Thursday, November 5, 2009

This Is Your Government!

You won't find this story discussed, let alone featured, in any main stream media outlet. However, if, by some miracle, you do, by all means let me know as I shall be surprised and somewhat chastened. Here is credible testimony asserting that U.S. Government "security agencies" have engaged in the most depraved and cruel acts imaginable. I have long felt that the so called "War on Terror," the ostensible raison d'etre behind the vile acts recounted by Mr. Murray, has been, and will always be, a monstrous fraud, and that those who give succor to it are either dupes and/or criminals.

Many years ago, while trying to make sense of the unfathomable monstrosities perpetrated by The Nazis during The Third Reich, Hannah Arendt made a key insight about the darker side of human nature that was encapsulated in the phrase, "The banality of evil." One wonders who, in our time, are the mediocre functionaries sanctioning and directing all the unspeakable acts referenced by Mr. Murray? Who are the individuals who most resemble, in some way, shape, or form, the infamous bureaucrat, Adolph Eichmann?

If we didn't already suspect their whereabouts, we now have excellent evidence to support the thesis that these sinister characters are in the employ of our equally nefarious defense and intelligence agencies. Some number of these, as yet unnamed, and probably never to be named, pallid monsters are in full possession of the most detailed information relating to each and every rape, burning, boiling, electrocution, dismemberment, shooting, hanging, water boarding, etc. etc. committed by U.S. forces, either in person or through factors.

On some level, ascertaining exactly who these shadowy characters are is beside the point, (that statement should not be construed by anyone as me advocating against the full weight of justice being served to the execrable perpetrators) because each and every one of us who call ourselves U.S. citizens are, to a greater or lesser extent, complicit in the myriad villainies described by the aforementioned British diplomat.

I now offer the caveat that what I am about to say may shock some readers and offend others. The United States is mired in wickedness, and steeped in evil to such a degree that we can barely detect how morally askew our behavior has become. And I will further offer that I believe the ghastly domestic events of yesterday and today have some deep connection, though I can not say with any certainty what the connection is, with the "atrocities of war" already described.

Given all that has come down the pike that we citizens must ultimately take, as they say, ownership of, it is well nigh impossible, at least from where I stand, to take the position that anything less than wholesale change, authentic change, is essential to restoring this nation to a country where Enlightenment ideals are not simply used as cover for profoundly venal acts, but truly inform who we are and how we live. It is often asserted that in order to maintain a society such as the one we aspire to, voting is the least citizens can or should do. I agree, but would add that Americans must realize that voting for either party is no longer the least we can do, it is the wrong thing to do.

19 comments:

THD Russell said...

Good work Edwardo.

Human nature is a set of potentials, generally speaking. The behaviours that emerge and become set (in time), whether "good" or "bad" are a consequence of the interaction between human animal and the culture it grows up in. We are, by nature, very flexible and malleable, but not cruel, greedy and brutish. Those behaviour types are cultural variables I think.

There is an exception to this however, and that is sociopathy. This seems very strongly to be a heritable condition, and further more, certainly with primary sociopaths (there are secondary sociopaths too), no amount of socialization can make the native empathic, convince that human to care about others. They are biologically incapable of compassion. Sociopaths are furthermore thrill seekers, and become adrenalin junkies, so to speak. When I wrote in an earlier post here at Disaster Porn that the sociopaths have taken over the asylum, I meant it. I can't prove it, but my idea is of a socioeconomic model (free market capitalism) that rewards, unwittingly, sociopaths, those incapable of altruism, of care, of empathy. "Nice guys finish last." Sociopaths represent 3-4% of humanity. A very sizable chunk. What proportion thereof is primary I don't know.

Ultimately, this is more about the system than about America. America is at the forefront for obvious reasons, but to me, as a Brit living in Germany, this is global. If the US can play a starring role (again) in bringing these evils to worldwide attention, that will be a magnificent thing, and ultimately, have global implications. And I doubt very much that the US is alone in its penchant for torture. It's what states do. They do what they believe they have to, to stay in power. It's probably as simple as that.

Edwardo said...

If sociopaths are "thrill seeking", by at least by one theory I have heard, it is due to thrill seeking being the only way they can generate feeling, or, in the case of thrill seeking via extreme cruelty to others, the purpose is, hard as it may be to fathom, an attempt to make a connection with their fellow man. It's just a theory.

