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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: MODERN CIVILIZATION AND RELIGION   Leave a comment

 

MODERN CIVILIZATION AND RELIGION

“I, at any rate, am convinced that He [God] does not throw dice.” Albert Einstein

 

John Chuckman

Even the greatest minds sometimes are befuddled by emotional preconceptions, as this famous quote shows Einstein was by his rejection of randomness implicit in quantum mechanics. Ironically, Einstein himself was one of the founders of quantum theory with his work on black-body radiation.

Nothing is more befuddling than the topic of religion because it consists of nothing but preconceptions, veiled under the more seemingly-weighty word, faith. The topic destroys friendships, has caused immense oppression, and has started many bloody wars. These facts alone should provide strong warning against bringing it into public political discourse.

Not everything an individual deems as good for himself is good for society. This touches one of the basic flaws in Christian thinking which can so destructive to civil society. Christians regard all people as being essentially the same in the sense that they all are expected to be nearly identical over a wide range of human behaviors. It is departure from this set of expected behaviors that marks a person as a sinner. But it is easy to see that people are not the same in almost any physical and mental characteristic you care to measure: they in fact represent a spectrum of differences in each category of human behavior and thought, the mix being never quite the same twice.

The Christian way of looking at people is just another, older stream of 1950s’ thinking about what is normal. In those days, it was easy to be classed as deviant or abnormal just on the basis of dress or behavior which did not fit into society’s fairly narrow expectations for normality. Those were the days when the FBI busied itself with matters like garbage checks on people such as Einstein himself. Those were the days when a boy could become a Junior G-Man for snitching on someone. Those were also the days when people with mental illnesses could be involuntarily institutionalized and even lobotomized. Government took full advantage of the 1950s’ frame of mind, indeed it helped create it, encouraging the idea that those looking or acting different are potentially dangerous. The naturally-occurring paranoia which has always been a feature of American society (a genetic heritage from the Puritans perhaps) just needs a frameworklikethat to kick into high gear with witch hunts and citizens snitching on their neighbors. In both cases – Christianity and secret police – there is an underlying impulse to regiment and classify a population, much as every army recruit receives a buzz-cut, dog tags, and standard issue underwear.

The people who classify others as sinners or deviants, of course, believe they are promoting good behavior, but the idea of good in both cases is not a standard set by anyone but themselves in their interpretations of ancient texts, often corrupt from generations of copyists, always inaccurately translated, censored and picked through by the Church ages ago for what is acceptable and what is not, and readily misunderstood in the ambiguity or even nonsense of various passages. Even with such specific and generally accepted ideas as “Thou shalt not kill,” we know modern courts recognize many kinds of killing, not all carrying the same blameworthiness and penalty. Remember the famous line by Hannah Arendt about “the banality of evil”? That is a perfect description for both the Stasi/FBI-friendly citizen and a good many Christians: in being repressive, they thinktheyare doing good by the accepted norms of their society.

At least general thinking in our society has progressed somewhat beyond that of the 1950s, although the FBI carries on in its frat-boy-with-a-badge stupidities, just having new targets. The fundamentalist Christians also carry on with hell-fire sermons, often invoking intense and mindless hatreds, as of homosexuals or foreigners. One well known preacher, Franklin Graham, invoked the use of atomic weapons after 9/11. Another, Pat Robertson, blamed destructive hurricanes on homosexuals and advocated assassinations. Then there are the folks who writhe on the church floor blubbering incoherent grunts and shouts, calling it “speaking in tongues,” those who insist on poisonous snake-handling as part of worship, and many, many who practice prayer for winning football games, particularly homecoming games when grateful alumni can fill the institution’s coffers in their delirious happiness over victory . Hard to see anything of what we knowofJesus in any of that, yet it all has legions of eager American consumers.

