Friday, November 09, 2007

Kicking Ass and Taking Names

It's Friday evening as I draft this, and like I do most Fridays, I've got a beer cracked as I dig into my dull (ahem) hobbies.  I do enjoy a nice toot now and again, but I've got enough alcoholics in my family to respect the booze too, and tasty as those pints may be, the demons of dependency start scratching at the inside of my melon on Friday afternoon like insects as I consider my weekend vice.  (I try to give them their space.)  When I feel good, the beer feels celebratory.  When I'm down, it feels compensatory, and when I'm really down, it feels like exactly the sort of bludgeon I need to beat myself.  

Drowning sorrows is a cliché, and self abuse by negligence, eating, fucking, or reckless driving isn't far behind.  When we're moved to cry with too little provocation, the temptation is to give ourselves something to cry about, a sort of reverse rationalization, or maybe we fulfill all those remembered threats from our old man.  (Psychology is, like, complicated, and stuff.)  What makes sense is that you stop the damaging behavior, but we're rationalizing animals more than we are rational ones.  It's as if a sense of conscience is wired in, and if our feelings deviate from it, then the internal cricket acts to justify the feelings (rather than act to change them, which is harder).  Conscience is reactive as much as it is proactive.  

People have always known this.  Literature is full of tragic flaws, covertly incriminating tells (Freud did way more for writing than he did for science), and kryptonite.  Centuries of observation, or maybe rationalization, have shown heroes and evil masterminds who can't escape the seeds of destruction that they carry around.  In the early days of the internet, certain brands of geeks used to joke about what not to do as an Evil Overlord (use air ducts too small to crawl through, refrain from elaborate murders, don't take longer to enjoy the moment--the handbook is funny).  This view of conscience is not that of a rational actor, not a finger with a pointing hand, but as with the depressed drunk, some involuntary machine that generates behaviors to support a self-opinion. 

What fun to think we're being governed by Bond villains, the sort that can't help sowing hints of their critical weaknesses, and not the soulless calculating bastards they sometimes appear to be.  The U.S. Justice Department, in spite of declaring the opposite publicly, in spite of opposing Congressional rulings--in spite of the obvious issues of conscience--has issued secret opinions saying, in essence, that torture is cool so long as they do it.  "Secret opinions" is nearly an oxymoron.  Secret actions are one thing, and those have been committed and lied about from time immemorial, but justifying them secretly, in legal writing, is just weird.  Why keep them secret if you have a decent story to hold up to the (low) light of public scrutiny?  And moreover, given the obvious fear that your opinions are susceptible to sunshine, then why the fuck would you write them down?  The creepiest thing about the John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales Justice Department is the need for documentation.  Is it the villainous thrill that they're getting away with planned evil?  Is it a CYA effort by (or for) the lieutenants of power?  An ingrained bureaucratic impulse (our local brand of evil springs from the managerial class)?  The Bush adminstration has done this a lot.  Fixing on to the U.N. in 2003 to push toward Iraq was weird too.  It was so obviously incongruent with what those guys stood for, it's unclear why they even bothered.

In my less cynical moments, I'm almost heartened that they still have to clothe their otherwise naked ambition in acronyms and code, even if they're stupid and obvious ones (USA PATRIOT comes to mind, Clear Skies, compassionate conservatism).  The fact that it means the opposite of what it's called is an admission that the real thing is unpalatable.  To the masses, sure--we've always been awash in official sarcasm--but maybe to themselves too.  That confessional impulse, that ghost of a conscience, kicks our leaders down to the position of second-rate evil.  After all, although some famously did, not all belligerent societies have kicked ass and also taken names.  I'm not even sure records of oppression have even been the norm in history.   I prefer to think it's the pangs of morality talking, and that the reflexive honesty will lead to their undoing.  

Yeah, right.  I think I need a drink.

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