A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Madness – Part Four

Mentioned briefly in The Madness – Part Two was a construct, the consciousness system of order (CSO), in the context of self-referencing behavior.  By way of a little background on this idea:

A system of order creates the probability structure for the occurrence of events.  The physical system of order (PSO) generates, by its rules, a probability that great masses of hydrogen gas might be compressed by gravity to the point of igniting nuclear reactions.  That probability is one.  The physical system of order also generates, again by its rules, a probability that the various elements would combine in such a fashion that a self-replicating, energy consuming, negative entropy device might occur.  The probability is positive, but vanishingly small.  For such a device to have a reasonably large probability a new system of order, based in the physical system, but with all the properties of another system must exist.  The probability of such a system organizing out of the physical system of order is very tiny and thus such systems seem to be exceedingly rare. 

The living system of order (LSO) with its own rules and structures gives the existence of a bacteria a probability of one.  A quick examination of this system of order demonstrates its properties: a means of capturing certain consequences of events, a means of storing the information of those captured consequences and a process to implement aspects of the stored consequences.  The living system of order functions these properties in the DNA/protein relationship.  The operation of these properties is evolution.  The LSO has vast potential to produce millions, even billions, of different though basically similarly patterned organisms, but the probability of the rules of the living system of order (in combination with the physical system of order) producing a bow and arrows is positive and vanishingly small.

A bow and arrows requires another system of order to have a high enough probability to actually exist.  There is a very tiny positive probability that the living system of order can organize a design that will create the properties of consciousness; essentially create time as malleable phenomenon, imagination as construction tool and communication/language as reservoir for story.  The consciousness system of order does not have direct analogies for its properties in the living system of order – it is a separate and unique system – but it still collects consequences, stores them and implements the stored elements.  In the consciousness system of order a bow and arrows has a probability of one, along with airplanes and toasters.

There is a major difference between the relationship of the LSO to the PSO and the relationship of the CSO to the LSO and the PSO.  The living system of order cannot reference its own functions outside of the rules of the physical system of order.  The evolution, no matter how bizarre, of a creature is always within the immediate boundaries of biophysical reality.  The CSO, on the other hand, can, like a juggler, create conditions that are so unlikely in either the LSO or the PSO that the nearly improbable can exist but only for relatively short times. 

In its origin the consciousness system of order was completely and intimately connected to and received its primary order from the biophysical space.  Its power lay in using information from the environment in completely new ways.  Consciousness created time and controlled it.  Before consciousness there was no past and no future.  Events from the past could be collected and stored in the community group as story and rearranged into designs that never existed before.  These designs could be imagined as existing and sometimes made to exist.  The speed with which humans with this tool could adapt left the rest of the organic world standing still, like a science fiction movie of a character with super-speed.

But the CSO had no obligatory referencing sources as did the LSO.  It had evolved with the biophysical as its reference and there had never been either reason or opportunity to fix solidly that relationship.  And quickly the CSO began to reference its own productions and give them just as much importance as the biophysical reality.  It simply had no designs for discrimination.  As the consciousness order became self-referencing it was also creating changes in social organization and new physical objects.  It has become possible today to reference only activities and objects that are 5, 10, even a 100 levels removed from being based in biophysical reality and to live most of life there except for birth, parts of childhood and death. 

There are millions of ways to be self-referenced and only one way to be referenced in reality.  Add to this fact that there is no built-in way to tell the difference and you have the ingredients for the true Madness of human existence.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Madness – Part three

“I have spent my life trying to avoid the Madness.  But, it is like the night coming across the landscape from the east." 

In the evening the men sat around the porch and occasional stumps in the yard talking (arguing good naturedly) about which was the better car, a Ford or a Chevy.  This was well and good, and entertaining, unless I might pipe up in my juvenile ignorance, “But, aren’t they really just alike.”  This was unacceptable at so many levels.  Most of all, I have come to understand, it recognized the Madness. 

