UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

May 26, 2009

FLOTSAM & JETSAM: ARGUMENT WITHOUT HONOR

Sam Smith

Obama and his aides have been repeatedly praised for their intelligence. Unfortunately, intelligence is not all that useful an indicator of good leadership. After all, Larry Summers, Robert Rubin and Tim Geithner are quite smart and look where that's led us.

As Jonathan Alter put it, "Obamaworld is loaded with . . . policy wonks who have experienced little in life but sound unfailingly articulate and confident about their elegant economic models . . . One senior Obama official says he feels a bit inferior. He went to Harvard Law School, but his undergraduate degree is merely from Georgetown."

Go back a few decades and you have the Bay of Pigs disaster being inspired and bungled by intelligent people of the likes of Jack Kennedy, Richard Bissell and Allan Dulles. And Vietnam had more Harvard intellectuals making disastrous governmental decisions than at any time in our history.

The problem is that intelligence is just a skill, not unlike a good backhand, which can either be used to whop an old lady and steal her purse or to win a tournament at Wimbleton. Talent is only as good as the purpose to which it is put.

Lyndon Johnson once described the CIA as being filled with graduates of Yale and Princeton whose daddies wouldn't let them into their brokerage firms. Why? No doubt because of the huge difference between the exam at the end of the semester and the endless tests of life.

To work well, intelligence has to be joined with things not well taught at universities, things like judgment, wisdom, understanding of other people and cultures, and, at the top of the list, honor.

Honor and integrity are critical because without their direction and restraint, intellectuals easily become just professional wrestlers of the mind, bright bullies getting their way at the expense of others.

In the end, such people can even add themselves to their list of victims, because they have placed so much trust in the strength of their mind that they have no warning when it is leading them drastically astray.

Such thoughts occurred as I read Obama's scary arguments in defense of preventive detention and as the debate on torture becomes stripped of moral context as though we were arguing over Coke vs. Pepsi. In both cases, arguments have been based on a logic that assumes we no longer care who we are, individually or as a country, only how we might win a particular contest.

In fact, even the proposed course in these cases is pragmatically faulty, but what is truly frightening is that those pressing torture or preventive detention have no more moral grounds for their behavior than did, say, Bernie Madoff. For example, all you have to do with Obama's argument for preventive detention is change a few words and you can dismantle our whole justice system.

Of course, Madoff knew he was doing wrong; the Obamas of the world get trapped by their training in the art of argument without honor, losing the ability to see the dangers of their own logic.

Worst, the media and the public tend to be impressed by such arguments and so we drift quietly further and further from what intelligence is meant to help us achieve: a decent society for all its members.

This drift from honor started well before Obama and no end is in sight. But precisely because current mythology declares him a particularly moral man, Obama's indifference can actually be more dangerous than that of a George Bush and Richard Cheney. If either of them had suggested preventive detention, Democrats and the media would have been immediately up in arms. With all too few exceptions Obama has gotten a pass.

Sadly, it is people like Obama who can make evil or injustice seem reasonable. And when they move on, the bad laws and precedents remain, and the next crowd may no longer be interested in even the appearance of decency. This is what happened when liberals sat quietly as Bill Clinton opened the door for Bush's excesses in support of financial deregulation and against civil liberties.

We have been taught that authoritarianism comes with bombs and guns. But it can just as easily come incrementally and without violence - through a constant and subtle rearrangement of our own view of what's right, fostered by a system that seeks such a change.

This was true in even Hitler's violent Germany as movingly described by Milton Mayer in his book, They Thought They Were Free. Mayer quotes a college professor:

"The crises and reforms (real reforms too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter. . .

"To live in the process is absolutely not to notice it -- please try to believe me -- unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted.' . . .

"Believe me this is true. Each act, each occasion is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.

"Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we did nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. . . Too late. You are compromised beyond repair."

Rosencratz, before disappearing and dying, says something similar in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildernstern Are Dead:

"What was it all about? When did it begin? . . . Couldn't we just stay put? . . . We've done nothing wrong! We didn't harm anyone. Did we? . . . There must have been a moment, at the beginning, when we could have said -- no. But somehow we missed it.. . . Well, we'll know better next time."

For us, there still remains that moment; we are near enough the beginning that we can still say no. And a good place to begin is to reject arguments without honor.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

RICHARD Bissell

May 26, 2009 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just like the Patriot Act this will morph in to a criminalization of political free speech and any criticism of the Government.

