Saturday, February 19, 2022

Flying Over the Cuckoo's Nest: On the Malleability of Human Beings


Flying Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; On the Malleability of Human Beings

Peter Schultz


            Aristotle wrote in his Politics that “being without law and right” human beings are the worst living beings. And in the same context, he referred to cannibalism and incest, thereby indicating that human beings can live in violation of law and right in both primitive and civilized societies.


            Regarding the latter, it is useful to remember that being without law and right not only characterizes anarchy, the absence of government, the breakdown of law and order, where perhaps mobs rule the streets. But it also characterizes nations with governments, with legislatures, courts, and even with educated and intelligent elites. And it is also useful to realize that the latter phenomenon may be even worse than the former insofar as such nations have far more power than anarchists. Moreover, such governments can disguise or justify their violations of law and right as necessary, as the Bush administration did – to great popularity – after 9/11. Dick Cheney said that the US would “go to the dark side;” that is, it would violate law and right. And, of course, the results were what Aristotle predicted.


            There are other, even numerous examples of the US government violating law and right. Such events in my lifetime are: the assassinations of Fred Hampton, JFK, RFK, MLK, and Malcolm X, as well as the war in Southeast Asia, terrorist attacks on Communist Cuba, coups in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Honduras, the invasion and destruction of Iraq, to name a few. So, US elites have violated law and right repeatedly over the last 75 years and, of course, the results – millions killed, children incinerated, humans tortured and assassinated, nations destroyed – have been among the worst kinds of events imaginable. And yet US elites and probably most ordinary Americans are proud of themselves and the government, holding the US up as an “exceptional” and “indispensable” nation, thinking that the US that is preventing the world from sliding into anarchy or tyranny.


            This is a most interesting illustration of just how malleable human beings are. And this malleability isn’t limited to the uneducated and less intelligent, as is so often thought. Even the educated and intelligent can be – and are – persuaded that not only is the US respectable, but is an exceptional and indispensable superpower that, like Superman, uses its power for good. Sure, the US makes “mistakes,” but those mistakes merely prove it is a “great nation,” attempting to do great and good things. It might even be the greatest nation to have ever existed, ready now to colonize the universe, thereby literally “universalizing” its way of life.


            The malleability of human beings is astounding; the perambulations of the human mind know no bounds. Wrong becomes right, vice becomes virtue, dark creates light, mass murder is celebrated, wars are waged endlessly for peace, and doing evil, being without law and right, is said to be how to rid the world of evil. John Prine sang that “this world will make you crazy,” and it seems to me he hit the nail on its head. And the craziest humans are those in charge. “One flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.” Welcome to the cuckoo’s nest.

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