Tuesday, January 17, 2006

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: The Real Problem with Intelligence in george bush's Administration

The problem of intelligence in this administration is not that the CIA got it wrong, or that george w. misinterpreted it. It is that the individuals who administer this government, among the most privileged, best-educated people in the nation, have little intelligence themselves. They are walking proof that there is a disconnect between “education,” as schooling is called in the U.S., and intelligence. You clearly do not need intelligence to graduate from an Ivy League School. Several of mr. bush's colleagues have been hailed in the media as "brilliant." So perhaps they are also evidence that there is distinction to be made between brilliance and intelligence.

It does take some smarts to get through a fine college, but apparently not the kind of smarts that it takes to solve massive and complicated problems. No one in mr. bush's administration or in the Congress has any demonstrated capacity to solve big problems – like how to govern without lies, duplicity, and secrecy so extensive it has be a frightened cover-up for fraud and abuse of power. Or how we can create friends in the world and diminish hatred toward us. Or, equally important, how to diminish our own citizens' insulting condescension and hatred toward citizens of other nations, or other religions. Neither the administration nor the Congress apparently has enough intelligence to stop war or even to figure out how to bring the wounded home with tenderness and care, and recognition for their sacrifice. Or to figure out how to honor our dead without calling for more deaths, while shamefully bringing our war dead home in more shrouds of secrecy. Or how to see that our citizens are fed, and that millions of U.S. children do not need to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Or how to make sure that our elderly have access to medical care and can pay for their prescriptions. Or how we can create a culture that supports its agriculture and its soil, its artists and poets, or ordinary working people. Such problems, among others, continue unchecked in this nation. For the most part this government has demonstrated little interest in such matters. That must be in part because they do not have the intelligence to see that they are problems, or that they are responsible for doing something about them.

The intelligence that is missing is not the kind that can be given to you in a briefing from some federal agency. Briefings can give you information; intelligence helps you find the significance buried in it. Intelligence has to be cultivated over a lifetime. It requires deep introspection, profound consideration of a wide variety of information, a hungry desire to seek not only the facts about our circumstances, but an equally hungry desire to see what they mean, and to discover the concepts around which one could create solutions. But this administration already knows everything, so it has nothing to learn, two hallmarks of the truly ignorant.

This is a government that salivates over words like “freedom,” and does not have the intelligence -- the kind that we need cannot come from the CIA, even less from NSA -- to understand that freedom comes from self-discipline. We want to bring freedom to others the President constantly assures us. Bomb them into freedom if we have to. But only those who are free can give freedom away. This president has no personal freedom of his own, and has done his best to limit the freedom of all our citizens. Therefore he has no gift of freedom to grant to others.

No, I have not changed subjects here, moving from intelligence to freedom. There is an inescapable link between the two. That link was nicely revealed in an essay by John Dewey, published in 1938. Called "Experience & Education" Dewey's essay also links intelligence and freedom directly to the schooling that our political leadership has received. In Chapter 5 of that short piece, Dewey defines freedom as follows:
The only freedom that is of enduring importance is freedom of intelligence, that is to say, freedom of observation and of judgment exercised in behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worth while.

Dewey then addresses a common error: to define freedom as freedom of movement or freedom of action. He promptly articulates the flaw in that notion.
But in all the respects mentioned, freedom of outward action is a means to freedom of judgment and of power to carry deliberately chosen ends into execution…
There can be no greater mistake, however, than to treat such freedom as an end in itself. It then tends to be destructive of the shared cooperative activities which are the normal source of order. But, on the other hand, it turns freedom which should be positive into something negative. For freedom from restriction, the negative side, is to be prized only as a means to a freedom which is power: power to frame purposes, to judge wisely, to evaluate desires by the consequences which will result from acting upon them; power to select and order means to carry chosen ends into operation.

Consider for a moment, as an aside, the "normal source of order," which Dewey identifies as "shared cooperative activities." Shared cooperative activities are precisely the activities that mr. bush eschews in his political practice.

But back to freedom. Freedom from restriction for its own members appears to be the ultimate goal and desire of this administration. It could be a positive freedom, one supposes, if it would lead the government “to frame purposes…that are intrinsically worth while.” Or if it meant that such freedom created a capacity, “to judge wisely, to evaluate desires by the consequences which will result from acting upon them.”

This government clearly desired war with Iraq. 9/11 provided the impulse. The purposes were not intrinsically worth while but innately corrupted by a desire for personal power and political success. mr. bush says he believes that war presidents become great because they have the power inherent in a "Commander in Chief." Voila! We will have war. And thus far his every judgment about the war, from the phony causes to the failure to see the consequences of it, has been inept, ignorant, and wrong.

george bush might have cultivated the kind of freedom that could lead to the “power to select and order means to carry chosen ends into operation.” He did not cultivate that kind of freedom, and the lack of it shows in Iraq: there have not been enough troops, and not enough armor for the troops we have. There has not been the intelligence necessary, not even the smarts, to win the cooperation, if not the hearts, of local citizens. That is evidence enough that there is no power in the administration to select and order means that will carry chosen ends into operation. Instead we have too many unnecessary deaths of our soldiers, the deaths of too many civilians, no strategic plan, no visible means to accomplish our ends – indeed no visible ends that have any value or meaning for Iraq or for America.

There was no desire to take the time for such thinking, and an enormous desire to push the war through Congress without giving Congress any time to think clearly either. The executive branch knew that allowing Congress time to think would not gain them the freedom from restraint they sought. And there was not enough intelligence in the Congress to say, ”Wait, there is no urgency here, your deadlines and timetables are wrong. We need time to reflect, to discern if these are 'purposes that are intrinsically worth while,' and to wisely judge and evaluate the consequences of these actions."