Apart from such carnival side-show excesses, all Christians believe they have a set of received truths and that everyone should be brought to hear them, rejecting them at their peril. These truths include the odd conception that all men are hopeless sinners without Christianity. This very urge to convert others, this belief in a single, unchangeable truth, and, importantly, the implicit idea that all people are somehow just alike is destructive to democratic thinking and the values of modern free society.

The very sins of the sinners tend to be defined by criteria that science daily reduces to nonsense. Many differences among individuals – from sexual behavior to truthfulness, from propensity to violence to compassion, from ability to understand to various mental illnesses – reflect nothing more than differences in the make-up of individuals, differences largely in genetic endowments but also to a lesser degree in environmental experiences. Even the tendency to embrace certain religions and political parties as opposed to others almost certainly is shaped by these fundamental differences in make-up. The genuine acceptance of differences is a key to a modern democratic society.

And if there is one country in the advanced world that often does not accept this principle, it is the United States. In its foreign affairs, it is guided by what often are called Christian principles – a rather fuzzily defined and selective set of them and certainly not the rigorous precepts of historical Jesus so far as we know them. These principles are not written down, codified, or officially announced, but casual discussion and the words of innumerable private and religious organizations confirm the widely-held view. This explains in part the embrace of modern Israel, a relationship as destructive to civil society in its nature as the two-thousand year-old, frightening hallucinations of the Book of Revelations upon which it is partly based. Well, the conflation of ancient rubbish and modern society’s needs doesn’t work well even within the United States – that is why it is such a divided and angry society – and itcertainlydoesn’t work for the world in general.

And the United States is a divided and angry society. It is revealed in the rhetoric of many politicians, it is revealed in the sermons of many extreme preachers, it is evident in the extreme violence and lack of regard for citizens of police forces all over the country, it is revealed in the countless schemes to defraud ordinary people, it is revealed in the intolerance for so insignificant a difference as a politician not wearing an American flag lapel pin, it is felt in the embrace of utterly ignorant political figures (Sarah Palin, George Bush, Newt Gingrich, John McCain) by large factions, and its pulse can be felt in many television shows such as the ones showing police doing their worst nasty work on citizens.

Once admitted to public institutions and policy, religion, in any form, leaves little room for rationality or criticism or individuality, which is almost identical to saying, it leaves little room for thought. You are not supposed to criticize someone’s religion – it tends to create anger and aggression – so what do you do when people bring their religion into public institutions with which you must deal? The human race has terrible, bitter experience with this conflict in everything from the long creaking span of the Dark Ages to countless murderous, meaningless wars. And it is important to understand that religions are not always about a god. They may equally be about an ideology or cult of personality. Communism and fascism were both modern religions in every sense of the word, as is every form of inflexible political ideology.

But the human race learns only very, very slowly from its own history. Why else do we keep commemorating the horrors of World War I? Why else do people feel it necessary to build things like Holocaust museums? You might think such titanic murderous events could no more be forgotten than a natural disaster, but then natural disasters are forgotten regularly. The human brain does not want to dwell on past pain. It is a survival mechanism. And likewise each generation wants to create and experience new dreams and hopes. Too often, though, sweeping dreams and hopes are dangerous fantasies which threaten, perhaps unintentionally, to repeat forgotten horrors. Dreams and hopes, especially sweeping ones, are often the begetters of new and dangerous religions.

The continued commemoration of past horrors is itself a religious rite, one not useful for any good social purpose. World War I, for example, was little more than a gigantic blunder made by men bristling with pride and religious-like patriotism. Twenty million died horribly just so one branch of a royal family could not dominate in Europe at the expense of another. It achieved nothing, and indeed set the stage for the even worse terrors of World War II, including the Holocaust. We commemorate World War I largely to keep young men inspired enough to go off to the next useless war their shabby political leaders decide to fight. The constant commemoration of the Holocaust also is a religious rite using guilt and fear to manipulate support for Israel in the face of what is plainly its own savagery towards neighbors.