I have, since those happy days of fireflies and sipping beers left on the end tables by the neglectful men, gone on to study, thinking that I would confront the Madness head on; leave it blinking and bewildered from my many and well aimed blows: Paleontology, biology, the nervous system, psychology, sociology, economics, politics, philosophy, and all the while chancing a bit of the literary and artistic products of the Madness just to ‘stay in touch.’ 

Never one to shot from cover, I left the University, worked at just jobs, started my own business and have succeeded and failed, both in grand style.

And still the Madness comes like the approaching night.  Actually, as enticing as that metaphor is, it is quite wrong. The Madness surrounds, it pervades; it is like the ocean; you are washed by and notice the waves, but you are in the water all the time.

It is not that all that study and reckless living have been in vain; not at all.  Only I have never stood toe to toe with Madness and given it a good combination, never sent it back a step in respect for my punches.  But I have resolved, in my reckless way, to try to avoid living in Madness as best I can; just me, no epic battles.  If I can live for even a time, some time out of most days, in real sanity, by my own lights, I will have won this match big time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Due Process

“After reviewing 517 of the Guantánamo detainees’ cases in depth, (the Seton Hall study) concluded that only 8 percent were alleged to have associated with Al Qaeda. Fifty-five percent were not alleged to have engaged in any hostile act against the United States at all, and the remainder were charged with dubious wrongdoing, including having tried to flee U.S. bombs. The overwhelming majority — all but 5 percent — had been captured by non-U.S. players, many of whom were bounty hunters.” – reported by Jane Mayer in her new book, ‘The Dark Side.’

 The presumption of guilt greatly reduces the need for legal protections.  If “everyone who matters” knows that a person is guilty, then all that is needed is a process that quickly disposes of the guilty.  For our comfort we must assume that those with the power to act on the certainty of guilt will not abuse that power by creating new crimes so as to remove impediments to their wishes.  Another concern is that there may be classes of persons who are considered not to matter (by those who do) and therefore if they are called guilty in this construction and disposed of, errors are of no practical consequence.  This seems to be the direction our “justice” system is going. 

Eight hundred years ago, at Runnymede, a step was taken to deal with the objections, of both power and epistemology, to the absolute power of Kings.  By recognizing that for action against a person to have the authority of a people and not just the authority of a King (and his various qualities of ambition, ignorance or madness) certain procedures needed to be followed; not just when there was recognized uncertainty, but every time.  There needed to be a process that insured that as much of what was true and real could enter into deliberation as possible.  Not that there was to be ‘justice for all’, but that there was a chance for justice for many, some reasonable part of the time.  Today the inconvenience of that process is challenging those who KNOW for sure who is guilty and to whom it doesn’t matter if a mistake is made.

I am amazed when I hear or read something like, “terrorists shouldn’t have the protections of a US citizen,” or “I am not doing anything wrong so it is fine that government is protecting me and mine by spying on and locking up bad people.”  So would the Barons be amazed, those who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta.  They knew, as we should know, it is only the protections of due process that prevent power from overwhelming us and making us its servant. 

We, in the US, have become so brainwashed by our education and our media that we think there is a “WE” here.  Somehow the Great Many assume a connection to the courage and wisdom of the Founders and therefore some special status making us immune to the political, economic and social foibles that plague and have plagued every other human collective in history.  A ‘due process’ that limits power is the palliative!  And “WE” are giving it up hand over fist. 

If the point of being a “winner” in the lottery of evolutionary existence is a big house and a hummer, then the time and effort needed to service due process with our attention and our thoughtful knowledge of our world is a waste; just leave that to others and “get your piece of the pie.”  (I think this is completely crazy, but characteristic of our time).  If, on the other hand, being an extant species has importance, then some rational and knowledgeable consideration of life and happiness is warranted.  But the Great We are so far from this simple reality that I am confident it will not happen.

