It is remarkable that relatively few people seem outraged by Mr. Cheney. Here is the man who, as Vice-President of the United States, violated some of the most important rights, freedoms and liberties that America has defended for over two-hundred years. Not only did he commit what in other times would have been considered war crimes and crimes against humanity—he is proud of having done so!
He boasts about the torture he ordered, he defends the wars of aggression that he fomented, and he is silent about the sweetheart deals he gave his former employer, Halliburton, in the “reconstruction” of countries that he helped destroy.
In short, he violated every rule in the book—yet no one is throwing the book at him. There are no Congressional hearings into his violation of the Constitution. There are no prosecutors sharpening their chops, getting ready to indict him on charges of corruption.
Most of all, there is no public outrage at him.
Sure, some loony Lefties and some old-style hard-ass Conservatives such as myself bitch and moan about him—but no one is seriously arguing for his arrest, indictment and prosecution for the despicable things he did while in office. Or if they are advocating his arrest and prosecution—like me, and perhaps you—then they are on the extreme fringes of the political discourse—like me, and perhaps you: Marginal, and inconsequential.
Cheney was—and still is—at the center of the political discourse, and he operated with a completely free hand, unconstrained by any limitations—Constitutional, legal, moral—free to carry out the most egregious violations of everything that the United States stands for—
—meanwhile, a college kid with a dime bage of pot goes to jail for five years.
This doesn’t surprise us: We know it as a truism that the rules fall like a ton of bricks on some Americans, while for others, those same rules are as light as ether—and just as non-existent.
Consider banking: Local Savings-and-Loans are constrained and regulated up the wazoo—but the large banks are pretty much allowed to write their own regulations. Small banks and S&L’s have to toe the line, as regards capital reserves—but the Too Big To Fail banks can literally make believe any asset is worth whatever they say it’s worth, and therefore covers these capital requirements with nothing but daydreams. (See my discussion of the suspension of FASB rule 157 here.)
Consider the stock markets: Computer-run algorithmic trading has taken over the markets, super-computers trading with one another in a pattern that is, essentially, a pump-and-dump scheme. A half-dozen Guidos out in New Jersey, pulling a pump-and-dump on penny stock, will rightfully get arrested by the SEC. But a blue-chip firm pulling the same shit—only with stock in Apple, Microsoft, BofA or JPMorgan? They’re invited to the $50,000-a-table fund-raising event that the regulator is throwing, as he positions himself for a run for the U.S. Senate.
Consider industries: Small- and medium-sized businesses have to follow every single FDA rule, every single OSHA clause, every single burp in the regulatory legislation, to the point where a lot of these small- and medium-sized businesses are drowning in regulatory sludge—
—but big outfits like Monsanto, DuPont, BP? They can sell known carcinogens to the general public, to children—they can carry out a monopoly against farmers with unhealthy, untested fertilizers and genetically modified seeds—they can cause the biggest industrial disaster ever, and then lie about it for months—
—and at most? A small fine. Any jail time for those responsible? Any public investigation, let alone opprobrium?
Once again: Cabrón, please . . .
In today’s America—where egalitarianism was once considered to be the cornerstone of our society—the application of the rules and regulations decreases as you go up the pyramid.
See, it’s not that the rules have vanished as you rise up the pyramid—the rules and regulations are still there: It’s just that they’re not applied to those closer to the top of the pyramid, as Mr. Cheney knows so well.
Why is this? Why have we lost our egalitarianism? Why have we lost our equality before the law?
I think it’s because we have lost our moral self-confidence: The confidence which gives us the ability to say out loud and with a firm voice, “This here is right, while that there is wrong.”
Starting with the 1970’s, our society has marinated in the notion that no one has a right to judge how you live: You can do your own thing, to borrow the phrase from the time. Not only does society not have the right to judge the way you live as to its rightness or wrongness—society does not have the right to judge you.
But of course: Judgment is the necessary ingredient for making moral decisions. You need judgment in order to decide what is wrong and what is right. Without moral judgment, all decisions are reduced to either a hedonistic calculus (how much pleasure will I get from this action, as opposed to how much pain, nevermind if it’s right or wrong), a cost-benefit analysis (how much would it cost me to do this as opposed to that, nevermind if it’s right or wrong), or to a political decision (whose support would I win or lose if I did this or that, nevermind if it’s right or wrong).
Without moral judgment, our decisions ultimately turn us from citizens with a common purpose, into nihilistic actors looking out for ourselves and no one else.
More troublingly, without moral judgment, our lives become untethered from fixed principles, and therefore constantly reactive to the people around us. We become dependent on what others think of us—slaves to public opinion.
