Archive for December, 2005
My new article Is prejudice a mental illness? Is now posted on ZNet and OpEdNews.
Bigotry and extreme prejudice are repugnant to many, including the victims and those engaged in furthering progressive social values. Various attempts have been made to encompass that reaction in social mores and attitudes. A new approach among certain mental health professionals to get extreme prejudice to be declared a diagnosable mental illness included in the official list of diagnoses superficially bears promise in objectivizing that repugnance.
A recent article in the Washington Post [Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness] discusses this attempt to create a new diagnosis for extreme racism and other forms of extreme prejudice. It presents the argument of some that extreme prejudice is so compulsive and damaging to the prejudiced person that it should be viewed as a mental illness deserving its own diagnosis. While radicals and progressives may be tempted to jump on this bandwagon as a weapon in their battle to have racism and prejudice recognized for the personal and social harm they cause, this effort is unjustifiable intellectually and is politically likely to backfire….
December 20th, 2005
We saw Capote last night. It was a brilliant, and brilliantly acted, meditation on the nature of the evil in each of us. [Warning: some plot revealed.] The movie centers on the similarity between, Perry, the farmhouse killer of fou,r and Capote, the brilliant, self-centered writer. As Capote expresses it [approximate quote from memory]: “It’s like Perry and I grew up in the same house, and one day he went out the back door and I went out the front.” Both men use their poor childhoods as excuses for their poor behavior as adults. Both pursue selfish goals, manipulating others in the process. Both are willing to hurt in order to get what they want. Both end up participating in killing in the attempt to stifle unbearable feelings. Neither of them can accept true responsibility for their destructiveness. Capote pretends to himself that he tried to save the one in whose killing he participated. Both men create myths to avoid confronting the full horror of what they have done. And both find that their actions, rather than ending the pain, end up destroying themselves.
As a psychoanalyst, I felt the movie vindicated our belief that the attempts to avoid feelings are a profound source of human tragedy. Unsettling, and well worth seeing.
December 18th, 2005
Criminal admits guilt. Says will offend again if given the opportunity. Surely lifelong preventive detention in Guantanamo is only option: Bush Acknowleges Allowing Eavesdropping: Feingold: ‘It’s a Sad Day’.
December 17th, 2005
Mark Blumenthal, the Mystery Pollster, has an excellent analysis of recent polls on US public attitudes towards Iraq. He demonstrates that there is great consistency (around 60%) in respondents’ feeling that the war was a mistake. However, different polls produce wide variation in responses to questions about what the US should do in Iraq, depending on the precise wording of the question. I’ve pondered this incongruity, without developing much insight.
Blumenthal explains the discrepancy in terms of whether questions are asking about topics about which people have thought and have opinions opinions [e.g., whether the war was a mistake] as opposed to questions which people have not thought much about and are making up responses on the spur of the momentmoment [e.g., how long the US should keep troops there].
Thus, in examining the question:
Thinking about the war in Iraq, when Democratic Senators criticize the President’s policy on the war in Iraq, do you believe it HELPS the morale of our troops in Iraq or HURTS the morale of our troops in Iraq? (IF HELPS/HURTS, ASK:) And do you believe it (HURTS/HELPS) morale A LOT or just SOME
Blumenthal points out that 17% of respondents replied “not sure”, which he takes as a strong indicator that many others were also unsure but made up responses at the moment. His analysis is very clever, and also likely correct. As he concludes:
So there we have it: A consistent majority of at least 60% of Americans now disapproves of President Bush’s performance on the Iraq war and believes it not worth the cost. A smaller majority now says that the war was a mistake. The consistency of the results suggests these are real attitudes, not opinions formed on the spot in the response to the language of the question.
However, when pollsters ask what we should do next in Iraq, results are highly inconsistent. Support for leaving sooner varies anywhere from 35% to 63% on the questions listed above. Support for staying the course (in one form or another) varies from 36% to 59%. Ask a question with three or more options (as RT Strategies and Gallup did above) and, not surprisingly, at least a third of Americans opts for the middle category. When it comes to prospective policy, Americans – like their leaders – are divided and collectively not quite sure what to do next.