“The old phrase, ‘stop and think’ is sound psychology,” says Dewey, for it “involves inhibition of impulse…until that impulse has been brought into connection with other possible tendencies to action so that a more comprehensive and coherent plan of activity is formed.” Given the chaos of insurgency, continuing outright warfare (especially the increased bombings), and the failures of reconstruction, there apparently was no inhibition of impulse that taking time to think might have imposed. And there was never developed a “more comprehensive and coherent plan of activity.” We just did what mr. bush wanted us to do, and mr. bush just did what he wanted to do. Period. Immediate action was mr. bush’s impulse and we acceded to his desire. Both actions were thoughtless.

Among the “other possible tendencies” that Mr. Dewey notes are the “observation of objective conditions,” and “recall of what has happened in the past.” Thinking is “a postponement of immediate action,” Dewey says, “while it effects internal control of impulse through a union of observation and memory, this union being the heart of reflection.” He continues, this is “the meaning of the well-worn phrase ‘self-control.’” Self-control is one of the purposes of education, according to Dewey. Which is why we see that mr. bush and his neo-con colleagues may have had some fine schooling but received little education, an outcome that may not have been their universities’ fault at all.

Here Dewey is getting close to the heart of the matters with which we began:
Impulses and desires that are not ordered by intelligence are under the control of accidental circumstances (a nice description of our presence in Iraq). It may be a loss rather than a gain to escape from the control of another person (read here, control of the Executive by the public and by Congress) only to find one’s conduct dictated by immediate whim and caprice; that is, at the mercy of impulses into whose formation intelligent judgment has not entered.(The parens are mine)

The result? Dewey puts it this way: "A person whose conduct is controlled in this way has at most only an illusion of freedom. Actually he is directed by forces over which he has no command."

Allow me to present to you a person of illusions, impulses, and desires. The company may remained seated: "Ladies and gentlemen -– mr. bush, the powerless. A man bound by his impulses, caught in an Iraqi conflagration created by his own immediate whim and caprice, controlled now by accidental circumstances, and subject to forces over which he has no command."

Mr. Dewey continues,
It is, then, a sound instinct which identifies freedom with power to frame purposes and to execute or carry into effect purposes so framed. Such freedom is in turn identical with self-control; for the formation of purposes and the organization of means to execute them are the work of intelligence…

Neither impulse nor desire is itself a purpose. A purpose is an end-view. That is, it involves foresight of the consequences which will result from acting upon impulse. Foresight of consequences involves the operation of intelligence.

Clearly there was no capacity to foresee the consequences of our entry into Iraq. Despite this president’s protests when things started to go awry, there was no plan for reconstruction after he declared the U.S. mission accomplished. It is clear that there still is no plan for how to end the conflict. The lack of intelligence metastasizes; now we are all at the mercy of “forces over which we have no command.”

In this administration’s case, even the observation of circumstances Dewey calls for may have been insufficient. For, “Observation alone is not enough,” he notes. “We have to understand the significance of what we see, hear, and touch. This significance consists of the consequences that will result when what is seen is acted upon.”

mr. bush saw and heard much. Given the outcome, he failed to see the consequences of his actions. That was in part because he paid no attention to the other element of reflection that Dewey referred to: the recollection of “what has happened in the past.” There was no way that mr. bush had enough facts in his own mind to know the history of the Middle East. He could have inquired, and with the resources at his command, had history laid on his doorstep in the morning. He did not inquire; one has to assume he did not care what happened in the past, or did not want to know.
But in unfamiliar cases, we cannot tell just what the consequences of observed conditions will be unless we go over past experiences in our mind, unless we reflect upon them and by seeing what is similar in them to those now present, go on to form a judgment of what may be expected in the present situation.

Such reflection was dismissed in favor of immediate action, the fulfillment of personal desire.

Finally there is this from Dewey, which also clarifies how Iraq came about and what we are now up against:
Overemphasis upon activity as an end, instead of intelligent activity, leads to identification of freedom with immediate execution of impulses and desires. This identification is justified by a confusion of impulse with purpose; although, as has just been said, there is no purpose unless overt action is postponed until there is foresight of the consequences of carrying the impulse into execution – a foresight that is impossible without observation, information, and judgment.

So here we are, sacrificing our children in Iraq for no purpose.

Observation and information reflected upon so that one understands their significance may lead to wise judgment. Wise judgment may lead to a purpose that is worth while. Intelligent reflection on our purpose may lead to a plan that marshals the means to deal with the consequences of our action.

Intelligence, freedom, purposes worth while, time to gather observations and information, a sense of history, foresight of consequences: given the circumstances which the United States faces in the world now, one has to say that is a list of characteristics that are utterly lacking in this president and his administration.

The president may believe in intelligent design, but his administration has neither the intelligence nor the power to create one.

In the absence of his own freedom mr. bush has none to bestow on others. Thus we have all become captives of the president’s impulses and desires -- forces over which he has no command, and neither do we. That makes it very difficult indeed to act on our own impulse to change the leadership of this nation. Lack of intelligence is not an impeachable offense. But an intelligent citizenry knows that the steps mr. bush has taken to eliminate restraints on his behavior and create freedom of action for himself while denying American citizens their own freedoms, are impeachable. That fact gives us time to think, observe, consider the history of leadership change, and reign in our impulse until we can see the consequences of such action. Then we can formulate a plan that will account for those consequences. Impeachment, then, though not immediate, will be certain.