(As a parenthesis: We shouldn’t be surprised, if our culture has turned so many of us into raging narcissists. Without a fixed moral benchmark from which to render judgment, we are as untethered as free-floating balloons—and therefore must gauge our place in society not by what we believe, but rather by what other people believe about us. Thus we have to constantly, obsessively examine and re-examine the registry of what others say about us. No surprise, then, the popularity of the social networks, such as Facebook, etc.: They give us feedback as to what other people think about us, and thereby help us gauge and measure our place in our ever-shifting society. Think of it as a school of minnows, everyone swimming in the same, ever-shifting direction, everyone constantly terrified of swimming against the school.)
Since we don’t allow ourselves to tell right from wrong—since we don’t allow ourselves to make moral judgments—we cannot make fine-tuned moral distinctions: We lose proportionality, and moral perspective. We cannot discern that a minor shoving match at a bar is not an “assault”, while shelling people with radioactive munitions is in fact a war crime. We cannot tell the difference—or see the similarities—between robbing a hundred bucks with a gun, and robbing a $1,000,000,000 with a lawyer.
Mindlessly Following the Rules
Directly from this loss of moral proportion—and directly from the sense of being untethered—our society begins to latch on to rules: Mindlessly latching on to rules.
Think of something as absurd as the “three strikes rule” in the judiciary: In some states, if a person commits three felonies, then they are automatically thrown in jail for 20 years or more, irrespective of how trivial the offenses were. And as we have all heard, from too many horror stories for it to be a fluke, we know how deeply unfair this three-strikes rule really is.
Yet so many of us don’t say a thing, shielding ourselves from moral responsibility by that most heinous and despicable of phrases: “I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.”
Think, conversely, of what happened with the banksters: They broke the financial system, immorally profiting from that mess—demanded (and got) an unprecedented government bailout by essentially blackmailing the American economy—then paid themselves record-breaking bonuses with money given to them by the American people.
But these banksters—swine that they are, without exception—did not overtly flout any rule. So nobody said a thing, except some confused souls on the margins and in the blogosphere. The mainstream media? The people with positions of authority? They didn’t say a thing—because the banksters didn’t overtly break any rule or law.
Our society latches on to rules—often arbitrary rules—and turns a blind eye both to the abuses that arise from compliance to these rules, and abuses that arise from the lack of any existing rules.
The reason? We no longer have the moral self-confidence to say, “Screw the rules—a dime bag of pot is not enough of a reason to imprison you for five year”, or conversely, “Screw that it’s not technically against the rules—benefitting from the bankruptcy of your financial institution is wrong”.
Since we don’t have this moral self-confidence, we hold on to rules, no matter how arbitrary, or how morally unsound, and watch as perverse results bloom like weeds in what’s supposed to be a perfectly manicured lawn.
I can tell your objection already: If we are doing this—if we are obsessively latching on to rules—why is it that the people closer to the top of the pyramid can so cavalierly break the rules, as Mr. Cheney has boasted of doing? Why does throwing fifty pounds of trash into a deserted lot merit being thrown in jail for a year, while spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for six months or so merits a (proportionately) minor fine?
In short, why don’t the rules apply for everyone, equally?
Simple: Because without absolute moral judgment—that is, with a standard of morality that is relative, and not fixed—then everything becomes a political game, a numbers game. The more people on your side, the more likely you’ll get away with bending or breaking the rules. The application of the rule of law becomes a popularity contest: If you have the numbers on your side, then you can get away with anything.
This is mob rule.
Consider Mr. Cheney, and Barack Obama’s reaction to Mr. Cheney’s crimes: Since he is a former Vice-President, and seemingly popular with his electorate, Mr. Obama sees no upside to prosecuting Mr. Cheney—but plenty of downside.
Consistency would demand of Mr. Obama that, if he prosecutes Mr. Cheney, he ought to prosecute George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, several if not most of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Why? Because all of them are guilty of the same crimes against the American Constitution as Mr. Cheney: Crimes against the Constitution, and crimes against humanity—and I do not use that phrase lightly.
But in this atmosphere of relative morality that is our curse to live in, Mr. Obama has made the political calculation that there is no upside to prosecuting Mr. Cheney or that whole cabal.
Some Lefty pinko faggots might be outraged—as outraged as I am outraged—that Obama doesn’t do “the right thing”. But see, from the position of relative morality, Obama is doing the right thing: He has made the political calculation that it’s not worth prosecuting the Bush-Cheney cabal. The political cost is too high, the political benefit too low—and besides, everyone accepts that Cheney did what he has done, which would leave Obama out of synch with the school of minnows of Washington.
