Monday, June 18, 2012

Disordered Afflictions

I guess someone's already writing a book about the Jerry Sandusky affair – even though the trial's only half over. There are so many layers of metaphor in it all – starting, of course, with the phenomenon of a college town where football is a religion, a fetish, an obsession... and a monolithic juggernaut that one defies only at great risk. Football becomes, in short, a law unto itself... and when you're talking about a place like Penn State, which sits in an isolated valley in Central Pennsylvania, with nothing around but trees, it starts to look like some sort of cult, with its adherents huddled together in a communal survivalist camp, brainwashed each morning before breakfast, and living in awe, and fear, of their rulers.

And it's not like this could not have happened anywhere, because it could. It's just that when it happens in a mountain fastness like State College, it starts to look like something that happened in a kind of Never-Never Land (Michael Jackson, white courtesy phone) (um... ). The area is even called Happy Valley, for gosh sakes! But things are not so happy these days, since a revered coach was accused of, and arrested for, taking sexual advantage of a number of young boys in his charge. To indulge in typical media hyperbole, the mask has been ripped off what was formerly an idyllic place and an archetypal American way of life. So in that sense, it's a modern take on “Main Street” or “Winesburg, Ohio” -- or, maybe more properly, "Peyton Place".

The sad drama will drone on for a while longer – but the outcome is already considered inevitable. “Coach” will be locked up in the perv and pedophile wing of the state pen, and life will go on. But it's interesting how typical, in a way, the trajectory has been – the cover-ups, the accommodations, the benign (or otherwise) neglect... followed by “shocking revelations”... followed by a circling of the wagons combined with great feelings of ambivalence and disillusion. If your perfect place turns out to be a hotbed of iniquity, and your idols turn out to have feet of clay, where then do you go? Is nowhere safe?

And it's odd how the pendulum swings back and forth on these matters. During the era of the child-abuse witch hunts of the 1980s, everyone believed everything any child said – or was rumored to have said, or was encouraged to say – about having been abused. But as those cases (some, not all) fell apart, we started to hear more about “false memory” than about “believing the children” (no matter how fantastic the allegations were) -- and this was, I suppose, one of the reasons for the skepticism that followed, which extended to allegations of sexual abuse by priests (and other persons in positions of power and authority over children). The mood changed from one of hysteria to one of caution – over-caution, some would say. Thus, what the statisticians call a “Type I error” -- believing in an effect which did not occur – turned into a “Type II error” -- believing that an effect which actually did occur did not. And it all reflects the overloaded emotional content of this issue... which courts, to give them a bit of credit, have seemed recently a bit more willing to work through in a search for the actual facts. It will never be an emotionally-neutral, rational, business-like affair – this is too much to ask in a society obsessed with sex – but it may be that we're at least on the right track.

But to all of this has been added a new note of... I can't call it anything but absurdity. The latest defense ploy in the Sandusky case has been to call “expert witnesses” (there's a warning signal for you) to testify that Sandusky “has a condition known as histrionic personality disorder”. Um... have you ever heard of this “disorder” up to now? I haven't. One suspects it was made up just for the purpose of this trial, the way some alien virus will appear in a sci-fi movie and start turning everyone into green slime as a plot point. It's being presented, mind you, not as an excuse but as a reason – hopefully to ameliorate, somewhat, the severity of the charges, or of the jury's image of the accused, or of the sentence... whatever. As a P.R. ploy it's about as effective as “I was just following orders”, a la Adolf Eichmann. 

But have you noticed that an ever-larger proportion of society is being diagnosed (usually at a safe distance by “experts”) with some sort of “disorder” these days? The trend is especially marked in public schools, where we, all of a sudden, are burdened with an avalanche of kids with “ADHD”... problems “adjusting”... “attitude problems”... autism... allergies, sensitivities... et cetera. I mean... you can make this stuff up; it's not hard. Take a kid who never turns his homework in on time – he's obviously a victim of “Learning Non-Cooperation Disorder” in an overly structured environment that is not sensitive to his “needs”. A kid who downs too many Cokes during school hours is clearly suffering from “Pre-Addictive Behavior Syndrome”. If he prefers to walk to school rather than riding the school bus, he's suspected of having anti-social tendencies, and falling somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum. How long is it going to be before every public-school child is “sick”, and thus needs special treatment and therapy – and we all know what big bucks there are in all that. It's all part of the drive toward nanny-statism, which is a subset of totalitarianism.

