OK, something just hit me tonight. I was thinking about a post at Talking Points Memo, which I was reading because it was linked to from somewhere I read regularly…

At first the evidence was scattered and anecdotal. But now it’s pretty clear that a key aim of the Bush administration’s takeover of the NOLA situation is to cut off press access to report the story […]

Take a moment to note what’s happening here: these are the marks of repressive government, which mixes inefficiency with authoritarianism. The crew that couldn’t get key aid on the scene in time last week is coming in in force now. And one of the key missions appears to be cutting off public information about what’s happening in the city.

As it happens things have changed since that post — see here…”I talked to Bob a few minutes ago. And he said that there seemed to be a sea change in the treatment of reporters trying to get access to the city from yesterday to today. Today he reported that he and his colleagues were able to get through without any problem.”

So that problem is fixed for now, for reasons unclear. But I was thinking about the idea of “becoming a repressive authoritarian government.” And it occurred to me that people generally behave in an authoritarian, violent manner out of fear. They’re afraid of someone.

People who attack each other generally fear each other, and each believes they have good reason. And it’s irrelevant, in terms of ending the violence, who is right and who is wrong. Both sides are human. That’s what matters.

I’ve heard it said that rebellion and submission equally reinforce authoritarianism, because they are the two responses which authoritarianism foresees, and is prepared to handle. They don’t break the cycle, call the whole structure into question, wake people up. That’s why revolutions against tyranny have a sad tendency to turn into new tyrannies. Rebellion as such changes nothing fundamental.

And I was thinking about this “authoritarian crackdown on the media” thing and was thinking about how that is fueled by fear; how despite the fact that the people calling bullshit on the Bush administration are right, they are feeding the system by playing its own game even as they rebel. If they’re cracking down on the media, that’s because they’re afraid of it. They may be afraid of it because they’re afraid of the consequences of their own hurtful actions coming to light, because they’re afraid of being punished for them.

And I think about how you don’t move past a terrible situation by punishing the guilty; but you do move past it by speaking the truth. In South Africa, after apartheid, you had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose mission was not to punish the guilty but to prevent the recurrence of the abuses and to heal the injuries and restore the losses. I don’t know how that all worked out but I’ll bet it worked out a damn sight better than acts of revenge.

It occurs to me that that kind of transcendence, that kind of unheard-of humanity, is what would be needed to break a cycle of degenerating authority structures. It is the natural result of nonviolent action as opposed to ordinary rebellion. Ordinary, violent rebellion makes the degeneration worse in the long run. Its victories are Pyrrhic.

If it is true that Bush and company essentially killed thousands in New Orleans through willful negligence and mismanagement of the nation, then they are horribly wounded by that as well. Killing destroys the soul of the killer as it does the body of the victim. If they did these things they are victims too. Nobody ever victimizes another person without victimizing themselves as well. Healing has to take place on both sides.

And I sure wish I knew better how to live these highfalutin’ ideas I have.

5 thoughts on “Paradox”

  1. Hey Ed…have you read Facing the World with Soul, by Robert Sardello?

  2. Matt — I am assuming that was real and not compliment spam, and that you are Matt Sahr. But I am not sure about either one. Thanks, if so. :)

    Paul — No, I havent, but the name is familiar. I will have to look into it.

  3. It’s very much on the topic of “how to live the idea,” but almost certainly not what you’re expecting. And the online comments I’ve seen don’t at all do it justice. Snag it from It’s incredibly thought provoking. You won’t be disappointed.

  4. I’ll check it out. Didn’t see it at the bookstore tonight so I’ll keep an eye peeled.

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