For as little as we might like it, it is a fact that all of humanity’s great horrors grew out of sweeping dreams and hopes taken to extremes, from the Crusades and the Hundred Years War to the Holy Inquisition and the great world wars. Catholicism, for example, provided and helped enforce for centuries the dangerous and delusional idea of the divine rights of kings. It blessed the conquest and slaughter of great Indian civilizations in the Americas. One Pope even issued a special gold medal commemorating Catherine de Medici’s work for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in which thousands of French Protestants were slaughtered in their beds or on the streets. And through the centuries of the Church’s dominance in society, its followers believed they were doing what is right because a respected authority told them it was.

Fascism and Communism were only the Twentieth Century’s contributions to religion in politics. Wisdom from the writings and speeches of a few men with either messianic claims for themselves or claims for great sweeping changes in society were received by millions who had suffered bad times. It might not be bad to reflect on the fact that Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were all raised in the Church.

In America, fundamentalist Christianity was the main pillar of slavery for centuries. Christianity, from the early Great Awakenings (a series of mass, semi-hysterical back-to-Christian-basics movements in early America) to the Scopes Monkey trial in the 1920s, has always been in the forefront of rejecting new ideas and supporting human oppression in one form or another. Missionaries have gone hand-in-hand with the military seizure of other people’s lands time and time again, the case of the Hawaiian Islands being only one of the most egregious. The only time these people served a progressive influence in their long history was a period of advocacy for public education – something many have turned their backs on now – which had the motive of exposing all to the Gospels. A small portion of them also spoke out against slavery in its last days.

Christianity appears to have arisen as a sect or sects of Judaism. Look at the bloody turmoil of the Old Testament. Murder, war, rapine, slavery are just a few of its delightful themes. That is why the most bloody-minded Israelis or Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israel can cite scripture to support almost any excess that appeals to them. 19th Century Zionism also was one of the modern forms of fanatical political religion, and the damage it has done is there for all to see. In its early days, it never went beyond being a narrow cult rejected overwhelmingly by Jews, but the fears and guilt around the horrors of World War II enabled it to gain a serious foothold and begin its own horrors inflicted on innocents.

We now regularly make new discoveries in almost every branch of science, and, with each advance in rapidly-changing technology, we acquire still more able tools with which to make still more discoveries. This process is only going to accelerate to rates we cannot imagine, and, indeed, with which much of humanity may have great difficulty coping. The received popular wisdom about things changing so rapidly now is close to meaningless small talk: things began to change rapidly at the dawn of the modern era, five or six centuries ago, the change gaining in rapidity with each significant increment of time, and there is nothing to say the established pattern should not continue. Coming, just over the horizon, are the assembly of synthetic life forms, robots that can do almost anything, and machines that will replace the experts in every profession, but even those coming “scary” realities are only the beginning of a journey whose end, ifitever has an end, none can imagine.  Any trouble in our coping along the way may well be met with new intrusions of religion into public life, either from traditional faiths feeling oppressed or new secular ones having sprung into being, a disturbing possibility.

All discoveries in science tend to confirm and reinforce the concept of randomness and such fundamental ideas as evolution and quantum theory. Remarkable new fossils are discovered and dated almost weekly, pointing to the rise and fall of innumerable species over time as well the interrelated nature of all life. At the microscopic level, studies of human and animal DNA point in the same direction, that is, to the interrelated nature of all life. In astronomy, the strange nature of the cosmos comes to us in wave after wave of discovery from black holes and dark matter to the very chemical building blocks of life being randomly created in the turmoil of galactic clouds, perhaps to be randomly rained down on countless passing planets with only those randomly possessing the suitable physical conditions becoming the incubators of life.

It is more than a little odd that the only source, regarded by Christians and other faiths as authentic, for the idea of intelligent design has not been supplemented in two thousand years, since the time when some religious eccentrics living in caves scribbled their dreams, hopes, and poetic fantasies on papyruses, giving their work the most sweeping publisher’s blurb of all time, that of being authorized by the Creator Himself.