And I'm not saying that all of this is totally fictional. When I was in grade school, there was this one kid – the absolute bane of the teachers' existence – who would, by today's standards, be classified as ADHD. With a vengeance! This kid was a holy terror. I used to wonder whether the teachers drew straws before the beginning of the school year to see who would get stuck with this kid for the next 10 months. But hey – that was one kid, out of the whole class (numbering 166 by the time of graduation). And sure, we had our antisocial elements, AKA “hoods”... our bullies... and a few “special needs” kids (who were put, in those days, into “occupational education” -- I guess to be made ready to work in sheltered workshops, I don't know). But no one dropped dead from inhaling peanut fumes! I mean, good grief.

I suppose Nietzsche would call our obsession with the “other-abled” an example of degenerate Christian charity, and he would pronounce it not only wrong, but downright anti-Darwinian. Nazi Germany was an example of institutionalized social Darwinism, where the unfit had to be weeded out in order to make room for the “master race”. (And didja ever notice that all their exemplars of the “master race” were muscular blonds, while most if not all of the Nazi leaders had dark hair, and most of them were either overweight or scrawny?)

The challenge, in our time, is to try and find the middle ground between these two extremes – but the reason this has become one of the government's highest priorities is that the more traditional ideas of voluntary charity have been so seriously eroded. We don't know what to “do” with outliers, so fall all over ourselves trying to reconcile our firm belief in Darwinism with a warped, secular version of charity – which is not charity at all, since it typically involves coercion, of either the provider or the recipient, or both.

My home town had its share – some would say more than its share – of outliers. There really was a “village idiot” -- more than one, in fact. There were kids who “weren't right”... old people who were senile... drunks... bad-asses... bullies... the entire colorful panoply of small-town characters mixed in with the “normal” people (who only got drunk or committed adultery if absolutely necessary, and then behind closed doors). And yes, there were “gays” and lesbians who were quite well closeted and managed to fool just about everyone, maybe even themselves. But here's the difference. There were no labels – or very few. There was a kind of unschooled acceptance – these people were a bit odd, but they were ours, OK? They belonged there; we couldn't imagine them being anywhere else. And on those few occasions when one was sent off to a “special school” or an asylum, it was considered a loss more than a sign of progress or humanitarianism. And why? Simple loyalty? Tribal cohesion? Yes, but more than that, it might have made people think along the lines of “There but for the grace of God...”, etc. Maybe we were all a little bit sick. But in these times you have to be Sick with a capital S. You have to have a “syndrome”... a “disorder”... you have to be declared “challenged”. (Someone pointed out a while back that people who get this label aren't really “challenged” at all – it's the rest of us who are challenged by their presence in our midst.) 

So we get back to poor old Jerry Sandusky. He now has a label! Praise be! He now has an official designation, and – by implication – a place in the scheme of things. There's a slot he fits into (if that is the word...). Even if he goes trundling off to jail for life, at least he gets a ribbon, or certificate of some sort – and it's not really his fault (the objective of humanist/secular society being to remove all responsibility for one's actions).

But where is the freedom in all this – the freedom to simply be, without being labeled? Why are all the various victim groups and minorities (of all sorts) so anxious to get a socially-approved name – to be called something? To form a lobby? To stage marches and rallies?  To come up with a ribbon color that hasn't been used yet?  Why does a homosexual who has been “closeted” for 50 years all of a sudden have to “come out” and call himself “gay”? “Gay” is not a condition, it's a lifestyle – if he were “gay” we'd already have known it.

And then you have the pharmaceutical industry – oy vey! For every name, syndrome, disorder, condition, or label there is a drug at the ready – and usually more than one. And they cost plenty! But not to worry, the government, AKA the taxpayers, will pick up the tab. This is just further evidence that the whole thing is a racket. And like all rackets, it starts with something real which then metastasizes into a monstrosity. There really were, and are, autistic individuals, for example – but who profits when the diagnosis of autism multiplies ten-fold over just a few years? Is the rate really going up (no time now to argue about vaccines)? And even if so... that much? Are we really becoming a sick society? Or has diagnosis gotten out of hand? I think what it really is is a form of regimentation – everyone has to wear the uniform of the state, everyone has to have a rank and an approved specialty, and if you don't they will hunt you down. The Nazis used to brag that they were eliminating the unfit from society – and their definition of “unfit” was quite broad – broader, even, than Margaret Sanger's and all the other enlightened eugenicists'. Well, we're a bit more humane than that, I guess – we don't send them off to death camps, but we do insist on the labeling, cubbyholing process, and I, for one, see this as a threat to individuality, dignity, true diversity (vs. the political variety), and therefore freedom. There must a way to leave people alone without leaving them all alone, if you see what I mean. Why can't even institutionalized charity be combined with a little more respect? The way we “celebrate” people these days is that we do so “despite their (insert label here)”. Why can't we celebrate them just for being whoever they are, and save the labels for canned goods?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

