Arrogance condemns the arrogant one, as Hui-neng says. It announces to the world that I do not feel at ease with myself, and
so I must summon up self-praise, and go about abusing other people.
Examples of self-condemnatory
arrogance are all about us. Look at the foreign policy of the United States; it is clear that abuse of other nations and praise
of our own is a product of national defensiveness and fear. We doubt our own worth and feel vulnerable, so we lash out to
prevent others from attacking us first. Of course the United States is not alone in such behavior; we see the same foreign
policy in the actions of other countries, and smaller groups, too, not to mention individuals. — Robert Aitken, The Mind
of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics (North Point Press, 1984), pp. 73-74
I stumbled across that passage
a couple of days ago. It explains a lot.
It explains the utterly irrational
right-wing loathing of "liberal elitists," summed up in the title of the Sean Hannity book Let Freedom Ring: Winning the
War of Liberty Over Liberalism. Or spend a few minutes reading Free Republic forums. Either these people live in
a different time-space continuum from the rest of us, or we're looking at a widespread socio-psychological pathology.
Put together the hostility, the
belligerence, the from-my-cold-dead-hands hysteria over gun control, the outrage over "multiculturalism" the sneering at all
things "French," and it adds up to the Mother of All Inferiority Complexes. The world in all its diversity must be pretty
damn frightening to the average wingnut.
Liberals might, you know, change
stuff, the way they made schools integrate years ago. They're afraid that "liberals" might open the door to more social and
cultural change, and wingnuts don't like cultural change. They like nice, comfortable, unthreatening sameness. And if they
have to oppress others to maintain samness, that's too bad.
And of course it explains President
Smirk, who no doubt cultivated his Texas cowboy act while metriculating at Yale. So what if he wasn't as smart or sophisticated
or traveled or cultured as the other guys? He's a Texan. Never mind that he never roped a steer and is afraid
of horses. He wears a plaid shirt and drives a pickup and clears brush. And he walks with a swagger and giggles
about capital punishment. That's regular-guy Texas stuff.
You'll notice he's the only one
in his family with the Texas accent.
And, last but not least, it explains
the support for President Smirk in the face of his blatant unsuitability to be President. And it explains the support for
an irrational, self-destructive war. A big chunk of the population doesn't want to hear that Iraq wasn't behind 9/11 or that
Iraq wasn't a threat or that we really shouldn't be here. They wanted a war in Iraq, because, dammit, they wanted a war
in Iraq. Muslims are different from "us," which makes them scarey. So let's go to a Muslim country and kick
butt and make them be more like us, whether they want to or not. Then they won't be so scarey. And if they resist, we'll
just beat them up more.
Seriously, as you deal with wingnuts
over the next few days, remind yourself that their swaggering, aggressive hostility is a defense mechanism.
You intimidate them. Deep down inside, they feel inferior
The True Believers among the hawks are in rationalization overdrive.
They imagine that the Abu Ghraib prison scandal will go away, if only the
evil liberal news media would stop talking about it, and then we can march on to glorious victory in Iraq. The excuses I've
seen so far fall under these major headings: "This is an aberration that we can put behind us" (apparently the official DoD excuse); "Harsh treatment of prisoners is not an aberration, but an unpleasant but necessary part of war"; "Those other guys do it, too"; "It's not that big a deal"; "UNscam! UNscam! UNscam!"; and "shut up."
Via Josh Marshall -- The ever-startling Kate O'Beirne seems to suggest that asking questions about Abu Ghraib is just partisan politics
and maybe treasonous. Is she related to Ann Coulter, by any chance?
If you missed the Mark Shields-David Brooks discussion on last
night's PBS Newshour, please read the transcript. It's the whole Iraq debate in a nutshell. David Brooks says, well, this certainly is a setback, but I think we
can still have a successful mission. Abu Ghraib was an aberration. And Mark Shields
says, look, it's over. The pooch is screwed. Nothing good can come out of Iraq now.
