Thursday, January 20, 2005

Faith-Based Sociopathy

I'm not ready to let go this article on Faith-Based Initiatives funding, and the political capital it's been used to buy. Nor am I ready to let go the discussion it generated here and here. (See also this diary by Lapin, and this by ihlin.)

I'm sympathetic to all the commenters who have argued that this is nothing more than sleazy politics-as-usual, but respectfully, I have to disagree. It's not that I don't think politics are involved, but that seeing the issue in terms of politics alone doesn't see the entire chessboard.

Again, I can't disagree: the FBIs program is PPP: pure pork politics. As lojo points out on the original thread, it's the Republican answer to Democratic "street money".

As AuntiePeachy notes, it fits a pattern of white leaders paying off black preachers to put the brakes on their community's political activism.

And as Troutfishing surmises, it's more than likely part of the broader "starve the beast" agenda: to transfer the responsibility for social services from the public sector to the private.

(If you believe that government shouldn't be funding church-related activities in the first place, I can't help you. It's been going on for a long time--since the founding of the republic--and it doesn't look to change anytime soon. It is what it is, in other words.)

My question about the insights named above is: why?

I understand the political advantages. But each and every last one of those could have been accomplished by other, less labor-intensive means. The President could have--and eventually did--relax the restrictions on federal support for FBIs by executive fiat, instead of making a legislative proposal that was sure to be a lightning rod. God knows that there's no shortage of ways to put money in preacher's pockets (there are days when I wish some folks would be more creative), and the "starve the beast" campaign seems to have done pretty well over the past four years, without having to swing into the treacherous landscape of religion and civil society.

But the White House has chosen not to take the easy path. Instead, they've made FBI funding one of the centerpieces of the administration.

Again, you have to ask why? Surely Karl Rove knew that there was no way the campaign was going to lose enough white evangelicals or gain enough black ones to change the outcome of the election. Granted, it was tight. But the margins in places like Ohio and Wisconsin weren't close enough to justify this kind of effort. And there was no way Bush was going to lose solidly evangelical states like Texas, Oklahoma, or Alabama. So why put all the effort into this program?

Troutfishing might be on to something with shifting social services to the private realm, and the original LATimes piece carries the theory that all this might be designed to ensure long-term Republican dominance. Certainly Rove is enough of a megalomaniac big-picture thinker to work in those terms.

But I can't shake the feeling that there's more at work here.

Consider the context in which this is taking place. The snub of the Kyoto protocol. The run up to the war in Iraq, and the ongoing dipolomatic snubs coming out of it. The firing of who knows how many administrators and public servants for telling inconvenient truths or somewhat different perspectives than the party line. Abu Ghraib. Torture. The Patriot Act. Executive privilege. It just goes on and on, and it all fits a pattern.

Oh, and don't forget the "reality-based community" crack. Despite what Ron Suskind and a legion of bloggers will tell you, that wasn't an arrogant statement on the superiority of faith to reality. It was an arrogant statement that this administration intends to remake reality to suit its own ends, while the rest of us struggle to catch up.

Once you begin to connect all those dots, a disturbing possibility emerges: that this is a sociopathic administration.

The technical definition of sociopathy is that it's what we used to call psychotic behavior and now call anti-social personality: "A personality disorder characterised by a continuous and persistent pattern of aggressive behaviour in which the rights of others are violated."

In layman's terms: this is an administration that wants to do whatever the hell it wants, whenever the hell it wants to. And it doesn't want anyone to tell it it's wrong.

Sociopathy is marked by a lack of conscience. A sociopath knows what's right and what's wrong; they just don't give a shit. And they sure don't want to hear anyone else tell them they did wrong: the response is usually a shrug or some kind of justification. ("But your honor, I had to beat him up and take his wallet. He was making eyes at me.") Sociopaths, in other words, don't take responsibility for their actions. Ever.

So the entire chessboard, as I see it, is that the administration wants not only to privatize social services, but it wants to buy off some of the opposition and confound the rest. So when the moment comes to carry out the privatize, there's no one who can credibly stand up and say "this is wrong."

If I'm right about that, there are some scary conclusions to be drawn here.

Scary conclusion #1 To whose benefit is this self-justifying campaign? We don't know, honestly. You can say "theocrats" or "small government types" but "corporate executives" works better, and "friends of Bush, Cheney and Rove" works best. Fact is, this administration plays its cards so close to the chest that there's no way of telling. Which leads to...

Scary conclusion #2 The point of the self-justification is...self-justification. That's it. It's not an instrumental goal to anything else, except perhaps making some money. These guys apparently want to be right about everything. That flows down from the president, obviously, but what's remarkable is that he's found quite a large group of people willing to play along.

Scary conclusion #3 The point of violating others' rights is...the violation. Sociopaths love to catch people by surprise and make them victims. Write that principle large in the government, and wow. Supply your own examples.

This is the kind of corruption that I think the black pastors are buying into for the sake of expedience and cold hard cash. And in the end, my point in all of this is moral, not political. If you dance with the Devil, he gets to call the tune. That can have disastrous political consequences, no doubt, but more important, what does that do to the moral underpinnings you depend on to carry out your ministry? What does that do to the moral underpinnings any of us need to live life rightly?

The good news in all of this is that the administration's lack of conscience doesn't take away our own consciences. And just as the corruption of the Roman Empire forced the early church to live out their faith as a counter-culture (until they were co-opted by Constantine), so the Bush Empire is forcing Democrats to live out their "faith" in counter-culture, which is to say political opposition to the very morally questionable policies of this administration.

And that's as it should be.

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