January 20, 2009

Of Desire Unfulfilled, and the Deadly Reality of Power

I listened to the inaugural ceremony. Did you feel "enmesh[ed] ... in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it"? Was Obama's speech "not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair"? Those engorged phrases concerning Obama Oratory, which would embarrass anyone other than an experienced practitioner of the trashier kinds of romance fiction, sputtered forth last year from one member of Obama's army of progressive fluffers. But I undoubtedly do a disservice to many romance writers, at least those who are skilled at pace and tempo. Surely they appreciate more than others the dangers of climaxing too soon.

Given the expectations raised, empurpled, and swollen by Obama's adulators, the speech on this occasion was ... limp. What a moment to find that Obama simply wasn't in the mood. Perhaps Obama's Chief Groper should have used some of the suggestions I generously offered without charge. A more explicitly anatomical approach might have stiffened the performance. Ah, well. I tried to help.

But I must stop offering observations that I regard as outlandish and unlikely to be realized in the great pageant of "real life." Chris Floyd informs us that Homer Simpson has found gainful employment at the Guardian. Thus, we move from make-believe, flowers, bells, leprechauns and magic frogs with funny little hats, to this, in an actual newspaper:
Today a magic spell will be performed. A man who 12 weeks ago was a mere political candidate will be transformed with the incantation of a few words, before a vast crowd and a television audience in the hundreds of millions if not billions, into the head of state, even the embodiment, of the most powerful nation on earth.
As Floyd discusses, these are the superficial and saccharine phrases that constitute one of the primary means by which mainstream propagandists disguise and seek to hide the ugly and deadly truths of the exercise of state power in our time. This particular kind of propaganda is not restricted to just one side of what are commonly regarded as the "right" and "left" in our politics. Right and left both engage in this deadly deception. While a Republican administration held power, those on the right sought endlessly to justify the murders and oppression of the authoritarian-surveillance-militarist state. Now that the Democrats will exercise the levers of power -- in both the executive and legislative branches, let us emphasize -- the justifications will spew forth from the same liberals and progressives who condemned identical actions taken by those who committed the unforgivable sin of not belonging to "their" side. If you are looking for a principled approach to these questions, I suggest you avoid those who regard the achievement and exercise of political power as the means to the improvement of humanity.

With regard to the reality of the heralded "peaceful transfer of power" that we witnessed today, I remind you of the nature of that power. I wrote the following at the beginning of June of last year, when Obama and Clinton still contended for the Democratic nomination. This seems an appropriate moment to remember these truths, as decidedly unsentimental and therefore upsetting as they are to so many people. To say that the great majority of Americans, including most commentators and bloggers, are deeply unserious and unreflective is perhaps the kindest comment I can offer on this point. From the first part of "The Triumph of the White, Male Ruling Class":
Reflect for just a moment about what it is they want to win so desperately. Each of these three persons [McCain, Obama and Clinton] wants to be the most powerful ruler in the world. Given the nature of the weapons that will be at their disposal, they want to be the most powerful ruler in all of history, with the power to fundamentally transform human history and perhaps even to end it in significant part. Even if you believed that you acted righteously, with justice and truth on your side (let us set aside for the moment how one can believe that the power to murder millions of innocent people can ever be thought to be right or just, although I do not believe such considerations should ever be set aside), would you want power of that kind? If you would, I hope never to meet you. For any person who actively seeks the power of life and death over just one other human being, let alone millions of people, is deeply, irrevocably damaged in psychological terms. If we use the term "normal" to designate those goals and motives that can generally be described as supportive of individual life and happiness, no one who wants to be president of the United States is remotely close to normal. When you consider the years of relentless, soul-destroying ambition that are required to approach the office of president, together with the indefensible compromises, the endless lies, and the constant exercise of power over others in less extreme forms, anyone who deeply desires to be president verges on a constant state of insanity.

Yet one of these terrifyingly deranged people will, in fact, be the next president. Many Americans are excited, even thrilled, about the prospect, which tells you a rather important fact about most Americans, actually many important facts. I have numerous reasons for dreaming of a stateless world. There are others, but these are among the most critical of them.
As I regularly note, I am well aware that the state in its current form will not vanish, or perhaps even be significantly altered, in our lifetimes, and it may survive the next several hundred years. Nonetheless, a profoundly different vision of what is possible is necessary to grasp more fully the damaging, far too frequently deadly, reality which now enmeshes us.

And for those people, which is most people, who will immediately protest that people are inherently "bad" in some way that requires adult supervision in the form of a powerful state, I refer you to, "The State and Full Spectrum Dominance, Abroad and At Home," and the Robert Higgs article excerpted there. My essay has more on this issue, and the Higgs piece has much more, but you might want to consider this passage from Higgs:
[E]verything that makes life without a state undesirable makes life with a state even more undesirable. The idea that the anti-social tendencies that afflict people in every society can be cured or even ameliorated by giving a few persons great discretionary power over all the others is, upon serious reflection, seen to be a wildly mistaken notion. Perhaps it is needless to add that the structural checks and balances on which Madison relied to restrain the government’s abuses have proven to be increasingly unavailing and, bearing in mind the expansive claims and actions under the present U.S. regime, are now almost wholly superseded by a form of executive caesarism in which the departments of government that were designed to check and balance each other have instead coalesced in a mutually supportive design to plunder the people and reduce them to absolute domination by the state.
In many posts, I have examined the numerous ways in which Obama has already indicated that he has no intention of modifying this drive to "absolute domination by the state." If anything, and especially given the "opportunity" presented by the economic crisis, the Obama administration will speed our descent into the hell of unanswerable state power.

It is with a profound sense of sadness that I note that future developments will provide many occasions for the analysis of all these issues in still further detail.