MARK SHIELDS: There is not... what it is going to turn over on the 30th of June. We've built 1700 schools, we've vaccinated
hundreds of thousands of children, rebuilt hospitals and Jim, it means next to nothing after this.
JIM LEHRER: David.
DAVID BROOKS: I don't agree with that. There are atrocities in warfare. If there is an election, there is a long road to
normalcy for the Iraqi people, if they're not dying by the tens of thousands, if there are no more mass graves, then I think
this is a horrible aberration in what has been a messed up, incompetently run but fundamentally noble idea.
Shields brings up a point that's been bothering me for some time
-- both Democrats and Republicans talk about success in Iraq. But how will we define success? What will it look like? What
is our objective now? What is the mission?
Originally, we had to invade Iraq (right now!) because Saddam Hussein
had weapons of mass destruction that might be used on Americans at any time. OK, so there were no weapons of mass destruction.
And there was September 11, you know, and Saddam must have been behind it ... well, OK, so he wasn't. But he was
a real bad guy who tortured and killed his own people, so we were right to liberate them from that evil guy so they
know how much more benevolent people from democracies are ... um, I guess we blew that one, too, huh?
All these years PNAC has pushed the idea that if
only we could get rid of Saddam Hussein, then democratic, pro-American ideals would sprout in Iraq and spread
throughout the Middle East like flowers in spring.
The Bushies are in denial, of course. They have yet to concede there are no
WMDs to be found. They haven't entirely let go of the bogus Saddam-Osama connection. And they haven't accepted the fact that
the people of the Middle East will not forget Abu Ghraib in our lifetime. Bush could get himself photo-op'd with the Prophet
Mohammed himself, and it would do no good. Hence, Americans will be inextricably linked with Abu Ghraib in the Middle Eastern
You think Muslims will forget? They haven't forgotten the bleeping Crusades,
for pity's sake.
(Consider the Kitty Genovese phenomenon. People who hate New York and want an excuse for hating New York to this day drag out the corpse of Kitty Genovese
to prove how substandard New Yorkers are. Ms. Genovese was murdered more than forty years ago, in 1963. Today there are people
who "remember" Kitty Genovese who weren 't even born then.)
I've believed all along the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Still, if the Bushies
had done a really excellent job of postwar planning, and had deposed Saddam while quickly providing Iraqis with stability
and infrastructure and economic opportunities, there might have been a good outcome. Instead, there was no planning at all, which
allowed looting and chaos and lawlessness and corruption and joblessness and despair.
So, here we are. What's next?
If I were John Kerry, I'd be making a lot of noise about our mission. He
should not, I think, use Abu Ghraib to club the Bush Regime. Instead, he should ignore whatever the Bushies are
saying and speak directly and frankly to Americans -- where do we go from here in Iraq? What is our mission now? At this point,
is there any good at all that might be salvaged from the Iraq War? If not, what is the least objectionable outcome
that might be achieved? And how do we achieve that?
The Bushies are incapable of having that discussion with America. If Kerry
can, he'll be elected president in November. But he'd better get started soon (see Eleanor Clift, "Where's Kerry?").
With the first question from a television interviewer, President Bush discovered
Wednesday how difficult it may be to calm the outrage over the abuse and deaths of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of U.S. soldiers.
The interviewer said the evidence of torture made many Arabs believe that
the United States was no better than Saddam Hussein's government, notorious for torture and murder. The president murmured
under his breath at the comparison. [Arizona Daily Star]
One of my biggest character flaws is that I have little
patience with idiots and bigots, which is why I hope never to meet David Brooks face to face. I fear what I might do. In fact
I rarely read Brooks's column because I'm getting on in years, you know, and righteous anger wears me out. But I did
happen to read the February column in which Brooks said "Some liberals have trouble
grasping evil" and have not yet fully recovered.
Now I'm going to rant for a while about good and evil, so if you aren't into
philosophy you might want to see what Kevin Drum or Josh Marshall are up to. But this is a rant I need to get out of my system.
