In Hsun Tzu, we read:
The sophists common today say: "It is best for a lord to be secretive." This is not so. The lord is the singing-leader of the people; the ruler is the model of the subject. When they hear the singing-leader, they respond; when they see the model, they act accordingly. But when the singing-leader is silent, the people are without response; when the model is inaccessible, then the subject do not act according to it. If they do not respond nor act according to the model, then the ruler and ruled cannot help each other.
Every culture warns its children to be honest and tells its adults officially that "honesty is the best policy." But every culture, including the Chinese as well as the American, raises many of its children to be crooked and makes fools or victims out of many honest men and women in politics. By honesty I mean a full expression of one's true motives and activities in human relations, whenever the situation calls for such. By deception I mean the cover-up and manipulation of true motives and activities. This is a social disease that you might call pseudosis, an addiction to falseness.
Pseudosis is of two types, conscious deception and trained deception. Conscious deception seeks a goal that is believed to be unobtainable by honesty, whereas trained deception is habitual and even unconscious. You will encounter various kinds of deceptive Americans, because various types of education in honesty and deception have been practiced at different short intervals of time, in different parts of the country, and in different religious groups and social classes. Thus, although a great many Americans are hypocritical, that is, self-deceptive, still no other people in the world are under such heavy pressures to avoid self-deception.
How can I explain all this in a few words? Perhaps I can speak of how children are commonly trained to deceive. And then I can describe how American politicians are known to deceive. If, in the end, you exclaim: "But this is the way things are in China!" I shall not be surprised. However, then you must follow me as I pursue the bad effects that deception has on the system of government.
A common training in deception occurs in the first efforts to train infants. A baby is not stupid; in fact, psychologists today are inclined to believe that, as one specialist declared, "by the age of three, the ball game is over." To gain control of the baby's eating, sleeping, excreting, and awareness, the baby is treated to sweet words and harsh words, gentle handling and harsh handling, attention and indifference. The parents or nurses are now the authorities. Sternness brings fear whereas softness brings relaxation.
A load of fear and anxiety, relative to the particular case, builds up. The child develops two tactics, concealment and distraction, to protect his integrity. He hides what is called bad and tries to turn away attention from this "bad" in various ways, including trying to appear"good." In addition, the child takes steps to reduce his fears. He divides himself into two parts, a good part and a bad; he then punishes the bad part, even if it is to our minds himself, by depriving himself of food, excretion, awareness, and he even punishes himself physically. At the same time, with the help of his attendants, he projects his own "bad" onto blankets, toys, other objects, and even persons. If the persons whom he punishes recognize the fact, they may react fearfully, so that a large part of the infant's repertoire of projected fear and punishment goes off onto everyone else except the persons serving him and controlling him directly. These become his authorities, and he imitates, out of sheer self-defense, the good and bad in them.
Furnished with these few simple mechanisms, the infant is prepared for life, for institutions, for politics, up to the grave. He can deceive consciously and unconsciously. He can take his part in groups and institutions. He can be sure that there will be a place for his type of character, unless he has been exceptionally and extremely dealt with, in which event he is deemed psychopathic. Such psychopathology reduces the possibility of his ever being at home in normal society or politically active, although we should remember the words of Ratzenhofer: "Politics is a branch of psychopathology." Or even those of Maxim Gorky, who wrote that politics resembles the lower physiological functions, except that in politics such functions are a public matter.
Our little hero now enters the institutions of America, the school, church, and Scouts perhaps. He continues in the family, a small family by older American and Chinese standards. He then moves into colleges and jobs. He begins to vote at eighteen so he is fully in the government that he has already experienced in increasing degrees of definiteness and contact over the years. He belongs to associations, neighborhoods, and various audiences of television and press. All of these, going back to the family and nursery school, are ready to receive and carry on deception, and to reinforce it. But note the changes.
The person confronts others and institutions warily. He now knows how to recognize authority and how to dissemble and manipulate it. He fights for survival and success in the society. To the weapons he has been provided in his earliest years, he adds the armaments of experience. When he approaches the politics of the state, he comes with the experience of the family, the playmates, the school, the church, and the workshop. As they teach and respond. As he asks, so he is given.
