the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
THE SUBTLETY OF SHADES
Physicists opine ― rather than know ― that the material universe they concern themselves with is controlled by fundamental particles interacting with each other according to invariable laws through the medium of space-time. Atomism was a theory ages before the modern ‘atom’ was discovered; the name was reserved for the fundamental particle, whatever it should turn out to be. The application of the term to what we call ‘atoms’ suggested that the process of delving was over. But the atom was then determined to be systemic, containing protons, neutrons, and electrons. And most recently, the protons and neutrons were further analyzed into quarks. ‘Scientist’ itself may be a hasty misnomer; scientists are not as logical and insightful, to say nothing of omniscient, as they are generally credited with being. But neither are they fools, and they are perfectly aware that another discovery awaits them; and if no smaller model has yet gained common acceptance, there is acceptance that something smaller will eventually be needed.
The thought of a deeper mystery hidden from the eye and escaping conscious knowledge comes to mind, so to speak, with the apparent death of Qusay and Uday Hussein. More should have been said and known about these two, and for that matter about their father, long before this war, so that whatever decision each of us personally made about Iraq regarding action or inaction, caring or not caring, would at least have been informed. But it was never just neoconservative policymakers in the Bush administration who thought that Qusay, Uday, and Saddam himself were vile terrors, and authors of death and mayhem. Human-rights activists and reporters have been aware of this fact from the beginning, and some have had the decency to speak about it. The publicity that the deaths of Qusay and Uday have produced has been helpful, though, in that it allowed the dreadful facts to resurface. These sons were ceaseless perpetrators of greater atrocities than most of us can bear to listen to. To live in fear of these atrocities, as Iraqis have done for so long, would be hard to imagine; to endure them, absolutely impossible.
The story will presumably never be told straight, but I have no trouble believing that the brothers refused to be taken alive, for they could not be ignorant of the emptiness of their futures. If so, we were left with no choice but to kill them; they were dangerous to the world even in custody, and letting them remain free was completely out of the question. If displaying the bodies was the only way to bring an approximation of certainty and security to the Iraqis on the matter of their fate, then it, too, was justified. The fear and loyalty that these men commanded could have been used, in the next year or the next ten years, to return to power in the same way that they had stayed in power, whenever the US withdrew, and Iraqis knew that.
The reiteration of facts regarding the brothers serves another useful purpose, in stressing the difference in their personalities. They were both violent, sadistic, and murderous. But Uday was passionate, volatile, showy, reckless. Qusay was dispassionate, controlled, discreet, ruthless. Even Saddam probably knew better than to trust either of them, for they were both surely as treacherous as he was himself. But Saddam trusted Qusay the more because they were so much alike. Uday was unpredictable and thought like a delirious animal. Qusay thought like a ruler, and Saddam, who thought the same, could trust him to act predictably within that frame of reference.
The comparison has been made to the two sons of Vito Corleone, Sonny and Michael, and it is a good one, so good that it seems eerie, until we consider that the pattern is everywhere in the dominion. The Medellin drug cartel was blatant, drawing attention to itself with its brutality; and while the state was fighting Medellin’s ostentatious violence, the Cali cartel usurped its place, moving with stealth, just as ready to kill and terrorize but smart enough to keep a low profile. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman were both authoritarian pseudo-nationalist conquerors, and made a friendly deal to carve up Bosnia between them; but it is Milosevic who is remembered as the source of all war in Yugoslavia. And to use the key example, Stalin killed more people than Hitler, was ultimately more sadistic, and was even more successful as an imperialist; but the West allied with Stalin to stop Hitler, because Hitler was so egregious in his tyranny, slaughter, and conquest.
This phenomenon within dominion is a relative matter. Kim Jong Il is so mercurial and mysterious that he makes Saddam look staid; there really is no telling what Kim will do, whereas Saddam’s actions have seemed more rational. But compared to others, Saddam is the raging madman. His seizures of the Shatt al-Arab and later Kuwait were brazen; his defiance of the West led to his overthrow. By contrast, his rival Hafez al-Assad, the dictator of Syria, joined the coalition against Saddam in 1991, no doubt delighted with the opportunity. Al-Assad died in absolute power, with his troops occupying Lebanon, and the West to this day has never made it an issue.