Society’s needs through politics, government, and public institutions can hardly benefit from concepts unchanged in two thousand years. Saying otherwise really is a bit like saying we should still use chariots and papyrus and oxen in the fields, but then there are religious groups who do pretty much that. Amish, Mennonites, strict Catholic religious orders, and ultra-Orthodox Jews all live as if it were another century. Just why each of them settles on a particular era’s set of conveniences and dress is rather a mystery. Why the 18th or 19th century rather than, say, 50 BCE or the Stone Age? The choices are just a few of the countless irrationalities displayed by religions, with the intensity of the irrationality being greater the more extreme the faith. And this is no less true of the political religions, from those who insisted onanancient Indian symbol on armbands to those insisting on little enameled flag pins on lapels.

As someone who cherishes human freedom and democratic values, I certainly don’t oppose the practice of religion, but I very much oppose any of those practices being imposed on public institutions or manipulated for political purposes. As someone wisely observed, freedom of religion means also freedom from religion. Jesus himself said that prayer was for your private closet, not for exhibition as practiced by the publicans of his day. Remember, as soon as any politician or public official flaunts any kind of religiosity – from public prayer to the display of giant flags, you are being emotionally manipulated by the suggested support of higher powers for particular policies and acts, much as the Catholic Church once crowned and blessed the acts countless bloody kings and tyrants.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: HOW TERROR HAS LOST ITS MEANING   3 comments

HOW TERROR HAS LOST ITS MEANING

John Chuckman

Why does terror dominate our headlines and the attention of our governments going on six years after 9/11? The answer cannot be what George Bush says that it is: it is not the fault of people who hate democracy and freedom.

We know this for a great many reasons. One of the world’s oldest terrorist organizations, the IRA, had no interest in British government and society. It was interested only in being free of their control.

We know Bush is wrong also because the people who genuinely hate democracy and freedom – the world’s oligarchs, dictators, and strongmen – are people who hate terror themselves because it threatens their security.

Strong absolute states have no tolerance for terror. The Soviet Union never had a serious problem with terror, neither did East Germany, nor did Hussein’s Iraq.

Absolute states are also frequently supported by, or allied to, the United States, presumably for reasons other than promoting terror. We don’t need to go into the long history of the Cold War to find this. It remains true following 9/11. Contemporary examples include Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt.

Bush is wrong, too, because all evidence, whether from polls or interviews or writing, shows that people living in lands without democracy overwhelmingly would embrace freedom were it available to them.

Of course, all such generalizations are statistical in nature. That is, they are about trends or tendencies that reasonably describe the overwhelming bulk of specific examples. There are always exceptions, extreme examples, what statisticians call outliers, but you cannot talk about any subject sensibly when you talk about only exceptions.

We also know, despite truckloads of publicity saying otherwise, that terror is not by any measure one of the world’s great problems. The number of people killed in the World Trade Center, the largest terrorist attack by far, was less than one month’s carnage on America’s highways. It was equivalent of about two months of America’s murdering Americans on the nation’s streets.

Terror is intended to frighten and intimidate people, its secrecy and methods calculated to make deaths, even a small number of them, more shocking than everyday deaths. But if we look at societies that have undergone horrors beyond most people’s ability to imagine, horrors greater than any modern terror, we find something very interesting.

Life in London carried on during the Blitz. Germany maintained a huge armaments production despite thousand-plane raids day and night. The people of Leningrad, despite 800,000 deaths from being shelled and starved during the German siege, managed to carry on a kind of society. People in Sarajevo made do through a long and agonizing terror. Even the seemingly-hopeless inmates of death camps often made remarkable efforts to maintain some semblance of normality.

Perhaps the greatest terror experience in modern history was American carpet-bombing in Vietnam. We know from Vietnamese war veterans that these were their most feared events. They were horrific, and the United States left Vietnam having killed something like 3 million people, mostly civilians. But it did leave, and the people it bombed so horribly won a terrible war.

