In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller, Shadow of a Doubt, spunky, recent high school grad Teresa Wright discovers her beloved uncle is a serial killer.
Wright’s subsequent efforts to protect herself and others from psychopathic Joseph Cotten are continually frustrated by the extraordinary denial of her family and her community lost in the “thrall” of the worldly, smooth-talking Uncle Charlie.
Heartbroken and distraught, she must contend with her uncle’s violent agenda while being obstructed by a naive and vulnerable community of his enablers and/or soon to be victims.
Wright’s horrifying predicament resonates as I witness my – our – psychopathic uncle – UNCLE SAM, the U.S. government – perpetrate violent crime upon crime against humanity enabled by a maddening, morally mute, over-trusting, under-informed and/or indifferent citizenry.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully wrap my mind or heart around the profound lack of outrage and empathy among government leaders from both corporate parties, the corporate media, as well as the vast majority of my fellow citizens at the ongoing atrocities of the Global War on Terror. (More accurately, the “US Global War of Terror”!)
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 seemingly justified a “gloves off” bloodlust defiance by the political and military “guardians” of America of the legal and moral pillars of our democracy. All these years since, the mandates for constitutional and moral justice “for all” have gone unheeded.
The Iraq war was launched illegally and with manipulative lies. Bush’s torture program was in total opposition to constitutional, international and moral law. Its perpetrators deserved serious prosecution.
The Geneva Conventions were ratified once upon a time by a U.S. Congress. Habeas corpus, in place since 1679, so cavalierly suspended with the GWOT’s “anything goes” rationale.
When such gobsmacking evil manifests on such a collective and global level for such a sustained amount of time, it deserves a serious analysis by those of us still spiritually awake enough to protest it.
At this point in my concerned citizenship, I am moving beyond anger into an awe of the scope of the – well – I call it downright and seriously unchallenged EVIL. Looking for a more clinical term than that? How about patriarchal psychopathology?
In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter acknowledged the long trail of U.S. international war crimes as well as the lack of historical and current accountability by this government, corporate media and its citizenry for them.
“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening . . . You have to hand it to America . . . masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
Speaking of bottom-line and minimized evil, the specter of torture has reared its ugly head once again with President Donald Trump, an unabashed torture enthusiast, and the confirmation of his choice for Director of the CIA, “Bloody Gina” Haspel, notorious overseer of a secret black prison in Thailand where brutal torture was conducted. She was readily confirmed by a combination of Democratic and Republican senators. Senators, no doubt, who after fearful years of being labeled “too soft on terror” were not about to stick their necks out for decency and morality.
As for too many of my fellow citizens, terminally influenced by an amoral corporate media, I am nonetheless at a loss for their easy acceptance of torture.
A Pew Research poll released in 2017 revealed that 48% of the US citizenry believed that some circumstances could justify the use of torture, and 49% maintained there were no circumstances that would ever justify it. Every other US citizen is thumb’s up for the use of torture!
How disturbing over the last decade for the use of torture to be normalized and decriminalized by the military, citizenry, politicians, media, and those government lawyers who early on cravenly defied the obvious spirit of basic “Golden Rule” morality, the Constitution, and international law, to minimize the savagery of torture with euphemistic labels still parroted by much of the corporate media and or applied as fig leaves over the reprehensible.
“Enhanced interrogation techniques.” Thank you, New York Times. They are monstrous methods of inflicting debilitating psychological and physical anguish on victims even at times to the point of death. Techniques that, along with being illegal and immoral, are universally regarded as unreliable. They are reliable only in generating false confessions (which apparently was one of the goals of the original, craven perpetrators).
Torture is wrong. It is evil.
Reading Jacob Weisberg’s book, The Bush Tragedy, I learned that the main ego-armature for George W. Bush during his Yale University years was his participation in the fraternity culture.
Weisberg discloses that when “W” finally became head of a fraternity, he “ruled” at one point that lowly pledges be branded with real, Texas branding irons as part of their hazing.
When the Yale Daily News got wind of Bush’s sadistic and zealous intention, it disclosed it to the entire university community. The Yale administrative patriarchs immediately huddled together to deal with the negative P.R. (I’m guessing that far outweighed the actual physical or psychological welfare of the targeted pledges.)
The patriarchs’ solution? Rein in Mr. Bush, whose sociopathy they irresponsibly minimized as an impish, “boys-will-be-boys”-ness. With the proverbial wink and nod, they insisted young Bush forego the branding irons and instead ONLY make use of scalding metal coat hangers or lit cigarettes to burn freshman flesh.