This is the moment to remind of Margaret Mead’s, perhaps most, perceptive comment: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Though I would suggest that the scales are tipped rather far in favor of the present momentum.  

That being the case, in my view,  I suggest first taking care of yourself, not in the house and hummer sense, but by becoming a good human in the biological, evolutionary winner sense.  If enough of us do that successfully, we could be among those committed citizens who change things, and if not, we will have, at least (and no small thing), become more human in the only way that makes sense, to live with greater connection to our specieshood.  We can, as part of recovering and retaining our humanity, demand ‘due process’ for everyone.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

One of those Moments

In 1965, I had just found my way into my twenties. On a late February evening of that year I was in a small boat on a lake in north Florida near the Georgia border.  I was not alone; in fact, the other person in the boat makes a story from what would have been a one line description: We misjudged the time the work would take and we had to cross an adjoining second lake in the moonless dark.

I have returned to that evening many times in my life as useful experience for understanding and as metaphor.  In essence, two people in many ways very similar, responded to a mildly annoying and somewhat dangerous situation in hugely different ways.

We were on a pair of lakes connected by a narrow cypress lined natural canal about 1/2 a mile long. As we finished setting our nets in the far lake the light was fading.  I knew that it would be dark before we could reach the boat landing on the other side of the larger lake.  Knowing this was not great woods-craft; it was frankly obvious.

As we entered the connecting canal the light was nearly gone.  Bits of yellow from the setting sun speckled the tops of the tall cypress and the deep shadows seemed to have a tangible thickness as they spread to fill every space.  By the time we entered the larger lake it was dark.  The boat landing was almost directly across the lake’s fullest dimension, about 2 miles.

We had made this trip several times before; setting our nets in the afternoon, collecting the fish the next day for species counts, weights and other data.  Bits of tree shape on the far horizons guided us to and fro.  In the dark, the moonless dark, there were no shapes; there was only the black cold water meeting the gunwales of the boat – and the new “shape” of the situation, the dark irrationality of my companion.

The boat was aluminum, 12 feet long, a flat bottom lake boat with a good-sized outboard motor. There were in the boat two gas cans for the motor, a pair of oars, some work related gear in buckets and an electrical generator with a set of very bright work lights.  There was also one person excited by the adventure of finding the way in the darkness and the other person gone mad with terror.

The boat was a thousand times smaller than the distance we had to travel; yet, my companion wanted to be in the front to be closer to the landing.  He also wanted to steer the boat, which was done from the back.  He wanted the generator running and the work-lights on, blinding us to all but the black water immediately ahead of us. But, all in all, he wanted to be on solid ground in the truck at the landing on the other side of the lake; and it became incomprehensible to him that he was not there. 

It was immediately clear to me that he was going to kill us by capsizing the boat, or at the least, drive the boat in well-lighted circles until we ran out of gas.  Plus, he was very very unpleasant to be with.  I considered, half-seriously as he shoved his way around the boat, smashing him in the head with an oar, but he might fall over the gunwales and sink us; or fall out and, revived by the water, try to get back in before I could get away.  Also, I couldn’t think of any way to explain leaving him dead in the water with an oar blade hole in his head.  It was clear in a flash that if I was to save myself either from death in the cold cold water or, at least, a cold miserable night on the lake, I would have to save the both of us.

(I had never been considered to be very “good with people.”  The perceptive reader might have guessed that given that my first thought was hitting my companion in the head and throwing him overboard.   I had even then, at my tender age, found most people tedious and more admirable as a species than individually.)

Failing the option of violence, I had to find a way into my companion’s addled psyche, and quickly.  I had a good idea of how to get safely across the darkness to the boat landing  – woodsy stuff like breeze, smells, stars – but only if the boat was not scuttled and if I could get my companion to steer in the right straight line.

I yelled over the noise of the electric generator and the outboard motor as we drove wildly toward our own light in no particular direction; “Give me a cigarette.”  It was a rule of southern country ethics that such a request had to be answered, even when confronting death. 

