[An e-mail to my father.]
Frightening. The neoconservatives want all this power and they are often so terribly wrong:
Saddam was an imminent threat to the world because he possessed weapons of mass destruction. Wrong. I remember a dramatic moment when at a United Nations press conference the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, switched mid-sentence from German to English to reproach Donald Rumsfeld- who was rudely shaking his head- Fischer saying, "... I'm sorry Mr. Secretary, but I am not convinced!"
That Islam, where it's at today, lacking any equivalent of Christianity's Protestant Reformation or the West's Enlightenment, that Islam is compatible with democracy. Wrong again.
Then again, Cheney doesn't really believe that himself. He lets George W. believe it though because the man's complete unawareness of the fear inspired by newfound personal responsibilities for the social and moral arrangement of one's own life that is required by democracy can be debilitating to one raised outside of Western culture, lacking the 500 years of cultural support we may take for granted in the West- Cheney lets George W. believe this fib because it jibes with the general public's ethnocentricity. Also because George W.'s simplistic faith in the malleability of humanity sells well with the public, who tend to believe such fairy tales due to their evangelical orientation.
Many of the neoconservatives believe in this idealistic nonsense, and it may hurt them to be proven so wrong. But some of them do not believe their own orthodoxies. This situation in American government today is no different than in other institutions that wield great power and influence over their people. In the U.S., those in the congregation are called patriots. In religion, they are the faithful, the chosen, the flock. In fascism or communism, they are the proletariat, the workers. I have said this in the past, but I will reiterate it here: It is my reading of life, that those at the top of these institutions do not believe their own orthodoxies. Whether it's the Pope, Islamic mullahs, Osama bin Laden, or Dick Cheney. They do not believe their own sermons, their own ontologies, their own politics, their own propaganda. They feign belief merely as a means to an end.
This is called cynicism. It represents a deliberate choice to exploit ignorance, rather than an attempt to educate it away. Its cause is a deeply seated misanthropy, a hatred of humanity, a belief that most of mankind is stupid, ungrateful, and unworthy of assistance from those of strength and ability. Again I refer to worn texts: The battle between these perspectives, that of the cynic and that of the humanist, is the paramount issue explored in The Brothers Karamazov, receiving its most profound treatment in the chapter entitled The Grand Inquisitor, which relates a fantastic confrontation between a Catholic cardinal at the height of his power during the Spanish Inquisition and his prisoner, Jesus Christ of the Second Coming.
This difference of perspective is illustrated in the vastly different worldviews held by the religious zealot and the secularist; between the power politician and the teacher; between America's Founding Fathers of democracy and Iraq's Islamic clerics. We pretend that much more exists in common between the last pair than in actuality does, because it is pleasing to believe such fantasies. Or, because the converse, contemplating the backwardness of Islamic culture, is too terribly frightening. Or, because many of our population were raised among a solidly Christian evangelic group of family and friends, where people were never challenged to defend their beliefs against outside opinions. Regardless of the cause, belief in this fantasy allows us to feel self-righteous about our good deeds.
Cheney is the perfect example of this cynicism. That is why he is so detestable, in my mind. Cheney is the archetype of the Nietzschien superman that thinks he knows what's best for the weaklings among humanity, and that he must impose his will upon the masses for their own good. Dostoevsky warned in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov that the logical conclusion of this line of reasoning is a monster of a man. Depending on his character and strength, he may evolve into a Columbine killer, or a Napoleon, or a Hitler.
The reason why it seems absurd to imagine Dick Cheney as such a monster is because he is so effectively restrained by our democracy. It took Western, Christian culture centuries to store up the strength and courage to do this, to cast off the social and moral certainty provided by Nietzschien leaders. But we did it at last in order to starve these monsters. By separating Church and State, by providing a secular education for our population, by creating competing branches of representative government, by protecting freedom of speech and press, we starved the monsters of their sustenance.
And yet, Dick Cheney and today's neoconservatives are asking us to roll back these very same protections, in the name of fighting tyranny and terror, and to protect our Western culture and way of life. It is these protections that have safeguarded, nurtured, and promoted our culture, not the wisdom of Nietzschien supermen. Islam, beholden to such supermen, if not reformed by its practitioners as Christianity was by its Protestants, will eat itself. Islam will consume itself in ignorance and hatred.
For Cheney, even if he comprehends it, none of this matters. He acts on a ruthless calculation: enacting the means to his end. Cheney wants the oil. Cheney wants to kill Arabs to avenge September 11th. Cheney wants a name for himself as a tough power-player with connections. Cheney wants to ensure himself a high profile job after he's completed his "service" to his country. And Bush is too stupid to understand this or see the puppet master moving his strings.