He has become, along with the millions of his generation, a self-to fulfilling prophecy in respect top politics. He will expect and he will practice the forms of deception that have rewarded him in his past. His generation interacts with the moral structures and debris of the last, and raises the next generation. So the cycle of history turns.
An American psychiatrist has written recently a book called I'm OK-You're OK. We agree with him when he says that most infants are trained early to believe "I'm not OK you're OK" in relation to the authorities, and that this painful state of mind produces what we call pseudosis. In self-defense, he argues, two new forms of belief and behavior branch out of the second form "I'm OK, you're not OK" lends us all the characters who are blind to their own motives and who conveniently see evil in everyone else. The fourth form is "I'm not OK, you're not OK," which expresses itself in general alienation, political passivity, cynicism, and surrender of morale. By going back to openness and honesty in human transactions (helicrynea, we call this), an adult is prepared for a mature political conduct and open political institutions.
The political system reflects the dominating types of character in society. If deceit stains the characters of the powerful, the constitutions will mirror this fact. If a generation produces a new stress toward deceit, the constitution will swing like a boat before the wind. Signals will be raised inviting the deceitful to come aboard. When the government bends toward deceit, the honest are discouraged and retreat. The next generation will be more deceitful, the constitution more so as well.
This is the kind of problem that has been worrying the America- watchers recently. People have been losing faith in their leadership and institutions. One national survey company, Louis Harris and Associates, has shown that every year for the past few years, the American people have less trust and confidence in the leadership of all of their institutions.
A representative sample of Americans was asked in 1972, "As far as people running [the area] are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?" The percentage claiming to have a great deal of confidence is given in parentheses next to the named organic segments of American society: advertising (12%); labor (15%); television (17%); the press (18%); Congress (21%); major business companies (27%); the national executive branch of government (27%); the U.S. Supreme Court (28%); retail business (28%); religion (30%); psychiatry (31%); education (33%); the military (35%); science (37%); finance (39%); medicine (48%). Comparing these figures with the corresponding 1966 figures, it can be shown that every single group of leaders lost credit in the eyes of a great many people. To take one example, medicine, while it maintained its top prestige relative to the other groups, declined from 72% in 1966 to the 1972 percentage of 48% shown above, a decline of one third. This means that perhaps around 40 million Americans lost some confidence in their health leaders in six years. Meanwhile, at the other end of the prestige scale, leaders of advertising, already low in the confidence of the public, lost the high confidence of a third or more of its many fewer supporters, slipping from 21% to 12%.
This general decline in confidence was produced by numerous factors, such as the relatively poor performance of the economy and the increasing bureaucratization of all aspects of life. Still, a growing distrust in leaders must take its places as one of the main forces operating to lower prestige. Phrases like "the credibility gap" have been invented to stress the separation between what the President, or officials say and what they know or do.
A tide if disenchantment was sweeping the country, even before the Watergate affair exploded into the public mind in 1973. Faith in the authoritative establishments was being driven down below the level of social survival. I shall now turn to this business.
In medical practice a trace of blood in the urine of a patient prompts extensive tests of various organs and system of the body. Even such a microscopic symptom may indicate a grave condition. It is common in such cases, also, for the patient and his friends to fill the air with their speculations and expressions of dismay. Nevertheless the full examination must proceed.
The Watergate affair was a symptom of a variety of disorders in the American nation. The press and television provided the public with no end of debate and expose. An examination of the American "body politic" with an eye to the problem raised by the Watergate affair has to move into every branch of government and society. How each should function, and how it is failing, can be reported. I speak of Watergate here in relation to deception in government. Elsewhere I shall refer to it in connection with other subjects.
The facts of the Watergate affair are well known. We recite them briefly here only to help us go behind them to their meanings. In effect, what has come to be called Watergate is all the Nixon administration did that was tied into the characters of those who before or during or afterward played a part, no matter how small, at Watergate.