As he fumbled for his pack – isn’t it odd that cigarette packs are always fumbled for; well this one really was – I yelled for him to stop the boat since I could not get to him to get the cigarette or light it.  He stopped the boat, but was not going to consider shutting down the work lights.  I smoked and he smoked. 

I tried to talk to him over the roar of the generator engine, a noisy 7.5 hp Briggs and Stratton.  It was clear that we couldn’t have a conversation, and that he had no idea at all of what way to go, thus, really needed some conversation.  He agreed to shut down the generator with the promise to turn it back on again “when we needed it.”  I began to think that we might live to see the lake shore.

I had never in my young years knowingly dealt with a person in my companion’s condition.  I had never seen absolute paralyzing fear conquer and control a human brain and body.  My companion had not in our brief acquaintanceship impressed me with depth of self-awareness, but neither had I suspected that he would be gripped by monsters in the dark.

I remember nothing specific of that conversation, whether is was insipidly brilliant or brilliantly insipid;  I have often wished to.  All I know is that I spoke with convection and confidence that I just might have a way for us to live through this; my companion was just as confident that we were going to die if he didn’t drive the boat as fast as he could toward the work-lighted black water directly in front of us.  I do remember it was the first completely crazy conversation that I didn’t get up and walk away from.  In one way I didn’t care what was said, the lights just had to be off for ten minutes so that our eyes would adapt to the dark; we could then see the stars and, while not the details, possibly bits of the tree line.  I was hoping that the world would begin to seem a little familiar to my companion, enough that he might calm back toward some reason.

In the end my companion chain smoked his way to some bit of night vision and allowed me to gently suggest going slow in a direction given by the stars.  He did demand, as per our agreement, that the generator be restarted and the lights put on.  We were blinded again and he suggested that the lights might best be left off.  We proceeded slowly across the dark water aiming for a star.

I was concerned that when we came to the other side of the lake, as we now most certainly would do, that we would have to hunt to the left or to the right for the landing.  If we searched in the wrong direction, I might have to revisit the use of an oar.  But, as luck would have it we came within recognizing range of the little channel that led to the landing.

After a few moments of camaraderie and mutual congratulations, we never spoke of that evening again.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Madness – Part two

All things worth saying can be said simply.  I am sure that there are profound exceptions to this “rule”; it is still worth a try.  There may be a great deal of background information and thinking required for the following to be fully understood, but the “simple” expression is:

Humans evolved an adaptation which developed into the consciousness system of order, an adaptation that among other things changed their time relationship to the rest of the biophysical space. As a complete system order, consciousness has its own referencing designs that were originally synchronized with and dependent on the environment in which a human or group of humans lived and gave the humans “magical” levels of control and power there.  But consciousness order contained the possibility to become self-referencing and did, increasingly separating aspects of the referenced basis of consciousness from environmental reality, creating and allowing a disconnection of belief and action from The Real.  

This is the basis of Madness.  In a very real sense humans have been living in madness -- a disconnection -- for a long time.  The process has been slow and cumulative.  Fifty thousand years ago everything mattered: the least little breeze properly perceived could make all the difference.  Five thousand years ago, measuring the seasons, smelling rain on the wind made a difference. Today, the greatest number of us don’t even notice if it is actually raining much less know the phase of the moon or the direction of the wind (or almost anything else about the biophysical world that sustains us).

So, humans evolved the biological designs that support the consciousness system of order, an adaptation that gives them power over time and a good deal more.  The consciousness system of order could become self-referencing and thus disconnected from the reality of the biophysical space.  The self-referencing has reached such a place today that billions of people are largely unaware of the primary living and physical reality within which they live; they believe and act without connection to the primary realities of the world. And that is madness.

Much, if not most, of our present “normal” life, our politics, economy, social relations, etc., must be considered under Madness. This is useful for two primary reasons, it focuses us on the self-referencing involved and also points us toward the consequences in reality.  Neither of these are obvious when we accept the self-referencing as reality in the first place.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Too Much News?

