Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Negative Clank

Dropping the other Suskind shoe, this is what happens when you define yourself in terms of your enemy:

The title of Ron Suskind's riveting new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," refers to an operating principle that he says Vice President Dick Cheney articulated shortly after 9/11: in Mr. Suskind's words, "if there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction — and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time — the United States must now act as if it were a certainty." He quotes Mr. Cheney saying that it's not about "our analysis," it's about "our response," and argues that this conviction effectively sidelines the traditional policymaking process of analysis and debate, making suspicion, not evidence, the new threshold for action.
Need it be pointed out that this same reasoning undergirds the NSA wiretapping scandal (and where did that go, by the way?): if there is even a 1% chance that terrorists could be caught by mining telephone data, that data must be mined. Which means, of course, we are all guilty and can never be proven innocent.

Analysis and debate are anathema to this Administration. It doesn't take access to George Tenet, the CIA, the FBI, and various federal agencies, to see that. Suspicion is the watchword of this government, and suspicion is the corrosive that undoes all trust in the government and among the governed. If we are all presumed guilty, and our government decides based on its response, not its reasoning, then all that matters is power.

As I have noted here, that kind of reasoning has had its day; it is already losing the support of the governed. But there is a reason Jesus taught his disciples to "Love your enemy," and it's not simply because God loves them, or because it betrays the proper humility of a servant, or even because it is a guarantor of salvation (which, oddly, it isn't. Indeed, Jesus gives little attention to the question of salvation, but it's guarantee has been a major concern of Christianity for millenia.) It is a question of life, of the two ways first outlined by the Didache, the "Teachings" of the Apostles (which may pre-date many of the canonical gospels, though it is little known outside of seminary circles). It describes the "two ways" in these words:

There are two Ways: a Way of Life and a Way of Death, and the difference between these two ways is great.
The Way of Life is this: Thou shalt love the Lord thy Creator, and secondly thy neigbhor as thyself; and thou shalt do nothing to any man that thou wouldst not wish to be done to thyself.
The Way of Death is this: to begin with, it is evil, and in every way fraught with damnation....Here are those who persecute good men, hold truth in abhorrence, and love falsehood; who do not know of the rewards of righteousness, nor adhere to what is good, nor to just judgment; who lie awake planning wickedness rather than well-doing.
Now, it is rather difficult to adhere to the Way of Life by opposing the Way of Death. These oppositions are not set up as boundaries to each other; where one ends, the other does not begin. They are, rather, two wholly different ways of life, as dissimilar as chalk and cheese, as separate from each other as a bird is from a deep-sea lobster. This is where "love your enemies" enters the discussion.

It is a part of the Way of Life. Those who follow that Way, do not live apart from those who follow the Way of Death; so they must have a way to live among them. Loving them, is part of that way. It is not the Way of Life to hate your enemy. It is not the way of life to be suspicious of your enemy. The Way of Life is love: love of God, love of neighbor, reciprocity of spirit. You can only control what you do: you can only treat them as you would be treated. You cannot control their response.

Love your enemies is a way of life, not just a religious directive, not just a theological imperative. It is part of the Way of Life. To love your enemies, is to free yourself from your enemies. It is to treat them as you would be treated. It is to define yourself, to base your identity, on who you are, not on who "they" are. To love your enemies is to remove from you wholly any suspicions about what your enemy is doing. It is to free yourself from fear. Now, clearly, this is a doctrine individuals can live by, but not governments (Niebuhr is right about that much). However, living by this doctrine can change the way you operate government; and, indeed, it is the usual assumption of government operation: that we treat everyone as innocent until proven guilty, that we need probable cause and evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to have justice (not just 500 lb bombs dropped on a building we think a "bad guy" is in). Suspicion that drives government to justify their actions simply by their actions, is not just bad government; it is, in fact, illegal government.

And the problem then is practical, not just ethical or theological.

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