Friday, March 03, 2006

Political Autism

I have suggested that Americans respond to fear in two basic ways, one group—today's neoconservatives—respond with an angry belligerence which sometimes manifests as an icey moral indifference, but more often as rage, always restimulating the fear complex and endlessly repeating. The others, today's liberals, respond to fear with brief anger that subsides quickly into a form of paralyzing guilt, a guilt based on their inability to affect the changes they want without clumsy unintended consequences or without becoming dominated by the political contest for campaign (and junket) money.

Of course in the general public there lies between these poles a large group of people who display behaviors of both kinds, among them liberal politicians who have found corporate money (and agendas) to be addictive, alienated citizens whose felt complicity in events appears to be no greater than distant shame, and people who have sworn a pox on both houses in their self-certain impotence. Commentators responding to these ideas have said that Americans are a "broken people," no longer able to contend with domestic affairs, much less a complex of nations and peoples yearning to have the wealth Americans take for granted.

Even more fundamental to an understanding of American politics are the axiomatic beliefs of the contending groups with respect to others of their species. I am going to suggest to you that neoconservatives and in fact the majority of traditional conservatives hold a distinctly different view of life and humanity than do liberals and progressives. These beliefs participate in the kinds of decisions the two groups make. The Katrina-New Orleans situation brought some of this into clearer relief, but perhaps it is not clear to liberals how utterly different the foundational axioms are.

From an objective point of view human beings are born (or not) along several continua that we are able to observe from our vantage here in the early 21st century. There is the gross physical continuum, which includes exterior morphology: two arms, two legs, five digits per hand and foot, fingernails and toenails, the normal double reflex spine, two ears, one nose, a well knitted palate and philtrum (that thing under your nose), a head marked by symmetrical convexity, normal external sexual organs, and normal birth weight, among many others in various levels of detail. This obviously ignores all the possibilities for hidden variance internally. Over the ages we have come to understand that some problems are expressed both internally and externally, as with Downs syndrome people, for instance, so we have become quite observant of external differences and measure everything, incessantly. A grandchild I know has a 109th percentile hat size, for instance.

The area of medicine known as teratology teaches us that variant external expressions of the genetic blueprint can be range from polysyndactylism to loss (or addition) of limbs or exaggeration of certain features. Humanity has known about the gross physical range since the beginning of time and has developed both a reasoned and an emotional response to the more dramatic differences. In general, though, when something goes wrong with the transcription of DNA, the expression is often lethal, so that of all those actually born with anomalies and are capable of growth to maturity, there are many that spontaneously miscarry or abort.

Internally there are many ways for the expression of DNA to go awry, including malformation of the heart, brain, sensory organs, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines, gonads, etc., etc. Sometimes these malformations never come into play, and in other cases the human organism is unable to function or reproduce with the disability. Until the 20th century there was no way to tell at (or before) birth that a baby was internally malformed. It usually took several years for most abnormalities to show themselves.

Physiological abnormalities such as insufficient production from the Isles of Langerhan would result in diabetes, or excess production of stomach acid would result in ulcers or other gastrointestinal problems. Insufficient production of certain neurotransmitter chemicals might be implicated in a variety of abnormal mental phenomena, such as schizophrenia, imbecility, autism, and the like. There are many things we do not know about brain function, and so most comments about it are speculative and generally at such a level of inference as to be literally unscientific and unreliable.

As with the gross external physical development, internal "perfect registration" of the DNA is essentially irrelevant, since most body parts and organs can function to the operational standards of a normal life with minor imperfections present. The objective view of the human being is, then, a view in which there are some spectacularly good operational elements noted in exceptional athletes, savants, geniuses, and the like, but for all practical purposes for most people, the existence of exceptionally positive physical traits is more a matter of the organic unity of the person than the individual heart, lung, or brain. Thus a person can grow up and live with a near-perfect heart and never know that he possesses an exceptional internal organ. Likewise, a strongly motivated person with no arms can perform virtually all the normal tasks of life.

The point is that up to certain physical and mental limitations which may be universal or simply environment specific, imperfection of the part may be masked by the operational competence of the whole. There is, in other words, an aspect of this study that goes well beyond the purely analytical and mechanistic to the synthetic and organic with all the attending modifications to causation. And, there is, as all great literature expresses, the human spirit that must be taken into account. On this single notion hangs the essential difference between conservatives and liberals.

