Political Conundrums

SheepIt’s been a puzzlement to democratic, liberty-loving folk. Why do Americans in the heartland keep flocking to politicians who lie and make empty promises they never deliver on? There have been many explanations, some assigning fault to people behaving like sheep and following whoever steps up to lead them; others identifying a punitive religious tradition which persuades the electorate that the lesser evil is all they can expect in the political arena. And then there are the people in the Democratic party who argue that, if a political majority can be won by the numbers along the edges of the continent, dismissing the heartland as not worth contesting is just being practical. Why waste time persuading people of the error of their thinking when they’ve already been thoroughly propagandized by religious leaders and politicians, all delivering the same message?

It’s a good question and entirely reasonable. Indeed, if people’s minds are already made up, it is not a kindness to try and convince them they are wrong, especially when what seems most important in their lives is that they be right–on the right side of God and country, of all that’s sacred and patriotic. It is not a kindness to rend the veil of innocence and goodness. Never mind that the victims of abuse, as we know well from domestic situations, are prone to turn on their rescuers.

That the fear-mongering coming out of our nation’s capital decade after decade was abusive didn’t really register, even with skeptics, until the whole Iraq misadventure was exposed as a passel of lies. Attacking inoffensive people and turning their cities into rubble because a couple dozen self-designated avengers crashed planes into two of ours made no sense, on its face. It’s only when we come to understand that abusers are bullies and cowards and always target someone weaker than themselves that the greater Middle East scenario makes sense. The object was to render the region obedient to U.S. “interests” and the foothold on the plains of Iraq (on 14 permanent bases) was designed to provide a vantage point from which compliance could be more easily supervised. No doubt, the SOFA George W. Bush agreed to during the run-up to the 2008 elections was constructed as a temporary measure to placate the anti-war electorate, but the sop didn’t work and the candidate fully committed to pulling our troops out not only won the election and went on to Cairo to confirm the U.S. commitment to peace, rather than pacification.

Pacification, it turns out, has been an American objective ever since the engagement in Vietnam, whose geographic location on the far edge of the Pacific Ocean made pacification seem natural–a characterization of peace that would break with the coercive policies of containment and economic domination which had been driving U.S./Asia relations. In reality, as was demonstrated more than a quarter century later, when pacification came to Fallujah, Iraq, the objective both at home and abroad has been what our police forces are now calling “compliance.” That is, people are to be rendered compliant to official directives. In other words, obedience is the objective. And, by focusing on the objective and the victims of the pacification/domination/compliance mode, that the whole strategy is basically abusive of individual human rights gets overlooked. Not to mention that obedience is a virtue, right?

Why is it that we accept without question that obedience is good? Probably because when authority is skill-based and motivated by the common good, obeying the directives of experts has beneficial results. Indeed, if we didn’t follow orders, there’d be no wisdom or knowledge passed on from generation. So, just as there’s a presumption of innocence (that human actions are basically good), we presume that our elders mean us well. The human inclination is to obey. We could even call it a prejudice–a positive, rather than an antagonistic one. Perhaps one even accounts for the other. Perhaps our antagonisms towards strangers are generated by people who pretend to love and cherish the targets of their abuse. By exacting obedience is how abusers get their way.

There’s no question that parental abuse of children is rampant in the country. A million teens leave home every year to escape it. What I, for one, haven’t understood until now is that obedience is the key. Abusers exact it, by threatening to punish, and victims comply (obeying the most irrational of directives) to avoid getting hurt. It’s a scenario that’s being played out on the macro level and easy to recognize, if we look closely, in the contest between authority and the Occupy Wall Street people. The essence of OWS is disobedience and making a virtue of it–as it should, if the obligations of authority are being abused, punishing innocents and augmenting the powers of an elite clique.

When authority stands silent in the face of abuse, it becomes complicit. Since, under our system of social organization, authority rests with the people, the people speaking out is entirely appropriate and, for that matter, all that’s really required. If obedience is the problem, then disobedience is the logical solution. That there are no demands means there is nothing to deny or deprive and no punishment to inflict. In being disobedient, the people are running away and freeing themselves. Which, of course, explains the ongoing efforts to keep them contained or move them around like cattle, compliant.

Compliance is, of course, little more than coerced consent. And conservative ideologues, people who set much store by the “consent of the governed,” have convinced themselves that not only was “consent” a one-time event, which occurred at the signing of the Constitution and was affirmed by the Civil War, but that in consenting the “governed” effectively surrendered their powers to the elect. In other words, “consent” cancels the obligations spelled out in the Constitution, much as “informed consent” is presumed to relieve medical personnel, for example, of being liable for their mistakes. Moreover, since compliance is what authorities expect, coerced consent is not an oxymoron, but a necessary fiction to achieve their ends. If the people are reluctant to comply, then they deserve to be deceived–i.e. propaganda is justify by the people’s reluctance to obey.

The Germans have a saying that encapsulates the attitude. “Kommst Du nicht willig, dann brauch Ich Gewalt.” “If you’re not compliant (willing), then I’ll have to use force.” That is, of course, also the sexual abuser’s rationale. The pattern is always and everywhere the same when humans are intent on exploiting their own kind. To resist is to disobey.

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Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."