There seems to be too much “news” these days.  However, it takes some thought to decipher if, in fact, it is the news that increased or more the need to tell it.  It is as though we must consume more and more of a less and less nutritious broth.  But be it either one or some other, clearly missing is the significant review article bringing the detail and a comprehensive mature reality into perspective.  Not that we are wanting for opinion writing: there is more warrantless “analysis” than even warrantless wiretapping; and just as cloaked in secrecy as to where the real value might lie in the activity.

I am sure that in previous times, even quite recently previous, the level of analysis would be considered adequate, if not fully satisfactory, but our degrees of freedom (in a quasi-statistical sense) have been reduced to the lowest limits: we can no longer leave out of our considerations the salient influences of our world.  There are no longer political considerations or economic designs that can avoid a full and deep recognition of our best understanding of human nature and biophysical reality. 

These most difficult areas of interest have, throughout our history, been running “naturally” in the background, like a beating heart or cell metabolism.  But we are today consumed with an illness of global proportion; a species illness attacking human structures that most of us never even knew existed, and a biospheric illness in which humans have become a pathogen in the Living Earth.  Unless we understand these things in their proper context, we can make no sense of John McCain’s lobbying troubles, Hillary’s slide from political grace or Obama’s oratory.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Third Way

The interests of the elites and interests of the masses have never been the same, but they have often shared some aspects.  We are seeing today, however, a tectonic shift in both the actuality and the perception of these needs.  The simplest statement: the masses need basic life sustaining material and the education to live in the world around them with some wisdom, and the elite need much of the world’s people to first be subservient and ultimately greatly reduced in number in order to maintain and enhance their position.

The elite are between a rock and a hard place: for their own safety their vast accumulations of real wealth must be applied to actively serve humanities real needs for safe food, clean water, stable governance, population management, conflict resolution, health maintenance and the education to support these things with the masses’ own minds and hands.  Much or most of elite wealth must be used in this way to avoid what history suggests, that the masses will rise up in anger and using the ultimate power of moving bodies overrun the walled and gated estates, invade the corporate offices; in the way of long frustrated justice, remove both the symbols and actual levers of power over them. Exacerbating these present difficulties, humanity has so perturbed the natural ecology that life-sustaining environmental “free services” are in danger of collapsing. We must therefore use less and produce less, reducing our total impact on the biosphere.

The third way is to for the elite to finally break all bonds of association with the ‘great many’ and attempt to manage both their numbers and their ideas.  I believe we are well into this third way.  The details of present inanity fall loosely into this speculation.  The elite see humanity in the service of the economy (and the economy in the service of the elite) and thus populations or parts of populations that are neutral or negative on the balance sheet need to be replaced with populations or activities that ‘contribute to growth.’  Because of economic and ecological realities such as the productive capacity of the earth, about half the world’s people have to go if elite wealth is to be maintained; and just think of all the land and marginal wealth that would become unprotected and thus could be accumulated into real wealth: Just another form of downsizing.

In typical human fashion there is no stated consensus as to how to ‘do’ these realities and they are all, at some level, being done at once: attempts to sustain and educate, attempts to protect against the Great Many and preparations for the control and removal those defined, by the elite, out of the human family. 

But remember the aboriginal Americans! All of these mixed activities surrounded them with the consequence that a continent was effectively emptied.  The whole panoply of human action, positive and negative, conspired in their nearly total elimination: religion, invention, exploration, greed, racism, disease, cures, education, war, trade.  And through it all two conspiracies; one, an ad hoc conspiracy of those who gained by the others loss, and two, the consistent intention of the power elite to have it all by whatever means necessary.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Madness – Part One

It is commonplace for commentators on the human condition to show moments of frustration in which they lash out at the Madness of some bit of human behavior.  My impression is that this is occurring more and more often, but it may be that my sampling is biased; it certainly does, and has, occurred regularly.  But this Madness that we storm over, when it rises up ponderously obstructing some hoped for action, is actually not a local or momentary condition.  Madness has become the central form of the human condition. I realize this is a serious charge. 