I've looked at "evil" from many perspectives. In western culture, most
people view evil as an intrinsic quality or attribute. All human beings are capable of being evil,
but "good" people are those who have less of this quality, by grace or training or will power, and "bad" people are permeated
by evil through and through. Rotten to the core, as they say.
Another way of looking at evil is to imagine it as something outside
oneself with which one can become infected, like bacteria. A correlation is the belief that the Devil lurks about,
tricking and seducing good people into becoming evil. I don't believe in a literal Devil, but in some ways I think this view
is closer to the truth. Substitute "ego" for "Devil," and you'll be getting warm.
I was raised Christian in the Bible Belt (although an old-fashioned "sprinkled"
sort of Christian, rather than a born-again "dunked" one) who also did time in a Zen Buddhist monastery a few years ago.
This gives me the advantage of perspectives other than the western one.
The mental habit of dividing the world up into "good" and "evil" (and right/wrong,
heaven/hell, etc.) began with Zoroastrianism and eventually permeated the monotheistic religions of the Middle East, especially Christianity and Islam, and then fanned
out to Europe and the Americas, where it remains a cornerstone paradigm of western civilization.
But the religions of the far East were not influenced by Zoroastrianism;
the oldest of the Asian religions, Hinduism, had planted itself in the Indus Valley long before Zarathustra thusly
spake. One runs into the word evil in English translations of Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian sacred texts,
but in context evil is neither an intrinsic quality nor something lurking around the corner waiting to trip people.
Very, very generally, evil in an eastern context might be defined as "the unfortunate consequences of a volitional act."
In other words, evil is as evil does. It's not who you are;
it's what you do.
Fools (i.e., David Brooks) think of evil as an object that
can be clearly deliniated, like a chair or a cheesecake. He speaks of it as graspable. But Zennies say that evil is no-thing,
meaning it is not a thing you can put in a basket and show off to your friends. The action that is evil
affects all beings. However -- especially in Buddhism -- no thing or being is evil.
This is an important distinction, because the history of evil reveals that
people who create evil hardly ever see themselves or their intentions as evil. Osama bin Laden and his 9/11 flunkies believed
their terrorist attack was righteous and justified, as did Tim McVeigh when he blew up the federal building. Even the all-time
great evildoers like Hitler and Stalin and Mao no doubt rationalized their actions as serving a greater good.
This takes us back to the temptations of the Devil model. For many centuries
saints and philosophers both East and West have noted how easily human pride (what today we call ego) leads us astray.
We think, I am a good person. Therefore, my beliefs are good beliefs, and my intentions are good
intentions, and actions I choose to take are justified and righteous. People who cause suffering to me are
evil, but if I cause suffering to them they deserved it.
As Samuel Johnson may or may not have said, the road to hell is paved with
However, if you accept the view that the beings "I" and "them" are neither
good nor evil, and that the only evil is suffering resulting from volitional acts, then it throws a different light on who
the "evildoers" are.
In Buddhism, all morality is based on metta, selfless compassion.
(The "selfless" part is important; people who take pride in what compassionate persons they are -- aren't.) The Buddha taught
that actions flowing from a mind purified of ego, hate, anger, and us-them judgments will be beneficial. However, actions
flowing from a mind defiled with ego, hate, anger, and us-them judgments will cause suffering.
From this perspective, a person with a pure mind doesn't have to
consult a rulebook; whatever he does will be "good." A person with a defiled mind can read the Bible eight hours a day and
worship the Ten Commandments, yet his actions will still result in "evil."
This perspective drives conservative Christians nuts; they call it "situational
ethics." Instead of responding to situations as-they-are, a "moral" person must live by a fixed code of conduct based
on religious dogma and societal values. This, they say, makes sure that actions are correct. Not
consulting the rules amounts to doing whatever you want. And that's bad.
But that misses the point; if a person is free of ego-attachment
and personal desire, then there is no "you" and no "want."
Therefore the wise put themselves last, but find themselves foremost. They
exclude themselves, and yet they always remain. Is it not because they do not live for themselves that they find
-- Tao Teh Ching, verse 7
Without morals and commandments and "you" and "want," there is just action to allieviate
suffering. Easier said than done, of course, which is why even Zennies have written Precepts. Until you reach the other
shore, you will need a boat. But from this perspective, fixed codes of conduct are not an ideal, but a crutch.
