Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The wee small voice in the corner

says, "No duh!"

I think quite a few people who are deeply against the war realize that getting out may not be easy or quick. The issue is starting -- not considering starting in six months, or a month, or after the Iraqis stop killing each other or after the Sunnis and Shia work out their differences about Ali and the family of the Prophet or anything else. All of those equal never because a clear-eyed look at the situation tells you that leaving is never going to be easy or free of bloodshed or, perhaps most importantly, free of the need to recognize that the whole thing was a terrible idea, a war built on deception and deceit at every level.
I know I said a long time back, when discussion of withdrawal was just getting publicly started (but who listens to a D-list blogger? Even Kathy Griffin doesn't know my name) that we had broken Iraq, and we had bought it. That withdrawal was the only option (we cannot keep asking other people's children to die for this foreign policy, which is a debacle), and that abandoning Iraq was also not an option (we are responsible for our actions as a country, whether we like the leadership or not). So now we're down to paralysis, or, as I keep putting it, running 'round and 'round the perimeter of the circular room looking for the corner we've been told we'll be safe in.

It's ultimately a question of responsibility. Which is, in full measure, the current "irony of American history:"

John Adams in his warnings to Thomas Jefferson would seem to have had a premonition of this kind of politics. "Power," he wrote, "always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all His laws. Our passions, ambitions, avarice, love and resentment, etc., possess so much metaphysical subtlety and so much overpowering eloquence that they insinuate themselves into the understanding and the conscience and convert both to their party." Adams's understanding of the power of the self's passions and ambitions to corrupt the self's reason is a simple recognition of the facts of life which refute all theories, whether liberal or Marxist, about the possibility of a completely disinterested self. Adams, as every Christian understanding of man has done, nicely anticipated the Marxist theory of an "ideological taint" in reason when men reason about each other's affairs and arrive at conclusions about each other's virtues, interests and motives. The crowning irony of the Marxist theory of ideology is that it foolishly and self-righteously confined the source of this taint to economic interest and to a particular class. It was, therefore, incapable of recognizing all the corruptions of ambition and power which would creep inevitably into its paradise of innocency.

In any event we have to deal with a vast religious-political movement which generates more extravagant forms of political injustice and cruelty out of the pretensions of innocency than we have ever known in human history.
Niebuhr was talking about Marxism, but the "innocency" he worried about is now peculiarly American. We are, after all, the "good guys," and we maintain that reputation by insisting on a level of abstraction and distance from harsh reality that assures us that: "The majority of people understand we treat people with dignity and respect, but there are cases where we have to detain them,: even as we kick their doors in, or murder their mothers, or terrorize their fathers. "So it is a delicate balance." And the balance is all due to "The crowning irony of the [American] theory of ideology ...that... foolishly and self-righteously confine[s] the source of this taint to [the other] and...[is] therefore incapable of recognizing all the corruptions of ambition and power which would creep inevitably into its paradise of innocency." My country, right or wrong. And we learn once again the lessons of power:

The liberal world which opposes this monstrous evil is filled ironically with milder forms of the same pretension. Fortunately they have not resulted in the same evils, partly because they are not as consistently held; and partly because we have not invested our ostensible "innocents" with inordinate power. Though a tremendous amount of illusion about human nature expresses itself in American culture, our political institutions contain many of the safeguards against the selfish abuse of power which our Calvinist fathers insisted upon. According to the accepted theory, our democracy owes everything to the believers in the innocency and perfectibility of man and little to the reservations about human nature which emanated from the Christianity of New England. But fortunately there are quite a few accents in our constitution which spell out the warning of John Cotton: "Let all the world give mortall man no greater power than they are content they shall use, for use it they will. . . . And they that have the liberty to speak great things you will find that they will speak: great blasphemies."
That "liberal world" Niebuhr described is now the "neo-con" world of Bush and Cheney, who reportedly don't trust any successor to "deal" with Iran, and so will take care of that problem, too (just as they have "taken care" of the Taliban, al Qaeda, Afghanistan, Iraq, New Orleans....). We have ignored the warning of John Cotton, and forgotten that "the system" (O machine! O machine!) will not save us from ourselves, will not limit the power any one person will aggregate unto themselves. We have to be the limitations on that power. Our representatives have to be the limitation on that power. Ironic that religion, which many blame for the abuses of power of the last decade, is the source of the lesson about the dangers of that abuse. Ironic that, as we must learn once again to shoulder responsibility ourselves, one lesson that could be learned is: "Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all."

Isn't that the kerygma of the parousia?

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