Well worth reading as we are inundated by polls that provide useful information, if only we can figure out what they mean.
December 13th, 2005
George W. Bush, Dec. 12 in Philadelphia:
Recently, U.S. and Iraqi troops have discovered prisons in Iraq where mostly Sunni men were held, some of whom have appeared to have been beaten and tortured. This conduct is unacceptable… Those who committed these crimes must be held to account.
End of quote
1 chutzpa, chutzpah, hutzpah
(Yiddish) unbelievable gall; insolence; audacity
Update 5:20PM 12-13-2005: Another chutzpa quote from Gilbert:
US Ambassador to Iraq, Khalilzad, to CNN’s Wolf Blitz (Late Edition) Dec. 11
Iraq is part of a regional environment where there is at least one predatory, hegemonic state, Iran, seeking to dominate the area.
December 13th, 2005
Gilbert Achcar is distributing the following important information that is being ignored by most US press:
A PAN-IRAQI PACT ON MUQTADA AL-SADR’S INITIATIVE
December 9, 2005
As part of his effort to influence the political forces in Iraq prior to the forthcoming parliamentary election, at the end of November Muqtada al-Sadr had his supporters distribute the draft of a “Pact of Honor,” and called on Iraqi parties to discuss and collectively adopt it at a conference to be organized before the election.
This conference was actually held on Thursday, December 8, in al-Kadhimiya (North of Baghdad). Despite extensive search, I found it only reported in a relatively short article in today’s Al-Hayat and in dispatches from the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA). There is legitimate ground to suspect that this media blackout has political significance; indeed most initiatives by the Sadrist current are hardly reported by the dominant media, even when they consist of important mass demonstrations (like those organized yesterday in Southern Iraq against British troops).
In the case of the recent conference, the vast array of forces that were represented and that signed the “Pact of Honor” is in itself already worthy of attention. Aside from the Sadrists, chiefly represented by their MPs, those represented and who signed the document included: SCIRI, al-Daawa (al-Jaafari’s personal representative even apologized in his name for his absence due to his traveling outside of Iraq), and the Iraqi Concord Front (the major Sunni electoral alliance in the forthcoming election), to name but the most prominent of a long list of organizations, along with several tribal chiefs, unions and other social associations, members of the De-Ba’athification Committee and a few government officials. Ahmad Chalabi — who definitely deserves to be called “The Transformer” — attended in person and signed the document in the name of his group. It seems that the Association of Muslim Scholars did not attend, as its name is not mentioned in any of the two sources.
According to the reports, the “Pact of Honor” that was adopted consists of 14 points, among which the following demands and agreements are the most important (the sentences in quotation marks are translated from the document as quoted in the reports):
- “withdrawal of the occupiers and setting of an objective timetable for their withdrawal from Iraq”; “elimination of all the consequences of their presence, including any bases for them in the country, while working seriously for the building of [Iraqi] security institutions and military forces within a defined schedule”;
- suppression of the legal immunity of occupation troops, a demand coming with the condemnation of their practices against civilians and their breach of human rights;
- categorical rejection of the establishment of any relations with Israel;
“resistance is a legitimate right of all peoples, but terrorism does not represent legitimate resistance”; “we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing, abducting and expulsion aimed at innocent citizens for sectarian reasons”;
- “to activate the de-Ba’athification law and to consider that the Ba’ath party is a terrorist organization for all the tyranny it brought on the oppressed sons of Iraq, and to speed up the trial of overthrown president Saddam Hussein and the pillars of his regime”;
- “to postpone the implementation of the disputed principle of federalism and to respect the people’s opinion about it.”
The conference established a committee that is responsible for following up the implementation of the resolutions and reporting on it after six months.
If anything, the conference was a testimony to the increasing importance of the Sadrist current. As for the actual implementation of its resolutions, it will greatly depend on the pressure that the same current will be able to exert after the forthcoming election, if the United Iraqi Alliance — of which the Sadrists are a major pillar on a par with SCIRI — succeeds in getting a commanding position in the next National Assembly.
