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Lisa Martinovic: Is Guilt Obsolete?

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    Because we re Americans. We have no regrets Is Guilt Obsolete? by Lisa Martinovic http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0916-08.htm Now that the various Abu
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 26, 2004
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      Because we're Americans. We have no regrets


      Is Guilt Obsolete?
      by Lisa Martinovic
      http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0916-08.htm



      Now that the various Abu Ghraib commissions have finished their
      unseemly tap dance around the assignation of blame, it's time to
      explore some of the subtler, far-reaching implications of
      the "scandal."

      Before Abu Ghraib, before Fallujah, in fact just weeks before the
      whole shock and awe campaign was to launch, came news of a preemptive
      strike -- on memory. The stealth attack was initiated by clever
      scientists who thought not of a cure for infectious greed, or a
      vaccine against the plague of moral relativism, but instead prepared
      to market a pill that will help us forget what we cannot bear to
      remember.

      To the unimpeded brain, painful memories provoke responses as varied
      as solemn reflection, incapacitating fear, or self-imposed exile to
      the bleak landscape of guilt and regret -- depending on our role in
      the precipitating event.

      But with a very off-label use of the beta-blocker propranolol,
      doctors can stop the emotions associated with a traumatic event from
      embedding in the brain where they otherwise act like land mines;
      every time they're triggered, an explosion of memories forces us to
      relive the grief we suffered … or inflicted.

      Scientists seeking to spare the rape victim her trauma forgot that
      what's good for the victim is good for the perp, forgot there might
      be a downside to sealing off access to a conscience -- the very
      capacity that defines us as human and endows us with compassion and
      empathy. Imagine: our internal moral compass, painstakingly honed by
      evolutionary forces over millennia, circumvented by one little pill.

      And wouldn't this pharmacological end-run come in handy during the
      preemptive wars of the future? Handy for any soldier not sufficiently
      amputated from his emotions by military hardening and pre-battle
      infusions of sado-porn and methamphetamine; useful for those medics
      who cannot block the acrid stench of charbroiled flesh; and essential
      for the Special Forces operative who's not far enough away from
      collateral or intentional damage to pretend that this strike was
      surgical and he a mere technician.

      So if he's close enough, and sober enough, his senses not dulled
      enough to keep him from taking in the enormity of his deed, he can
      instead take the warring-after pill and feel no pain, suffer no
      remorse, believe he was just doing his duty. He'll go home PTSD-free,
      kiss his wife, and get on with his life. He may still father deformed
      children and die of cancer the VA insists is unrelated to depleted
      uranium, but by God he'll die with no regrets at all.

      But that was before shock and awe, before Fallujah, and before Abu
      Ghraib where American soldiers and their digital cameras proved that
      there was no big bonanza for the pharmaceutical companies because
      among the perpetrators there was no guilt that needed to be
      medicated, nor memories to be short-circuited.

      To the contrary, the offending troops were so unconcerned with the
      legality and morality of their behavior that they chose to
      immortalize it, gleefully sharing those memories with friends and
      family. Pfc. Lynndie England apparently spoke for many when she
      testified to her belief that she had done nothing wrong. (It's not
      like we were beheading anyone.) Likewise, for Rush Limbaugh and a
      startling number of Americans, the whole episode was on par with a
      fraternity prank, little more than light amusement for the troops.
      Others among us pray that those same troops will someday discover
      that you can't dehumanize your enemy without diminishing your soul.

      And those further up the chain of command? Apparently, if all you did
      was order the torture, or look the other way, or sign a Presidential
      Directive authorizing it in the name of national security, well
      you've got no trauma to get over, do you?

      And, perhaps, no soul to wound.

      In the end, we are all being poisoned by a culture that breeds
      generals who boast our god is better than theirs; a nation where
      lawyers are paid good money to decide who is eligible for civil
      rights and who for torture; and a press corps that laughs along with
      a president who jokes about not finding the weapons of mass
      destruction he dreamed up to justify a war he can't win.

      In such a culture that little pill for guilt is obsolete.

      Because we're Americans.

      We have no regrets.

      We're in a war on terror and our humanity is just so much collateral
      damage.

      The use of memory-blunting pharmaceuticals has not been much
      reported, though it deserves to be. Even the President's Council on
      Bioethics has concerns. Check them out at
      http://www.bioethics.gov/reports/beyondtherapy/chapter5.html

      Lisa Martinovic is an artist, essayist and performance poet whose
      work has appeared in print and online, from the San Francisco
      Chronicle to commondreams.org. She has written and voiced
      commentaries for several NPR affiliates, including KQED in San
      Francisco, and her poetry is featured in numerous anthologies
      including The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, Will Work for Peace,
      and Poetry Slam. Currently on hiatus from performing, Lisa is busy
      marketing her recently completed screenplay, a scorching political
      satire that aspires to inspire multitudes.

      Her website is: www.slaminatrix.com

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