So Obama says, “Forget the past—move forward”, when it comes to Cheney’s crimes.
But when it comes to a whistleblower who embarrasses the military, or the security aparatus? Whistleblowers cause more political harm than political benefit—which is why Obama has been even more relentless in prosecuting than than even George W. Bush was.
See how crazy this is? This is what relative morality has bequeathed us: An evil old man interviewed on all the morning talk shows, cheerfully admitting to the rape of American principles, and to the gang-bang of those principles most central to our common humanity, confident that he will never suffer punishment for his evil deeds. And on the flip side, a whistleblower who saw waste—corruption—treason—and tried to stop it by calling attention to it: He is prosecuted like a criminal—worse than a criminal, if you go by what has happened to Bradley Manning—while those who betrayed the public trust are coddled and shielded from scrutiny—they are allowed to continue their wrongdoing, while the whistleblower who tried to stop it by shining a light on it is sent to jail.
Sapping Our Will
It’s bad enough that this turd of Satan should parade about, boasting of his evil deeds—what’s worse is, the very spectacle of Mr. Cheney prancing about saps America of our will to goodness and decency.
Just as there is a collective mood—the mood of a crowd at the stadium of a winning team, the mood of a crowd fleeing from an earthquake—there is a collective will: The will to goodness—or evil—of a people.
That will to goodness is inexorably sapped when the people see such an evil man walk away with impunity from his awful deeds—in fact, boasting of those evil deeds.
As our collective will to goodness is sapped, we become cynical, tired, depressed—ultimately despirited.
I am unsurprised that our economy is in the doldrums, teetering on the edge of yet another cliff-dive. Simpletons with Ph.D.’s might spew nonsense about “falling aggregate demand”, or there being “a need to provide markets with added liquidity”, or some other triviality, to explain away our reeling economy—but the answer is so much simpler:
Our economy is falling apart because our common spirit is exhausted, beaten down, and miserable—we have lost our vigor as a people. And the reason we have lost our vigor is because we have seen too many injustices, too much corruption—too much evil—that goes unremarked upon, tacitly accepted, and therefore unpunished.
We see Mr. Cheney take his victory lap on the morning shows as we drink our coffee, and realize as we drive to work that—in the current American society we live in—goodness will be censured, whereas evil will go unpunished. Unpunished, and indeed, rewarded.
No wonder we’re so depressed.
The Way Back
We need to get back to making judgments: We need to start saying, “This is right, and that is wrong”.
We already know what is right and what is wrong—we don’t need to hire some expert to tell us this. We know that Dick Cheney committed crimes against the very essence of America, wiping his ass with the Constitution. We know that the banks carried out wrongdoing, with their robo-signing scams and their criminal foreclosures on people who didn’t even owe them any money. We know that we are fed foodstuffs that poison our bodies and the bodies of our children yet to be born.
We know these things: They are not secret, they are not facts that have yet to come to light, or to be proven. They are the truth.
What’s more, these things are wrong.
So we have to stand up—as individuals and as a people—and say out loud: “This is wrong. This is unacceptable. And this must be punished.”
We must judge.
A lot of people—children of the ’70’s, I suppose—claim that judgment is a bad thing: “Don’t judge! You have no right to judge!” is their mantra. They insist that we as a society have no right to judge how they live, or more importantly what they do.
A lot of other people have taken up the same slogan, and adopted it as their own: People like Dick Cheney—like Monsanto and DuPont and BP, who poison us with impunity—like the oil and gas companies carrying out “fracking”, which is causing earthquakes and flammable water on the East Coast—like the TBTF banks and the prop desks front-running their clients, or illegally foreclosing on homeowners—in short, people near the top of our social pyramid.
They have adopted the non-judgmental slogans: “Don’t judge! You have no right to judge! It’s not illegal! We’re not breaking the law! So don’t judge! Don’t judge!” they yell and scream as loud as they can.
They seem so convincing, these slogans: It’s tempting to do what they ask—to not judge. Because judgment is hard. It’s far easier to passively accept a situation—to not pass judgment—to simply let it be—than to stand up, make a judgment, and then say it out loud.
These evil people clamor all the livelong day: “Don’t judge! You have no right to judge! You have no idea what the circumstances were! Don’t judge! Don’t judge! Don’t judge!”
When you feel you are about to cave in—when you feel that you are about to cede to these clever people, and accept their calls not to judge them—I want you to remember a single, very simple truth:
Only the guilty fear judgment.