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The Ceremony of Innocence

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If you look at our current political situation from one of the other eleven planets, Ceres, perhaps, that soon-to-be former planetoid between Mars and Jupiter, our situation begins to make some kind of perverse sense. We need the distance and perspective.

I chose Ceres not because it is named for the goddess of cereal, but because it is spherical, orbits the sun, and next week may become one of the major planets of our solar system, despite the fact that it is really only the largest of the planetoids, very much smaller than our moon, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence, if our moon is the size of this letter O. Not really in the same league with moons much less planets, you see.

In the midst of the world teetering on the edge of a full-fledged conflagration in the middle east, astronomers are arguing about whether Pluto is a planet and probably will keep it, despite the NYT advice to the contrary, thus promoting Ceres and some big iceballs out past Pluto to the status of planets. Redefining Ceres is just one of the latest examples of grown men and women redefining stuff to suit their fancies, rather than the facts. It is part and parcel of the pervasive, pathological TRUTHLESSNESS of our times.

George Bush is the President of the United States, but there are questions about that too. Dick Cheney, who chose himself to be VP, seems to have quite a large and important portfolio, so maybe he is partly the President and George is partly not. In any case, George would fit the definition of President if he were defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But, again, here we have questions. George and Dick are busy rewriting the Constitution through the so-called "signing statements," intending to implement a Reagan wish from several decades ago, the Line Item Veto. Amending the Constitution by signing statements is, by the way, unconstitutional and, given the repetitive nature of the offense, a clear and present danger.

You have to remember and understand the political context. In George's and Dick's first term ... well it was not actually their term ... of office, Karl Rove or the former Press Secretary, one of them, instructed an increasingly dumbfounded member of the press in the nature of future relations with the press. He said that Bush and his administration would not be playing the "gotcha game." Then he denied any "fourth estate" role for the press, and, moreover, finished with the assertion that the role of the press henceforth would be to record a new history of the United States to be written by Bush and his administration! That is the context of most of what you see-Bush's strong commitment to a radical interpretation of government in America.

You have to keep this in mind always!

You see that you can hardly say anything nowadays without something being enormously wrong in it. Under these circumstances it is often difficult to retain one's honest skepticism and even more difficult to constantly repeat to our audiences the alternative views of what is happening here.

But, that is what they want, isn't it! Tell a big enough lie often enough and not only will people believe it, they will not even be aware they have been brainwashed. How else could half the public still believe that WMD were in Iraq when we invaded that country?

But there is something more insidious going on in the government information system and in the press. The press, nursing wounds from Bush's "gotcha manifesto," have become stenographers, buying and reselling the spun sugar cotton candy pronouncements of the administration without question or even a tinge of skepticism. Aside from this, though, bad as it is, the administration political propaganda now contains more than just lies about facts, it contains lies about assumptions!

Take a declaration like this one, for instance: "Americans stand for democracy!" You hear this all the time from pundits and politicians. It seems simple enough, but when you deconstruct it you find that Americans actually will sit on their asses for comfort and security before standing for democracy. Thousands of teenagers when asked about the provisions of the Bill of Rights said they thought there were too many freedoms. So, a declaration that "Americans stand for democracy" is false at the verb, undefined at the object, and misrepresents the unstated priority of this responsibility, the tacit assumption that this is first (or among the first) concerns of American citizens. Do you not think that Americans in the quiet of their homes hear the lie and know in their hearts that democracy is way down the list of things to die for?

The question is: can a society actually drown in its own lies and fabrications? Wm. Butler Yeats thought so back in 1921. He so clearly saw our fundamental weakness, our penchant for self-delusion, our hypocritical "ceremony of innocence?"

Turning and turning on the widening gyre,

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

-- William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming," stanza I.

Perhaps there is a "cure" mentioned in his verse. We know that the "worst" are full of "passionate intensity" from the diapaisons of the rightwing organs, Robertson, Falwell, Limbaugh, Coulter, to the fanatics of the outer world like Ahmadinejad, bin Ladin, and Nasrallah.

Perhaps there is a way to restore "conviction," to put rational skepticism back in the equation, to finally tell the truth. It will take an enormous effort, but it must be done. We do not have to begin with the elimination of the propaganda about our nation, but eventually we must confront the truth that our nation's self-image is a construct of pious hope and frightened guilt. We are not the City on the Hill, the center of the universe, the empire of the righteous, or any such thing. We cannot feed our children these tissues of lies and expect them to respect us or our nation or its institutions.

We are struggling with the reality of our existence-a world society of strangers united only in our common hope that we can be peaceful neighbors, not savage predators slouching toward the annihilation of ourselves.

James Richard Brett

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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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