John Chuckman Comment: American Psycho
September 26, 2003
No, I did not read the book, but what words more perfectly describe George Bush making one of the oddest speeches ever made at the UN? There he was - with his designer suit, costly watch, and constantly-manicured haircut - stone-faced and unrepentant for the violent destruction he caused, for his obvious lying, and for his rage against the thoughtful objections of others. Actually, unrepentant seems an inadequate description, unaware or uninterested being closer to the mark.
The matter and manner of Bush's speaking are always an ordeal for thinking people. He seems convinced that every audience deserves the same approach given the pathologically credulous at a revival tent meeting.
But he outdid himself this time. His description of anti-social behavior on a global scale as support for the world community must have provided a sophisticated audience interesting dinner topics. One can imagine the bons mots around the subject of the world's most incorrigible, obvious liar claiming he defends UN credibility. As with Dostoevsky's Father Karamazov, it was as though all his recent vicious and disturbing behavior had simply never happened.
Of course, he sees the UN as good for a big handout towards the financial and human cost of rebuilding the waste he made of Iraq. This may seem odd for one of those "we ain't a gonna pay no damn UN dues" types, but, remember, psychopaths are complete narcissists.
But a handout is not Bush's critical need. Facing an election, he is looking for ways to deflect growing criticism and doubt from American voters. Americans have been remarkably quiescent over the dirty wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because they cost so few American lives and provided a reassuring sense of the nation's vast capacity for revenge, even if they killed mostly innocent people and few or any of those associated with 9/11.
But night after night of car bombs and dead American soldiers on television have a way of changing perceptions. America's press, "embedded" with the Pentagon long before the term was invented for the Iraq war, often poorly reports around foreign policy, but it simply cannot resist blood-and-ambulances stuff with real American victims. With this continuing week after week, it is likely more Americans will see the Iraq war for what it was - nothing to do with justice or democracy or rights or even terror - but one more kill-a-commie-for-Christ campaign, only on a vast scale with high-technology killing and no commies. And, as with all previous such holy wars, it just happens to serve the interests of America's utterly selfish foreign policy.
The UN is widely misunderstood in America, a circumstance people of Bush's leaning have always diligently cultivated, and its involvement on any appreciable scale gives Bush something external and vaguely-disliked to manipulate in explaining all the violence and confusion yet to come as a people revolt against conquest, occupation, and misery.
International involvement gives room for maneuver, wiggle room, and can be twisted with words to serve many purposes, including the claim that it vindicates Bush's wisdom, all those do-nothing, effete foreigners finally coming to recognize the threat of terror - and, yes, he once again with unblinking dishonesty linked terror with Iraq during his UN performance, terror being, with the bitterest irony, Bush's best ally in garnering votes. Iraqis fighting back with limited means against the world's military and technological Frankenstein naturally has to be called something else, so it is called terror, just as violent resistance to endless occupation and abuse in Gaza and the West Bank is.
Psychopathy likely is one of those many glitches in the gene pool, an evolutionary trial-and-error that served a useful purpose before modern urban society, psychopathic warriors being valued for their ability at defending early human settlements and terrifying potential enemies. Probably most of our legends of monsters such as vampires or ghouls derive from human experience with all-too-real psychopathic personalities.
Psychopaths are valued to this day as torturers for secret police, assassins, and dirty-tricks operatives for intelligence services. Police and prison-guard services who are careful about their hiring screen out such people with tests (there are extremely reliable ones), since psychopaths are naturally drawn to work where others will be at their mercy.
As with many mental disorders, from depression to schizophrenia, there appears to be degrees of psychopathy. The father of the late Jeffrey Dahmer, a man who killed, consumed and memorialized portions of his victims in his Milwaukee apartment, wrote a courageous book after the discovery of his son's horrific deeds. He recognized in retrospect signs from his son's childhood that something unusual was developing. He also, very importantly, recognized that there were uncomfortable thoughts he had had as a young man which now might be understood as a milder inclination in the same direction.
Politics with the power of elected office and the glow of press attention surely is a draw for at least the more moderately afflicted. There is reason to believe that psychopathy helps explain the careers of some horrible and bizarre politicians. The example that leaps to mind is the late Senator McCarthy. Yes, he was a nasty drunk, but lots of drunks function in politics without becoming destroyers of others' lives. The great Winston Churchill, for example, couldn't get through a day without his brandy.
How do you get rid of a political psychopath like Bush? Well, I hope the Democratic party doesn't see its only option as simply running another one. The Democratic contenders include at least a couple characters who might well qualify as having the disorder.
The armed forces have always been natural repositories for these dark creatures, the work of killing and the skill of being able to do it with relish making good fits. We have a general who suddenly discovered at nearly sixty years of age that he is a Democrat. What that means in the context of the general's military experience, which includes probable war crimes and extremely hazardous judgments in Serbia, is not clear.
We have a Senator who always smilingly supports death, whether as part of American foreign policy, Israeli foreign policy, or in prisons.
Maybe that's just how it has to be in a vast bloated empire that pretends it represents principle. After all, you need to keep all those disagreeable foreigners in line. Statesmen and humanitarian leaders aren't very good material for the job.