XC – Politics and Moral Values

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[T]he
salvation of the world consists in the salvation of the individual
soul.

~
Carl Jung

The
establishment party line being floated for public consumption is
that George W. Bush's re-election was largely a victory for "moral
values." That grown men and women can offer this assessment
with a straight face offers some of the most compelling evidence
for the moral and intellectual insolvency of our culture. Such a
rationalization reflects the kind of perverted thinking that also
leads people to speak of "wars of honor."

What
are the "moral values" championed by Mr. Bush in his first
term of office? His administration put together a mixture of blatant
lies, deceptions, forged documents, and unfounded fears, to whip
up a war frenzy against a nation that posed no threat to the United
States. His unprovoked war — which had no more legal justification
than did Hitler's invasion of Poland — has resulted in over 100,000
deaths and devastated much of Iraq. Some of the administration's
business friends are profiting handsomely from this vicious undertaking,
while at the same time many Iraqi prisoners have been systematically
tortured at such places as Abu Ghraib. As the costs and revelations
of duplicity in this war continue to escalate, the Bush administration
appears ready to play the same unprincipled game at the expense
of Iran, or North Korea, or any other country selected as the enemy
du jour. If these are examples of the "moral values"
that were triumphant on election day, can someone explain their
meaning to me? How do such actions express "moral values"
that differ from those of Machiavelli, or Attila the Hun?

What
moral response is to be made to the utter insanity of all of this?
A nation that posed no threat whatever to America is attacked with
powerful bombs — in an exercise whose name, "shock and awe,"
is an admission of its terrorist purposes; many of the buildings
in its cities are reduced to rubble, while hospitals and other facilities
essential to life are destroyed. The same American government that
wreaked such massive devastation then announced multimillion-dollar
reconstruction projects to replace what had been ruined. "We
don't do a combat operation in Fallujah unless we are prepared to
repair it," said one high-ranking U.S. military official.

Trying
to function with antagonistic assumptions generates this kind of
moral confusion. It produces such Orwellian doublespeak logic as
the Vietnam War rationalization that a village had to be destroyed
in order to save it, or the earlier defense of burning witches in
order to save their souls. It is our refusal to question and resolve
the contradictory nature of our thinking — a failure arising out
of moral cowardice — that allows presidents to speak of warmaking
as "peacekeeping," or obedience to state violence
as "freedom."

That
Mr. Bush's wimpish opponent — whose campaign resembled what, in
the boxing world, would have been investigated as "taking a
dive" — did not see fit to raise any of these matters as critical
issues; and that voters turned out in record numbers to re-elect
the perpetrator of these acts of destructiveness, dishonesty, corruption,
and gross inhumanity, is more representative of the total abandonment
of moral values. Perhaps London's newspaper, the Daily Mirror,
summed up this election far better than any of the American media
flacks dared to do: "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?"

If
lying, threats of aggression, torture, and the unprovoked slaughter
of over one-tenth of a million people are expressions of the "moral"
leadership of a government behind which millions of obedient followers
are assembled in lockstep ranks, how bad can nihilism be?

It
is difficult to speak intelligently of "moral values"
in the context of collective behavior. Moral thinking is a uniquely
personal undertaking, by which individuals develop their
inner sense of principled behavior. People have a need for spiritual
experiences; a need to transcend the inherently limited nature
of their lives and to connect up with the universe — including other
people — in satisfying ways. The personal exploration and expression
of moral conduct is part of this need, the satisfaction of which
occurs only within individuals, not through mass-minded crusades.

But
as our lives become more politicized, our sense of meaning shifts
from individual to collective considerations. We become
increasingly less interested in the inner voices that challenge
our thinking, and become more concerned with the outer voices
that demand our attention and obedience. Over time, we abandon our
internally-directed world in favor of an externally-directed
one.

In
a politicized world dominated by collectivist thinking, men and
women become unwilling to question the purposes or actions of political
leaders to whom they have given over the direction of their lives;
to do so, would force the kinds of internal inquiries they have
long abandoned. Lying and the distortion of truth become essential
strategies for the success of political systems. Orwell's understanding
of how the corruption of language provides the foundation for the
deeper corruption of men and women in society, continues to play
itself out. As the United States undertook its attack on Fallujah,
Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz — identified as "Commander of the Multi-National
Corps," a title intended to distort the reality of the American
interests conducting the war — held a televised press conference,
during which he kept referring to Iraqi insurgents as the "anti-Iraqi
forces." By this kind of twisted reasoning, the American military
must be regarded as the "pro-Iraqi forces!" I heard
no media representatives challenge the general on this.

What
is to be said of the "moral values" of an administration
and its supporters that foster the distortion of thinking that makes
government lying so commonplace as to no longer matter to most people?

A
friend of mine who served in the Marines in the first Gulf War told
me that a number of his boot-camp comrades wore T-shirts that read
"pray for war." Current American soldiers in Iraq have
been quoted as saying, after killing insurgents, "I got my
kills. . . . I just love my job," while another stated "you
guys get to do all the fun stuff. It's like a video game."

