News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Texas George Rex Judas (4a)

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Texas George Rex Judas (4a)

It's now time to bring together the loose strands of this study. As I note in the preface to this series of posts, this study can be seen as not just an analysis of George Bush but also a study of those who find in Bush an exemplar of their own theo-political aspirations. This is a blanket statement and obviously over-generalized, yet it is only meant to orientate a deeper and more profound investigation.

The last post ended with comments about the relationship between the imagination, art, and actuality. This is an important point to bear in mind when it comes to the study of evil. As I have mentioned in previous remarks at this blog, the nature of evil is never as spectacular and insidious as those devised by artistic renditions lead us to believe. In real life, the life we live with others, evil often goes unnoticed because it simply blends in with the background of everyday life.

This "blending in" exhibits the moral ambivalence or neutrality of what we take as the routine processes of ordinary life. In most cases, these are simply taken for granted and rightly so. In extreme cases of breakdown, however, this neutrality takes on a more insidious character and quaility. Think, for instance, of those who went about their 'normal" lives while Jews were carted off from next door to concentration camps.

One can also think of the revelations that sometimes come out about people's double-lives. One often hears in the news about a serial killer or rapist whom others express surprise about because they were "just ordinary" folks.

Hannah Arendt has probed the disturbing aspect of everyday life in what she famously termed "the banality of evil." In her study, she explores how a person like Adolph Eichmann could perpetrate his monstrous machinations of exterminating millions of Jews while apparently living the life of a normal, hard-working technocrat. Eichmann's defense, of course, was that he was following orders and simply "doing his job."

Philip Zimbardo, "the psychologist who conducted the classic Stanford Prison Experiment" puts some meat on this demonic side of the normal and everyday:

The systematic torture by men of their fellow men and women represents one of the darkest sides of human nature. Surely, my colleagues and I reasoned, here was a place where dispositional evil would be manifest. The torturers shared a common enemy: men, women, and children who, though citizens of their state, even neighbors, were declared by “the System” to be threats to the country’s national security — as socialists and Communists. Some had to be eliminated efficiently, while others, who might hold secret information, had to be made to yield it up by torture, confess and then be killed.

Torture always involves a personal relationship; it is essential for the torturer to understand what kind of torture to employ, what intensity of torture to use on a certain person at a certain time. Wrong kind or too little — no confession. Too much — the victim dies before confessing. In either case, the torturer fails to deliver the goods and incurs the wrath of the senior officers. Learning to determine the right kind and degree of torture that yields up the desired information elicits abounding rewards and flowing praise from one’s superiors. It took time and emerging insights into human weaknesses for these torturers to become adept at their craft.

What kind of men could do such deeds? Did they need to rely on sadistic impulses and a history of sociopathic life experiences to rip and tear the flesh of fellow beings day in and day out for years on end?

We found that sadists are selected out of the training process by trainers because they are not controllable. They get off on the pleasure of inflicting pain, and thus do not sustain the focus on the goal of extracting confessions. From all the evidence we could muster, torturers were not unusual or deviant in any way prior to practicing their new roles, nor were there any persisting deviant tendencies or pathologies among any of them in the years following their work as torturers and executioners. Their transformation was entirely explainable as being the consequence of a number of situational and systemic factors, such as the training they were given to play this new role; their group camaraderie; acceptance of the national security ideology; and their learned belief in socialists and Communists as enemies of their state.
It is this moral vacuum of routine and bourgeois life-styles that has led philosophers like Kierkegaard to explore the life behind the scenes. That is, he studied what Martin Heidegger called the "They", the crowd of faceless others given to following rules and customs without questioning them. I have given some taste of this in my analysis of the eternal and the demonic in section 2. Without coming to consciousness as a responsible human being, we run the risk of taking on these practices and thereby conspire unwittingly--but no less culpably--to perpetrate evils whose monstrosity we may never know in this life.

Having said this, I need to link the demonic in with the contention that George Bush is a type of Judas. I have tried to show that taking responsibility for one's actions includes being aware of the future and the effects that what one does has on that future. Bush, a confessing Xtian, has said it doesn't matter about history since he'll be dead. He's also, however, supposedly taken a recent interest in history and made statements to the effect that it will prove his decisions vis a vis Iraq (and Iran?) right.

There's an apparent disconnect here. Has Bush finally realized that he does indeed have an eternal dimension to his self? Has he, perhaps, woken up to the reality that the future--at least in terms of external history--is indeed important and that he should take cognizance of it?

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