Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Parent’s View of Bush’s Laughter

My wife Paige and I had a couple of conversations today which might seem disparate, but are actually related. When Noah placed a couple of his super-hero action figure in a measuring cup, I told him that was silly. We giggled about it a bit, and I realized I tell him that all the time. I started thinking that this information is particularly useful to a two-and-a-half year old. After all, how would he know that super-heroes don’t normally hang out in measuring cups? How else might he learn that underwear doesn’t belong on one’s head, or that it’s not completely commonplace for a child to wear his mother’s fuzzy slippers? Furthermore, if he’s not informed through a smile, how would he know that he’s created innocuous nonsense, rather than committing some unacceptable breach of etiquette? Paige noted that it’s important that he hear this in an encouraging tone, so he doesn’t think he’s done something wrong. This got me thinking, what if a child isn’t told that things are silly? What might be the consequence? Might he grow up to believe that all nonsense is acceptable, or, conversely, that any nonsense is immoral?

This reminded me of a conversation we’d had in the car earlier today. While driving to Portland to see some friends we listened to an episode of This American Life about the abuses perpetrated against detainees at Guantanimo Bay, foremost among them being the immoral suspension of Habeas Corpus that leaves them in legal limbo, a tactic designed not only to shield the Bush Administration from any oversight for the other kinds of torture the detainees experience, but also to take away any hope of release as a mean to force confessions. Among the more appalling moments in the show (not quite rising to the level of horror we experienced when detainees and attorneys describes prisoners being doused in menstrual blood or being told that their torture was being done because it was the will of Christ, but horrible none the less) was a sound clip of President Bush arguing for their indefinite detention. He said they were men picked up on the battlefield who had been caught in the act of trying to kill American soldiers. For one thing, this was a lie. A Seton Hall University study found that less than five percent were actually soldiers picked up on the battlefield, and that most were handed over to our government by other governments in exchange for money, regardless of the prisoners’ guilt or innocence. Some might call that a distortion, but I was raised to believe that is called a lie. If I told my parents that I earned a dollar, when I actually earned nickel and stole ninety-five cents, they would have punished me for lying, not for a “distortion”. But hearing the president lie wasn’t the worst part. More disturbing was the fact that, as he talked about human beings being kept in prison forever, without the protection of any nation’s laws or any international agreements about human rights on the grounds that these human beings had been attempting to kill other human beings, specifically our own soldiers, he was laughing. Between each phrase he was giggling.

Paige had to stop the recording to note just how nauseating she found this laughter. Even if he had been telling the truth, it’s hardly funny. My first theory was that he uses laughter to dismiss opposing views, but even when he was espousing his own, he laughed. The circumstances amused him. Perhaps he is a sociopath, and finds explanations for vengeful cruelty funny. Perhaps he knew he was lying, and was laughing at the shrinking numbers of Americans who still believe the words that come out of his mouth. Perhaps it’s just an affectation he cannot escape. But what, I wondered, might cause such a habitual derisive laugh to accompany any off-the-cuff statement he makes?

This evening, as Paige and I discussed Noah’s silly behavior and our sing-song response, I began to wonder about W’s parenting. I am reluctant to blame Bush 41 and Barbara, because parents often have children who, despite the parents’ best efforts, turn out to be criminals or just jerks. Bush 41 strikes me as someone who would be a stern or distant parent, but that might be unfair. I don’t know how he raised W. And Barbara, by all accounts I’ve read, is something of a shrew. But I’ve never met the woman. Perhaps everyone who’s ever written her just happened to catch her on bad days. Regardless, neither strikes me as the kind of person who would say, “Oh, George, that’s just silly.” Based on my reading and observations of the parents and their son, I would guess that things in their house were either not talked about, or were very black and white, right and wrong. There was probably no room for nonsense in a household grooming its children to be governors and presidents. Might W’s disconnect from the normal rules that govern all social interaction, large and small, stem from this lack of understanding?

I wonder how W sees nonsense. I would guess he knows the word, but I’ll bet he only knows it in the context of dismissing ideas he doesn’t like, a tool for disempowering those he disagrees with, rather than an accurate description of things which, regardless of their moral weight, simply don’t fit. This might explain how he embraces Orwellian double-think (a “Clean Air Initiative” that dirties the air, a “Healthy Forrest Initiative” that opened up wild lands to more logging, a pre-emptive war on a country that never attacked the US sold as a moral struggle). At the same time, this might explain how he rejects criticism and oversight, to the point of suspending Habeas Corpus, one of the founding legal principles of every country the respects the rule of law, so that prisoners who might say embarrassing things about their own treatment can never be realeased to speak about the conditions of their detention, even when they are found to be innocent of any wrongdoing. Maybe Bush sees disingenuous policy-making as his privilege, his “political capital”, and therefore it is fitting. Maybe he sees all criticism of his choices as not-fitting and therefore irrelevant, or worse, requiring silencing. What he lacks is the truth in between; that some ideas, regardless of their sources, are nonsense, some merely silly and some immoral.

Maybe he just needed parents who could say, “No, George, calling dirty air clean is just silly, but making that a law is wrong. Calling a tree that is cut down a healthy tree is just silly, but making it a law is wrong. And people killing one another, or people being thrown into dungeons with no hope of freedom; that’s nonsense, but it’s never funny.

“It is not something decent people laugh about, George.

“It’s wrong.”

If anyone reading this knows Bush 41 or Barbara personally, will you please ask them if they taught their son the difference between amusing nonsense and immoral behavior? Is their son a sociopath who ignored their teaching, or were they negligent parents? Please let me know what they say.


Farhad Abdolian said...

Interesting observation. he man is an arrogant dumb-ass. He is giggling because he really thinks that he is a funny man, doing what ever he wants with the world and no one is challenging him. Judging by his family record and the level of compassion his parents have shown us recently, you can be sure that the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

laurenj said...

I think he's laughing in that clip (just listened to it this morning) because he really does think that the notion that he might be wrong or subject to criticism is nonsense. I don't think that he thinks this because he's a sociopath, I think he is just falling victim to a lifetime of being told that what he does IS morally right and and people that don't agree with him are lacking the correct vision and moral understanding. He's not immoral, he just has the wrong morals, and his idea of silliness and nonsense is the simple chance that someone might disagree with what he sees as completely self-evident. I use a similar laugh (though I hope not so nauseating) when I dismiss the idea that capital murder (oops, I mean punishment)is ever justified, or that racial profiling is necessary, or that kids need more basics and less art in school. I am laughing because these notions strike me as self-evidently nonsense, even though other people might see my tree-hugging views as immoral. Maybe this comes off as an overly generous defense of the gross violations of human rights, but I don't think he's insane, I just think he's dead wrong.

Zaaq said...

I generally agree with laurenj... i don't think it's a product of sociopathy, i think it's purely his foolish certainty. He has spent his life surrounded by people who either agree with him or tell him what to think... I really believe that he can't take seriously the notion that other people could possibly be more correct than him. Infuriating...

On the other hand, I read about the "Healthy Forrest Initiative", i had a lovely mental picture of some Bush Administration lackey barking orders at Dr. Baird whilst he (Baird) runs on a treadmill and offers a discourse on healthy eating and Plato.

@bdul muHib said...

Considering the wealth the Bush Dynasty comes from, I think it likely he was raised by someone hired for the job.

Have you read The Bush Dyslexicon? I think you'd like it. He goes into great detail showing how Bush is articulate when he's talking about killing people, and that's when he appears to be the most happy too.