the experts then poll us and find that we do; and the government issues statements that they are carrying out the will of the people.
While this might appear as democracy at work, I submit that what results from this Cult of Trust could be a highly anti-democratic situation. In every democratic country the elected officials eventually reflect the populace. They are, in a single person, the condensed symbol of what the masses are supposedly thinking. The danger is that a mergence of the attitudes and beliefs of the people with those of their leaders becomes a locked-in consensus, with each side afraid of being out of step with the other. This political lock-step seems to be strength but in actuality it is too often no more than a fear of being disloyal. Hesitation, doubt, distrust, dissent and disloyalty have become synonyms in the current American patois.
In the name of unity democracy finds itself submerged beneath the philosophy of "my country right or wrong". If we look at history; of the Hitlerian and Stalin era we see what blind trust can lead to. The Germans and the Russians wanted to be good, loyal citizens. There, too, it was, "my country right or wrong, "and the result was mass destruction, starvation and death. What their leaders asked for was complete trust. What they meant was that the people should abjure all critical ability and passively agree to whatever the leaders decided. Even now in the Soviet Union the leaders are asking for complete trust based on their distrust of past leaders. "Trust me, because I'm not like the rest." And we are very aware of the trust the Iraqis have in Saddam Huessein.
At a time when the functions of democracy are enhanced we seem less inclined to use them lest we be accused of shattering American unity. The cult of trust is supplanting independent thought, and we are moving towards a democracy by indirection wherein the people's will is polled rather than meaningfully voted. The poll is king and when it indicates that the time is ripe for a vote, democracy becomes official. We can see objectively what trust did in other countries, particularly Iraq, where they are en route to having their country demolished. What we can't see so easily is our own devotion to trust. Don't trust trust too much.
Government by survey is becoming the mode, and judging by a recent survey we are all in trouble. Though Americans are reluctant about a ground war in Iraq they are nevertheless willing to go along with the judgment of our leaders. In a recent poll the people agreed with the generals that they shouldn't be given too much information. When information lacks, trust makes its entry.
On the CBS "News Special" in the 1960's Eric Sevareid indicated that, in terms of the course the war had taken, none of the government experts has guessed right. And now the news seems to be highly managed by a series of press briefings.
The cult of trust seems to grow in inverse proportion to the amount of information received. The less information the government offers, the more we need, obviously, to rely on trust. We are told that some information must be withheld because of the "national interest." What I am suggesting is that too much trust based on too little information is truly against the national interest because the people don't really know what is going on and cannot make informed opinions.
A situation is occurring wherein those who want to know more, who hesitate or question, who are restless because we are not given the facts, are considered out of line and castigated for giving "aid and comfort to the enemy." In Germany in the early 1940's anyone who thought Germany might be losing the war was termed, most pejoratively, a "defeatest." That kind of label could bring about a stiff prison term and even death. Germany's leaders demanded trust even while the country was being decimated.
The problem is that preservation of democracy becomes secondary to the preservation of a united face before the world. This is not necessarily a conscious plot by secret conspirators but the culmination of a situation in which the people and leaders unconsciously manipulate each other to preserve a mystical strength. We are caught in the "consensus bag" and no one seems free to inject new ideas or new moves.
The danger is that America's historic dialogue may be coming to an end - replaced by an executive monologue orchestrating a consensus and sowing suspicions against those out of tune with the jingoistic melody.
THE SUPER PATRIOT
Years ago I published psychological "Portrait of the Cold Warrior" (The Minority of One, April 1963). It was an analysis of thirty related research studies from which a composite of the super-patriot was drawn. It presented a hypothetical man, found on the far right, who stresses violence as a solution to complex problems and who emphasizes power in both interpersonal and international relations. The portrait was thus summarized:
"The Cold Warrior is neither bright nor imaginative. No matter how much protection he has, he can never have enough to quell his inner insecurity. He is an impatient man who disdains talk in favor of action;
who wants immediate and single solutions to problems. He sees the world in terms of black and white and distrusts his fellow man. He cannot see cooperative solutions to problems, and sees all relationships in terms of power- of dominance or submission. Any attempt by others to gain equal status is seen as a threat. He believes in power first, last and foremost. He relies on violence to solve personal and social problems. He is cynical, suspicious and misinterprets most moves by others as belligerent. He is a hostile person who rationalizes his hostility as justified by the continued existence of an aggressive enemy. He is so torn by conflict that he does not know peace and harmony when they're upon him. He lives by the slogans. . He is rigidly inflexible, emotionally isolated and lacks both personal and social insight. He decries critical introspection; has few ideals and less hope. He sees only the daily practicalities and dismisses theoreticians as fuzzy idealists. He is anti-science because he cannot imagine an orderly and predictable world, shorn of chaos. He is dedicated only to his own survival and believes that all those not for him are against him, and all those not over him are under him. He sees those who fear war as weak, neurotic, oddball agitators and believes that to find conciliatory possibilities in an opponent is traitorous."