Now all of these experiences, plus many more we could cite, have the elements of randomness for victims and methods that just could not be much more horrible. They all are experiences in terror in the broadest sense. What they tell us is that terror does not work, despite its ability to make people miserable.

I like the anecdote that following the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima, within weeks, wild flowers were spotted growing in the cracks of the pavement. I very much like to think of that as representing the human spirit.

Terror as we traditionally think of it is a method of redress or vengeance for those without great armies or powerful weapons, those at a great disadvantage vis-à-vis some powerful oppressor or opponent. Generally the grievances behind terrorist acts are reasonable demands that have been ignored or have even been suppressed for long periods of time.

Although sometimes, they are unreasonable demands, but in this they are no different than the grievances that often lead to wars or invasions or occupations by powerful states.

Terror generally kills innocent people, something no decent-minded person can accept, but what is always forgotten in the press and government treatment of terror as something alien and unimaginably bad is that war in the contemporary world does precisely the same thing.

We have a powerful trend over the last century shifting the victims of war from armed forces to civilians. In World War I, there were many civilian deaths, but most of went on at the front was the killing of soldiers. By the time of Vietnam, and even more so Iraq, literally most of the deaths are civilians, overwhelmingly so. The fire-bombing and nuclear-bombing of cities during World War II marked the first great shift, returning military operations effectively to the world Before the Common Era when sacking and raping cities was ordinary.

Why has this happened? The chief reason is increasingly destructive weapons capable of being used from a great distance. Those pressing the buttons not only don’t see what they are doing in any detail, but the damage of which they are capable increases every year. A single plane today can drop enough munitions to destroy utterly a small town. In 1917, a plane could carry enough munitions to destroy a small house, if the pilot were lucky about air currents and other variables.

America makes claims about using ‘smart’ weapons, but these claims are highly deceptive. First, smart weapons are costly, and most bombs dropped are still ‘dumb’ ones. The percentage used in the first Gulf War, a time when there were many press conferences glorifying precision weapons, was on the order of five percent smart weapons.

Second, smart weapons require excellent intelligence, something you cannot have under many circumstances. The infamous bomb-shelter event in Baghdad during the first Gulf War, which incinerated four hundred civilians in an instant, happened because American officials thought there were party officials hiding there, but they were wrong.

Third, even with intelligence, decisions are made which are poor ones. The Baghdad bomb shelter is an example here, too. Even were there some party officials there, killing nearly four hundred others to get them was the kind of savage decision Israel so often makes to its shame.

Fourth, smart weapons do make mistakes with chips or programming or flight controls that are faulty.

Fifth, the better the weapons get, the more the temptation to use them, and the more they will be misused by poor judgment and poor intelligence.

There is no prospect in our lifetime that so-called precision weapons can change the tendency towards killing civilians rather than soldiers.

Terrible weapons are under constant research efforts at ‘improvement.’ The United States has developed gigantic flammable-liquid bombs, the size and weight of trucks. It is busy developing compact nuclear warheads that are, in the view of the kind of people associated with George Bush, both useable and practical.

The problem with modern weapons is not only their great power and complete removal of users from ghastly results, it is their capacity to alter the psychology and morality of those possessing them.

Where great power exists, it tends to be used, sooner or later. This intuitive idea was part of the reason in the eighteenth century for opposing large standing armies. Expert historians have attributed at least part of the cause of World War I to huge standing armies and a ferocious arms race.

It is hard to think of a horrible weapon that has not been used fairly soon after its development: the flame thrower, poison gas, germ warfare, machine guns, landmines, cluster bombs, napalm, and nuclear weapons.

Imagine the psychology of politicians and war planners in Washington, sitting in air-conditioned offices, perhaps just returned from expense-account lunches, discussing developments in, say, Iraq. They don’t see or hear or smell the misery of a people without sanitation or electricity – these having been deliberately destroyed by the United States in the previous Gulf War and never repaired. These planners, looking at charts on their expensive laptops, only know from certain graphs that they have what they see as a problem and that they have the ability to reduce it or make it go away, almost like wishing away something you don’t like.