December 10th, 2005
Gilbert Achcar has sent the following all to appropriate aphorism:
An aphorism by one of Le Monde’s columnists that I thought you might enjoy.
Below the original version and my translation.
Peut-on redéfinir le mot torture afin de pouvoir la pratiquer ? Bien sûr, et c’est même digne d’une démocratie, à condition de redéfinir aussi le mot démocratie.
Is it possible to redefine the word “torture” in order better to practice it? Of course it is, and it is even worthy of a democracy, provided the word “democracy” is also redefined.
December 10th, 2005
In a new article in the Nation, ‘Never Before!’ Our Amnesiac Torture Debate, Naomi Klein reminds us that torture is as American as cherry pie, having been systematically practiced for decades.
It’s a history that has been exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his upcoming book A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy synthesizes this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls “no-touch torture,” based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.
It’s not only apologists for torture who ignore this history when they blame abuses on “a few bad apples”–so too do many of torture’s most prominent opponents. Apparently forgetting everything they once knew about US cold war misadventures, a startling number have begun to subscribe to an antihistorical narrative in which the idea of torturing prisoners first occurred to US officials on September 11, 2001, at which point the interrogation methods used in Guantánamo apparently emerged, fully formed, from the sadistic recesses of Dick Cheney’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s brains. Up until that moment, we are told, America fought its enemies while keeping its humanity intact.
The principal propagator of this narrative (what Garry Wills termed “original sinlessness”) is Senator John McCain….
Denial of this well-known and well-documented history permeates recent discussion of the tortures at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, at the CIA torture camps throughout the world, and through the “rendition” program. The Bush Administration has broken the rules by torturing in the light of day, as if they rub our noses in its claim to absolute power.
Other cultures deal with a legacy of torture by declaring “Never again!” Why do so many Americans insist on dealing with the current torture crisis by crying “Never Before”? I suspect it has to do with a sincere desire to convey the seriousness of this Administration’s crimes. And the Bush Administration’s open embrace of torture is indeed unprecedented–but let’s be clear about what is unprecedented about it: not the torture but the openness. Past administrations tactfully kept their “black ops” secret; the crimes were sanctioned but they were practiced in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush Administration has broken this deal: Post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimized by new definitions and new laws.
Yet Klein does not deny that the present moment in America is a crucial step toward systematized barbarism taking over society:
Despite all the talk of outsourced torture, the Bush Administration’s real innovation has been its in-sourcing, with prisoners being abused by US citizens in US-run prisons and transported to third countries in US planes. It is this departure from clandestine etiquette, more than the actual crimes, that has so much of the military and intelligence community up in arms: By daring to torture unapologetically and out in the open, Bush has robbed everyone of plausible deniability.
For those nervously wondering if it is time to start using alarmist words like totalitarianism, this shift is of huge significance. When torture is covertly practiced but officially and legally repudiated, there is still the hope that if atrocities are exposed, justice could prevail. When torture is pseudo-legal and when those responsible merely deny that it is torture, what dies is what Hannah Arendt called “the juridical person in man”; soon enough, victims no longer bother to search for justice, so sure are they of the futility (and danger) of that quest. This impunity is a mass version of what happens inside the torture chamber, when prisoners are told they can scream all they want because no one can hear them and no one is going to save them.
To go along with this self-delusion is to guarantee that the torture will continue, that little will change but the return of the fig leaf:
This casual amnesia does a profound disservice not only to the victims of these crimes but also to the cause of trying to remove torture from the US policy arsenal once and for all. Already there are signs that the Administration will deal with the current torture uproar by returning to the cold war model of plausible deniability. The McCain amendment protects every “individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government”; it says nothing about torture training or buying information from the exploding industry of for-profit interrogators. And in Iraq the dirty work is already being handed over to Iraqi death squads, trained by US commanders like Jim Steele, who prepared for the job by setting up similarly lawless units in El Salvador. The US role in training and supervising Iraq’s Interior Ministry was forgotten, moreover, when 173 prisoners were recently discovered in a Ministry dungeon, some tortured so badly that their skin was falling off. “Look, it’s a sovereign country. The Iraqi government exists,” Rumsfeld said. He sounded just like the CIA’s William Colby, who when asked in a 1971 Congressional probe about the thousands killed under Phoenix–a program he helped launch–replied that it was now “entirely a South Vietnamese program.”
