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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 4, No. 2, 2005
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Robert J. Lewis
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Phil Nixon
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David Solway
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein




When shit becomes valuable,
the poor will be born without assholes.
Henry Miller.

What do Cheney-Bush, Stalin-Saddam, Fernando Marcos, Augusto Pinochet, Omar el-Bashir (head honcho in Sudan), Conrad Black-Kenneth Lay, to mention a few, have in common? They all subscribed to the modern version of the Divine Right of Kings theory which proclaims the monarch is chosen by God, and is, ergo, answerable only to God -- code for they are exceptional beings with exceptional rights, chosen for exceptional roles in the unfolding human drama, code for not answerable to any parliament, judiciary, opposition or dissent.

Membership in the club of the exceptional countenances all that which serves their exceptionality: political assassination, meddling in the affairs of nation states, the use of illicit funds to achieve an objective, and everything and anything that satisfies the expression of their elite status concerning the manner in which they wield power and indulge in pleasure – all at the expense of the unrevolted masses. Kierkegaard, in Fear and Trembling, introduces the notion of the ‘teleological suspension of the ethical,’ where Biblical law prohibits murder; but for the higher cause, of God, Abraham is prepared to transgress the universal law that proscribes murder, and kill his son Isaac. Exceptional beings, by dint of their manifest highest standing, come to know themselves as the sons and daughters of Abraham and perforce, under the full weight of destiny, must suspend ethical judgments for higher causes. And where the inconvenience of institutions they purport to honour and respect exist that would restrict the expression of their exceptionality, honour and self-respect oblige the circumvention of those same bodies in order to make manifest their destiny.

Always one step ahead of the Zeitgeist, exceptional beings have learned to never speak of their special status for fear of provoking the envy and revolt of the normally submissive masses -- the nuisance of which would distract them from their higher calling. For their role, the masses, without ever speaking of it and refusing to confess it even to themselves, have chosen to dwell in the kingdom of denial, a pillowy palace built and sustained by the propaganda devised and implemented by exceptional beings. The former come to believe the causes they support are their own when in fact, as designated proxyites, they serve the will of their masters. Nonetheless, the convenient head-in-the-sand-view of life that defines the masses as qua masses does nothing to reduce the brutal weight of the fact that the concept of the exceptional being has been around long enough -- at least in the back pages -- to have been quietly argued and advanced. The Russian novelist Dostoievsky (1821-81), the philosopher Nietzsche (1844-1900) and the historian Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) were all fascinated by the notion of the exceptional being. Spengler divided the world into two types: the historically significant and everyone else, a taxonomy that precludes arbitrariness; if Napoleon were a foot soldier he wouldn’t have been Napoleon, just as we know if Marcos hadn’t amassed a fortune, he wouldn’t have been Marcos. They were gods in their time, and in them we trusted.

Based on the observable behaviour of history’s exceptional beings, what can we conclude about their belief systems? How do we come to recognize their exceptionality, the brotherhood, the unspoken bond that connects them -- even when they disagree or hate each other?

Exceptional beings subscribe to an edifice of unspoken presuppositions and exemptions that derives from their exceptionality. While Cheney-Bush must loath Saddam Hussein and vice versa, they and their league share the same values and historically deep, disinterested disregard for the masses -- the raw material of their ambitions. From Sumer to Alexander through Ghengis Khan to the Cheney-Bush doctrine, whether in the service of good or evil, it’s the same ambition operating under the same principle. Over and against an unvarying plenitude of mediocrity, exceptional beings understand their exceptionality as a demonstration of their remarkable ability, intelligence and the invitability of their highest standing. They view the masses, not so much with contempt but as the banal means with which they realize their aims and objectives. When it comes to the execution of their designs, be it waging war, erecting monuments or indulging in lavish pleasures, their first mission is to convince us that we ourselves desire that outcome. To this end, in war and peace, in the construction of pyramids and palaces, we provide for their wealth and well-being. Which begs the question: are we, the unrevolted masses, demonstrative proof that Spengler’s formulation is correct, or to cite another elitist, Allan Bloom: Are the thoughtless always going to be prisoners of other people’s thoughts?

Exceptional beings showcase their special status by the obedient institutions they establish and their ability to dwell in exceptionality for as long as possible. Thus, Stalin and Saddam, answerable to no one, must be judged as superlatively exceptional because they manifested their exceptionality over a much longer historical period than their institutionally enfeebled democratic counterparts, whose independent institutions -- congress, parliament, judiciary -- conspire against the very exceptionality to which they aspire. But as the record shows, these institutions often end up co-opted by the cunning that provides for their circumvention. Leaders emerging from democratic backgrounds, limited by terms mandates, the inconvenience of elections, or annoying separation of power clauses invariably create the ‘ways and means’ to finesse the institutions and laws that apply to everyone else. So what we have today, in democracies everywhere, are elected leaders who are always looking for ways to circumvent the system they hold up as the model for the world to follow.

Dictators, answerable to no one, are the secret envy of democratically elected leaders. With impunity, they plunge the coffers, suppress and eliminate opposition, give themselves office for life, and provide the ethos many corporate CEOs feel -- as their due and destiny -- compelled to implement: Enron’s Ley, Hollinger’s Black, WorldCom’s Ebber, Tyco’s Kozlowski .

But what decisively distinguishes exceptional beings from everyone else is they don’t care about you or me. Notwithstanding memorable locutions, (I can feel your pain), we know as fact that they don’t care because actions always speak louder than words that don’t speak at all unless backed up by actions. Mugabe (Zimbabwe) can cry out to the world that he believes in the principles of democracy and freedom but if he fixes an election, not once but perhaps twice, he, as fact, doesn’t care about democracy. Kenneth Lay and Conrad Black can claim they care about their employees, but if the former bilks his workers to the tune of 11 billion, we know he doesn’t care.

When our elected officials budget $10,000 for a state supper, do you suppose for one moment they think about the one year you laboured to make that money available in the form of taxes to a government pledged to serve your needs and welfare? They don't care. If the expenditure enters their minds, it’s only to corroborate the inner-circle conceit that this is how it is meant to be, that humans are created unequally, that the polarity that governs the divide between exceptional beings and everyone else is fixed for all time.

So, if the existence of the exceptional being is proof of his exceptionality, are we proof of the opposite, and is the partnership that provides for the way things are as fixed and immutable as the categories of ‘us’ and ‘them'? Jean Baudrillard, in his analysis of 9/11, argues the event was the inevitable result of the necessary relationship between good and evil, that the former excites the development and execution of the latter. Calling it the way he saw it, the poet Carl Sandburg wrote:

The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold . . .
In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
The people march . . .
Where to? What next?

If we are not to be ‘tricked and sold again’ we must deliver ourselves over to the unpleasant fact that the path of least resistance -- our manifest acquiescence -- has been turned into a super highway on our watch. Until we, en masse, refuse our unexceptionality and make that refusal a transcendent principle that recasts the exceptional being as morally beholding to the many from whom he derives his highest standing, the equivalences that have defined the historical relationship between exceptional beings and their opposite will not change. And in consideration of how the mighty have fallen -- Marcos, Saddam -- we must caution ourselves against being misled into a false sense of historical inevitability. Whether through dictatorship or the ballot box, most exceptional beings successfully manage their succession -- with or without our consent.


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