The solution comes down to such pragmatic considerations as to whether Tomahawks or B-52s or a wing of fighter-bombers will best meet the ‘need,’ and perhaps the availability of each, and perhaps even comparative benefit-cost ratios (kills per buck), also charted on their laptops.

If this isn’t the banality of evil, I don’t know what is. And when the planners decide which weapon or combination of weapons will best alter the graph, the orders go out, the buttons are pressed, and no one but the poor half-starved people living in dust and squalor have any idea of what actually happens, which people in the neighborhood have their bodies torn apart or incinerated, which houses are destroyed, which children mutilated. The people who carry out these acts see only puffs of distant smoke.

This is modern war as practiced by an advanced society.

On a smaller scale than Iraq, we’ve all read the endless reports of Israeli incursions and assassinations: an entire family wiped out on a beach by distant shelling, an apartment building full of families hit by a missile intended for one resident, pedestrians cut into pieces as a missile hits a targeted car on a crowded street. All of it is put down to stopping terror, all of it is done from a safe distance, all of it kills mainly civilians, and all of it is indistinguishable from terror.

If challenged today for a definition of terror, I doubt anyone could produce a sound one that limits the meaning to the acts of those constantly in our headlines. Rather those acts are now reduced to special cases of something a great deal larger.

Which was the more ghastly act of terror, 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq? 9/11 killed about 3,000 people and destroyed a building. The invasion of Iraq killed more than 600,000, destroyed the irreplaceable records and artefacts of an ancient civilization, and left a nation of more than 20 million desperate for work, clean water, and electricity. And it should be stressed that although 9/11 came first, there were no connections between these events, except that the one was used as an excuse for the other.

When we hear the word terror in the news, we are conditioned to think that only civilians have died, but how is it different now for news of an attack by American forces or a reprisal raid from the Israeli army? It isn’t. We know immediately that civilians die every single time. Indeed, what we often do not know is whether any “bad guys” were killed.

Posted June 6, 2009 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: GOMER AS CLAUDIUS   Leave a comment

GOMER AS CLAUDIUS

John Chuckman

There has been a fair amount written recently about whether America should just get over the inhibitions of its anti-imperial origins and boldly embrace the fact of its having swelled and fattened into a full-fledged empire – a kind of imperial coming out of the closet, if you will. Favoring, as I do, honesty in politics and human affairs, I tend to support this approach.

But before all the drawling, born-again, yahoo-patriots with custom shotgun racks in the rear windows of their Cadillacs and faded little flags fluttering from the antennas break into the chorus of “Onward Christian Soldiers” (actually, an excellent choice for a new Imperial Anthem), a few qualifying reflections are in order.

Rome built magnificent roads, aqueducts, forums, and theaters where its imperial footstep trod. America leaves behind Coca-Cola bottlers, Lay’s potato-chip distributors, piles of trash, cluster-bomb canisters, and landmines. Rome built beautiful temples and embraced all religions. America sends loopy fundamentalist missionaries and people who believe God is an alien life form speaking from tin cans to disparage the ancient beliefs of others.

Rome at least had some great emperors before it fell into decline and experienced such notable events as a group of legionnaires declaring a horse to be emperor. America starts off with the likes of Reagan, Clinton, and Bush – one intelligence, immersed in hormones, sandwiched between two bell hops elevated to the imperial purple. I know, I forgot the whining, snobbish mama’s boy who doesn’t eat broccoli and who kept looking at his watch when others spoke in a debate, but then, so have most Americans.

It has been observed that so often true evil has a banal appearance, and in the case of many of history’s most evil people, this appears often to have been the case. Think of Hitler eating his beloved pastries, the vegetarian, non-smoker and teetotaler, watching Marlene Dietrich movies. Or Himmler, the weak-chinned, former chicken farmer who ran the dread powers of the SS and other state security for the Third Reich. Think of Stalin, generally sitting quietly at meetings or dinners, always praised by outside observers for his modest manner, quietly smoking his pipe and rarely drinking much even while those around him were reduced to comradely stupor.