Thank you Klein for reminding us that the enemy is not only the renegades of the Bush Administration, but the practices of a superpower that preaches democracy, but by that term means only “do as I say, or else!” And, ultimately, of course, the enemy is a system, of war, of capitalism, and of organized oppression of many kinds which guarantees that those of top will crush those who resist, using any means necessary, and some that aren’t
December 10th, 2005
Anthony B. Robinson, a pastor of the United Church of Christ, has an op-ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer discussing the origins of the Iraq war in religious perspective. He points to the role of religious conservatives espousing a dualistic Manichaean worldview, in which the world is starkly divided between good and evil, which are in conflict. Acceptance of the good, the soul, will allow triumph over evil, the body.
Early Christians regarded Manichaeism as heretical precisely because it blinded people to their own capacity for evil and encouraged gross self-deception.
In this account, there is a striking similarity to psychoanalysis, which also posits the capability of each of us to desire or commit that which is viewed as “evil.” Psychoanalysis considers dualism to be a manifestation of the defense mechanisms of splitting an projection. For psychoanalysis, salvation, to use the religious term, arises from acceptance of one’s true nature, of one’s “drive” or desires in all their rich detail. Not being a theologian, I can’t tell how similar this is to the Christian views that Robinson discusses. It appears that for them, as well, the goal is to accept one’s nature while doing right. Perhaps if could be said that, for both psychoanalysis and this version of Christianity, the Kingdom of Evil is Within Us. In any case, the article helps to place the current war, and the so-called Global War Against Terrorism, in a broader moral framework.
December 9th, 2005
Here is a response I wrote to a reader expressing concern that focusing on minor abuses in Iraq, or another wartime situation, can detract from the larger effort to abolish war:
I suspect you want us to understand how terrible war is, and how inexcusable. I waver as to whether I’m an absolute pacifist. I can’t decide about WW II. But I certainly believe we should do everything possible to avoid war. As a psychoanalyst I know well that war appeals to the most dangerous parts of ourselves.
I think where we partly disagree is that I think that opposition to war in general doesn’t mean we can ignore particularly horrible manifestations. I do care about White Phosphorous in Fallujah. Strange as it may seem, the US has been extremely limited in Iraq by humanitarian constraints as to what the world will accept. [Note: I am NOT saying that it is constrained by its own humanitarianism.] If one thinks of the 3-4 million killed in Vietnam, the Iraq catastrophe is not in the same league. The US can’t simply kill a couple million Iraqis to suppress the rebels once and for all, at least so far. This constitutes a kind of “progress”. To focus only on opposing war in the abstract is to give up influencing the current situation. Thus, I think there is value in opposing torture, even if its abolition wouldn’t end the occupation.
A second point is that one way of getting people to understand the horrors of war, is to focus on its contradictions. That mental health professionals in Iraq act against the fundamental principles of their profession helps show how war dehumanizes all who participate, even members of the “helping professions”.
Similarly with White Phosphorous in Fallujah or torture in Abu Ghraib. Some people will perceive a contradiction between the professed humanitarian motives for the war [bringing "liberation" and "democracy" to Iraqis] and the means used to allegedly pursue those “goals”. At least some of those people will be led to question whether the professed goals are indeed the real ones and whether a means that so easily becomes horrifying is, indeed, a means worth utilizing.
Further, focusing on these horrors give us a way to channel our disgust and horror. Abolishing war may be desirable, but I don’t know how to make progress on that goal on a daily basis and to avoid hopelessness. Pointing out particular horrors can allow one to do something. You certainly may be right that it can also dilute efforts to focus on the horrors of war itself. A periodic reread of Chris Hedges’ War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is a great antidote to that danger.
Keep up the thinking, acting, and dialog.
December 4th, 2005