By Judith Gayle | Political Waves
We live in a time of immense social and political distortion. The 'greed is good' culture of the 90s gave way to a lash-back from politicians making hay from Clinton's blow job and Christocrats filling collection plates from those who longed for the simpler, and more socially-repressed, days of yore. Begs the question: what's morality? A good number of Americans believe morality has to do with sexuality, drugs, laws and belief systems. Another large number is more interested in attitudes, intentions and bottom lines -- that would include me.
Distorted reality. Photo by Deirdre Tanton.
Take Miss California's breasts, for instance. Carrie Prejean
is Barbie-beautiful and seems quite poised; she proved that when she confidently gave her opinion on gay marriage at the Miss USA Pageant, one that coincided with her religious convictions. Prejean is evidently an evangelical Christian; Satan tried to tempt her with the politics of that question but she kept the faith, or at least that's what she told Religious Righty, James Dobson. More controversy hit Miss Prejean when it became apparent that she'd shared her abundant, semi-clad charms with the camera of a professional photographer prior to the contest.
The Donald, he of the laughable comb-overs and glitzy real estate deals, owns the pageant franchise and made the decision that, despite surfaced photos that Carrie had sworn didn't exist, she could continue to hold her title. As a little California newspaper
put it, "Once again, our weary and deeply conflicted nation turned to Donald Trump for moral guidance on Tuesday, and once again, the wise old sage reached deep into his soul and delivered this proclamation: She's blonde, she's hot, she stays." This prompted satirist Andy Borowitz to write a piece entitled, Miss California Vows to Use Her Naked Breasts for Good
I don't know if Carrie was listening to Satan when she got her free breast implants, courtesy of the pageant, or when she exposed them for all to admire; although if the Dark Lord is the patron of insecurity, ambition and desire, probably so. I'm not sure if her religious convictions were trumped (pun intended) by her exploitation of her assets or the shallowness of her value system; Dobson isn't on her case about anything other than his own political interests, and no church has stepped up to finger-point. Nor do I care; I do care that the distortion of the whole affair has us, as usual, focused on the wrong thing.
Miss Prejean signed a contract she is apparently in defiance of. As luck would have it, if she hadn't answered a particularly controversial question and caused all eyes to swing her way, we would not have taken a moral core-sampling from this pageant that exposes our ongoing enthrallment with female fantasy, glamour and appearance. Beauty contests are adult fairy tales; Cinderella becomes so beautiful that Prince Charming has no choice but to take her as his beloved property. There's a very dark side here, of course; someone else
found little JonBenét Ramsey, for instance -- the implied sexuality of this cottage industry was, and is, kept under wraps, lest we see the corrosion at the heart of it.
Carrie has been labeled anti-gay; that obviously will not bode well if she wants to model in the fashion world. I have no idea if she is, in fact, anti-gay but that single answer about marriage doesn't qualify her as a homophobe. Her weepy commentary about Satan and being persecuted for her religion defines her, though; the same biblical Leviticus
that condemns homosexuality objectifies women and designates them chattel. That she is clueless to that larger truth is proven by her preoccupation with silicone and tiaras; that we presume for a moment that the moral tag on this story is about God v. Gay defines our own shallowness. Without those big store-bought boobs of hers, Prejean would never have had a chance at an opinion and we wouldn't be discussing this.
I expect Carrie understands that; she just doesn't get that she is a cartoon character typifying the ongoing sexual roles we adopt as our own, and appears to be about as deep as my teacup. Another example of a controversy with the potential for a slippery twist is that of Army Sgt. John Russell, who went bonkers at a stress clinic at Camp Liberty in Baghdad this week. John, a guardsman turned career soldier, served in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was in a mustering out process from his third term in Iraq this week when he went ballistic and killed five people. This time, the internal demon of constant warring was turned toward our own -- the more typical result
of untreated PTSD has been directed at those whose country must endure the war.
Of some 800,000 soldiers serving in these last two wars, 300,000 of them
have been identified with symptoms of PTSD; some, obviously, more severe than others. But here is the truism: anyone who serves in this kind of conflict will come home changed forever. This should not surprise us. We saw almost half of the returning generation of Vietnam veterans dissolve into homelessness and criminal activity. Those boomers who were raised by World War II vets can almost all testify that while their fathers might have been decent, hard-working citizens and loving parents, too many of them were distant and emotionally unavailable all of their lives. We have yet to connect the sociological dots back to the military-industrial complex for wounds to the nation that shape the generations that come after major conflicts.
As well, the military has not come to terms with the psychological wounding of its soldiers; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is still a diagnosis frowned upon among the warrior-elite. Its severity is uniformly downplayed, and those with symptoms are most often medicated and ignored. A soldier on CNN today said he did not think that Sgt. Russell should be excused for his behavior due to the malady. He represents that hard-edged military model, the one named Hero in our fairy tales.
Here's a quote
that describes the quality of care offered to the vulnerable at Camp Liberty:
A British journalist's report posted on the U.S. Army's Web site describes the kind of emotional support offered to soldiers seeking psychiatric counseling at Camp Liberty. "This is mental health military-style," reporter Tim Albone wrote. "Soldiers are referred to as warriors, not patients; PTSD is referred to as post-traumatic growth; and trauma is talked about as something to be learned from -- something that will 'help you grow.'"