Individual madness is the failure to live in the Real.  A person whose views and decisions are informed by perceptions and principles that consistently disagree with both what most people see as real and what is demonstrably real (physical reality), such a person is considered mad and is often described as a danger to self and others.  It can be very reasonably argued that our whole collective of human societies fail to live in the Real, and that they have for a very long time.  The argument that societies create their own reality, their own political, economic, religious and social truth, is only evidence for my assertion.

To believe and to act on the belief that hundreds of the best and the brightest of a population must have their hearts cut from their living bodies so that rains will come, success in war will actualize and the political structure will sustain is both repugnant to many and a failure to live in The Real.  And yet similar social/religious/political systems have existed.  This is not to say that these devices do not work to sustain a social and political system (bringing rain is quite different matter).  A similar action on the personal level: A “cutter” is relieved of anxiety for a time by cutting and creates “a culture” around razor blades against a time of needing them. 

However, in both the individual and the societal cases the actions are not direct actions on Reality, but are actions on the human capacity to believe, to feel and to be motivated.  There are many possible ways to influence feelings and beliefs.  And there are many possible ways to live outside of Reality.  Living in The Real is actually very restricted and ultimately the most free (another way to say this is: 'There are infinite ways to be crazy, but only one way to be sane').  Living outside of The Real habituates; beliefs and actions need to be refreshed, improved or replaced with new ones.  This is endless and leads to apparent patterns of change (called history), but not to Reality.

What makes these concerns important today is that Reality will always have the final judgment.  A person may live for a time believing that all protein is poison, but Real mammalian physiology will be the ultimate arbiter.   Our societies do not live in response to or recognition of the biophysical Realities of earthly life.  We, individually, have suffered the difficulties of living in Mad societies in various ways.  It will be interesting how we come to live if we are able to again find ways to function our societies in The Real.

(The next installment will begin to look at the basis for how human societies came to live in Madness.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rules of the Race

There are rules in most races (human, horse, dog, car, boat, etc.). Participants agree to them as a condition of joining in.  But sometimes – even often – the finished line and its inordinate power to confer superiority, wealth and power, invites attempts to gain it by any means that can be hidden or gotten away with, even if exposed. 

In the simpler sports, e.g., those of actual racing, infractions can usually be defined with some clarity, though ‘cheating’ has its own culture of activities and arguments.  In politics and business the situation is somewhat different in that a great gulf exists between what are the reported, publicly acknowledged rules and the actual rules of play.  It is as though the rules of football were those we, in the stands, recognize and yet the players on the field are carrying syringes of knockout drops, chains and knives.

Of course, politics and business are not games in the sporting sense, but our sporting metaphors are most commonly used for understanding and a social science study called “game theory” is used to model them.  There is still winning, however, and, subtly and not subtly, the hidden rules of ‘win by any means’ have been being made more and more acceptable to the public mind.  The arguments are that (1) winning is proof of virtue, (2) personal winning illuminates, motivates and instruments the way “forward” for all and (3) the only true and trusted motive is self-interest, the fullest expression of which will, by an invisible hand of adaptation, guide our collected actions.  These arguments have a smattering of biology, psychology and philosophy dribbled among them like the drippings basted on a ham – we are to be impressed with the fine checkering and succulence of the glaze.  Though ultimately, it is the meat of the argument with which we must live.

And the meat of the argument is that wealth and power accumulate into ever fewer hands and that these hands are connected to heads that value less and less the vast multitude from which that wealth and power derives; seeing virtue in their own actions and the frustrations of the many as dangerous, uninformed, envious and a bother; when the truly powerful see the needs of the subservient as a ‘bother’, the feeling can justify the most awful palliatives for easing that feeling.  By way of putting our time in perspective: Marie Antoinette had more in common with the people of the Paris street, and knew it, than the members of the Bilderberg group have with the world’s people; they, the dollar-a-day teeming masses, and we, the wage-slaves of consumerism, are only numbers and malleable consequences to the World’s Masters.