Leaving aside for a moment the most bizarre religious beliefs, like Rapture, that have infected some neoconservatives, and taking instead a more middle of the crowd approach, Christianity seems to have had no appreciable effect on the neoconservative point of view. Samaritanism is folly to these people, not just folly actually, it is sinful, wasteful, stupid, and abhorent. Neoconservatives would sooner stay home from church than to involve themselves with people who are born into poverty, they would, that is, but they have solved that problem by preboarding their pews, excluding the less unfortunate of their extended communities.

The conservative view is partly behaviorist and partly mechanistic. The conservative understands the worth of a human being by its socio-economic position relative to all others, but themselves especially. Those who have drawn financial wealth or favorable attention to themselves are thought ipso facto to be better than those who—for whatever reason—have not. Thus being born into abject poverty is a form of "original sin" to neoconservatives, for the chances of a person rising above the full weight of his parent's (obvious) failure to succeed are small and rare indeed. Vast numbers of the present day accumulation of human beings can be easily ignored or written off by simply asserting that until a person expresses him- or herself in terms understandable by the elite (of those terms) they are not to be considered worth a second thought. Until a person rises to social or political or economic importance (measured relative to the observer) they are just canon fodder.

Torture, enslavement, suppression, harassment, theft, and even murder are all acceptable activities with respect to human beings on the neoconservative's bell-shaped curve. Yes, neocons believe that there is a select group of human beings living over past the steep slopes on the righthand of the Gaussian curve who are superior and that all other human beings are therefore inferior and must be led and may be exploited as the situation dictates. It is not a criminal matter if the others are sub-human (or if you are super-human). It is all the easier to do, of course, because neoconservatives do not confront their victims. The recipients of neoconservative indifference and inhumanity are anonymous and well distant from the world of the neocon. That is what all the wealth accumulation is all about—insulation! What was the last time you saw a Rothschild or a Mellon, a Vanderbilt or Walton?

The recent evidence of neoconservative indifference and inhumanity are striking and well-known. The people of Darfur are victims of this indifference. The callous disregard for the Blacks made homeless by hurricanes Katrina and Rita as epitomized by the comment of Barbara Bush are a classic example. The torture of human beings for intelligence information (which would be of dubious value under those circumstances of course) at Abu Graib prison in Iraq, in detention camps in Afghanistan, and throughout the countryside of nations participating in the Iraq War, like Poland, Romania, and in the central Asian states like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and at the U.S. Naval Facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is another. The protection of pharmaceutical companies against lawsuits arising from dangerous substances promoted as healing agents is another major element of the neoconservative belief that most of humanity is good only for paying taxes and taking drugs, the one to promote the other. The prosecution of a falsely sold war with understaffed and poorly equipped soldiers is exactly the canon fodder concept.

But, as instructive as these examples are and especially so in the accumulation recently, the extremes are not the rule, they are the waving flags, the warning bells, the tocsin, the canary in the mine shaft. The average neocon does not think in the Cheney and Rumsfeld categories of cynically expending anonymous people to prove a point or make a buck.
The average neoconservative simply believes that some people make bad decisions and these people therefore have to take the consequences.
They believe that the occasional person who rises up out of the Black ghettos or the Brown barrios or the "hollers" of West Virginia and Kentucky is proof that it is possible and, moreover, that it is reasonable and respectable to expect more of them to do it. The ones that don't are lazy, inferior, malformed, hopeless, and unworthy of further consideration. When you ask an average neoconservative about the implications of this, they change the subject. What this means is that they expect these people to DIE OUT!

The neoconservative listens to stories about the bad behavior of other people; they watch programs like CSI Miami religiously, they watch "reality television" characters acting badly, they listen to clergymen expounding on the notion that "those who accept Jesus into their lives are saved and the rest are trash." (I heard this very sentence with my own ears at a Baptist funeral, of all times and places, in Hemet, California and then again at another Baptist funeral in Long Beach, California. You can imagine what is being said in Oklahoma and Kansas!) In short order, Christian neoconservatives become eugenicists, believing in their hearts and marrow that they are select, elect, and favored by their God, and that conversely the others should not be encouraged to prosper much less procreate. The less religious of their fellow neoconservatives are nevertheless convinced as a matter of tribal/familial Social Darwinist certitude that they are the elite, that to think in other terms would debase their lives and render them fit for nothing but exploitation. For them the inexorable working of market forces is both truth and justice ... and the "devils" can take the hindmost.

It never occurs to the neoconservative that each human consciousness is worthy of humane treatment, love and esteem, protection, and compassion. Neoconservatism in this respect is very much like autism, and none of us should be surprised to find that there is a physical basis for this terrible disease of the spirit.

James Richard Brett