The Watergate itself is a fancy complex of apartments, offices, and shops lying alongside the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. There the Democratic Party set up its headquarters in a number of rooms facing the city, the traffic, and a more modest building, the Howard Johnson Motel, containing also offices and shops along with its rooms.
On a certain day in 1972, a watchman of Watergate noticed a door that had been tampered with in the hall of the Democrats. He alerted the police. They descended swiftly upon the scene and arrested several prowlers in the Democratic offices. An observation post was found in the Howard Johnson Motel facing the Democrats' windows. Devices to hear and record whatever went on in the Democratic headquarters were uncovered. Soon a link was made to the Committee for the Reelection of the President, referred to usually by its initials, CREEP.
Now, then, the affair caused a first shock at the beginning of the presidential campaign of 1972; then public excitement slumped; then it began to revive after Nixon's reelection in November; and finally, by April of 1973, it became the most famous case of political corruption in U.S. history.
As the roster of men implicated in Watergate expanded in all directions, so did the number of activities that in one way or another made connection with Watergate. In the end, "Watergate" became a catchall for any person or event connected directly or indirectly with the break-in.
These connections are not illogical, even though a broader and exacter word might have been selected by a board of scientific advisers. We have been little control over words, and in a sense the word "Watergate" is retribution to all those who sought to limit the meaning of the events to a minor incident in a private building. "If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the mountain." Watergate is the popular term for Nixonism, for secrecy in government, for political slush funds of enormous size, for the suppression of liberties and for power-grabbing by the White House.
It is common for Americans to call the Chinese "wily" and "devious." Watergate showed how wily and devious Americans can be. You would have to search far to find more exact models of these vices than President Nixon and some of his aides. Where are the roots of this deceptiveness?
I submit to you a little formula for our analysis, as follows; that is, a stiff, suspicious character that can multiply itself by numerous appointments produces misconduct in politics.
More than he knows, President Nixon was responsible for the Watergate affair. Not in the superficial sense of "responsibility" that he expounded on television and elsewhere, but in a more fundamental meaning of the word. In the character of those whom he appointed as his aides, he repeatedly appointed himself-himself as he once was and unconsciously as he would still wish to be. The "new Nixon," as his admirers touted him in recent years, to stress that he had improved his character, appointed many "old Nixons." In a legal sense, they may later have done some bad things that he did not know about. But in psychological terms, he did appoint men who did what he would really like to have done to others. So he was hoist with his own petard.
Watergate began as a fantasy of enfants terribles. Behind the shenanigans of twoscore Nixon men was a basic dynamic of American political history. In the immense flux of popular attitudes there is a persistent tendency for rigid beliefs to confront free beliefs, for exclusive characters to oppose inclusive ones, for the suspicious to accuse the benevolent, for cloak-and-dagger types to oppose free-and -open types. The American political process accommodates them. Rarely do they precipitate out. The Watergate cabal was such a precipitate, an unfortunately pure extract of Nixonism.
Rigid, exclusive, paranoid, and authoritarian characters are quite common in politics, not only in America but elsewhere Normally they mix in the body of ordinary people. They lend attitudes, votes, and a following to selected politicians Some of them become leaders, usually appointive, but occasionally elective. One of the principal needs of a democratic republic is to spot them, to limit them, and, when they get too close to the heights of power, to get rid of them. The Watergate affair has shed light upon the ancient saying of Chuang Tzu that perfect man is never a stickler in his actions."
Let us first consider the character of Richard Nixon, which has been charted over many years. He appeared self-confident (but he would look at himself on television). He faced matters with rigid predispositions. (He remarked, for instance, that he wouldn't have a man with a beard around him. Curiously, years later, he was temporarily saved politically, when a succession of officials in the Department of Justice resigned rather than obey his order, by a bearded official, Robert Bork, who did carry out his order.)
He fostered red-baiting in his early campaigns in California. He did not oppose McCarthyism. His friends were often freebooters, with bizarre notions of American history and with spotty political records. He adopted an adversary posture frequently and excessively; he liked to feel that he was in a struggle and wished always to test his will power.
