-hearted liberals and pro-terrorist Democrats really want to destroy Bush and America.

Reason has, without question, taken a leave of absence here in this country. Most people now do not know how to conduct civil discourse any more than they can comprehend particle physics. Facts and fact-based analysis have been shoved aside in favor of impassioned opinion. It doesn’t matter if the impassioned opinion comes from religious beliefs, a neo-con view of the world, extreme tribalism or just an egocentric view that “I am always right and since you disagree with me, you are always wrong.” It just doesn’t matter where it comes from. As a nation, we have lost any sort of ability to do any sort of critical self-analysis. If anyone does take that road, they are immediately labeled as part of the Blame America FirstTM crowd. It seems that most of the people who support the current Republican party suffer from a congenital lack of imagination. Would they support such a system of presidential power, free from any sort of oversight or checks-and-balances as promised in your third grade civics class, if someone like Hillary Clinton were president? Or can they not see that, by gutting the system that has been so carefully nurtured for so long, we risk letting in the world’s next Hitler?

But I am digressing from my original point. That point is that this country is becoming what we, for most of our history, actively fought against. And a large percentage of the people of this country are not only allowing this to happen, they are actively participating.

I find it very frightening that I can read a book like Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” or watch a film like “V for Vendetta” and not dismiss it as total fantasy. In fact, I get the distinct impression that, if a few things went just right, ending up like those two incredibly scary examples is not that big of a stretch (except for there would be no one running around in a cape and a Guy Fawkes mask to deliver us). We could end up with a full-fledged dictatorship, but one that has the outward trappings of a democracy. However, it would be a democracy in name only. It would look a lot like Mussolini’s fascist Italy, except for several important differences. It would not have a centralized control of the economy; it would be just the reverse. Capitalism unfettered by any sort of government restraint would be the rule, as would the total suppression of dissent. It would be a very hard and unforgiving system for the workers, but generous in the extreme to the corporate executives and the lobbyists that help feed the system. And on top of this incredibly brutal system would be the religious underpinnings that give the powerful their basis for that power. Anything that is said or done to attempt to change the system would be accused of being “against Christianity”.

That is the future I am predicting could easily happen to this country.

What is it about this particular time that has seemed to have fundamentally changed the ways in which Americans thought about themselves? Is it just that we have collectively “crapped in our pant” because we were so frightened by those horrendous events of September 11, 2001? Is it somehow related to how much more control huge financial interests run our media and therefore can shape the way the country thinks?

I just don’t know. I know that the country didn’t distinguish itself by interring Japanese American citizens after Pearl Harbor. But it seems to me that we are reacting in ways that we, as a country, never have before.

UPDATE: Well, as everyone who is paying attention knows by now, the President and the three “maverick” Republican senators reached a “compromise” on Bush’s desire to use torture. Of course, no Democrats were included in this compromise, as they are totally outside any deal-making structure these days. This so-called compromise, as far as I can discern, gives Bush pretty much everything he wants. I guess the compromise is to just keep the Geneva Convention out of the discussion.

Great. What a great moral compass this country has these days.

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