While campaigning for reelection, President Bush declared: "Knowing what we know today, we still would have gone into Iraq." That Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction nor ongoing efforts to create them, no Iraqi ties to al Qaeda or involvement with the attacks of 9/11 were, by Bush’s own admission, irrelevant to his plans to attack an innocent nation. Truth, in other words, has no meaning in this man’s calculation of his actions. Mr. Bush went even further in declaring, on the one hand, "I don’t think you can win" the war on terror, but adding that America cannot retreat from this war because, to do so, would "show weakness" to the world.
Most Americans are probably uncomfortable with the thought that their president might suffer from madness. The mere contemplation of such a possibility simply does not compute within minds that have been conditioned to believe in the rationality of the political process which is supposed to filter out the unstable, the crazed fanatics, and those of "extremist" dispositions. How could a man become and remain president if his thinking and actions were dominated by irrational impulses?
And yet, unless the rest of us are equally affected by madness, how else do we explain behavior that not only bears no relation to clearly demonstrated truth, but admittedly contradicts that truth? One dictionary defines "paranoia" as "a tendency toward suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others that is based not on objective reality." Might this definition describe a man whose thinking is dominated by the worldwide presence of an "axis of evil," and who persists in the childish view that "if you’re not with us, you’re against us?" And when there is absolutely no evidence to support a war he undertook and insists on continuing, are his acts not grounded in a lack of "objective reality?"
Another dictionary defines "paranoia" as a "mental disorder, characterized by persistent delusions." A "delusion" is further defined as a "false opinion or belief which cannot be shaken by reason." What better term to describe a man unrestrained by revelations that his stated reasons for attacking Iraq were totally unfounded but that, even on the basis of such falsehoods, he would still have gone to war? Might his insistence on going to war — and seeking new enemies to replace the beleaguered Iraqis — not qualify as an "obsession," which one dictionary tells us is "an anxious and inescapable preoccupation with an idea or feeling?"
Paranoia is often associated with "megalomania," which dictionaries define as "a mania for doing great or grandiose things," or "an excessive overestimation of one’s own importance." Did Bush not confirm this symptom of himself when he declared that "God wants me to be president?" What more exalted delusion of grandeur than to imagine oneself to be God’s anointed agent for ferreting out the forces of "evil" on earth?
In partial mitigation of his deluded mindset, it must be noted that the madness of George Bush is the madness of a society that produced such a man — and others like him — elevated him to power, and sustains his authority even in the face of his continuing patterns of lies, deceptions, and arrogance. I wrote, shortly after 9/11, that the attacks of that day "have struck deeper into our conscious and unconscious minds than any of us has begun to imagine." In varying ways, most of us are still engaged in a catharsis associated with these events, with many of us yet unable to discover their deeper meaning.
To begin with, the destruction of the WTC did far more than kill nearly 3,000 people. It also visually symbolized the ongoing collapse of vertically-structured social systems (a topic I have taken up in earlier articles in this LRC EBook). Most Americans went into an unfocused rage. In a fit of self-righteousness — for which Americans play second fiddle to no others — it became important to find someone, anyone, to punish for this crime. The alleged perpetrators were all dead, so upon whom could the self-righteous direct their anger? The first recipients were the goat-herders and other peasants of Afghanistan. Attention was later brought to bear upon Iraq, even though there was absolutely no evidence of Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 atrocity.
But Iraqi innocence was beside the point. Iraq had been selected as the designated scapegoat for America’s unrequited anger, and if the Iraqis objected to this "honor" bestowed upon them by America, this provided all the more reason to intensify the attack. In June of this year, the ultra-jingoistic Bill O’Reilly raged against the Iraqis for not fully appreciating the destruction and killing American forces were perpetrating upon them. His proposed solution was to "bomb the living daylights out of them," a recommendation he also made regarding Iraqi resistance in Fallujah. "Why doesn’t the U.S. military just go ahead and level it?," he asked, adding "we know what the final solution should be." This is the kind of thinking that represents the collective madness in which so much of America is enmeshed.
In January, 1940, Christopher Isherwood wrote the following in his diary: "Am I afraid of being bombed? Of course. Everybody is. But within reason. I know I certainly wouldn’t leave Los Angeles if the Japanese were to attack it tomorrow. No, it isn’t that. . . . If I fear anything, I fear the atmosphere of the war, the power which it gives to all the things I hate — the newspapers, the politicians, the puritans, the scoutmasters, the middle-aged merciless spinsters. I fear the way I might behave, if I were exposed to this atmosphere. I shrink from the duty of opposition. I am afraid I should be reduced to a chattering enraged monkey, screaming back hate at their hate."
