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
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?
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
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?"
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?
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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
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!
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
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."
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."
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.
Shaffer teaches at the Southwestern University
School of Law.
Posted: September 15, 2004