I would offer that, while we may be a set of potentials, neither inherently "good or bad" as it were, it is interesting, and at times rather sobering, how much savagery has been exhibited by our species over its entire recorded history. No one, to my mind, yet has really fully explained the human condition as it were.

getyourselfconnected said...

Edwardo,
I have felt a huge upswing in tensions as of late. Seems this crisis and high unemployment is taking its toll on people.

As far as the human condition, it is mans default setting to be barbaric and violent. Only after years of trying have we become moderatley civilized, but on a timeline it has been one fraction of mans time on earth.

Of course mans time on earth is an microscopic blip in the hostory of the Earth, but we make up for it with vigor.

Edwardo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edwardo said...

There is an obscure outfit called Half Past Human whose work I do not have any special desire to call attention to, or endorse, except to say that the future, by their runes, is darker than just about any of the most doom and gloom Hollywood movies.

For what it's worth, the record of HPH is, at best, mixed. And all their calls have been far more dire than anything that has come to pass that they could
even remotely claim to have predicted.

THD Russell said...

I hate to be the tree-hugger here, but this concentration on the "evil in man" is overblown. How on Earth can there be ethical progress at all if we are mostly evil? Why do most of us care about the state of affairs, want things to get better, want the future to be better, if we are mostly evil? Were we evil, there could have been no ethical or even societal progress whatsoever. Trust, for example, is an inescapable part of trade and other relationships. Even having the definitions "good" and "evil" is evidence of our inherent compassion, of our ability to empathize. Why do we tend to look forward to heaven and fear hell? I am not defending religion, but the theme is very evident throughout the histories of all peoples. To put it crudely, how could "good" be good and "evil" bad if we were evil?

Edwardo, what you say about sociopaths is interesting, and I have thought along those lines too. There is a kind of oxymoron in the very existence of sociopaths, their addiction to, or fascination with, their "power" over others, the narcissism of it, the inescapable social element etc. My completely uneducated guess is that their existence is kind of like a social cancer, such that if we could think of society as a human body, 3-4% of it has cancer, and the form of the cancer is a hyper-selfishness, a warped and over-concentrated manifestation of liberalism, the divine right of the self to be and do whatever it wants. Just an ignorant theory, but it has, at least to me, a certain poetic appeal. The notion means of course that society must first be "cured" before the problems of crime and war can be properly addressed. And that appeals to me to!

Edwardo said...

Toby wrote:

"I hate to be the tree-hugger here, but this concentration on the "evil in man" is overblown."

-LOL, as we say in the blogosphere.

"How on Earth can there be ethical progress at all if we are mostly evil? "

-Good point, but Ethics are nothing more than "well based standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do."

http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/decision/whatisethics.html

-The key word here is ought. Our intellectual ability to devise abstract ethical schemes far exceeds our ability to live by them.

Why do most of us care about the state of affairs, want things to get better, want the future to be better, if we are mostly evil?

Better is a relative term. And that, for me, is the issue. We may be able to do better, but that remains to be seen. However, whatever we have accomplished to date as a species, we have never come close to the goals we've set, at least not in any sort of timely manner.

In fact, the seemingly noblest social experiments engaged in by our species have often been compromised from the outset, such as The American Revolution, where the promise of the movement, enshrined in the phrase, "We hold these truths to to be self evident, that all men (people) are created equal, was utterly denied, except under extreme duress, to most of the population until the 20th century.

"Were we evil, there could have been no ethical or even societal progress whatsoever. "

-I never made the case that man is, in the main, evil. But there may well be, as such, a critical mass, which is an idea I will come back to shortly. In the meantime, I will ask you to define societal progress? And I would like to know if, in your view, the human species is, in the aggregate, more humane than it was in 200 B.C.E., 500 A.D. 1610, etc. etc. than now?

I will also posit that the "set of potentials" that exist in humans, likely have, like just any other phenomena ( and here I am defining man as a "phenomena") boundary conditions. What I have in mind is the global population, which as we know is at an all time high. As it inevitably impacts our hard wired evolutionary psychology, one imagines it will have a lot to say about our "ethical boundary conditions", if you catch my drift.

THD Russell said...

“Better is a relative term.”