Nonetheless, president Eisenhower placed his faith in him. He gained a large experience in domestic and foreign politics. His astute skills of evasion, dissemblance, and counterattack were sometimes properly employed. His ability to act decisively in a number of areas was commendable, even though it was restricted mostly to everyday, conventional problems. All of this was enough to make many skeptical and questioning people support him on occasion, and to garnet a large electoral following.
But "the real Nixon" seems inevitably to have worked its ways through the operations of the presidency. the abrupt and callous military forays that he ordered in Cambodia were one. His unnecessary, sharp intrusions on the constitutional prerogatives of Congress were another. He blasted the reports of distinguished commissions that tried to formulate public policy in the sensitive areas of obscenity and drugs, practically impugning their morality for opposing his ideas.
Most significant of all were his appointments. The Hsun Tzu declares:
It is said "If you do not know a person, look at his friends, If you do not know the prince of a state, look at those to the right and left of him." Follow that and it will be sufficient!
In the American system, the sum of the powers of presidential appointees easily exceeds the power of the President himself. Two thousand important posts are subject to his prompt and personal hiring and firing. President Nixon's appointments were treated as individual matters, as is our custom, rather than studied as a whole. In consequence, a succession of similar characters goose-stepped into the key executive offices. And these replicated themselves through their appointees. Nixon made a large number of high-level appointments in the White House, Cabinet, courts, and agencies who, if they were graded on a scale of rigidity of character, would exceed, on the average, similar scores that might be computed for the members of any presidential administration in history.
They were a suspicious group, too, on the whole, reiterating the suspicious side of Nixon himself. And they had to be persons who would not threaten his ego or his power, whether by independence of character, by possession of their own power bases, by social background, or simply instinctively. On the other hand, inexperience and brashness were no bar to high office.
When a number of such types come together, they provide mutual reinforcement. Individual psychology becomes group psychology. The makings of a cabal are present. What began in 1968 carried on until it was stopped by criminal investigations.
Ask any sample of experienced politicians and political experts and they will express almost unanimous astonishment about the motives that led the Watergate conspirators to take their considerable risks and their associates to become silent accomplices. Quite apart from the moral question, to take any risk to discover what an opposing party headquarters is up to, in America at least, is an absurdity bordering upon insanity.
Further, should one ask what kind of madness it is, the answer would be fairly obvious. It is a complex, or a syndrome, of beliefs: that "momentous, terrible, and mysterious things happen in politics"; that "you cannot trust anybody"; that 'if you don't watch out, they will get you before you get them"; that 'everything that happens is a life-or-death challenge" and "whatever the odds against the `enemy's' success, you must crush them by all means." Naturally, it follows "crisis" requires the suspension of moral and legal principles.
The Watergate psychopathology induced people who were essentially amoral to become strident advocates of morality. They behave hypocritically, reminding us of what the Puritan moralist John Bunyan declared three hundred years ago to the people: "Some cry out against sin even as the mother cries out against the child in her lap, when she calleth it slut and naughty girl and then falls to hugging and kissing it."
Phrases that ordinary people use with ordinary meanings acquire sinister meanings: "Peace with honor"; "law and order"; etc. What is happening psychologically is that the compartments of the rigid mind are too segregated to permit the free circulation of normal moral logic. Feelings of guilt that come from low estimates of themselves are suppressed, but then, seeking outlet, are projected onto others, so that the others become guilty, while they pride themselves on a kind of superman super-morality. The free and easy American political scene is transformed into a den of iniquity, into which they must sneak with cloak and dagger.
one must not overlook either the contempt of politics-as-usual or the incapacity for the hard everyday business of government that is typical of such minds. Especially because they care little for and are indisposed toward the actually grave problems of the world, the humdrum of a conventionally focused and mediocre administration does not suffice to appease their anxieties. They cannot be anything but conventional in their approach toward great problems. They cannot create exciting and beautiful new worlds, no more than can their master. So they must exercise themselves in infantile but quite destructive fantasies.
President Nixon, an old hand at politics, may have learned to control his own everyday character. However, it is one thing to control oneself, and another to possess this same control in making appointments. Appointments are a mirror than the self. One's satisfactions emerge consciously and unconsciously from the appearance and behavior of those whom he has created. Nixon's staff was his own uncontrolled deep self.
