Welcome to the New World Bedlam
– current Labour Party slogan
By now, only the terminally hopeful doubt that Bush and Blair will have their war, and only the sinfully naïve believe this war will end with Iraq. So your humble correspondent has decided to dispense with the whether and get on with the whither. Whither the Anglo-American juggernaut? What will it do with the world it conquers?
If life in the seats of empire is anything to go by, the rest of the world can look forward to a slow but steady process of rehabilitation. In America, what Thomas Szasz calls the "therapeutic state" has cured all but the hardest cases, and it's working on them. Though we hate monsters who gas their own people, we're not averse to radical treatments for homegrown delinquents. Ask the Branch Davidians, if you can find one. Still, civilization prefers the nurse to the noose. For instance, our schools have become adept at arresting deviancy as early as kindergarten, using state-sanctioned speed to neutralize millions of dangerous children. No wonder our politicians promise us "100,000 New Teachers" and "100,000 New Police" in the same breath. Let's just hope that the Ritalin Youth turn into well-adjusted citizens of Prozac Nation before joining a cult or doing drugs.
Of course, by "drugs," I mean the bad ones. While the nation's kiddies learn their ABCs on amphetamines, woe to the grownup who smokes a joint, even when democracy indulges the vice. Ask Peter McWilliams. Oops, he's dead. But at least he got to soak up a few days of glorious American freedom in perfect sobriety before suffocating on his own vomit. McWilliams was a stubborn sort, though. Most nonviolent drug offenders acknowledge their baseness and submit to therapy. This usually includes their participation in "Scared Straight" programs such as D.A.R.E., where preteens learn what awaits them should they ever try the hard stuff.
Scare tactics are sometimes necessary, but the best therapies for misbehavior are subtle. Consider a poster frequently seen in our public schools. A vaguely ethnic child with pleading eyes stares out from the text, which reads, "What you permit you promote. Teach tolerance." Funny, but I thought that permitting things you do not promote was the essence of tolerance. If permitting the free speech of David Koresh, Randy Weaver, or Sami Al-Arian means that I am promoting their causes, then, by all means, shut them down. And there you have it: tolerance according to the government teachers. If this serpentine reasoning leaves youngsters a little confused, then the Army can always straighten them out later. Just ask the residents of Oklahoma City, Ft. Bragg, N.C., Washington, D.C., and Okinawa.
Nonetheless, we Americans have a lot to learn from the U.K. Mr. Blair's government has healed its citizens of almost every antisocial tendency, from offensive speech to fox hunting, Freemasonry, and using English measurements. Remember the sweeping prescription that opens this article? All together now:
You will not understand the new imperialism until you grasp the centrality of these six words to the whole enterprise. This is what our leaders are fighting for: the universal extension of the Anglo-American therapeutic state.
Every so often, some pundit with writer's block decides to wade back through 1984 and compare it to the present. After filling his column inches with tepid social criticism, he invariably reassures us that Orwell was a lousy prophet. Well, forget Orwell. The great dystopian of our age is Ken Kesey, who foresaw the current crisis in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. Not content to play Nurse Ratched at home, British and American leaders push a foreign policy rooted in the logic of the asylum. First, they pick a country they want to rehabilitate. Using wholly arbitrary criteria – much like the DSM in psychiatry – they portray that country's leader as a madman and his subjects as brainwashed. Next, they demand that the cuckoos do the impossible, such as prove a negative. Eventually, the frustrated lunatics lash out, thereby justifying coercive treatment – democratization is all the rage these days – for their own good. Oh, the remedy may seem harsh, it may hurt a bit, but the lobotomized patients will get along just fine in the New World Bedlam.
And where will the unwilling have to run when the sun never sets on this asylum? Where will they escape the gaze of their keepers?
More teachers, more nurses, more police. Get used to the sound of it.
Matt Barganier is a private-sector educator in Baton Rouge, LA. He refuses to take his medicine.
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