Friday, November 25, 2005

Fair Words and Foul Deeds

‘… But you, Théoden Lord of the Mark of Rohan, are declared by your noble devices, and still more by the fair countenance of the House of Eorl. O worthy son of Thengel the Thrice-renowned! Why have you not come before, and as a friend? Much have I desired to see you, mightiest king of western lands, and especially in these latter years, to save you from the unwise and evil counsels that beset you! Is it yet too late? Despite the injuries that have been done to me, in which the men of Rohan, alas! have has some part, still I would save you, and deliver you from the ruin that draws nigh inevitably, if you ride upon this road which you have taken. Indeed I alone can aid you now.’

Théoden opened his mouth as if to speak, but he said nothing. He looked up at the face of Saruman with its dark solemn eyes bent down upon him, and then to Gandalf at his side; and he seemed to hesitate. Gandalf made no sign; but stood silent as stone, as one waiting patiently for some call that has not yet come. The Riders stirred at first, murmuring with approval of the words of Saruman; and then they too were silent, as men spell-bound. It seemed to them that Gandalf had never spoken so fair and fittingly to their lord. Rough and proud now seemed all his dealings with Théoden. And over their hearts crept a shadow, the fear of a great danger: the end of the Mark stood in a darkness to which Gandalf was driving them, while Saruman stood beside a door of escape, holding it half open so that a ray of light came through. There was a heavy silence…

‘What have you to say, Théoden King? Will you have peace with me, and all the aid that my knowledge, founded in long years, can bring? Shall we make our counsels together against evil days, and repair our injuries with such good will that our estates shall both come to fairer flower than ever before?...The friendship of Saruman and the power of Orthanc cannot be lightly thrown aside, whatever grievances, real or fancied, may lie behind. You have won a battle but not a war – and that with help on which you cannot count again. You may find the Shadow of the Wood at your own door next: it is wayward, and senseless, and has no love for Men.

‘But my lord of Rohan, am I to be called a murderer, because valiant men have fallen in battle? If you go to war, needlessly, for I did not desire it, then men will be slain. But if I am a murderer on that account, than all of House of Eorl is stained with murder; for they have fought many wars, and assailed many who defied them. Yet with some they have afterwards made peace, none the worse for being politic. I say, Théoden King: shall we have peace and friendship, you and I? It is ours to command.’

‘We will have peace,’ said Théoden at last thickly and with an effort. Several of the Riders cried out gladly. Théoden held up his hand. ‘Yes, we will have peace,’ he said, now in a clear voice, ‘we will have peace, when you and all your works have perished – and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. You are a liar, Saruman, and a corrupter of men’s hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor. Cruel and cold! Even if your war on me was just – as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired – even so, what will you say of your torches in the Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Háma’s ’body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc. So much for the House of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires I am, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.’

Apply as appropriate...


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Breaking Boundaries

How are the policy choices of the Cheney administration like torture? And, no, I am not being the slightest bit facetious or catty. This is a crucial question, one which the radical left fails to understand over and over, and which the radical right has grasped in a murderous fist.

In both cases, what you have is a deliberate and violent effort to destroy boundaries.

Torture, as has been pointed out in numerous blogs, is done for its own sake. It is not done to extract information, at least not reliable data. It is done to destroy a human being. The meaning and justification for it, in truth, lie within the act itself - dissolution of the physical and psychological sinews that keep a human whole. That is the way in which it differes from (mere) murder; while the eventual outcome may be death, the point is to maintain the life of the subject being tortured until she turns into an it, an object, a thing that is biologically alive but no longer lives. The Story of O is quite instructional on this count.

The Cheney administration’s approach to the governmental apparatus of the nation - institutions and bodies - is to dissolve the boundaries that define and constrain the violence and force of the state and allow disparate wishes of citizens to be given power through concentration within these same walls.

How ironic that the most dedicated deconstructionists, the performative post-moderns, are the "conservatives". It is both horrifying and delicious, like a very bad accident or crime scene. The destruction of the operational rules of Congress, the undermining of the rule of law, the insistence of White Queen rules that up is down and black is white, the staffing of agencies and bureaus with people whose sole aim is to ruin the operational effectiveness and self-regulating integrity of them - this is a wholesale effort to disestablish the institutions that allow a liberal democracy to exist.

There is something to be regarded with honor - the sentiment is rightly called patriotism - in a state that governs itself in through impersonal institutions. Even when it fails to live to ideals, as states inevitably will, there is still the backbone of institutional checks and balances (yes, the phrase is old, but it is accurate), which curbs the worst and gives resources to strive for better. To deride both the institutions and the faith in them because they are flawed is confusing religion and politics. Politics presumes men are fallen creatures and will look to narrow self-interest, which is why you create institutions that channel desires into less destructive paths.

What a criminal administration does, as Stalin most clearly shows, is destroy the boundaries of institutions which act as curbs upon the desires of the dictator, reducing all to the performance of an act that will please the person holding the weapon to which you are vulnerable. Obedience and loyalty to the strongman above you becomes the organizational principle.

Hannah Arendt rightly identified this as one of the most important points of commonality between left and right wing dictatorial regimes, and also demonstrated how it is connected not only to torture, but to the modern political disease of statelessness. If you are a person who cannot claim any institutional protections - as, say, a criminal may when asking for habeas corpus - then you have lost not just political rights, but part of the integral boundaries that make you human. The condition of humanity is plurality, the living together with unique yet equal others. To lose a boundary that defines the me and the not-me, which creates the condition under which you may say "us," is the precondition for rendering an entire class of beings as subjects for political and personal disintegration - for torture.

Thus, the horror of Abu Ghraib did not begin when soldiers laid violent hands upon prisoners. The horror began when the Cheney administration asked its henchmen formally to dissolve the boundary that forbade the US to torture. No, this does not mean that the US never tortured before (like, duh) or that we fell from a state of purity to a state of pollution. Rather, the reason why it is qualitatively different is because the objective was not primarily to torture people, but rather to remove the bar against where force may be used, to legally introduce lawlessness into the heart of our institutions. The point is to engender lawlessness in which the violent may disintegrate their opponents.

When you have a state based on the principle of disintegration - of deconstructing the state until you can drown it - then it is almost a given that you will treat people in the same manner in which you treat the state, as things to be rendered unto Ceasar. A state that exists to violate boundaries, not one that does so as an accident of operations, is the true post-modern state, one with no faith, no honor, no dignity, and no integrity.

Only violence and those who surrender to its siren call.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ahnold Loses Big Time

The Gropenfuerher goes down to defeat!

Governing by mob rule only works whent there is a mob to be governed. The humiliating defeat of Arnold's "Screw the ordinary people" measures made for a very satisfying evening.

Perhaps now we can be free of the fantasy of having a second-rate movie star try to bully a working legislature into obeying his fascist whims? Yeah, a good section of America wants to live like drones (as long as the uppity women and darkies git their butts kicked, who cares about a little loss of civil liberties?), but the other 60% is not so amused by the idea of corporatist dictatorships.