He's Bold

I have to say this much about Obama – he's no wimp. He is running the most “in your face” presidency since, I would say, that of Lyndon Johnson – meaning that he doesn't care a whit what people think, he's going to do what he wants to do, and do it his way, and the hell with Congress, and the courts, and anyone among “the people” who doesn't agree with him. He has, in fact, turned himself into a fine dictator – and even though we know this is all appearance, and not reality, he is doing a good job of making it look real. And he never forgets to demonize, on cue, his opponents – right up to and including the Supreme Court as they sit haplessly listening to his State of the Union addresses. His political behavior is, in my opinion, much more surgically precise and less gaffe-prone than that of, for example, Bill Clinton, who was so far removed from the norm that he truly did not understand (and doesn't to this day) what motivates normal people – what their hopes, dreams, values, and priorities are and what those things signify. Obama, in other words, is a consummate politician, but is at least of the same species as the rest of us, whereas Clinton might as well have been an alien beamed down from a UFO.

But that is part of what I'm getting at here. Obama has enlisted, as one of the point persons for his re-election campaign, none other than... Bill Clinton! Has he forgotten that one of the main reasons he was able to defeat Hillary for the nomination in 2008 was that she was walking around, like Pig-Pen in the old “Peanuts” strips, in a murky cloud of Clinton sleaze? What I suspect is that he has not completely forgotten that, but that he knows that Bill Clinton retains rock-star status among certain segments of our society, and that if he tells them to vote for Obama they will, and with a song in their hearts. And really, is hiring Bill Clinton for your campaign going to turn anyone off who might otherwise have voted for you? Not likely. So what might appear to be a foolish choice turns out to be, in fact, quite astute.

Then we have Obama's open declaration of war on the Catholic Church, which is one of the predictable side effects of his health-care “reform”. Risky? Suicidal? Not at all. It will, number one, endear him even more (if such a thing is possible) to liberals and certain “persecuted minorities”... it might win him votes among independents who cling to that fetish called “the wall of separation between church and state”... it could very well win him votes among the Protestants, for whom the Catholic presence in this society has always been an occasion of loathing and unease... and so on. The main risk he takes in this regard is that he might lose some of the habitually Democrat-voting Catholic white ethnics – you know, those people who promised their Polish-American steelworker father on his deathbed that they would never, under any circumstances, vote Republican. Some of them might, in fact, wander off the reservation... but compared to the advantages, 'tis a small thing, truly. And after all, since the long-term goal of ObamaCare is to make government the only health insurer and the only health provider, the sooner we can get those pesky Catholics, with their schools, hospitals, and social services, out of the way, the better.

Plus, there's another angle here. Good politicians are characterized by, above all, an exquisite sense of timing. Now, the “pedophile priest” scandals have been going on for years, but at present, in Philadelphia, there's a very real possibility of a church official going to jail not for being a “pedophile”, but for failing to hot-line suspected “pedophiles” to the police. So what better time to mount an attack on the Catholic Church – since, in most people's opinion (according to the mainstream media) it has lost all moral authority and therefore the right to make any pronouncements whatsoever when it comes to the moral consequences of health-care laws and regulations. Besides, “most Catholics use contraception”, etc., as outfits like the Pew Research Center are reminding us on a daily basis on NPR. 

What else is Obama doing right? He's keeping us involved in as many overseas debacles as possible, and adding new ones every day – which keeps the armaments makers happy, the neocons happy, and the Evangelicals at least placated (“He may have liberal social policies, but at least he's waging war against Islam.”). He continues to kowtow, bow and scrape, and say “Yassuh, boss” to Israel, which (again) keeps the neocons and the Evangelicals happy, not to mention the mainstream media. He mouths words about “big business” and Wall Street, but remains their loyal servant. He mouths words about preserving the middle class, but continues to attack it on all fronts.

