Morality, Savagery, and Politics
As I have noted previously in posts here, it doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that it is moral virtue that allows or encourages human beings to engage in violence, destruction, and mayhem. Hence, people who think of themselves as morally virtuous, people like William Colby and Ric Prado, are attracted to agencies like the CIA. They are convinced that they are virtuous and that it is the virtuous who will redeem or rectify the world.
As far as their virtue goes, just read Ric Prado’s description of Joe Fernandez, who was “a legend within the Agency.” Body and soul, Fernandez was “the quintessential CIA man.” He was a “tough…Cold Warrior of red-Spaniard blood and temperament;” “a shadow warrior with matching rugged good looks,” with a “cigarette elegantly poised in his hand,” while “scribbling” with a Mont Blac pen. He had “a killer smile” and eyes that “could pierce through bullshit like a laser.” [pp. 146-47] Obviously, Joe Fernandez and other quintessential CIA men are paragons of virtue.
It is not clear from Prado’s account whether Fernandez acquired his virtues prior to or a result of being a CIA man. Prado presents himself as acquiring his virtues as a result of becoming a CIA man, under the tutelage of other paragons of virtue like Joe Fernandez, Dewey Clarridge, Allen Dulles, and Richard Helms. He, too, became a quintessential CIA man, body and soul, a morally virtuous American whose virtues were not compromised by the violence, the killings, the duplicity he took part in and oversaw. He was nothing like the “political piranhas” who populated Washington, D.C., which was “an ugly, despicable scene” who destroyed the careers of the likes of Joe Fernandez over the Iran-Contra scandal.
It is clear: Black operators, shadow warriors like Prado and other CIA men and women are justified in their violence and duplicity because they are morally virtuous. Going to “the dark side,” as Vice President Cheney put it, isn’t dark at all. Rather, while it’s hidden from view, it is illuminated by morality, by the morality of its operators and its operations. This morality not only justifies the consequent violence and duplicity; it facilitates it, encourages it, creates it. Moral virtue leads humans into savagery, as has happened more than once in human history.
Which is why politics becomes necessary, why political virtues need to be cultivated. Political virtues like justice, freedom, and equality may be used to tame the fanaticism that is fed by the impulses of the morally virtuous. Political life is characterized by different and contending agendas, none of which is beyond controversy. Democrats have valid political claims, as do oligarchs, as do aristocrats, as do monarchists. In the political world, these contending claims need adjudication. There is no one best way that’s applicable everywhere and always. In the political world, the morally virtuous are replaced or displaced by democrats, oligarchs, aristocrats, and monarchists. The claims of the morally virtuous are displaced by the political claims of the contending contestants.
This is why Prado characterizes Washington, D.C. as a “tank of political piranhas.” Political beings, i.e., humans, aren’t primarily motivated by morality and, so, they aren’t led to indulge their impulses to dominant. Rather, they are led to embrace accommodations, compromise, even perhaps at times understanding of their rivals or enemies. Politically, human beings seek consent, whereas morally, human beings seek domination. The political impulse and the moral impulse point in very different directions, one toward consent, the other toward domination, one toward peace, the other toward war.
Prado, et. al., see moral issues, not political issues. Hence, domination constitutes victory, while accommodation constitutes defeat. Domination conveys honor, while accommodation conveys dishonor. The morally virtuous are honorable, while the politically virtuous are dishonorable, are accommodationists, are “appeasers.” To seek peace rather than victory is dishonorable, unworthy of “’quintessential CIA men,” men of rugged good looks who elegantly smoke cigarettes while scribbling with expensive pens and cutting through all the political bullshit.
To label the CIA a “criminal conspiracy,” as Valentine does, obscures the underlying issue. The CIA doesn’t appeal to criminals; it appeals to moralists, to those who seek socially acceptable ways of satisfying their impulses for domination. Criminals break laws, whereas moralists undermine them. Criminals accept their punishments as losses, but as legitimate losses, while moralists see their punishments as betrayals or even as treason. Those moralists who are “cashiered” should be given awards, should be honored. Conspiratorial criminals are far less dangerous than conspiratorial moralists. Malcolm Little did not pose the danger posed by Malcolm X.
[Note: Pascal argued that Plato and Aristotle wrote about politics ironically and should be read that way, as humor, because for them political reforms were attempts to bring order into a madhouse. That could be, but Pascal might have underestimated the need for taking political reforms seriously given the human condition when humans are committed to being moral beings, which might be better characterized as a slaughterhouse than as a madhouse.]