What was called 'shell shock' during the first great war of the last century is treated no differently in the dawning of this one; those who suffer it must simply "soldier up." In Bush's constant hunt for more live bodies, USA Today
reported that the Pentagon had illegally deployed 43,000 soldiers deemed medically unfit for combat during the first five years of the Iraq war. The plight of shoddy care given returning vets with serious injuries was made evident in the scandal at Walter Reed Hospital a while back. Kissinger called our soldiers 'cannon fodder;' Bush did nothing to correct that description.
Despite the way in which our volunteer military has been treated, the Pentagon lacks no funding for slick advertisements in which the patriotism of young minds is turned to nationalism, and exploited with notions of becoming, as ends the Soldier's Creed, a " ... guardian of freedom and of the American way of life!"
Manipulative? Oh yes. Realistic? Hardly. But that's the American Way.
Beauty pageants and boot camps -- the territory of the young and naive who want to live the fairy tales that capture their imagination; and to keep it fun and glamorous, the war game is provided, interactive
on the web.
It's a given that we will be presented with distortion when we read the news; the mythologies of a nation are big sellers for the corporate stockholders. Our focus of choice, much like the curved mirrors on our cars, defines what we will notice. If we are religious, we will filter information through the particulars of our belief system. If we are militaristic, we will find the enemy and make it ours. It's too easy to believe what we see in that side mirror, including our own biases, grinning back and waiting to snare us.
There is always a bottom line: when we get caught up in the side-path of details and controversies, we miss it -- like the exit out of the maze, leaving us to go around once again. We get caught because our vision is distorted not only by lack of quality information, but the filters we adopt. If we are to escape the slippery consciousness of the controversy factor, we must make an effort to keep that filter wide open to new facts and uncomfortable possibilities.
That is one of the reasons that politics, itself, is a tricky game and not for the faint of heart. Obama, on the advice of his top three military commanders, has reconsidered releasing new pictures of detainee abuse, citing fear that they would endanger our soldiers. Sitting here in the Pea Patch -- watching the wind toss the shiny Spring leaves on the trees, comfortable in my chair as I drink herbal tea and write this piece -- I can throw out a snort, along with the ACLU,
that the transparency we've demanded is being obstructed; disapprove of the lack of big picture details this might provide the credibility of the torture conversations, leading to a true recounting against the Bush administration for their war crimes and hubris.
On the other hand, someone squatting in the sandy ruins of Haditha or Mahmoudiya,
nursing a blood feud against the soldiers of an America that has, in effect, killed, maimed or displaced over a million of his countrymen, is looking in the side-mirror of his situation and waiting for the focus to magnify outrage to fuel loathing and ignite vendetta. Rape must be avenged; tribes must be defended. In the loop of ancient human behaviors, death must be met with death. Is the release of one more picture worth the spilling of blood? Might we have enough proof, as is?
I don't have an opinion on this, as yet; with so many of us off our rockers, focused on the wrong thing, unable to find the logic of a bottom line, I just can't say what defines the better course of action. There is a lot of irrationality out there, just now; the whole nation has PTSD, now, and a rift in our ethical understanding that has come to a head with this worrisome question of torture.
The Republican Party has spent weeks bemoaning its lack of leadership, but I think it's clear we're seeing their leadership by default; Dick Cheney has stepped into position as its spokesperson.
Crazy? You betcha, as You Know Who would say. The guy with 13% approval, the representative of those who assign blame but refuse to take any, is now the face we see too often on our television screens; the defender of all that we are so anxious to put behind. Except for the torture -- we're undecided on that. We're suffering a little moral lapse; we haven't realized that this quandary has less to do with those who were tortured, than what it says about us as torturers.
Cheney, like Obama, is a cool customer; calm and deliberate. But where Obama can back up to reconsider, Cheney never has. He worked for a unitary presidency under Richard Nixon; he still wants one -- just not this one. This one won't keep us 'safe.' This one isn't tough enough. And this one is a dark, threatening visage in Uncle Dick's distorted side mirror; hampering his neo-conservatism and exposing his past radicalism.
I think Dick is genuinely crazy, but there's a lot of crazy out there; it might be humorous in less desperate times -- it isn't at the moment. Maybe one day soon we'll look back and laugh, ruefully, about how we survived this period. Until that day, let me be your driving instructor: before pulling out into traffic, turn on your signal. Next, check your side mirror, but that's not enough! Look over your shoulder to see behind you
. When it's safe ... when you've seen the whole picture of the situation, front, back and side ... carefully pull away from the curb.
Seeing through the distortions takes a bit of practice, but we each have a moral compass; we need to use it. Meanwhile, we mustn't jump to conclusions. Play Devil's Advocate with yourself; keep your mind open and allow it to change, should that be necessary. Fairy tales are for kids, who want to live a romantic adventure in black/white terms; grownups are those who've lived to tell, and know how many shades of gray it takes to understand one another and co-exist peaceably.
The distorted images all around us urge us into a continual game of win/lose with our own personal sense of ethics and self-respect. That is a game for the very young; maturity and thoughtfulness closes out competition to give us larger options, the kind that recreates us as adults invested in win/win. Love demands no less.
For everything there is a bottom line; a crux of the matter. It's easy enough to find -- it's usually the hole we have to love ourselves out of. If you look over your shoulder before you pull into traffic, you'll spot it right away.