These are the kind of people who once in power set in motion the machinery that employs the psychopaths and thugs that constitute some natural share of any society’s population in order to turn bad dreams into reality. Generally, their own boots are not splattered with the blood of their victims.

And so we have Emperor Bush, certainly not ranking as one of the great menaces of history, but a man whose banality comes married to a decided taste for the stupid and brutal use of power.

As to his banality, it would be hard to match not just among the world’s leaders but among the men briskly walking by on any busy downtown street. His droning, nasally voice suggests a cardigan-sweatered Ozzie Nelson giving Dave and little Ricky a homily after being caught chugging root beers in the kitchen. One senses in Mr. Bush intense earnestness about insignificant matters and uninformed self-righteousness about big ones. One imagines him fitting right in as the manager-trainee going nowhere in the ladies’ garments department at a Wal-Mart or the petty assistant vice-principal at an elementary school whose life swells with purpose when disciplining ten-year olds.

Actually, if it weren’t for his slurred pronunciation, his Archie-Bunker vocabulary, and the odd, deliberate nincompoop-phrase like “Axis of Evil” or “homicide-bombers” cropping up, there would be no reason ever to listen to his speeches. You can learn nothing from them. They are imperial gestures. His words and views are utterly predictable and commonplace in their expression. The empire would be no worse off were his staff to prepare a multi-purpose, all-occasion, error-free DVD and distribute it to the press corps and members of Congress.

But in so many of Mr. Bush’s words and actions one also senses that same conscience-numbed, sniggering tone he used during his campaign in speaking of the scores of prisoners executed in Texas. Whether it’s thousands of innocents killed in Afghanistan, murdered and mistreated Afghan prisoners, or Mr. Sharon’s running a Murder Incorporated, the tone is the same. Just as with the prisoners in Texas, his emphasis is always on, not the plight of those suffering before him, but on the crimes they are presumed to be answering for.

The banal Mr. Bush in a comparatively short period has managed to give the world a nasty whiff of in-your-face Americanism and, while doing so, to create the beginnings of a dark, unholy alliance. While I fully recognize the inconsistency of speaking about foreign policy and morality in the same breath, still America is the world’s first great empire that pretends to adhere to principles of democracy and concern for human rights. There is some reason at least to hope that the mold of history in these matters might one day be broken.

Well, the simple fact is, that with virtually every breath Mr. Bush has worked against these important principles. His idiotic, undefined War against Terror has created needless destruction and privations, threatening itself to become a kind of global terror. That and his cavalier attitude towards international treaties have set a frightening precedent and basis for relationships with the rest of the world.

Israel’s Sharon is free to crush Palestinians’ hopes, crushing a good many of their people along the way. Russia’s Putin, in return for toning down his criticisms of American policy, has been given carte blanche to continue state-terror in Chechnya, the bulldozing of Jenin on a vaster scale. And Turkey, in return for its support of a future attack against Iraq, appears to have received the same carte blanche for its campaign against the Kurds, a people who have suffered under Iraq, Iran, and Turkey and who were treated atrociously by that tireless worker for peace, Henry Kissinger.

Oh, and then there’s the new alliance, complete with an exchange of bounty for information and cooperation, with a military man in Pakistan. And the “we’ll bomb, you fight” pact with cutthroat warlords of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Of course, they are looking for someone to fill the same role in Iraq, but it’s going to be tough with the record of flip-flops and betrayals the U.S. has earned amongst various groups there over the years.

I am reminded of the old joke, “What do you get when you cross a canary with a gorilla?” “I don’t know, but when it sings, you had better listen.” Perhaps better than any image I can come up with, this joke describes Mr. Bush as Emperor. A weak, narrow, uninformed man married to a colossal, imperial military machine. And you had better listen.