Thursday, May 13, 2004

A River in Egypt
I heard it twice in a single, three-minute NPR newscast first thing this morning, from Rumsfeld in Iraq and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida regarding the latest horrific pictures of prisoner abuse: We've got to put it behind us.

We live in a therapeutic, self-esteeming, feelings-matter-most culture, and the concept of "putting it behind us," whatever "it" may be, is always a prominent part of it. While I acknowledge that it can be healthy not to dwell too heavily on our personal sins and shortcomings (take it from someone who has always done this), I submit that it's just as bad not to dwell on them enough. If you don't dwell on them sufficiently, you can't learn anything from them. Instead, you go blithely skipping down the same path you always travel, blithely acting the same way you always do, self-esteem intact--thus there's a pretty good chance you'll fall victim to those sins and shortcomings again. So to suddenly shift the focus from looking at the pictures, finding out how the abuse happened, and deciding who is responsible, to putting it behind us is not so much putting it behind us as shoving it under the rug, or turning away from the mirror before we've had a good enough look. It's a form of denial.

This isn't necessarily political, either. I am not suggesting we need to keep focusing on these pictures until Bush's approval ratings are hammered further into the ground, although the wingnuts amen corner keeps accusing us of wanting just that. Every one of us, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, is paying a hell of a price throughout the rest of the world for the incontrovertible photographic evidence of our country's failure to live up to the ideals we love to preach so priggishly. Most observers think the price is going to be paid by Americans in harm's way suffering greater brutality. We had goddamn well better get something for the price we will have to pay, but we never will if we "put it behind us" in hopes of making ourselves feel better. Sometimes, feeling bad is necessary. That violates the major tenets of our therapeutic culture, but perhaps it's time we grow the hell up and face our sins and shortcomings like adults. This ain't Oprah, this is real life.

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