But the World’s Masters know a truth that all masters know: They are few and the masses are many.  They also know that, ultimately, their position of power and authority rests on the minds and muscles of the masses, though they prefer to recognize this as the numbers of economic theory rather than in emotional, human terms. 

If the many organize, the masters will remain, but as the servants of the many.  This is (was) the promise of the United States of America: The masses (defined variously over our history) had enough power in the organization of the vote, in the power of local political structures to represent the “common man” and in the power of media to inform and thus organize ad hoc forces to give substantial check to the masters – who would always be absolute Masters if given any unchecked opportunity.

What we are seeing today is the overwhelming of the American Promise by thousands of little “discoveries” of how to get around, over and under the constitutional constructions intended to maintain the power of organization of the masses.  The media, the keystone of the social arch, is now in the hands of the masters.  The crusading reporter telling the truth to the many is stuff of history.  Today the truth is not so much crushed as it is diluted to the colorlessness of the everyday.  “The last two presidential elections were stolen”(there are many other examples); this should be a story of monumental concern. There is ample evidence.  The nation should stop in its tracks and root out the malefactors.  But no, millions of words of drivel erode the little pinnacle of this story.  It never breaks into public consciousness.  And thus a nation is on its way to being lost, and power concentrates again into the hands and self-interested heads of the Masters.

There is a ring of inevitability to this scenario,….

Monday, July 21, 2008

A question

It is July, 2008.  A question has been sliding around in my head, like a puck in an air hockey game, since the morning after election day in November, 2000: “Is it possible in today’s political climate to apply the rule of law to the powerful?”  If it is not, then this nation is only a structure of power-relationships that adapts to the exigencies of subterfuge and force.  I say ‘only’ because all nations and institutions operate to some degree by subterfuge and force – this is universal – but it is possible for the focused force of governance to be guided by the generalized force of a populace in agreement with principles of law.  In the United States of America that generally accepted principle of law is the Constitution and its amendments.  All questions of conflict are to ultimately depend on the rules of order contained in those few pages, a few thousands of words, that on their face are remarkably clear of meaning even today.

My question was excited many years ago in the 1960s (Vietnam), again in the 70s (Watergate), in the 80s (Iran-contra), in the 90s (Clinton impeachment) and by other less lofty events occurring across those years.  But, it seemed that, as unsatisfying as a result might be, at least some form of honorable outcome partially appended to these events.  When the 2000 election was so plainly criminally manipulated (the observant could see that the morning after) and then sustained by the Supreme Court; when an illegal government is seated and begins to operate immediately like a criminal enterprise, that is, solely by subterfuge and force; when inhibition is not the inhibition of law, but only the inhibition of opportunity; then, my question takes on its present urgency.

A more specific question spins off of the first.  “Has the Bush-Cheney administration so corrupted the process of decision making and the rule of law that we cannot recover?”  The ultimate guiding and inhibiting power is ‘the generalized force of a populace in agreement on the principles of law.’  This is, when functioning, powerful, overwhelming and seemingly imperturbable.  It is, when in disarray, (nearly) impossible to reconstruct without social, economic and political catastrophe (known almost euphemistically as ‘revolution’).  I am reminded of cleaning my house: I cannot get it really clean in a way that sticks unless I pull everything down and completely rearrange; even if it goes back to basically the same design.  However, in the case of my house, there are very few competing interests and I can make a design that is both highly functional and stable.  If a nation has a revolution, it courts great danger: for a time raw force dominates.  It is like throwing a thousand-sided die on which “governance by democratic rule of law” is on only one side and “governance by despot”, “fascist governance”, etc, are hundreds of the sides.