Friday, September 29, 2006

Off The Deep End

A twofer from Michael Dudley at the IUS blog.

America Undone:

You may not have noticed when you glanced at the paper this morning, but the United States ceased to exist yesterday.

Oh, physically it's still there of course, but its documentary basis -- its Constitution -- has been rendered void.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to approve a bill that would, as an editorial in the New York Times describes it, give President Bush the power to name anybody anywhere -- including "foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal...The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.' By relying on secret evidence, allowing no judicial review, permitting "coerced evidence" (read: torture) and obviating the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, the bill (which Bush is expected to sign into law next week) undoes centuries of progress towards the recognition of universal human rights, and the structuring of liberal democracy around a division of powers. It will also certainly endanger any future U.S. soldier taken prisoner in combat.


President Bush has now officially been granted the powers of a despot -- and not just any despot, but a global one.

And "...Systems Irrationality...":

That the Harper regime has chosen to mimic the Bush playbook shouldn't surprise us; in almost every instance the present government has appeared to find common cause with the Bush Republicans. However, that the Bush Administration is almost universally reviled throughout the world and is spiralling into uncharted depths in the polls at home should, one would think, give them pause. As well, by choosing at so late a date to adopt the Bush lexicon -- the tired catch-phrases of which have long since become the staple of late-night comedians -- to justify military expenditures abroad, shows a genuine lack of sophistication.

More than this: the entire "conservative" movement as it is expressed in the West appears to be sliding into a morass of irrationality, and taking with it all the institutions ostensibly designed to guard against the collapse of reason: the press, the electoral process, democracy itself. When the irrational becomes so embedded in the political and social culture of a society, each component of the construction -- however illogical -- serves to support the others. This is a particularly dangerous state of affairs as the principal element around which all else revolves -- terrorism -- is so unknowable. Not only is an understanding the watershed event that precipitated the West's slide into irrationality -- the 9/11 attacks -- woefully lacking, but the nature of the threat emerging from those tragic events is so amorphous that its definition depends more on ideology than evidence. This epistemological vaccuum has resulted in nothing short of national madness: What else can explain a "war on terror" that encourages terrorism, degrades ones national defences, bankrupts the treasury, finds virtue in torture, leaves domestic cities unprotected from disaster -- and then brands as treason any effort to name these threats?

In short, we are living in an age of illusion, in which verifying those very things most essential to defining the national purpose is almost impossible; and like an hallucination experienced while driving the conclusion may be terminal. In their 1982 book on "indefensible weapons," Robert Lifton and Richard Falk wrote:

"The illusion is of a 'systems rationality' -- of a whole structure of elements -- each in "logical" relation to the other components and to the whole. We are dealing here with nothing less than the logic of madness -- [a] social madness and collective 'mad fantasy' ... For the builders of such 'rational systems' ... are, like the rest of us, confronted by an image they really do not know how to cope with, and seek desperately to call forth, however erroneously, the modern virtue of reason."

The Harper government may be projecting an image of confidence, standing firmly with Canada's traditional allies, but they are surely just as lost as the rest of us. Whatever the merits of the argument for Canada's role in Afghanistan, these need to be debated, and in a rational fashion that speaks to traditional Canadian values, as well as to international law and obligations. This means that such a debate should be one that has nothing whatever to do with "the war on terror", which is proving to be nothing but an epistemological black hole.

On the upside, nothing lasts forever. As much as these people believe they're shoring up their power by appealing to their base and promoting fear, they are putting nails in their own coffins. It is not a question so much of if they fall, but more of how messy it will be when they do. If what remains of the democratic systems here in North America manages to evict them in favour of something much saner in the next election cycle we might be alright. If not, then things will get tricky.

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