Absolutely, it compares one thing with another, and is pretty much always a subjective measurement. That goes without saying. Trying to find some objective measurement for things like “good” and “evil” is close to impossible. So I don’t try. I approach these matters subjectively with an apeal to a logic that says the evidence for humans being social is unassailable, and that this social-ness leads to words like “ethical” and “moral” and “good” and “evil.” It’s all relative and culturally bound of course – although not wildly so – but the entire debate, as well as the importance we attach to it, is evidence, to my mind, that “goodness” is preferable to us generally, and over time, than “badness.” The words’ meanings themselves are a heavy clue, don’t you think? What we accomplish is another matter, since these things are not easy, life is messy, progress patchy (and subject to painful cultural change) etc.

“I never made the case that man is, in the main, evil.”

Sorry if I implied that you did. I was addressing an atmosphere in the discussion, not one particular person’s clearly defined position.

“In the meantime, I will ask you to define societal progress?”

Why not ask me a difficult question? ;-) I would say; the expansion over time of the circle of reciprocity, such that the famous “Other” gets further and further away from us, such that humans can now care about animal welfare, and empathize with people who look different and speak different languages, to take two simple examples. True societal progress makes dehumanization harder and harder. I would never argure that this progress is smoothly linear, nor that it does not lead to its own problems (as societies and nations expand, communities tend to break down and atomize, for example), but I would suggest that it is trending “upwards.” The circle is expanding, not contracting.

“And I would like to know if, in your view, the human species is, in the aggregate, more humane than it was in 200 B.C.E., 500 A.D. 1610, etc. etc. than now?”

See above, and: yes. Steven Pinker presents very interesting data on this in a talk he gave at www.ted.com on the myth of violence. It has certainly influenced me. I think this strongly suggests we are becoming more humane.

If in your last paragraph you are suggesting the planet is overcrowded, check out online a wee cartoon called something like “The Overpopulation Myth.” A factoid therefrom is that everyone on the planet could be housed, each house with garden, in Texas. And whether our psychology is hard wired, and what that statement really means, is debatable. The wiring is in a state of flux for many years, perhaps up to 18, and there is evidence we can “re-wire” ourselves way into our lives. We become what we become – which is always changing anyway – by learning how to use what we were born with. We are by no means blank slates, but imagine a child, say Albert Einstein, reared from birth in a windowless room, cleaned and fed only by a robotic arm, with no contact whatsoever with any other life form. What kind of an Albert Einstein would that experience have produced? If I am barking up the wrong tree here, then I’m afraid I didn’t catch your drift. Maybe I should stick with hugs, and leave the barking to the dogs…

pathwhisperer said...

To join this discussion, Hannah Arendt missed something crucial, sociopathy. Adolf Eichmann (who could count bodies as calmly as cords of wood, who parroted exalted phrases he had no understanding of and contradicted in his actions) exhibited the banal evil of the sociopath, not the banality of evil. IMO, one cannot understand corruption and evil without understanding the role of sociopaths as the "bad seed" at the core or as the wind in the sails of evil.

Edwardo said...

I'm afraid I'm not up for going but so far with the the model that places the bulk of the responsibility (for the ills discussed) on the sociopath.

I refer all who place special emphasis there to the writings of Christopher Lasch, particularly his "Culture of Narcissism."

Sociopaths of the sort that Toby and I were discussing, namely folks who have absolutely no capacity for empathy, are very rare in my view. I hope none of us ever encounters one, except on T.V. or at the movies.

THD Russell said...

According to a paper I read, sociopaths represent 3-4% of the global population, which is quite a few, and easily enough to have seized the reins. That said, I'll repeat what I said earlier, that I suspect a sort of positive feedback is occurring between the amount of sociopaths society is producing (if I may be permitted to suggest that society produces sociopaths) and the culture of narcissism Edwardo rightly refers to. Sociopathy is in this view a visible symptom of a deeper disorder we are currently working our way through via societal atomization and breakdown. Hopefully we make it through improved, and healthier than before.

Edwardo said...

3 or 4 out of every 100 people on the planet are without any capacity for empathy? That's quite a claim. Well, I am not a researcher in the field of clinical psychiatry, but that sounds too high to me. I would have thought the number was too high by half.

Yes, there is a very vocal contingent that asserts that there is no problem with the number of people on the planet, but rather it is simply a problem of wealth distribution and other economically related factors that need to be addressed. They have their points.

But I don't think it is that simple, and the fact, if it is indeed a fact, that we could, in theory, put the entire planet in Texas on very small plots of land, is-and here I mean no offense- silly in prospect.

Consider that in such a scheme there would never be enough water to keep all the gardens growing, to ensure proper sanitation, to allow for all manner of necessities.