He never advanced to the level of self-knowledge where he would understand this. He could not ward off in his creatures those vices that he had difficulty enough controlling in himself. His speech of the last of April 1973, after the Watergate affair exploded, accepting "responsibility," was actually an Orwellian "Newspeak" of non-responsibility. It indicated that he was apparently still locked inside his own person; his past successes, brought about by his clockwork opportunism, have only helped to interdict the small potential that he has for change. He could not call for the right sort of help because he was too rigid to realize that he could not; if he realized that he could not, then he could call for help. This predicament, in America, is sometimes called "Catch-22."
The impact of a single personality spreads to a group-the appointments and the subsequent cabal we have spoken of. But pathology of Watergate was infectious on a broader reach of public and official behavior. Sample polls showed that increasing numbers of people did not believed the President to have told the truth, and that finally over half thought he should be impeached, but still a great many believed that past administrations were just as bad. Belief in the rightness of authorities of all kinds ebbed away.
America needed least of all in these times a further deterioration of public trust and an escalation of social hostilities. Now it had to face the possibility of these occurring. When the presidency is shaken, many people lose some faith in their own perceptions and outlook. They bear a heavy load of insecurities already, part of which becomes politicized. The insecurity that now focused on the top level of government raised up old fears; old fears stimulated buried resentments; resentments bred accusations; accusations provoked strife. The infection continued to spread.
The halting of the process is difficult. It can only come through a substitute leadership. Two things have to be accomplished simultaneously: a firm legal suppression of malfeasance and a reassurance of the nation as to its constructive destiny.
Thanks to its social constitution-the independence of powers given its courts, its republican Congress, its free press, its competing parties, and many free men and women-America is gifted with an apparently interminable and tireless vigilance. The facts of Watergate did emerge.
Leaders of the independent sector-business, labor, foundations, press-and leaders of Congress and the States ought then to have come to the fore. Messages on the condition and goals of the nation of a new kind might have relieved the empty feeling that was obviously bothering people, that if the presidency is unsettled, no one is thinking of the public good and "it's every man for himself." But this kind of leadership did not come forward.
What psychological lessons did the Watergate affair convey? First, as I have explained, is the lesson that we should have known from ancient times: every people is bred partially to secrecy and deception. Therefore, wherever and whenever possible, education should stress honesty and forthrightness. Similarly, governmental, political, and parapolitical institutions (such as the corporations and the press in America) should be constructed to bring honest leaders to the top and to guide or force them to be open in their dealings with other leaders, with the public, and with the world.
If American institutions had been proofed against failure in this regard, President Nixon would not have failed. The Washington Post, the newspaper that struggled continuously to expose the Watergate affair, concluded on January 21, 1974, that there had been "a fundamental tendency" in "President Nixon's approach to government and politics. Time after time, as the Watergate saga has unfolded, we have encountered evidence of excesses on the part of the President and/or his associates, which, by their nature, have had the effect of transforming a difference in degrees into a genuine difference in kind." There were many instances of "the Nixon administration's proclivity for taking something `everybody's done' and carrying it beyond recognizable-or tolerable-limits."
The pseudosis infecting the top of the executive branch feeds upon and is fed by the pseudosis of the society. People like Nixon, and institutions like the presidency or the White House, exist in an atmosphere that is cross-infectious. The example of the one infects the other. Like supports like. The manipulative and deceptive elements within and among characters and institutions grow at the expense of the honest and open elements.
Long-term trends are reinforced by short-term trends. For many years the governments of the U.S.A. have been acquiring more controls over the people. Participation in wars and alliances overseas has injected large free-floating fears of subversion and espionage into the population. The doctrine of open government has been submerged in the name of other doctrines provoked by a sense of fear and crisis. Secrecy was taken for granted as a way of government.