Problem solved? This Yale incident foreshadowed and undoubtedly helped foster the ultimate creation of the craven and covert torture program by Bush and cabal, particularly with the ever-Satanic Dick Cheney.
The green-lighting of that more modest degree of torture speaks volumes of a troubling, profoundly unempathetic – sociopathic— macho-mindset within the deepest, most influential halls of America’s supposed intellectual and ruling class elite and mentors of said elite. They enabled and abetted young, already morally-deranged Master Bush, instead of role modeling and enforcing boundaries of basic human decency.
Just another rite of male passage? No wonder our American culture is so violent.
Andy Worthington, a prime advocate for victimized prisoners of Gitmo once reminded his audience during a NYC anti-war forum that in 2007 it was Senator Obama who declared:
“In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantánamo, we have compromised our most precious values. What could have been a call to a generation has become an excuse for unchecked presidential power.”
President Obama posed as a person of character most convincingly. It got him the White House. Twice.
Obama took no responsibility for his breathtaking, 180-degree reversals of golden promises of anti-Bush reform, pre-election.
The most obvious and necessarily immediate reforms that he failed to act on were the restoration of habeas corpus rights and the prosecution of the perpetrators of the clandestine Bush torture program, of those who had most reprehensibly exploited the post-9/11 fear, outrage and vengeance sensibility of much of the citizenry.
Obama’s policy decisions instead included deadly drone warfare, assassination kill lists, unlimited due-process-less detentions, military tribunals, countless corporate wars and U.S. military (corporate-opportunistic) garrisoning; and the continuation of Gitmo and God only knows what other black sites.
Obama’s posture was of an always rhetorically amiable and faux-reasonable Roman emperor with thumb’s up or down power over life and death. Many of his “subjects” adored him.
“We tortured some folks,”he finally admitted with a shrug at a press conference. As if it was not a colossally serious deal.
“Folks”? Now there’s a friendly word.
This is heart-of-darkness territory. Obama chose to become an enabler of violators of human rights and then a violator of them himself. To add to the horror, Obama so readily was enabled by the media in this, the vast majority of Congress, and the vast majority of citizens.
Does the cult of celebrity in America overwhelm basic human decency? It seems so.
Do U.S. leaders as diverse (but all amoral) as Bush, Obama and Trump, along with callous political cronies, military leaders and media, only need to repeat the word “terror” enough times to have so much of America fall into a “do with us, our money, or anyone else whatever depraved, anti-humanity behavior you want” kind of swoon?
“To torture or not to torture” not only a hot news media topic, but fodder for jingoistic and sensationalized movies and TV shows (as the normalization of torture steamrolls on).
Loyalty and admiration for the troops (no matter what war crimes they may be committing) and/or blind trust in a national administrative and military authority should not override human decency. American “exceptionalism” should not override identifying and ending war criminality. It does.
The status quo establishment in America has us locked into perpetual war with untold mass global deaths and maiming and ever-increasing economic hardship for all humanity except for a tiny percentage of transnational elites.
A paradigm shift from a “profits over people” patriarchy to the humanism of partnership and cooperation is the answer, but that would require decisions based on a U.S. leadership, a U.S. media and a U.S. society that seriously honored empathy, justice and the law.
Ours do not.
Scott Peck asserts in his book, People of the Lie, that mental health is “dedication to reality at all costs.” This healthy sense of reality includes an in-touchness with one’s inner reality and a respect for the reality of others. It requires the capacity to fully think and FEEL.
This “feeling capacity” – including and especially EMPATHY — seems most vulnerable to dysfunction in our society and world, among both leaders and followers.
Feelings are profoundly under-valued in our U.S. society, and this feeling dysfunction is at the heart (or lack thereof) of the existing suffering and injustice.
Alice Miller, in her book For Your Own Good, refers to a “poisonous pedagogy” that can infect a society. She explains that that was what made the “good” (as in compliant) German population easy prey for the authoritarianism of Hitler.
Miller emphasizes that the capacity for empathy is not linked to one’s intelligence. She points out that both Hitler and Stalin had enthusiastic, highly intellectual followers.
If one is not able to respond with authentic feelings and thoughtful consideration to real life situations involving oneself or others, one is susceptible to “enthrallment” to the will of a toxic and controlling leader, asserts Miller.
She also contends that unprocessed trauma in one’s childhood, that is, when children are exposed to profound degrees of non-empathy from adult caretakers, will cause a crippling or shutting down of their feeling capacity later in adult life along with the potential of a sudden dismantling of their own will for the will of another. Miller explains that such trauma undoubtedly also happened to the original destructive caretakers during their childhoods in a continuing, generational cycle of dysfunction.