Toby wrote:

"I would say; the expansion over time of the circle of reciprocity, such that the famous “Other” gets further and further away from us, such that humans can now care about animal welfare, and empathize with people who look different and speak different languages, to take two simple examples. "

Let's assume that, taken at face value, what you say is true. To what do we attribute our greater concern for the state of the animal kingdom? I am going to offer that what has driven us to our new found level of concern, that our motives behind caring, as it were, are mixed.

It seems to me that if we are more tolerant of other races, for example, that a "smaller" planet is responsible. In the end, our relative tolerance, is just a function of technology/modernization. I say this as someone who would like to believe that some sort of "higher consciousness'' has taken hold, but the evidence, as yet, doesn't compel me to that view.

THD Russell said...

"Sociopaths, who comprise only 3-4% of the male population and less than 1% of the female population (Strauss & Lahey 1984, Davison and Neale 1994, Robins, Tipp & Przybeck 1991)"
Source: http://www.bbsonline.org/Preprints/OldArchive/bbs.mealey.html

The factoid about Texas is not a proposal, just a mental visual to make a point about available space.

"In the end, our relative tolerance, is just a function of technology/modernization. I say this as someone who would like to believe that some sort of "higher consciousness'' has taken hold, but the evidence, as yet, doesn't compel me to that view."

What does this mean? That we are blank slates without any heritable qualities, molded by technological (and other) happenstance into becoming humane? That's how it reads. I personally believe higher consciousness IS a possible component (without being able to prove it) of this gradual improvement, as is technology, as is our obvious capacity for empathy, and other factors too. If empathy weren't there, no amount of coaxing would bring it out. Ditto "evil" by the way. People who torture are products of their biochemistry, chance, culture and parenting, just as we all are, whatever we become. Furthermore, If there is evil, it follows there must be good, by definition. I don't really believe in either, except as helpful words in particular discussions. My position is this: recognizing that we are capable of both good and evil, and that we predominantly prefer good over evil, we should seek to design a cultural setting that maximizes the former over the latter.

This is social engineering, roundly pooh-poohed by many, and yet isn't social engineering more or less what we fumblingly attempt to do via law and politics anyway? Are our abilities in this area doomed by some glass ceiling stay at the level we have attained thus far, or are there room and competence for improvement? I think the latter, and I strongly believe a resource-based economy is the direction that will allow us to continue our experiments with ourselves in as positive a way as possible. Not because we seek perfection (there can be no such thing), but because it makes the most sense to me to pursue that proposal.

Sorry to have brought the debate around to my pet, favorite idea ;-)

Edwardo said...

Toby:

"The factoid about Texas is not a proposal, just a mental visual to make a point about available space."

-I understood that, I just don't think it makes the point.

-Thanks for the link BTW.

-What that quote of mine was supposed to suggest was that thanks to the jet engine and electronic communications, to name two key world changing technologies, strange people and cultures are more accessible to one another. That state of affairs has in turn, allowed people to potentially find connections that heretofore did not exist. Some good is bound to come out of that.

-As for empathy. I'd just like to point out that it is, in my view, an attribute, that exists in variable quantities from one person to the next. Put another way, I wonder if those who have tremendous capacity for empathy may be only slightly less rare than those persons possessing none.


Toby wrote:

...and that we predominantly prefer good over evil...

-Well, mankind has learned that, most of the time, a certain amount of cooperation is far more in his interest than not. And I would agree, although you did not exactly state this position, that mankind prefers existing in a spirit of cooperation to living in conflict. We are probably wired for this, though other elements in our fragile nature, and just plain old circumstance, have a marked tendency to distort nature's plans.

Toby wrote:

"My position is this: recognizing that we are capable of both good and evil, and that we predominantly prefer good over evil, we should seek to design a cultural setting that maximizes the former over the latter."


Toby:

"we should seek to design a cultural setting that maximizes the former over the latter."

-I feel a certain nervousness setting in.

"This is social engineering, roundly pooh-poohed by many, and yet isn't social engineering more or less what we fumblingly attempt to do via law and politics anyway? "

-I'm not sure. But I will say this, the problem with social engineering is that there tend to be two key presumptions behind it that have a tendency to be quite dangerous. One of the presumptions on the part of social engineers is that "we understand humans" and the other is that follows from that is "that we know what is best for them." Sometimes we do, and at other times, well, you know the history.

-Now, pardon my pedantry here, but there is politics and there is governance. To me they are not the same, though clearly they are, to some substantial degree, at least in our time, inextricable. In this country, in my view, we practice politics, which is nothing but the acquisition and maintenance of power, almost to the complete exclusion of competent governance. This explains much of why we are where we are.

