Thursday, April 05, 2007

It's all greek to me

Bush Hubris

Sometimes the wittiest quote or the most scholarly dissertation fails to deliver the same emotional gut-punch as a well-told fable. Important teachers like Jesus and the Buddha knew this and implemented fables in their lessons. We pass along morals to children through multi-layered stories exactly because they're so easily understood. One of the most relevant of these tales would be that of the tortoise and the hare. It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite books, Catch 22, where Nately is speaking with the old Italian man in the brothel. Here the old man states that despite America's substantial military force it would not last as long as a dilapidated Italy. America would die because of her strength and Italy would live because of her weakness. A true tortoise-and-hare story.

If I were a doctor and had to diagnose the key infection contaminating our national body it would have to be that of hubris. Anyone who studied the ancient Greeks could find an abundance of historical evidence for the pestilential consequences of such a disposition. Rooted in the humiliating fall of Athens against Sparta during the Peloponnesian War, leaders were warned by the Sophists against the snares of arrogance. Plato's Philosopher-king would have been tempered in rigorous education in order to stave off the perversion of a tyrannical role. Thucydides, the Greek historian, wrote: "Self-control is the chief element in self-respect and self-respect is the chief element in courage." This is one of life's essential lessons - restraint. It stood as the Greek ideal.

So, when speaking of America's current political health, as feeble as that may be, it is necessary to speak of Bush and his administration. Somehow I think George was absent the day his professor lectured on Thucydides, or else he would have saved himself a lot of hardship. Some of their most glaring conceits are well-known. From warrant-less wire taps to Guantanamo Bay to their mantra-like echo of "trust us" they seem to believe their way is not only the best way, but the only way. Forget what's been known to work in the past (how conservative of me) like Habeas Corpus, our way is better. The link between these events is their rejection of oversight, the dismissal of checks and balances and a complete disdain for the democratic process (i.e. "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." - George W. Bush).

Because the founding fathers were paranoid, it must have been all that hemp they were growing, the government is set up to act like a neurotic crackhead. The legislative branch watches the executive, the executive branch watches the legislative and the judicial branch watches both. It's slow, it's obnoxious and it's entirely necessary, this way presumably only the really good laws are passed. Now, Bush and Cheney are taking this fine system meticulously pondered over by those first Americans and jettisoned it all. If they had a shred of respective for the fundamental tenants of Democracy we would no longer be beached in Iraq.

This recklessness extends past the political arena into the realm of science. The politicizing of issues such as global warming and stem cell research demonstrates a priggishness unparalleled to my knowledge in American politics. While an unfeeling culture of greed permits stooges in the puditverse to cloud the waters, real problems go unresolved. Anyone like Al Gore who has a message is berated and half-truths are propagated via large media pathways. Rush Limbaugh claimed that a single, major volcanic explosion produces more pollutants than all of industrialized history combined. Although this is partially correct, what Rush failed to mention is that the pollutants spilled into the air by volcanoes are water soluable and are therefore rained back to Earth before reaching the uppermost shell of the atmosphere, human contaminants on the other hand are hydrophobic and can reach higher altitudes. The government not only watches from a distance but are the biggest offenders in this campaign of disinformation. Their Chief of Staff for the Council of Environmental Quality, Phil Cooney, has censored, altered and edited peer reviewed reports on global warming. Among his subtle, yet significant, revisions to these papers, Phil has changed words such as "will" to "may" and discarded unwanted sentences. For those who haven't figured it out Phil hasn't always been in the business of saving the planet, he was at one time a lobbyist for big oil. That's some tasty irony.

The latest civil war isn't geographic like our Civil War or the Greek's Peloponnesian War, it is one of ideology. "I'm the decider." That slip of the tongue will prove to be Bush's "Let them eat cake" moment. Nobody at the top had seen a day of combat in their lives, yet they knew how to conduct this war better than anyone else. Nobody in this administration has the foggiest notion about stem cells or climate change, still their word must be unquestioned. This is the point where hubris has eclipsed basic human welfare.