In the period since this portrait was drawn, what were the psychological properties of busybodies on the penumbra of the political spectrum have been ever more completely absorbed into our national ideology. Perhaps in time of war these characteristics are national necessities. Perhaps our leaders are correct in contending that we must kill to save lives. But what if they are not correct? It doesn't hurt to ponder that possibility for a moment.
We seems to be caught in the vortex of a synergistic process wherein each increasing physical commitment of troops and guns brings with it an increased implicit demand for psychological commitment as well. Each category of these commitment potentiates the other - a process that augurs ill. Indeed, the Galiup Poll, in two survey taken three months apart, found a thirteen per cent increase in those favoring a greater military commitment in Vietnam. (Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1965.) This psychological shift paralleled the great increase in the actual commitment of troops during that same period. In addition, there was a two percent drop in those willing to negotiate for peace.
One danger in this synergism is that one does not shut off internalized attitudes and beliefs as readily as one might cease bombing villages (as those who fear German rearmament know all too well). The Zeitgeist outlasts the environment in which it was begotten and prepares the soil for future wars.
An interesting study by sociology professor Seeman of the University of California in Los Angeles helps clarify our dilemma. Emotionally alienated persons were investigated and it was found that there is a relationship between emotional alienation (social detachment) and powerlessness. With the feeling of powerlessness goes lower political interest, lower political knowledge and a lack of motivation to learn more about politics. One of the questions asked was whether "the basic decisions on political and social questions should be made by experts." Not surprisingly, those who felt powerless tended to answer affirmatively. When people feel powerless they prefer government by experts over government by the people. In short, they prefer to continue their powerlessness.
The majority of us are perhaps unaware of our growing powerlessness. We have been encouraged to believe that we live in a democracy which rests on the strength of the people. All too many are oblivious to the fact that their growing trust in leaders is but a manifestation of their own powerlessness. Such "trust" offers a way for eschewing personal responsibility in matters of government. And what democracy is about, it seems to me, is just that matter of the ability to judge and evaluate what our leaders are doing.
The Seeman study found that those who placed a higher value on political control by experts were less interested in knowing more; more willing to follow the dictates of others- in short, they tended to shift from democracy to autocracy. It is this shift that allows people to abdicate personal decision, to avoid a search for information and most important, to abjure a personal morality. As shown in the study, the shift inspires a deepening unresponsiveness to new information. Reflected in this attitude is the loss of control over one's destiny. Not only is this control lost in the cult of trust, but the individual hardly aspires to develop control, for with it would go responsibility and decision-making -tasks that cannot be welcomed by those who want others to make all the decisions for them.
In this frame of mind comes reliance on fate and chance. What happens to us we believe to be in the hands of a higher power, whether deity or government. When we defer to external regulation of our own lives and minimize the value of personal efforts in affecting problems, the result is government by the cognoscenti, rule by a knowing elite that knows best what is best for us. War itself is then left by us to fate....and to the elite.
But what is good for us is not merely a matter of facts known to experts. It is a matter of morality. It is the matter of differing viewpoints. What differentiates us from our Government is not merely the respective quantities of facts at our disposal, but a different frame of reference for approaching and assessing these facts. The difference is between humanism and power politics.
When a government gets a people to think in terms of power politics instead of human needs, the people have been had. Yet, through clever use of the mass media, we have become "expert" on foreign dictatorships but benighted children when it comes to the ways of our own government. When my barber tells me, "We cannot afford losing Southeast Asia to the Communists," is it really that he thinks himself to possess a proprietary interest in a country he has never seen, and which until a few years ago, he had probably never heard of? When he comes home to his $85,000 tract house, is it really the first order of business that he tells his wife that they must not "lose" Asia, when she is worried about not losing the house.
TRUST BY ORDER
Our existence can be in danger precisely because of the inflexible idea that our existence is continuously in danger. So war has become necessary to prevent war : bombing necessary to save lives; and death an unfortunate by-product of the fight for life.
Given the baseline that our existence is in danger, much must logically follow. Thus, peaceniks and their ideas becomes dangerous, while agitating for death—"death to the enemy," means that one's sanity presumably has been vindicated. It is a strange equation—death and sanity, killing and mental health, bombing and democracy.
"Kill" seems to be "in" in a nation huddled together in its patriotism and righteousness and fearing most of all to sow disunity. Three university professors were put to death by the Ky Government during the Vietnam war for circulating a petition demanding a cease-fire. The leaders had made the leap from a request for trust to a demand for it.
