The Infallibility

Martha Stewart’s indictment, Sammy Sosa’s corked bat and Hilary Rodham Clinton’s tell-all book are getting lots of coverage in the media. Last month Jason Blair, the condemned journalist and his editors of The New York Times were on the front pages. Punditry was there; opinions were there. But collectively what do they mean? Why are we seemingly attracted to read or hear these stories? At the same time we feel that we are betrayed by our ideologues, our heroes. Why?

James Carroll, the Boston Globe columnist provides a possible answer: “Human beings, implicitly aware of their own flaws, seem to have a constitutional urge to attribute flawlessness to a chosen elite. That urge explains the political submission to monarchs and oligarchs. It explains religious deference to priests. It explains the bourgeois assumption that, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s phrase, the rich ”are different from you and me.” It explains the cult of celebrity. And it explains the exceedingly dangerous idea at the heart of fascism that some human beings are better than others.” [1]

The roots of fascism depend on feeling infallible, having sure dogmatic belief on one’s individual superiority of others. This is the reason we can conveniently ignore the pains of others, the sufferings of billions.

The Boston Globe columnist says that democracy assumes that all citizens are equally worthy of responsibility for the community. But there is the inherent problem of self-deception, aggrandizement of one’s individual selfishness over others. That’s the assumption democracy imposes that “all citizens are equally inclined to the self-deception that leads to the deceit of others.” [1] And because of this intrinsic problem, the democratic societies establish the very necessary check and balance systems so that these “self-deceptions” can be reigned in from getting out of bound, destroying the all valuable democracy and mutating it into deceptive “oligarchy” or jubilant plutocracy.

Power has its infinite charms and attraction that hypnotize many. And as Mr. Carroll describes that everyone of us are capable of abusing power. If allowed, most of us would have crossed the moral boundaries, and the politicians and leaders of any nations are not immune to this law of the jungle.

This is the reason there is “Bill of Rights”, there is secular constitution, legal codes. And thousands of years ago, religions presented “divine” scriptures with moral principles and strict commandments applicable to that thousands of years old dark era but later transcended to the thousands of more generations to this 21st century. But the freedom and civil rights did not fall from the sky like easy rain.

Only a few decades ago there were strenuous struggle for civil rights in America, the 1971 war in Bangladesh for freedom from oppression, the struggle against juggernaut rulers, colonialists and exploiters around the globe, the repressions of women by the Mullahs and Talibans, “holy” priests’ evangelic tortures, rabbis’ incitements on settlers’ violence, brahmanic pundits’ staunch embrace of the caste system, the segregation of lower economic classes by concocted divine decrees, the Nazi and Stalinist “superior” citizens, these are some of the tricks of the tricksters to preserve their contested power or for attaining more.

The brutal oppressions of Palestinians by the Israeli military in the occupying territory, the denial of basic rights of Palestinians in their homeland, and revenge attacks by the Palestinians on Israeli civilians, are perhaps modes of similar expression of power and rage. And that same infallible feelings against the other tribes, economic class, nations or “despised” believers of other religions explain massacres in Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and many other devastated places in Africa.

And how do the societies or nations deny this imperfect “impulse” of power? James Carroll provides another subtle answer: “You do that by elevating some members of the community and denigrating others. The severest denigration is reserved, of course, for those who were first elevated, which is why Sosa, Stewart, and The New York Times fall with such a thud. If culprits are always wide-eyed with surprise when they are found out, it is because their inevitable claim that they did not know what they were doing is the exact truth. The great mystery of evil lies in the way people who choose it think they are doing something good. That is true of so-called ”venial sins,” but it is also true of the most heinous crimes in history. The Nazis could embark on a program of anti-Jewish genocide, and Germans could acquiesce in it, only because the elimination of Jews could be seen as a positive turn (”racial purity”) in human evolution.” [1]

Many around the world fear Bush Administration’s aggressive preventive wars, many believe that the adherence to the international laws shown by the most nations who had embraced American leadership in devising these laws for the betterment of the world in the past half a century, to prevent war and more bloodshed, are in serious jeopardy.

George Soros, the billionaire American philanthropist, wrote in his recent article published in The American Prospect that the Bush administration is leading the United States and the world in the wrong direction. He said that in the past his philanthropy focused on defeating communism and helping with the transition from closed societies to open societies in the former Soviet empire. “Now I would go so far as to say that the fight for a global open society has to be fought in the United States. In short, America ought to play a very different role in the world than it is playing today.” [2]

Contrary to the popular belief held by the vast majority of people that Bush administration has chosen this “wrong direction” for greed of oil, lust for power, etc., but perhaps the Bush administration “is aiming for what it thinks of as virtue” and James Carroll describes it an earnest attempt to protect that self-same order. [1] But attaining that “virtue”, when it is fulfilled with “state-sponsored violence”, James Carroll opines that as “a line is crossed”. [1]

Here is James Carroll’s summation of argument: “The official act of killing is an assertion of absolute domination, requiring, in the case of a democracy, the obliteration of its normal self-criticism. Human beings always go to war armed first with self-deception and second with a sense of high virtue. Doubt is incompatible with war, which is why war is the natural mode of dictatorship. War makes an implicit claim to infallibility that citizens of a democracy have by definition rejected. That is why in wartime, as now in the United States, democratic structures are easily undermined.” [1]

It was philosopher Karl R. Popper, who promoted the concept of open society in his book “Open Society and Its Enemies”. Popper gives the description of “totalitarian ideologies — such as communism and fascism” that posed a threat to an open society because of their dogmatic claim on final solution. Popper believed that “the ultimate truth is beyond human reach. Those who say they are in possession of it are making a false claim, and they can enforce it only by coercion and repression.” [2]

The Talibans adopted the similar totalitarian ideologies in their coercive repressions of millions of Afghanistanis, imposing brutal punishments on the Afghan women for violating the “veil code” or no-school for women policy or twenty-four hour male attendant requirements under the scorching sun or eclipsed moon.

Saddam the “evildoers”, placed on the throne and pampered for decades by the foreign interventionists and profiteers, committed gross human rights violations, killed thousands of innocent Iraqis and through bloody war and invasion against Iranians and Kuwaitis in the name of preservation of his “virtue”.

James Carroll depicts that all these despotic rulers believed in their causes, however inhumane they may seem to the outside world, for them, they were pursuing a “greater purpose”. Extermination of the oppositions and “inferiors” and “infidels” or “evildoers” in Bush’s coined terms, are cent percent legitimate in their book of “morality”. Or should we say “immorality”?

Men are not infallible and are not enshrined with endless virtues. And this is the reason as James Carroll points out that democracy matters. It matters because it shows “why war is wrong and why nonviolence must come”. [1]


[1] James Carroll, “Fallibility, Democracy, and War”, The Boston Globe, June 10, 2003.

[2] George Soros, “America’s Global Role”, The American Prospect,

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Canada.