Does this mean he's a hypocrite? No – what it means is that he's a politician. Hypocrites at least acknowledge the existence – and, by implication, the validity – of moral and ethical principles. It's just that their behavior doesn't quite measure up to their expressed values. (And, for that matter, whose does?) Obama, on the other hand, has a moral and ethical principle-free administration, following close on the model provided by Bill Clinton. It all boils down to politics, and most of the time it doesn't even have to be boiled down; the political agendas are right out in the open. But this is another facet of his “in your face” approach – he, basically, dares anyone to stand up and protest against political business as usual... and, so far, the Republicans have been singularly unable to mount such an attack, probably because they are just as guilty in their own way. He is not beating them at their own game; he's beating them at a game that the Democrats have always been masters at, while the Republicans looked on with envy. So the moral “dumbing down” of government continues apace, and no one has the stature to protest. In this sense, the Republicans are experiencing poetic justice. They really are hypocrites, unlike the Democrats, who seldom even claim to have any moral or ethical principles – and they have compromised so often, and so thoroughly, that they have no arguments left. Romney can say all he wants about “politics” being the sole motive behind the actions of anyone in the Obama administration – but all one has to do is look back at Bush II, or Bush I, to realize that the Republicans are in no position to judge. I imagine that, should Romney win in November (not gonna happen), and be inaugurated in January (ditto), the waters of hypocrisy, corruption, and sleaze would rise quickly and engulf his administration, just as they did that of Bush II. It's unavoidable! An American president, even assuming that he has principles of some sort (the ones missed by the various “vetting” committees along the way), enters office immediately compromised, and immediately a captive of the true powers-that-be. They find out soon enough who's in charge, and it ain't them. The only question at that point is, how do they handle that insight? Do they become delusional, like Bush II? An oval office playboy like Clinton? A practitioner of deep denial like Obama? I guess it all depends on what they bring with them, personality-wise, to the office. What happens when someone with a towering ego encounters the Real Truth? One thing that does not seem to happen is that they recoil in horror, and immediately go public with the knowledge of what they have learned about how things really work. Imagine being inaugurated president, then finding out in your first 24 hours in office that you actually work for George Soros... or for Israel... or for any number of other elite “masters of space and time”. Kind of upsetting, right? Then it comes down to, what am I supposed to actually _do_ for the next four years? Follow orders? And the answer is “yes”, and if you don't like it, here are some family photos of JFK's last minutes on earth to remind you of who's really in charge. 

I pity these fools; I really do. But they have chosen their path and have stuck with it, and so any sorts of consequences they encounter are richly deserved. But even within this depressing scenario, there is a kind of “wiggle room” of sorts. There are more masterful politicians, and less masterful ones. Bill Clinton was (and is) a political genius; that is a significant factor in his demonic power over other people. He has power over human beings precisely because he is not human – at least not in the usual sense. He can stand aloof, and look down upon human weaknesses and foibles, and exploit them as he sees fit. Bush II, on the other hand, was an obvious dolt, so his administration had to be a matter of rule by committee, rather than by a single personality. Obama, however, has brought the personality cult back to the presidency – and, I say, in a more competent way than Bill Clinton. OK, let me clarify that. Clinton had, and has, his hard-core adoring groupies – people (especially women) who would be literally willing to die for him (and not a few have). But they are a relatively minor (not to mention pathetic) demographic. What Clinton had, in the main, was a coterie of hangers-on, who decided that he was the star they had to hitch their wagon to – and many did, and many found out too late what that entailed. Clinton was the crack cocaine of politics – the biggest rush ever, but it'll kill you eventually. Whereas Obama has a solid base, as I've discussed previously. Yes, it's emotional, it's adoring, it treats him like a god, but it's not self-abnegating the way Clinton's was; it's more bottom line-oriented. “What's in it for me?” And, “Where's my piece of the pie?” Whereas in Clinton's case it was more like “I am not worthy!” And “Use me, abuse me, treat me mean.” It is, in other words, pragmatism as opposed to neurotic emotional needs. Clinton was (and is) an object of worship, whereas Obama is a combination of Santa Claus and Robin Hood – and if he doesn't come up with the goods, the masses might eventually turn against him (although they show no signs of any such tendency at this point). Obama is celebrated primarily for what he can provide in the material sense, whereas in Clinton's case it was all about feelings (inferiority complexes in the case of his groupies, and a wish to identify with – and, if possible, actually be – something infinitely superior).