Therefore when the Way is lost, virtue arises. When virtue is lost, humanity arises. When
humanity is lost, morality arises. When morality is lost, custom arises. Now custom is a superficial expression of
loyalty and faithfulness, and the beginning of disorder.
-- Tao Teh Ching, verse 38
After three years of watching the Bushies muck up the world I am more than ever convinced that the eastern
Buddhist/Taoist perspective of evil is the true one, and Brooks's "evil is in the souls of my enemies" belief is superficial
and ignorant and leads to more evil.
And Bush, who believes he is doing God's will, who cannot see his own flaws, who cannot apologize for mistakes
because he doesn't think he makes any, is the very essence of a fool -- and an evildoer.
I'm betting this story won't be carried by U.S. news media. Or if it
is, it'll be buried on back pages.
Fifty-three former US diplomats today accuse the White House of sacrificing
America's credibility in the Arab world - and the safety of its diplomats and soldiers - because of the Bush administration's
support for the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
Bush has a rare talent for taking a difficult but manageable situation
and turning it into a total disaster. I've said this before. And it seems he's done it again. George's marriage to Ariel,
calculated to pull in Jewish votes, is proving to be a blunder of biblical proportions.
Last month, Bush abruptly reversed decades of U.S. policy and endorsed Ariel Sharon's
plans for withdrawal from Gaza, explained in detail here. Since then, Sharon narrowly escaped corruption charges. And a couple of days ago Sharon's own party rejected the Gaza proposals Shrub endorsed.
Way to go.
Speaking of Bush's deal with Sharon -- I've been rendered positively dizzy trying
to keep track of Ahmed Chalabi, who seems to have had a hand in that unfortunate decision along with countless other disasters. See
"How Ahmed Conned the Neocons" in Salon, and also Josh Marshall's reaction to "How Ahmed Conned the Neocons" in Salon.
Kevin Drum expresses something that's been rattling around in my brain for a while -- that Bush's "style" of "leadership" reminds one
of the common mediocre CEO. The kind who runs every company I've ever worked for (except for the last one, who was an out-and-out
psychopath) and who can't administrate his way out of a paper bag. (See also Josh Marshall's comments here.)
And with that picture in your mind, read Paul Krugman's "Battlefield of Dreams." The connections will be plain.
So who's brilliant idea was it to outsource interrogation?
Some readers will be familiar with the resultant stories of Halliburton's
overbilling scandals and the deaths of British and American private military personnel in battles in Falluja, Najaf and Kut.
The industry has been deployed to such an extent that a number of executives have called it the "Iraqi gold mine".
Among the most stunning decisions taken is the handover of the interrogation
of prisoners of war to private firms. Employees from the firms Caci and Titan now reportedly fill such roles as interrogators
and translators. The work can be quite lucrative. Titan just won a $172m deal to supply "analytical support" for US military
operations; its employees can make over $100,000 a year. [Peter Singer, "Beyond the Law," The Guardian, May 3, 2004]
According to the Guardian, the civilian interrogators
may fall outside any legal authority. There is no functioning legal system in Iraq other than the U.S. military. But the military
can't discipline the contractors, because they are civilians. And "coalition" regulations say the contractors aren't subject
to Iraqi law, anyway. U.S. law may or may not apply, because the acts were committed abroad, and some of the contractors are
not U.S. citizens. How sweet.
Billmon documents that at least one employee of Caci International was involved in the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal. Yet it appears
the Army has done nothing at all about this guy, Steven Stephanowicz. So far it seems he has not been fired or stripped of
security clearance and is still working at Abu Ghraib.
Bob Novak is certainly back in form. I can almost see him keyboarding away with his
sharp little claws, a slender tongue slithering between his pointed teeth.