"Cyberterrorism" is being used as a pretext to bring government regulation to the the last stronghold of unbiased information. Washington has realized that it's getting harder to get away with their Fascist agenda and are moving to control the field. The populace have become more aware of just what kind of "Change" Obama intended to deliver.

There has been a growing resistance on a state level with several invoking their 9th and 10th Amendment rights in a valiant attempt to stop the Federal Vampire from draining the last drops of blood, the last vestiges of Freedom and Hope.

This is the Dystopic Nightmare that America finds itself in today and each day brings new assaults on Freedom and Sanity. The framework for total control of the citizenry, the economy and the media is being built upon in a relentless aggrandization of Govermental power. Obama sits atop his new Empire still smiling that sickeningly disingenuous smile surrounded by his seasoned courtiers who have worked for decades to bring America in to this new era of the New World Order
1. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=13716

May 26, 2009 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just like the Patriot Act this will morph in to a criminalization of political free speech and any criticism of the Government.

"Cyberterrorism" is being used as a pretext to bring government regulation to the the last stronghold of unbiased information. Washington has realized that it's getting harder to get away with their Fascist agenda and are moving to control the field. The populace have become more aware of just what kind of "Change" Obama intended to deliver.

There has been a growing resistance on a state level with several invoking their 9th and 10th Amendment rights in a valiant attempt to stop the Federal Vampire from draining the last drops of blood, the last vestiges of Freedom and Hope.

This is the Dystopic Nightmare that America finds itself in today and each day brings new assaults on Freedom and Sanity. The framework for total control of the citizenry, the economy and the media is being built upon in a relentless aggrandization of Govermental power. Obama sits atop his new Empire still smiling that sickeningly disingenuous smile surrounded by his seasoned courtiers who have worked for decades to bring America in to this new era of the New World Order
1. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=13716

May 26, 2009 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just like the Patriot Act this will morph in to a criminalization of political free speech and any criticism of the Government.

"Cyberterrorism" is being used as a pretext to bring government regulation to the the last stronghold of unbiased information. Washington has realized that it's getting harder to get away with their Fascist agenda and are moving to control the field. The populace have become more aware of just what kind of "Change" Obama intended to deliver.

There has been a growing resistance on a state level with several invoking their 9th and 10th Amendment rights in a valiant attempt to stop the Federal Vampire from draining the last drops of blood, the last vestiges of Freedom and Hope.

This is the Dystopic Nightmare that America finds itself in today and each day brings new assaults on Freedom and Sanity. The framework for total control of the citizenry, the economy and the media is being built upon in a relentless aggrandization of Govermental power. Obama sits atop his new Empire still smiling that sickeningly disingenuous smile surrounded by his seasoned courtiers who have worked for decades to bring America in to this new era of the New World Order
1. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=13716

May 26, 2009 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intelligence alone does make one a good or able leader. Humans are not motivated by ideas, but by emotion. Without emotion the brain is just a rudderless clump of ganglia without the ability to make decisions. Passion determines what we want; the brain finds the best way to get it. Actually, we could say 'the greater the intelligence, the greater one's capacity for evil.'
"The human heart is desperately wicked. Who can know it?"

May 27, 2009 5:51 AM  
Anonymous Ajit said...

Sam

You say Obama boys are intelligent. I think you are confusing careerism with intelligence. All of them, including Obama, are careerists. They are trained at Harvard to be careerists. To look out for themselves. To be articulate is not a sign of intelligence. They are bound to develop that skill once they are in Harvard or Yale.

They are empty vessels who don't really care about any ideology. They are only concerned with their career advancement.If Communism was dominant I am sure every one of them would be a soviet bureaucrat.

May 27, 2009 9:54 PM  
Anonymous CaliBoy1990 said...

@Anonymous/5-26-09/6:59 P.M.: We've been under elitist control for much longer than just 50 years. Try 220 for America{and 1,600 for the rest of the West outside of the Americas}.

Guess who these people are? {in order of existence}

1. The Christian Church
2. The Money Powers{Rockefeller, Rothschild, Schiff, Kohn & Loeb, Lehman Bros., Warburg, etc.}
3. International Zionists
4. Global Media

If you want some links, here they are:

1. jfkmontreal.com
2. iamthewitness.com{Be very careful. The owner, Daryl Smith, is very in the know when it comes to financial and medical matters, but he has had a real problem with being too trusting of some very suspicious figures like Texe Marrs, Nathaniel Kapner, etc.}
3. www.zeitgeistmovie.com{Mainly talks about religion, but still informative}

I hope you found these links to be helpful :-).

June 1, 2009 12:41 PM  

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