There is something compelling about people scribbling in the margins of their own books. Its as though it were some disavowed part of the narrative that still somehow managed to make it onto the page. Its only partially conscious, very private, something that both wants and does not want to be known.
Which is why people collect Marginalia. They are brief, potentially voyeristic glimpses into private space. Some trickster at work serves to reveal a deeper, more intimate, contrary struggle with post hoc content otherwise denied the light of day.
More interesting still is the annotation of lawbooks, since what is consigned to the fringes of the page is also liable to be relegated to the fringes of civil liberty. And when this phenomena occurs around the making of laws that pertain to human freedoms we’re obliged to sit up and take notice.
In June last year the American President signed the National Defense Authorisation Act which contained a tiny section of just a few paragraphs waaay at the back giving him the powers to detain whom he liked indefinately and without trial. Yes, you can now officially disappear without recourse to due process. America, the land of the free, made itself less free.
This in itself is a puzzle, but what the President wrote in the margin next to article 1020 and 1021, which effectively placed him beyond the law and all accountability is scarier still. Next to the provision made to do away with anyone he chose, the President wrote in the margin,
”this is a terrible power and I promise never to use it”. B. Obama.
Critics made the obvious point that..
”Any president who says a power is so terrible he’s not going to use it should not be on the books”. R Paul.
But party politics and what ‘should’ have happened aside for a moment, what’s interesting psychologically is that this happened at all.
The most powerful man in the world has even further powers seemingly thrust upon him. These powers place him above the law. He knows that it is unconstitutional, so much so, that he cannot agree to it. And yet he signs it, which is to agree with it. So the document contains two signatures, one bringing unprecedented centralised power into effect that can only erode civil liberty and another signature disclaiming and denouncing it. The irony is his refusal to be accountable for signing the law is then protected by the law he just signed.
But the most curious and interesting part of all this is that it happened without a whisper… There were no barking dogs. You would expect people to go crazy but nothing happened, all of which suggests a number of things….
Firstly, that freedom is not all its cracked up to be and that despotic powers somehow serve an as yet unaddressed aspect of our collective psyche, that deep down we are deeply divided about the burden of freedom…
”Modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.” E. Fromm.
Given how highly we value our freedom is it not incumbent on us to ask how easily we give it away? How easily we accept that scrawl in the margin, the mind bending cognitive dissonance, a double message which impacts on the most basic of our human freedoms like a 3am cudgel at the door…
trick or treat..
without even making the morning papers…
Its said that we get the leaders we deserve which suggests we are not unequivocal in our desire for freedom. The fact is that the tyrant offers his oppressed people two great gifts, the route of least resistance in that you need accomplish no more, and by identifying with him, also being above the law.
Aren’t we clever!
In fact there is something of a tradition in Western Civilisation for leaders to be above the law. The Pope is infallible. The Queen of England can’t be arrested. Any number of petty officials regularly claim diplomatic immunity from their misdeeds and politicians make laws to protect them from prosecution…
and all at the same time as you and I are made subject to other laws which say we can be spirited away forever without so much as a ‘by your leave’.
What gives? What does it symbolise? On the one hand we relentlessly pursue status, on the other, we give away the freedom that seems to come with it. It doesn’t make sense, until you consider the unconscious factors involved.
People will tolerate loss of freedom if they are allowed to identify with celebrity others and experience life’s fruits vicariously. We don’t miss or feel the loss of our freedom because we’ve already been persuaded to give it away to some public figure or life style which then seems to have it all. The Self is projected onto an outer figure who must now fascinate and intrigue. The fact that you can now be carted off in the dead of night never to be seen again is ofset in the margins of selfhood by secretly aspiring to be above the law ourselves.
Which is a bit like wishing to still be baby, protected and in-arms, where nothing applies to you and everything comfortably….. is.
Damage at this stage of development is endemic in the West, which struggles so to touch and hold, who’ve even lost the longing for it except in its symbolic, concretised and compulsive form. Western Civilisation has a borderline personality disorder. The kind of disorder that is perfectly comfortable with split reality and double think. Even our holy book is split into halves so incommensurable that there was an early Christian movement, Marcionism, which argued the gods of Old and New Testament had to be different.
All gone now..
killed for their own good.
One of the defining characteristics of the borderline personality according to DSM 5 is prone to , ‘dissociative states under stress.’ In other words where opposing things can concur without conflict. The toublesome trait is deposited in another, or on a people, or in the margins of history, one’s own inner contradiction acted out in lieu of integration.
So as not to play favourites, the current President has had a brush with Marginalia himself. On the 11/1/17 he held a brief press conference garnished with documents purported to be legalese signing over his business interests to his sons. Trevor Noah on the Daily Show was sharp enough to notice that all the sheets were blank. Nothing in the margin and nothing inside. If it were a dream, what would it mean?