Monday, December 12, 2005

The Evil Doofuses (Meme, part 7)

Like so much zealot’s rhetoric, Krauthammer’s Bush Derangement Syndrome, is deeply, though unconsciously and unintentionally ironic, or as he might diagnose it, “projective.” (Note, for instance, how Krauthammer, himself only slightly less funny than say, Henry Kissinger or Dick Cheney, nonetheless alleges that the urbane Howard Dean “has no detectable sense of humor.”) In retrospect, given that on Bush’s watch we have seen: the devolution of the GOP into a paradigm RICO case, the metastasizing Federal deficits owing partly to the Bush-sponsored, and yet-ongoing, transfer of tax burdens from the rich to the middle class, and partly to the Iraq war and the porking “earmarks” of the aforementioned GOP-controlled Congress; the numerous torture scandals, the boondoggle/atrocity of Iraq; the botch of Afghanistan; the diminishment of American prestige and stature; the wrecking of the military; the failure to in any way further secure America from terrorist attacks (is it unseemly to mention the failure to secure us from 9/11?) and strong suggestions of many other derelictions, perversions, and instances of criminal negligence and conspiracy yet to be uncovered, it is altogether fitting to ask whether “derangement” might be more strongly indicated by admiration of W. And, God knows, they do admire W.

Bush Derangement Syndrome, as propounded by Krauthammer, has been vital to the Cult of Bush. The cult must have a dogma and like any dogma, it must first be immunized to rational critique; in BDS the Cult has that serum. Confronted with W’s shortcomings and malfeasances, the adherents can always tell themselves, “Only a crazy person would believe such things about the President,” and go on, their somnambulism barely troubled. As Rick Perlstein argued recently, the “Conservative” philosophy is not about hypotheses applied to cases but is instead a circular “structure of thought” – conservatives who somehow enrage other conservatives are made non-persons by the Groupthink which declares then, “He’s not really a conservative.” The pronouncements of such people are thus articles of a faith, and not assertions of fact. (Sir Karl Popper helps us tell the difference with this stroke of genius.) Just so, cases that disturb the assumptions of the Bush Cultist are usually reclassified as something somehow not pertinent to the discussion. Either that or the Bushite will simply change the subject to Bill Clinton, Chappaquiddic, and/or something sexual or homophobic -- a Jedi mind trick that apparently works well among the Dittoheads.

It is instructive amusing (in an appalling) way, to examine the effusions of the true zealot Here is a classic from Powlerline:

"It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius [sic] , he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile."

Ordinarily we could assume that the author just wanted to get our attention with a surprising lead, but the rest of the text suggests otherwise, giving clear indications of deep denial. Note too how the author is careful not to assert anything very testable here, positing only that someday in the inderterminate future the "extraordinary vision" of W will be apparent, even to ordinary mortals. And he expects us, thus gobsmacked, to ignore the shortcomings of his analogy. Sure, W is like a great painter or musician except maybe for the hard work, study, discipline, focus, or sacrifice parts, but other than that, just like those other makers of masterpieces.

Here is a similar piece of reasoning, in which the peerless John Podhoretz throws down the gauntlet against those "deranged" folks who just don't get W:

"For years now, liberals and leftists have been unable to decide whether they dislike George W. Bush because they think he's a doofus or because they think he's evil. So they've come up with a peculiar new political caricature to make sense of the president they simply cannot undertsand: To them, he's the Evil Doofus.

"But this doesn't work. You can't be both evil and a doofus. Doofuses have a sweet and dopey quality. Evildoers know what they're up to and they're frightening in their relentless bad aims."

If I were still teaching freshman rhetoric I would certainly have my students try to spot the logical fallacies in this priceless passage: Straw Man, false dichotomy, ad hominem, unsupported assertions, distorted generality, illegitimate absolute, and perhaps a few others. Only in real, deliberate propaganda can you get such a black-hole density of nonsense.

But I digress. I offer this passage mostly to show how far from the truth, or even the intelligible, one must go to defend W from his detractors: one must descend into W's own rhetorical level, and work only in falsehood, nonsense, platitude and tautology. But I also like this passage for its epitomising of the Dittohead's sentimental idea of "evil," which, as you may have long forgetten, was the departure point for this essay.

Podhoretz "No Evil Doofus" notion is bullshit of the lowest order, the kind of thing that can only be professed by someone quasi-erotically infatuated with an adored personality, and by someone too far removed from reality, by dint of wealth and celebrity, to remember the common and distinctly evil doofuses by whom ordinary people are bedeviled from schooldays onward. Like many post-literate Americans, effectively lobotomized by the sentimental fictions of the mass medi, Podhoretz regards evil, or rather Evil, as something exotic, often something foreign and/or perverted (that is: not to their taste) but always Other. Evil is a deadly dilletante, a mustachioed tyrant, a priapic crackhead. Evil knows the right thing to do, but consciously chooses (Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!) the wrong for its sheer delectable forbiddenness. Or as Podhoretz, puts it, "Evildoers know what they're up to, and their frightening in their relentless pursuit of bad aims."

On the other hand, the Dittoheads think that they, like most of us, will do wrong from time to time, but never with a full, intellectual or ethical consideration -- therefore they're not Evil. We white, middle-class doofuses, most assume, err in a "sweet and dopey"way. Of course the slightest test of the assertion, "You can't be both evil and a doofus," shows it to be false. Evil very often knows not what it does; it has has utterly doofus undertanding of its own acts and motives. Often the dim torturer of cats,morphs into the the schoolyard bully, then the criminal, abusive husband, bad cop or death-camp guard. He's far from "relentless in his bad aims". He just thinks that his vague indignation, at whatever, licenses him (0r her) to get his rocks off occasionally through sadism. His victims deserve whatever he inflicts on them. This is evil in its banal very essence. The guards at Treblinka and Abu Grahib were not Hannibal Lecter clones or Eichmannesque demoniacs; they were picknose doofuses having fun in what they dimly perceived to be their line of duty. Evil operates similarly, constantly, in this lower-case way, from the White House to the DMV, wherever small people use their banal power to work out on those more helpless. And, leaving open the question of evil, for now, we can certainly say that W is one of those doofuses who is neither innocent nor sweet.


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