After yesterday's endorsement of Joe Biden for veep (Biden may be the
new Joe Lieberman, who was at one time the new Al Sharpton), Bob has gone on to sneer at John Kerry's secretive efforts
to remain in good graces with the Catholic Church.
Readers of the Catholic Standard, official publication of the Archdiocese
of Washington, D.C., raised their eyebrows two weeks ago. They learned of a 45-minute meeting April 15 of Sen. John Kerry
with the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Why did Sen. Kerry seek a meeting with a prelate who was not
his bishop and whom he never had met?
The answer was grounded in high-level political intrigue. McCarrick heads
the task force on Catholic participation in public life established by the U.S. bishops. Its most publicized task is to inquire
whether politicians who defy Catholic teaching should receive the sacraments. About to become the first Catholic since John
F. Kennedy to be nominated for president, Kerry was lobbying McCarrick against being denied holy communion as an unwavering
pro-choice abortion advocate.
Whether his lobbying helped, Kerry could not have been more pleased by his
interview published in last Thursday's Catholic Standard. While asserting abortion ''may be primary,'' he added that ''people
who are with us on one issue'' may be ''against us on many other issues.'' McCarrick concluded: ''All these things will have
to be weighed very carefully.'' Intentionally or not, he was following the lead of liberal, pro-choice Democrats and providing
cover for Kerry with traditional Catholics.
McCarrick is so respected and well-liked that not only priests but also prominent
laymen do not want to criticize him. Without mentioning McCarrick by name, publisher Deal Hudson of the conservative Catholic
magazine Crisis told me: ''Any time our leaders allow the life issue to be made one of many issues [it] provides cover for
Kerry's effort to attract Catholic votes.''
I like the part about providing "cover" for Kerry's
effort to attract Catholic voters. Next Novak will
have Kerry hiding in the bushes outside cathedrals, furtively flashing campaign literature at unwary worshippers.
Jeanne d'Arc of Body and Soul and Atrios at Eschaton have exposed the hypocrisy of Novak's position already. But it's always fun to see what rock ol' Bob pops out from under.
The other chuckle of the morning came from Bill Safire. Check out the opening of today's column (emphasis added):
"April is the cruelest month," wrote T. S. Eliot in "The Waste Land."
This April cruelly set back democracy and antiterrorism in Iraq.
Casualties reached a peak. A Marine commander had to appeal to a Republican
Guard general to come to terms with Baathist insurgents in Falluja. President
Bush had to express America's disgust at the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by a handful of sadistic guards. Taken together,
that's about as bad as it gets.
That's right; our president was forced to express disgust. Oh, the
horror ... Safire goes on to express hope that the situation in Iraq will get better this summer. All in all, a real knee-slapper.
Bob "The Reptile" Novak says Democratic insiders want Joe Biden to be John Kerry's running mate. Oh, please,
Picking the 61-year-old Biden would be reminiscent of George W. Bush's selection
in 2000 of Dick Cheney, then 59. Like Cheney, Biden would be chosen for his qualifications to succeed to the presidency rather
than for influencing electoral votes of a large swing state. As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Democrat, he
supported military action against Iraq and is less critical of President Bush than Kerry has been.
Do these people not learn? The last thing we need
is a "me, too" ticket. The biggest disappointment of the Kerry campaign so far is his failure to show a significant difference between
how a Kerry administration would handle Iraq and how the Bushies are handling Iraq. Regarding Iraq, Biden has the same handicap
Kerry does -- he voted for the war resolution of October 2002. So what could he possibly add to the ticket?
And unlike Baby George, Kerry doesn't need
a running mate that will add more gravitas -- he's got more than enough of that already.
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the
president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is
morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918
The War Prayer
I come from the Throne -- bearing
a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be
your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like
unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.
"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has
he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of
Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....
"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered
part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you
in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these
words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into
those pregnant words.
"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also
the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our
hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved
firesides to smite the foe.
"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody
shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown
the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their
little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the
sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of
the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter
pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded
feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset,
& seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor
& glory now & ever, Amen."
(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire
it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."
· · · · · ·
It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic,
because there was no sense in what he said.