So what it really adds up to is the triumph of politics, as practiced by the best of the best – not only Obama but all of his supporters and facilitators – his political infrastructure, if you will. Like any president, he's not running a one-man show here; he's just the guy at the top of the totem pole. But he does have charisma, as well as an atypical form of “blackness”, and that's all to the good. He has managed to go 3 ½ years without having his chops busted by fools – although Eric Holder comes close (and we'll see how close if Holder gets fired prior to the election). He continues to use, with profit, the excuse that “it all started with Bush” -- which is, all by itself, a remarkable bit of politicking. He maintains his image as “a man of the people” even as he and his wife regularly lord it over the lowly and unworthy. He's an unabashed advocate of abortion “rights” -- a position which has clearly cost him no votes, even if it has gained him none. His attacks on the middle class and on small business have gone unanswered, except by “tea partiers”, and they have been declared beyond the pale by the mainstream media. The middle class is, truly, disarmed, and that's because they were never armed. There has never been a felt need, by the middle class, to defend itself or its status – unlike the ruling elite, that always knows when to raise the drawbridge and release the alligators into the moat... or the proles, who always know exactly when to pour into the streets with Molotov cocktails at the ready. The middle class is defenseless, in other words, because it never saw any need to defend itself. (One might even say that this complacency defines the middle class – and is its downfall.) Even the New Deal, which was all about “the common man”, did not attack the middle class directly; that had to wait until the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which attacked middle class values, mores, and life style... but still held off in the economic arena until now. Even Bill Clinton – a culture warrior if there ever was one – did not mount the full frontal attack on the middle class that Obama has (although he did preside over plenty of harassing actions, like tax hikes). Obama has made it clear, through his policies, that the middle class's days are numbered – even as he mouths words in its favor. If you destroy small business, you've taken a good chunk out of the middle class right there. Then if you consistently act against their traditions, values, morals... well, eventually there's not a whole lot left. And we can thank the “tea partiers” for at least waking up to this state of affairs before it's totally consummated – but consummated it will be, because it's gone too far to be stopped at this point. The time to have pushed back against all of this would have been... well, really, the 1930s. But failing that, the 1960s... and failing that... well, you get the idea. The longer liberalism, collectivism, and totalitarianism are allowed free rein, the harder it is to reverse the trend. At some point, one's only hope (if one can call it that) is a complete collapse of the system... and, hopefully (as a result), a moral cleansing. But even that is not assured. After all, the Soviet system collapsed of its own weight, but can we really say that what came after – today's Russia, AKA Putinistan – is better? Perhaps it is better in practical terms, but in principle? I have yet to see any evidence of this. 

And, one might say – especially if one were an “activist” -- well, if people aren't willing to defend themselves, and their lifestyle, then they deserve whatever happens. This is assuming that politics always has to be adversarial – always a battle, or even a war, among contending factions. It also assumes that politics is a zero-sum game – that for one person to win, someone else has to lose. Apparently the traditional American “spirit of cooperation” was nothing but a delusion. My question is – if we're talking about basic human rights – whatever happened to the idea of a man being able to sit under his vine and fig tree in the cool of the evening, and not have to spend every waking moment defending his rights – especially against his own government? Why do we all, now, have to become accountants and tax lawyers just to keep from being beggared (or a similar word) by the government? Wasn't the entire idea of this country, and its founding documents, to relieve the burden of living under arbitrary rule and random violence? Isn't one of the “Four Freedoms” the freedom from fear (of government – although that clearly wasn't what FDR had in mind). Wasn't peace supposed to be the new baseline and the foundation of our prosperity? But somewhere along the line certain people discovered that war paid more handsomely than peace – that totalitarianism yielded greater profits than liberty – that a mountain of laws and regulations provided consolations, and opportunities to accrue and exert power, that more simple pursuits could not. Hence, we got the government that... well, that we deserved, based on our lack of vigilance? Perhaps. But if we now have the government we deserve, then we also have the politicians we deserve – so most of the complaining about Obama and/or Romney should be done at home in front of a mirror.