it's more common than you think


Being near power, we all know, is an aphrodisiac. When John Howard parades the streets of Australian cities, there is a sensory shift as hormonal overload affects the assembled masses. The effect is reciprocal. The Prime Minister often tongue-wipes his lips to control saliva output. This is all science, just the birds and bees of life, and should not be hidden from children.

To avoid such stressful scenes in the US, George W. Bush entered a pact with the silencing-minority of pastors and reformed evil-doers (the born again crowd). He agreed to surround himself with dour, sexless men who sublimate their sexual desire to the greater cause of global conquest. With Wolfowitz, Bolt, Rumsfeld and Cheney behind the Presidency, the devilish hormones of the masses were curbed, and their hormonal power directed to the greater good of world order.

Thanks to Hive

Thanks to Hive

In grateful thanksgiving, the silencing-minority of the Christian Right instructed their assembled brethren to vote for Bush as President. The repression and redirection of desire may explain the permanently quizzical look that defines his Presidency. Metaphorically, his nuts are being squeezed.

Freud taught us that repressed desire will lead to all sorts of deviant manifestations. He did not, however, to my knowledge, anticipate a lustful yearning for oil and a desire to remake the world in the image of an American town-hall.

Now, what happens when some vulnerable people get close to power and get turned on, such as columnists in important newspapers who tell us about their matey chats with world leaders? Or academics who attend conferences and, in cliquey circles, name drop: Oh, well John suggested…; Gareth was back recently, looking good. Or, when the said academics are desperate for material: …Alexander came to the party without his stockings, most disappointing.

How does this close association with power affect clear thinking? We can safely make a few assumptions. Sexual desire (even sublimated) is not known for facilitating careful thought. It has an inverse relationship to one’s capacity for careful, impartial and considered thought. If you doubt this, when did you last work out your mortgage plan or ruminate on the meaning of life when you were in the throes of bliss?

The simple answer to what happens when certain people get to rub close to those in power is that they get intellectual hard-ons (what I call the IH syndrome). IH, I suppose, is analogous to Viagra induced erectile function. It appears to be substantial, is mostly linear, but it lacks internal consistency. To the afflicted, an intellectual hard-on provides them with the bravado to say anything that ingratiates them to the object of their affection. The words simply flow. I hope the analogy is clear. To observers, the intellectual hard-on is actually a form of intellectual impotency. Government press releases become journalistic copy, or the basis of positive appraisal in academic papers. The critical faculties that might attend any endeavour to understand what is going on in the world are held in suspension (suspenders even).

Impotency is a private matter, so I will refrain from naming. However, there is sufficient public case data to illustrate IH syndrome pathology in our broadsheets and tabloids. I will leave it for readers to determine who is so afflicted, but below I offer a few examples of the form IH syndrome takes ( I trust in the interests of patient confidentially, that readers will not Google these quotations).

Symptoms of IH Syndrome
A) When confronted with powerful arguments contrary to your worldview, draw ridiculous analogies: ‘Pilgerist Chomskyism is ideologically fuelling the followers of Osama Bin Lenin, sorry, Laden…’

B) When in the company of the object of affection, the afflicted will pig-swill in the delusion of success: ‘There is a core of faith in the Bush administration…that the US-led coalition will prevail in Iraq. And I am sitting in the office of Optimism Central, here in the Pentagon where Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Secretary of Defense, chief intellectual architect of the Iraq invasion and high priest of the neo-conservatives, sits.’

C) When everything suggests otherwise trumpet the veracity of the loved one(s): ‘On the big things – such as Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction -Bush, Blair and Howard have told us the truth.’

D) And when finally the world has been screwed – forget moral codes, international law – all that matters is, ‘was it good for you, too?’: ‘The Iraq invasion is going to be judged on its results. Only specialists will worry about its legitimacy if the outcome is a stable Iraq that represents its citizens’ human rights much better than Saddam did.’

Admittedly, these are sharp examples. But as the morass that is the occupation of Iraq continues can we expect the end of the honeymoon between news and power? Unfortunately, patients do exhibit endless affection for their objects of power. The prognosis of those afflicted with IH syndrome is not good.

Quotations taken from the excellent paper by Martin Hirst and Robert Schütze, Getting the Story Straight available

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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.