This leads to an obvious question. If Kim is to Saddam what Saddam is to al-Assad, to whom is al-Assad thus? Hafez al-Assad was not perfectly subtle or discreet; his name is known, his actions were known, and if he did not call attention to himself, he nonetheless could not keep his tyranny a complete secret. He was successful in a sense; yet there were some human-rights activists and reporters, to say nothing of Syrians and Lebanese, who published the truth about him, and in a world that cared more he could have been a target for regime change just as Saddam. What would a still-subtler version of this dictator look like? What would it do? How would we know it?
I have spoken before of the dons, who rule from the shadows and whose existence can at best be inferred from what we do not see. We see George Bush absently mouthing speeches and fumbling questions and assume that he is a puppet. We see the ultra-smart individuals around him ― Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove ― and wonder who is pulling the strings. But the dominion is not a conspiracy. It is a phenomenon; it is a complex system of forces whose cumulative intent is the control of the world. It has been around for ages beyond history, and the dons, if they exist, have not created anything. They have merely exploited a set of proven methods for a well-known set of ends.
The most obvious tool of dominion is force; but violence and the fear of violence are so obvious that they are the least-preferred means for rule. Force is effective, but it is not economical, it is not subtle, and it is not, over the long term, reliable. It is, at its extreme, Uday Hussein, torturing and raping his father’s subjects without self-control. It will create fear, indeed, but it will also create resentment, bitterness, and ultimately desperation, at which point it ceases to be effective.
The most desirable method of control is myth. The dominion works, with distressing success, to convince people that they want to be ruled, that they ought to be ruled, that it is right and just. They perpetuate a belief system in which, whether or not it is still called a divine right, those who rule are somehow entitled to rule. It is easy enough to identify some forms of this use of myth. Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea has just had state radio and an aide pronounce him godlike, also stating, “He can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell because it is God himself, with whom he is in permanent contact, and who gives him this strength.” But those forms closer to home may be harder to detect. The suggestion that we owe an unquestioning duty to some larger body ― state, nation, church, family, god, team, leader ― is a means to rule. If rule were not the intent, there would be no need to appeal to something beyond reason. Thus, if we are not allowed to know the reasons for which we must do something, we must conclude that there is a clandestine purpose, in someone else’s interest.
It is those who are truly acting in their own interest who stand at the center of dominion. Self-interest is an expensive means of securing loyalty; spreading the wealth around is exactly what the dominion does not want to do. But the cleverness needed to rule cannot all be supplied by a single person; and those persons who are shrewd enough to facilitate dominion are shrewd enough to see through it. They must be bribed. They must share in the benefits, and in this way a feudal network is constructed in which vassals render fealty to the liege not for duty or faith but for the rewards that the liege provides. It is customary to associate the liege with the single human individual at the top of the feudal hierarchy, but in fact these vassals are loyal to the system; their liege is the feudal hierarchy itself. This is how Kim rules in place of his dead father and Qusay was expected to do so. It has elevated other sons, such as Joseph Kabila and Bashar al-Assad, but it has also elevated Jiang Zemin, Hosni Mubarak, John Paul II, and Ali Khamenei. Aside from these ostensible monarchies, there are also the one-party systems in Vietnam, Laos, and even democratic Japan. There are other examples; and in history the examples are far too numerous to mention.
Our hope against this process is exposure. If necessary, for political reasons, we can do what the dominion often does, which is focus on the apex of the system, on the feudal lord around which the myth of dominion is built. But in the end it is not enough to expose Hitler and Stalin, or even Nazism and Bolshevism. We must expose the perpetual methods and intentions of dominion. The best of rulers will always be undetectable. But rule is apparent, and as we raise awareness of the most apparent, we can also raise suspicions of the most obscure. It is in the freer societies that the subterfuge is most employed. By attacking the myth, the ignorance, the deception, and the dependence, we can encourage our fellows to think as free persons, and thence, perhaps, to be so.
© O.T. FORD
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