GOVERNMENT BY CRISES AND MONSTERS
From a psychological point of view, the ability to wage war revolves around the concept of trust. And that is not only a bad thing, but a necessary one to make any government viable.
The rationale for the need to trust out leader is that in time of crisis we must act as one. When your ship is sinking there is no time for hesitation, debate, or going in separate ways; it is time for united action. More than anyone before him. Hitler mastered government by crisis.
Crisis has a number of psychological functions that help keep a people in line. Crisis galvanizes, mobilizes and, most importantly, legitimizes excitement. Violence toward the "enemy" (whether internal or external) becomes acceptable because "we are in a crisis." All means become acceptable.
By embroiling his country in continuous conflict and war there was always a crisis, always a need for the savior and always a justification for the suppression of those who disagreed. The German people trusted their leaders, and the German leaders trusted their leader. What enabled them to feel guilty with a clear conscience was that their leaders must knew what they were doing while they themselves were only carrying out orders. There was "unity." But it is just such unity that one must fear most. This is not to say that we should never have confidence in the leadership; after all, we elected them. It is just that healthy doubt is always important.
This is the same kind of psychological mechanism that gets people hooked on horror movies. In a horror film, one is placed in a situation of mounting tension and terror, but in the back of one's mind one knows that really there is nothing to fear. The monster on the screen mobilize our indigenous fear. In the end, the monster is killed and we feel relieved, for nothing inside us was wrong; the monster was the source of our fear.
The "monster" today keeps changing. It used to be the Chinese. Now they are sort of friends. It used to be the Japanese and Germans. Now they are our closest allies and we worry when they hesitate to go into war. Not exactly the worry we used to have about them. We become convinced that when our enemy is exterminated we will be able to breathe freely again. The problem is that our enemy keeps changing. During the Iraq-Iran war, Iraq was our friend whom we armed. That wasn't very long ago.
We have a problem in Iraq because we've got a man who doesn't do things rationally. Albert Camus said it a long time ago, "A man with whom you cannot reason is a man to fear." Those who might try to reason with him take their life in their hands. He demands trust. He doesn't even demand it; he expects it. There is no will of the people. The progression seems to be to asking for trust, getting it, demanding more until all decisions are left in the hands of the leader; and that is the danger to democracy. Too much trust in "them" means not enough trust in ourselves. If the leaders then do things that we don't like; if like in Iraq they are intent on destroying their own country, it is because the people implicity trust their leaders. They are willing to die for whatever decision is made by them. They too say, "We've got a job to do and we are going to do it.". Killing the enemy becomes a "job to do". Killing is not done in anger, which is, one thinks, the logical result of fury. Rather, killing is done, sang froid, as another task that must be accomplished. Anger has been removed from the killing process; cold calculation has taken its place.
THE MONSTER BEGETS HEROES
One searches in vain for something to say other than "kill" and "war" that would not be considered as giving aid and comfort of the enemy. No matter how aesthetically articulated by our State Department or Rand Corporation academicians, the message is the same - our fellow Americans have every right to protest, but what they are doing amounts to treason. They are considered as lacking in trust and as sowing the seeds of disunity. Somehow we believe that Iraqi soldiers in the sand will read The New York Times, assume wrongly that Americans are for peace, take heart and fight all the more -ergo, more American boys will have to die fighting and increasingly stubborn enemy. The fact that Hussein took Kuwait without the aid of The New York Times, is somehow overlooked.
No one doubts that Hussein has acted monstruously. Monsters have to be fought. But the idea of a monster helps detract people from the fears of daily life. To combat him offers us surcease from the humdrum of routinized existence and presents a chance for what Aldous Huxley called "individual nobility." All of us want to feel noble; that we belong, share the major view, and that we are not set apart. We want to be the best kind of citizen. Loyal and devoted. Like in the movie, the monster is at the source of our fears; stamp him out and ease will return. And most importantly, trust your leader to know how to handle the monster.
But fighting the monster also helps us find our place and meaning in this complicated society. It is something in which we can all share. We are united in our sacrifices and misery, and this seems far better than to suffer from personal problems and private agonies individually. Suddenly death has a meaning in a nation of senseless automobile deaths. We can die for a cause, rather than from pollution—a rather ignominious way to go.
Death has meaning even when life does not. It is a time when one of the necessities of life is death. To question this necessity becomes disloyal.
Iraq has become a nation in search of treason instead of reason. We have to take care that we don't fall into that trap. Whatever our personal view of the war, remember that we are fighting for democracy, and the hallmark of democracy is dissent, to have a differing view.
What is needed is a new atmosphere wherein the real enemy is war. Only then will efforts toward peace not be considered treasonous. When the enemy is war, peace is in the national interest.
What is needed today is a cult of mistrust and skepticism. Let us heed the warning of Andre Gide, "beware the man who has found the truth;
follow the one who still searches."