The Brazen Word

If Adam and Eve could have just gone with a different tree…

If you have read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (and when I say “read” I don’t mean got Spark Notes for your high school English class), you know that after Kurtz’s death, Marlow tells Kurtz’s intended that he died saying her name, when in reality he actually died screaming “The horror! The horror!”

O, the horror.

The horror of knowing the truth behind the sugarcoated diplomatic language that hides the gruesome underbelly of politics in times of war. The horror of knowledge.

When George W. Bush’s long-time chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., resigned on Monday, the little cartoon question marks popped up over Bush’s opponents’ heads. They are the same ones that hovered when Secretary of State Colin Powell resigned and when Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers stepped down.

This is an age-old question: how much should we know of government intelligence? Should we have known every piece of intelligence related to 9-11? How about what’s going on in Iraq? Weapons of mass destruction? And if we did know, what difference would it make?

The question is most obviously relevant in monarchies, but it applies to even the most democratic governments – hence Bush’s nickname, “King George.”

Say Bush promoted faulty intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, not at the fault of the CIA, but by his own discretion. Say the intelligence memos sent to British Prime Minister Tony Blair from the head of British foreign intelligence, the ones that insisted the United States morphed their foreign policy around a stubborn approach to Iraq, were genuine.

Say President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew about the plans to attack Pearl Harbor or George W. Bush knew what was going to happen on Sept. 11, 2001 beforehand. The United States would have been brought to its knees if that kind of intelligence was leaked and confirmed.

The point is this: no matter what the government, whether its Stalinist Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Reagan, Carter, Clinton, or Bush’s White House, us regular folk are the blind led by the sighted. Sure we have democracy, but all we really get to choose is our seeing-eye dog.

Utilitarianism is probably the most popular kind of philosophy among Americans: if it works for me, it works.

It’s the reason why some of the rich support their tax breaks, why some women advocate rights for abortion, and why some atheists advocate Darwinism.

There’s a genuine reason behind nearly every ideology, but they are often adopted by utilitarianists – those that only argue for their own special interests.

And that is exactly what Bush has been accused of: appeasing his base and only his base.

Utilitarianism is what liberals say Bush is guilty of. It’s what the religious right accuses pro-choicers of. It’s what Adam and Eve got from plucking that apple off that damn tree.

Ironically, an approach to utilitarianism is an approach to naivete, as those that are dead set on appeasing their own special interests automatically close themselves off from opposing viewpoints. That naivete makes it easy to make decisions, easy to choose one path, one blind ideology and run with it.

So keep me out of the pursuit of knowledge. Dealing with the truth is just too difficult. It’s much easier to buy a lie than to experience the pain that comes with knowledge.