THD Russell said...

"-I feel a certain nervousness setting in."

Why? What do you think IS the appropriate way of dealing with each other at a mass, societal level? Unintentional, accidental and ignorant? (Or am I drawing a false distinction?) If we do it deliberately, it must surely be, one way or another, a kind of social engineering, regardless of how bitter the term might taste. Even the most conservative, mother nature knows best, protect the established traditions stance is a deliberate decision based on an analysis of how things work. Is this not also social engineering?

As to governance and politics being distinct from one another, I agree, yet we still face the challenge of how to govern. We are tasked, whatever our chance of success, with trying to make society function as well as possible, not to fix it in one position that works in all circumstances, but to continually adapt to ever changing circumstances, hopefully constructively. I don't see how you can have human society and culture without this ongoing effort as part of it. To my mind, that ongoing effort is social engineering.

And just because there are those of a hubristic tendency who think they know best, does not tar all attempts to "improve" the lot of man with the same brush. Nor does it preclude or render foolhardy the claim that we are slowly improving our understanding of humans, and other aspects of the universe too.

Oh, and I'm a passionate believer in humility, by the way. I hate the idea of a forced, clockwork system that would yield a kind of Brave New World society, rigid, squeaky-clean and dull. In case you were beginning to think that...

Edwardo said...

"Why? What do you think IS the appropriate way of dealing with each other at a mass, societal level? Unintentional, accidental and ignorant? "

-Good question. I don't have a ready answer, but just because I am not on board with your central planning model doesn't mean that I am in favor of mindless benign neglect.

"(Or am I drawing a false distinction?) If we do it deliberately, it must surely be, one way or another, a kind of social engineering, regardless of how bitter the term might taste. Even the most conservative, mother nature knows best, protect the established traditions stance is a deliberate decision based on an analysis of how things work. Is this not also social engineering?"

-Perhaps, but I can't help getting the feeling that you are trying to shoehorn everything into something that can be described as an act of "social engineering"

Edwardo said...

"As to governance and politics being distinct from one another, I agree, yet we still face the challenge of how to govern. We are tasked, whatever our chance of success, with trying to make society function as well as possible, not to fix it in one position that works in all circumstances, but to continually adapt to ever changing circumstances, hopefully constructively. I don't see how you can have human society and culture without this ongoing effort as part of it. To my mind, that ongoing effort is social engineering.

-Perhaps it is because I am was born and raised in the U.S. but I have an instinctive aversion to the idea of centrally generated social engineering. I feel like I am repeating myself now, but social engineering on the order that I am imagining has a very checkered history. And in the present environment, where government is so horrendously flawed in its functioning, I am really reluctant to place faith in the implementation of a social engineering scheme that will work as advertised. It just can not be relied on. I draw your attention to the greatest endeavor of central planning/social engineering of the last few years, with respect to the recently House passed Health Care Reform. It's a bad faith mechanism if ever there was one, coercive, punitive and financially questionable. And I have not heard anyone who is not a vested interest offer that it will prospectively provide a better service.

Edwardo said...

"And just because there are those of a hubristic tendency who think they know best, does not tar all attempts to "improve" the lot of man with the same brush."

-Okay maybe there are two brushes. Just kidding...
I think.

"Nor does it preclude or render foolhardy the claim that we are slowly improving our understanding of humans, and other aspects of the universe too."

Yes, but Here will not resist paraphrasing Montaigne,

"The more we learn, the more we discover how little we know."

"Oh, and I'm a passionate believer in humility, by the way. I hate the idea of a forced, clockwork system that would yield a kind of Brave New World society, rigid, squeaky-clean and dull. In case you were beginning to think that..."

-I was. I am happy to be disabused of that creeping feeling. Now, I am going to give you the last word, should you have one.

THD Russell said...

I do have one last thing to add, and I understand why this discussion needs to wrap up. I have felt for a few posts now that we agree, it's just jargon that's muddying the picture.

My relationship with "social engineering" is so non-jargon that I suspect my ignorance of its history should forbid me from using the term! And lastly, it's not government I think should prepare the path to a better way, but us, via self-education, discipline, activism etc. Nor do I seek a centralized solution, even though I hope the future will be increasingly global in terms of our exposure to one another culturally, in the interests of minimizing dehumanization and maximizing empathy.

Phew!