Tuesday, August 21, 2007

August 21

I often have trouble tracking time. I lose any sense of what time it is, or what day it is, along with my ability to tell the difference between what I've done recently and what I've thought about doing but haven't actually done. I often find myself panicking because I don't know whether my medical appointment is tomorrow or next week or next month, and on occasion I miss appointments because I forget that I haven't already gone, or I forget that they're not next week, or I forget about them entirely. In short, I am not much for anniversaries.

Which is why it's rather odd that I'm writing this today, considering that it's the 15th anniversary of the killings at Ruby Ridge. I think that perhaps these events are not common knowledge among the general population, so here's a summary. The Weaver family were religious nuts who believed, among other things, that the world was about to end in a gory Apocalypse, so they moved to a cabin in northern Idaho to separate themselves from the sinful world etc. They had a lot of guns and may or may not have been white supremecists. Regardless, they didn't hurt anybody. Randy Weaver was entrapped by an undercover cop into selling the guy two sawed off shotguns that may or may not have been illegal, and then was given the wrong court date to show up for a hearing.

When he missed the date, local law enforcement called in the FBI and the National Guard and something like 400 people descended on the Weaver's property. There was a standoff that lasted for something like two weeks, during which the government shot dead Sammy Weaver, age 14, in the back as he was running away and Vicki Weaver, while she was standing in the doorway of her house holding her infant daughter. Eventually it all went to court, Randy Weaver was convicted of not showing up for his court date, several FBI agents were reprimanded, and the surviving Weaver children got $1 million each on out of court settlements.

The reason I bring this up is the recent conviction of Jose Padilla for conspiracy to murder etc. Mr. Padilla in many ways is in a situation similar to the Weavers: he held beliefs that anyone would consider to be antisocial, but did not hurt anyone; he practiced his religion in an unconventionally serious way that removed him from regular society; the government took advantage of his position outside mainstream society to treat him as someone without the rights of an American citizen; he is permanently damaged.

There is no doubt that he was held without charge for years and treated in an inhumane manner. The more I learn about the techniques used on him, the more I am convinced that they constitute one of the most horrible torture systems known to man. Vicki Weaver may in some sense be less lucky than Mr. Padilla, but I am not so sure. There are fates worse than death, and the psychiatrist who interviewed Mr. Padilla for the defense thought that he may have been introduced to such a fate. Many people are, understandably, upset about this.

What puzzles me is the reaction, evident in this piece from Firedoglake as well as many other places in the 'liberal blogosphere', that says that because the government is currently Republican-controlled, in order to prevent this kind of thing happening in the future we ought to work very hard to elect Democrats. This kind of innocence about how power works reminds me of myself, when I was very young. I used to think that political upheaval would be useful; I even campaigned for a Libertarian one year in the belief that many of the problems with modern politics stem from the two-party system. And perhaps destabilizing the elite would have some interesting effects.

However, in my cynical old age (and oh, I am old these days) I have come to a different conclusion. Power is corrupting. This is a very simple idea that most people will agree with, but it's painful to follow it to the end. No matter how honorable your candidate for Congress is, in the end, electing new people to the same system of power will have zero effect on the level of corruption in the system. Maybe one person will hold onto their honor, maybe another will continue to believe in their ideals, but in the aggregate there will be no long-term positive effect of introducing new blood. It will only decay again into the same patterns, the patterns dictated by the system.

The only solution is to burn the system down and start again from the beginning.

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