When trauma goes unprocessed by feelings, that is, it stays unfelt and un-grieved, it induces one to over-identify with an aggressor and enter his or her “thrall” later in adulthood. Also, such conditioning can induce one to project one’s negative feelings about oneself onto others as scapegoats. People with a disordered feeling capacity cannot handle and take mature responsibility for whatever guilt, shame, anger, frustration gets triggered within them in the present and must deflect it.
In People of the Lie, Scott Peck discusses the experiments of Dr. Stanley Milgram at Yale in 1961 which revealed how people were so readily intimidated by an authority in a white coat that they willingly would inflict what they thought were disabling electric shocks on strangers without question. Six out of 10 of the tested humans were willing to inflict serious harm on strangers from their own over-conditioning to the will of authority figures.
Peck emphasizes how obedience is the foundation of military discipline. “A follower is never a WHOLE person,” he maintains. Tragically, most people are far more comfortable in the “follower” role, leaving the responsibility and decision-making to those who step forward as leaders. When ruthless, reckless, immature, even sociopathic persons assume leadership positions, especially in an authoritarian system, the results can be tragic.
He also contends that a lack of conscience in human beings is partly due to “specialization”, a detachment from responsibility. One regards oneself as simply playing a role in a group scenario and thus can easily pass the “moral buck” so-to-speak to another part of the group. Troops shooting foreign civilians with a kind of “video-game aloofness”, for example will rationalize: “We don’t kill the people. Our weapons do. Whoever gave us these weapons and instructions are really responsible for the killing. Not us.”
Another example he cites is of how weapons manufacturers, sellers, lobbyists, etc. feel no personal responsibility for the consequences of violence from the weapons they distribute. The moral decision as to the use of the weapons is not part of their “specialized” roles. (And the financial profits are just too damn juicy to consider otherwise.)
Peck also cites the regressive shutting down of authentic and appropriate feelings in people due to a phenomenon called “psychic numbing.” The mind has the ability to anesthetize itself from feelings in the face of trauma. “The horrible becomes normal,” he writes.
Finally, he explains that groups bond often within a collectively egotistical groupthink by circling the proverbial wagons against a common, demonized enemy. “The other.” Scapegoating occurs when a group collectively projects the “badness” of themselves, too difficult to fathom, onto others.
James Lucas in an article for globalresearch.com back in 2015 declared that the United States has killed approximately 20 million people in 37 countries since the end of World War II.
How many of us can actually begin to feel and process the utter enormity of such a revelation? (One thinks of a quote attributed to the profoundly non-empathetic Joseph Stalin: “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”)
What say you to 20 million, America? Look what our UNCLE SAM has wrought.
Can we as a nation cultivate a collective capacity for “empathy”? A critical mass of us reached a breakthrough of collective conscience during the Vietnam era (though it took us long enough, admittedly).
Can each of us dedicate ourselves to a “reality at all costs” awareness for our individual as well as collective mental health?
The fast hardening of soft fascism seems to be happening with little conscious struggle among the masses who seem convinced we non-elites can get away with staying passive and will be supported by our corporate-captured politicians and media.
Can we face down and acknowledge the relentless criminality of our government and representatives (who are not really OUR representatives).
If such crimes are not acknowledged, called out and then accounted for they will continue and escalate in number and nature. Even more frightening, more and more and more “good” Americans will succumb to this “normalization” of evil.
Confronting evil is daunting. Confronting mass and institutionalized evil all the more so. Sickening. Spiritually exhausting. It even has been said to biologically weaken one’s thymus gland that supports the body’s immune system.
We must detach from seductive “cronyism” with authoritarians or authoritarian followers and encourage others to do so.
We must explore the details of what is going on in our citizen name, with our tax dollars and especially with our vulnerable, patriotic and earnest young who can become tragically confounded by and induced to perpetrate institutionalized evil policies.
We owe it to ourselves and our world to stay whole and awake as citizens. To speak truth to power. Once again, “a follower is not a whole person” as Scott Peck declared.
“This is why the individual is sacred. For it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.”
It has been said there are three types of people in this world. A smallish group of people who make things happen. A larger group of people who watch things happen. (I am thinking, of those “good people who do nothing.”) And finally the third, excessively large and clueless group, exclaiming, “WHAT THE F*CK HAPPENED???”
Let’s try to shrink the second and third groups and expand the first by getting up and exercising those consciences.