While 9/11 Commissions conduct their make-believe investigations and conclude that events of that day were produced by failures of intelligence, it is more to the point to suggest that there is a continuing "failure of intelligence" in this country that has nothing to do with the CIA, FBI, NSA, or the Pentagon. Long before that deadly day of three years ago, the minds of most Americans had collapsed into a preoccupation with irrelevancies, trivia, and a continuing insistence upon being entertained. The idea that the intelligence of Americans might be energized to address problems which the political establishment prefers not to be recognized, has long been absent from social discourse. Even the Democratic and Republican conventions reflected this flight from thoughtfulness. The William F. Buckleys and Gore Vidals no longer exchanged thoughtful observations — and barbs — with one another as they had decades ago. Boobus electorus was now treated to the ruminations of Hollywood performers, rock musicians, country-western singers, and professional wrestlers!
To abandon one’s mind — along with the control and responsibility for one’s life that follows — is to collapse into madness. When done by enough people, the social effect is to turn a country into a Mad Hatter’s tea party, or worse. One saw reflections of this collective madness in the faces of airhead Republicans listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger, as he crowed from his perch about the alleged "virtues" of President Bush, a "leader who doesn’t flinch, who doesn’t waiver, who does not back down." He failed to mention that such steadfastness was most pronounced when Bush’s house of lies and deceptions came crashing down, a quality Schwarzenegger would equate with "inner strength," but which could also be taken as evidence of paranoia.
As if to emphasize the fungible nature of the two major parties, Democratic Senator Zell Miller harangued the GOP faithful with the kind of irrational, brawling rhetoric that would have embarrassed Cotton Mather. That Republicans felt comfortable cheering on this kind of lynch-mob oratory reflects a deep-seated frustration even among the ruling classes.
Across the midway were the lobotomized Democratic party conventioneers, who took such pains — including trying to lock up protestors in "free speech" cages — not to allow any semblance of philosophic or moral criticism to creep into their prime-time extravaganza. One had the feeling that what most terrorized the Democratic faithful was the fear that a genuine issue — such as the war or the Patriot Act — might arise and expose the sham nature of the election, and that their party would be blamed for this!
The madness of war-making goes well beyond the dead and maimed bodies and minds of its immediate victims. Casualty counts reflect only what is of interest to institutions to calculate, namely, the material costs of combat. There is a toxic quality to war that affects the inner life of individuals and, as a collective consequence, the society itself. In the degradation and dehumanization of the individual lies the destruction of all mankind. This is the point of Isherwood’s observations. It is difficult to avoid war’s venomous nature. Even the individual who manages to retain a constant energized awareness, will never be fully insulated from war’s impact upon his or her life.
The political spectacle of the 2004 elections ought to have made clear to you that there is absolutely nothing that either the politicians or the state can do to bring an end to the destructiveness of war. Politics is the mobilization of war, what Randolph Bourne called "the health of the state." Politicians will no more act to dismantle the war system than crime syndicates will work to end the war on drugs. We need to extricate ourselves from this organized insanity, a task we can accomplish only by observing our own thought processes — at the same time being aware that the "observer" is the "observed."
In his work on the processes of "individuation," Carl Jung offered crucial insight into our efforts to withdraw our energies from the collective madness that is destroying us. The observations of J. Krishnamurti are also relevant to our task: "War is the spectacular and bloody projection of our everyday living. We precipitate war out of our daily lives; and without a transformation in ourselves, there are bound to be national and racial antagonisms, the childish quarreling over ideologies, the multiplication of soldiers, the saluting of flags, and all the many brutalities that go to create organized murder."
Politicians and the media continue to exploit 9/11 for their narrow ends. For the rest of us, however, these events — and the political forces that produced them — continue to represent a form of entropy that we have yet to work out of our systems. We must remove such destructive energy, recognizing that those who stand to gain from our remaining in a state of fear about "terrorism" will be of no help to us, and will try to keep us groveling at their feet. Our choice, as always, is to look within our own souls, and listen for those inner voices that continue to speak to us, even over the roar of the crowd.
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.