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.


1 comment:

Celandine said...

The point is to engender lawlessness in which the violent may disintegrate their opponents.... 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.

Excellent points. Removing boundaries need not be a bad thing inherently - I play with this idea a lot in fic - but the violent destruction of them without the free will of those involved is.