How
incensed would most people become if a teenaged male wore a T-shirt
that read "pray for rape"? How troubled would you consider
the mind of your child if he could not distinguish the systematic
killing of others from "a video game"? What moral judgments
would we make about the upbringing of such young men, and why do
we refuse to make those same judgments of political systems that
foster and reward such thinking and conduct?

What
does it do to our very souls to allow such twisted thinking into
our minds, accepting its destructiveness when uttered by those we
revere, while rejecting it when offered by others? What is the state
of our own minds that so many of us have an insufficient immune
system to immediately reject the politicogenic viruses that we are
taught to welcome into our lives? Can we rediscover and listen to
those inner voices whose concern seems to be to warn us of impending
dangers?

The
unconscious mind exerts powerful influences upon us and, at the
same time, has difficulty processing and harmonizing contradictions.
Our conscious mind may continue to chant politically-inspired bromides;
but like the child who struggles with the inconsistencies between
a parent's words and deeds, the unconscious mind seeks a resolution
of its inner conflicts.

The
mind — like any system — tends to take the path of least resistance
to establish inner harmony. Since self-examination — particularly
in the realm of the propriety of conduct — can be most discomforting,
and having already been conditioned in an externalized mindset
that sees the origins of problems arising from without, the mind
becomes focused on the thinking and actions of others. Once this
occurs, the pursuit of moral inquiries that might call into question
our own behavior, becomes preoccupied with ferreting out the moral
shortcomings of our neighbors. Through psychological projection,
we unconsciously attribute to others the fears we still harbor about
ourselves: we may ignore our inner voices, but they do not go away.

Most
of us accept institutionally-certified lying, destructiveness, and
corruption as an integral part of a "reality" that is
beyond our questioning. At the same time, we struggle with unconscious
forces that remind us of the contradictions by which we live. In
a vain effort to quiet these inner voices, many of us become increasingly
obsessed with changing the thinking and behavior of others.

Anyone
who believes that this recent election represented a widespread
effort of Americans to examine the moral base of their individual
thinking and behavior, is sadly deluded. People in the throes of
a lynch mob mindset are not interested in self-examination, but
in further rationalizing their scapegoating frenzy. It is no coincidence
that, at a time when the state is engaged in some of its most contradictory,
violent, dehumanizing, and destructive behavior — traits politicized
minds prefer not to question — people would become preoccupied with
less-threatening targets. As the state continues to expand the rolls
of its victims, troubled but submissive minds turn their attentions
to the victimless conduct of private persons.

The
"moral values" crusade being conducted by conservatives
and the media — with the Democratic party trying to figure out how
to play the same game without offending its base supporters — has
nothing to do with a critique of collectivized wrongdoing,
but to an expansion of the practice. The politicization of
"moral values" is but a front for more state meddling
in the private lives of individuals. Drug use, gay and lesbian marriages,
assisted suicides, abortions, pornography and sexual promiscuity,
smoking, and obesity, are just a few of the targeted areas for which
moral reformers call for more state intervention.

Some
of these topics do involve an examination of moral issues. Any reasoned
analysis of the abortion question, for instance, must eventually
confront the private property principle: is the fetus a self-owning
"person" or an extension of the property interests of
the mother? But focusing moral inquiries around the private property
principle is the most politically incorrect thing one can do in
a politicized world, for such would call into question the very
existence of the state. And so, the pro- and the anti-abortion debaters
agree to shift the inquiry to grounds that pose no threat to the
political establishment: "pro-choice" and "pro-life."

One
can see, in the microcosm of this debate, just how intellectually
confused and impoverished are the minds of so many Americans. Almost
all who advertise themselves as "pro-choice" are not pro-choice
at all: they are quick to endorse measures to prohibit people making
choices on the basis of racial or ethnic discrimination, or to demand
that taxpayers fund day-care facilities for working mothers. They
want an abundance of state rules to preempt the choices of individuals.
Nor are the allegedly "pro-life" advocates what they profess
to be: far too many are flag-waving defenders of the war system,
or supporters of capital punishment.

It
is the height of foolishness to expect political systems to help
improve the "moral values" of a society. The state thrives
on a collective mindset; its existence depends upon the refusal
of people to make fundamental inquiries into their thinking and
behavior. Politicians and other state functionaries are not the
least concerned with "moral values," except as they can
be used as slogans around which to energize Homo boobus into
frenzied campaigns against their neighbors. Political systems are
interested in one thing only: power — in getting it, keeping
it, and expanding it.

The
moral strength or weakness of any society is but a reflection of
the inner lives of its members, a point Carl Jung expressed quite
well in observing that "[i]f the individual is not truly regenerated
in spirit, society cannot be either, for society is the sum total
of individuals in need of redemption." Herbert Spencer's corollary
to Jung that "[t]here is no political alchemy by which you
can get golden conduct out of leaden instincts" has been lost
on people who believe that anything is possible through political
action; and that the ballot box is the only effective means for
improving the lives and social behavior of people. Such is the outlook
of thoroughly externalized and collectivized people who believe,
as Mark Twain observed more than a century ago, that "[n]othing
so needs reforming as other people's habits."

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