James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Lydia Howell on the pathology of elites

By Lydia Howell

Some angry people who oppose the Bush regime and all it represents maintain that the corporate elites and old wealth running our country "want us all to die." Others keep trying to appeal to national leaders on grounds of morality.

I've concluded that our fate is a matter of absolute indifference to ruling elites and that their moral sense is dead.

Yes, I know as peace activists and progressives, we're supposed have some sort of Gandhi-like faith in the potential for compassion and conscience from those who are doing harm to us, to other countries, and to the planet itself.

Perhaps the hardest fact we have to face is that there is no real hope that those qualities will suddenly surface. It's an illusion just like the other myths most Americans still cling to: that the American government is committed to ideals of equality, justice and freedom for all and that in foreign policy our nation acts as a "benevolent leader" to the rest of the world.

Those in the elites -- the conservatives, not the "liberal elites" that Fox News relentlessly blathers on about -- live in their own lavish bubble.

Remember Bush Sr. and his surprised reaction to bar codes at a grocery store cash register? The elites are shielded from everyday matters of survival. They don't do housework, or the hard work of child rearing or much of anything that upsets the smooth flow of their cushioned lives. They hire others to deal with all the messiness of life.

Members of the highest elites live in a world of open doors and always have. Going to the best schools from kindergarten to college, they move in a network of endless opportunities for self-aggrandizement. Any failure can be managed, as the life of George W. Bush shows over and over.

The economic and social elites are so accustomed to being exempt from any consequences for their actions and decisions that they don't even fully understand that they live on the same polluted planet and are under the same shadow of nuclear weapons as the rest of us. As Bob Dylan sang in "Masters of War,” they "think their money's that good" to buy them out of anything -- including destruction of the planet.

The wealthy elites live in a specific kind of psychological pathology --and ever it has been so. Look at the almost routine madnesses of kings, when they were absolute rulers.

That special pathology is rooted in an arrogant narcissism. Members of the elites believe they are naturally superior to all others. They think their wealth proves it. To quote an old Calvinist adage "God has rewarded the Chosen with wealth on Earth."

In fact, the rest of us are not quite real to them. At best, we are inferior. Why would our fate matter a whit? Whether we are slaughtered in wars or poisoned by pollution or starving or homeless, it really isn't important. If those things occur as side effects of things they do to satisfy their own desires, it is of little consequence. In their own eyes, they have absolute entitlement.

The Bible says "You will know them by their fruits[actions]."

Ruling elites inevitably make many decisions that prove they simply do not see the rest of humanity except as hands doing work or sometimes as threats to their power. They never see we, the people, as human beings worthy of empathy.

In fact, I've come to the terrible conclusion that ruling elites have little or no capacity for empathy for others.

I'm not speaking only of George W. Bush, who's a prime example of the type, but far from alone in his emotional void. His pathology should have been obvious before he became president. As governor of Texas, he signed off on 152 executions -- more than any other governor in U.S. history. And it's said he never spent more than 15 minutes on his executive responsibility to review each case.

Hence, George W. Bush was a mass killer long before he got to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and satisfied his longings for war.

Members of the untouchable elites are disconnected from daily life as the huge majority of people know it. They are spoiled rotten with their comforts, drunk on power and, again,(I do not use the word lightly) pathological in their self-absorbed, arrogant sense of entitlement.

Look at the recently convicted Enron duo of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. It didn't matter to them at all that they were destroying employees' pensions and stealing their life's savings, in their quest for more and more billions.

If you work close to the very wealthy, especially but not exclusively those who were born to it, you get glimpses all this. Sure, some of them are capable of "charity," which is not the same thing as justice. Charity makes the giver feel good, feel benevolent, and it reinforces rather than challenges their sense of superiority.

The sad thing is how many Americans who are not wealthy, or not truly wealthy, are in collusion with the super rich and support their pathology. They go along with demonizing the poor at home and abroad. They're willing to support, or at least permit, the slaughter of (mostly brown) people around the world to "protect our way of life."

That's been true since the colonization of this country in the 1620s. Some of that collusion is based in fear which contantly is manipulated by the corporate-militarist elites.

Only knowledge can dispel the fear. Anyone willing to read beyond their high school history texts and the output of both right wing and "liberal hawk" think tanks, and anyone who actually listens to those on the boot-end of American government policy, at home or abroad, will see a truth that is quite different from the official and popularly believed fictions.

(For those with a desire to see behind the curtain of American exceptionalism, I recommend the books of Howard Zinn, William Blum, Michael Parenti and University of Minnesota alum Robert Jensen.)

Sometimes We The People fall into collusion with ruling elites because we also want, or already share, a sense of entitlement. What we're saying is, "Just cut us a piece of the action and you can have what you want."

Most Americans love their material comforts more than they care about justice at home or abroad. Many refuse to listen to those on the receiving end of national policies, whether they victims are in our ghettos or our prisons or under our bombs.

To hear is inconvenient and discomforting. So, those "Others" are "playing the race card" or "they hate our freedoms” if they challenge us.

There is a reason that the Bush administration's lies and distortions have snowed so many for so long: most Americans love to hear how special we are and how lucky the rest of the world is to have America in charge. We can get a kind of proxy sense of superiority living in "the greatest nation on Earth.”

On a small scale, compared with the rich, middle class people can feel entitlement: an almost God-given right to use up 25 percent of the world's resources, although we have only 6 percent of the world's population, to drive a gas-guzzling SUV and kill to keep cheap oil flowing--and to howl in indignation when the price of gas goes up.

I wish I saw things differently. It has taken me well into middle-age to come to this gruesome conclusion, and it doesn't make me happy. In the eyes of the ruling elites the rest of us don't matter at all.

The fate of our democratic ideals, our relationships around the world and the survival of the planet itself, depend on Americans developing a sense of empathy that makes us capable of acting in unshakable solidarity with so-called “Others” we've been taught to despise -- when we bother to think of them at all.

Seeing elites clearly is step one to dismantling their hold over us. We damn well better learn to care deeply and act on that caring for all or we don't stand chance of making any real change.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist, poet and activist. She's producer/host of "Catalyst: Politics and Culture" on KFAI Radio (Tues.11am, archived on line for two weeks after broadcast.) She's also arts editor of the new online journal TC Daily Planet. Contact her at lhowell@visi.com