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Orwellian America and spiritual sickness

A decade into the “War on Terror,” things have started to get truly Orwellian here in the U.S. And you don’t have to be one of the wanton fear-mongers yammering on both ends the political continuum to recognize it.

Consider: last week a U.S. federal judge in Manhattan ruled that President Obama is not required to respond to a request from The New York Times and the ACLU for an explanation of the legal rationale for targeting U.S. citizens for assassination without due process. In issuing her ruling, Judge Colleen McMahon openly expressed frustration with the almost surreal “thicket of laws and precedents” that has grown up in recent years to confuse and complicate the issue:

A federal judge in Manhattan refused on Wednesday to require the Justice Department to disclose a memorandum providing the legal justification for the targeted killing of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who died in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. The ruling, by Judge Colleen McMahon, was marked by skepticism about the antiterrorist program that targeted him, and frustration with her own role in keeping the legal rationale for it secret.

I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret,” she wrote. “The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,” Judge McMahon wrote, adding that she was operating in a legal environment that amounted to “a veritable Catch-22.”

— Adam Liptak, “Secrecy of Memo on Drone Killing Is Upheld,” The New York Times, January 2, 2013 (emphasis added)

For a glimpse of the wider context in which this circumstance is unfolding, and for a succinct — and rather dizzying — summary of recent actions by the U.S. government under the Obama administration that have accelerated our spin into previously unexplored regions of dystopian nightmare, see this paragraph from a recent Guardian blog post by Glenn Greenwald on the fact that the War on Terror is specifically designed to be a perpetual and unending affair:

The polices adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecy, repression and release-restrictions at the camp; minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees.

Does that sound to you like a government anticipating the end of the War on Terror any time soon? Or does it sound like one working feverishly to make their terrorism-justified powers of detention, surveillance, killing and secrecy permanent?

— Glenn Greenwald, “The ‘war on terror’ — by design — can never end,” On Security and Liberty, The Guardian, January 4, 2013 (emphasis added)

Greenwald closes by stating that “the notion that the US government is even entertaining putting an end to any of this is a pipe dream, and the belief that they even want to is fantasy. They’re preparing for more endless war; their actions are fueling that war; and they continue to reap untold benefits from its continuation. Only outside compulsion, from citizens, can make an end to all of this possible” (emphasis added). Not to be pessimistic, and in fact to be purely realistic, I would add to Greenwald’s well-observed final line that, by and large, U.S. citizens don’t want this all to end, because, driven by deep historical-psychological forces, we’re so caught up in our consumerist dreamworld, even as its material and economic base decays and falls down around us, that we’ll drive the whole system and the nation itself collectively into the ground, and take a good portion of the rest of the world with us, before waking up and acknowledging the fundamentally sick nature of the whole thing.

But even more fundamentally, when Greenwald mentions the effective force of “outside compulsion, from citizens” in bringing about political change, it’s important to bear in mind the primal and primary fact that each and all of us, not just U.S. citizens but everybody on the planet, lives under the sway of outside compulsion by forcespsychological, spiritual, metaphysical, choose your level of framing — that make our thoughts, emotions, words, decisions, and actions anything but pure, and that pollute and corrupt us individually in ways that render collective action almost inevitably destructive. The “veritable Catch-22” identified by Judge McMahon subsists on a far deeper and wider plane than the merely legislative.  Thus, the real level at which any corrective action has to begin remains, always, individual and personal.

To quote (again) the line from Jesus in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ that has always remained with me as one of the most succinct and astute summaries of our real plight, and of the real connection between spiritual and sociopolitical matters, and of the real basis for substantially positive action: “The foundation is the soul … If you don’t replace the spirit first and change what’s inside [before diving into political action], then you’re only going to replace the Romans with someone else and nothing ever changes. Even if you’re victorious you’ll still be filled with the poison. You’ve got to break the chain of evil.”