Charles Peters, editor of The Washington Monthly, has told how he discovered that the habits of government often border upon the irrational:
When we were planning The Washington Monthly, we thought of ourselves as focusing a great deal more narrowly on the realm of politics and government than has turned out to be the case. I think the signal came one year ago in a sentence in our first issue saying that paranoia is the chronic affliction of government executives. When you stop to think about that a little while, you realize you're beginning to get out of the realm of talking about better budget analysis and you're into a realm of something deeper in American society.
For instance, the one change I would most want to make in government is to change the wrong thing of closed government to the right thing of open government-which means changing from a society that has men closed down and tightened up in so many different ways to a society that has men opened up.
In practical terms, the day-to-day operation of a closed government means the firing of Ernie Fitzgerald by the Pentagon. It means the firing of Gary Greenburg by Attorney General Mitchell. It means all these ridiculous security measures. It means the executive branch's fear of having Congress find out the truth, or he newspapers find out the truth, or he public find out the truth. What's wrong with the public knowing? We recently had an article on Finch's rebuke of a scientist over at HEW for speaking to the press about the cyclamate problem. Now what on earth was wrong with letting the public know about cyclamates? But here in Washington it's a terrible sin for a subordinate officical to speak out, it's a terrible sin for him to speak up. How do you relax and open up this government?1
In 1971 the incident of the Pentagon Papers occurred. An employee of a contractor of the Defense Department,dismayed by the war in Vietnam, violated his oath of secrecy and turned over to the press documents evidencing some confusion and public deception in high civil and military quarters. Actually, the papers themselves were not important. If the North Vietnamese read them, they should have been spending their time to better purposes. What was important was first the question whether anyone had the right to publish documents labeled secret, and second, whether the government was overdoing secrecy. The Nixon administration overreacted and sought by legal and illegal means to punish the employee, Daniel Ellsberg. Its illegal methods led the courts to dismiss the case against Ellsberg, and brought Nixon aides before the bar of justice.
The anger of the press and some elements of the public and Congress brought about the creation of an Interagency Classification Review Committee by President Nixon to investigate who was charged with assigning papers to a secret status within the executive branch of government. In April of 1973, after some months of work, the Committee announced that the number of officials authorized to classify material as secret, top secret, or confidential, excluding the Central Intelligence Agency, was reduced from 48,814 to 17,883, that is, by 63 per cent.
But notice the remaining figure-17,883-exclusive of the CIA. It is large. And recall, too, that most secrets in government do not carry the "secret" stamp. Secrecy is a practice largely determined by a mood. It begins with the belief that "if you do not have a need to know, you have no right to know." And the "need" is defined by the official without recourse except in unusual cases and then only after much trouble and expense in prying out the information.
The fight against secrecy in government is like a struggle against a giant octopus. As government grows large and centralizes, secrecy and deception by any office against outsiders, including officials and congressmen, grows apace. The society itself becomes pervaded by deception. Finally the culture begins to practice secrecy and deception as a matter of course.
Terms are coined to bless the practice of deception: "the need to know"; "executive privilege"; "the need to govern wisely without interference"; "national security"; "the national interest." Each idea, with its particular elements of truth and reasonableness, heaps its burden upon the shoulders of the free society.
The logical trap that the coercive culture sets becomes visible: organizations that are typical of the culture enlarge, that is, the armed forces, giant corporations, huge bureaucracies, great labor unions, and big universities, and these absorb smaller units. In the process, what has been public among the units becomes private and internal to these groups. What was openly competitive becomes routine procedures of no public interest or, paradoxically, of public interest and therefore private!
Next expand the scope of government. This multiplies the occasion upon which claims of national security and secrecy for the sake of efficiency have to be invoked.
Then, with the stretching of information under the greatest of all abuses: "passing the buck." Typically, a request for information is treated as the province of "higher-ups" or "information officers." The latter, as public relations specialists, are ignorant of the matter at issue but expert at translating their ignorance range into a screen of meaningless words. The "higher-ups" have still more "higher-ups," and ultimately the matter is disposed of at a new level of ignorance, but, this time, "authoritative ignorance."
The organizational need of the coercive culture extends even further into deception. Very often it does not know what it is doing itself, and cannot give a straight answer to an inquiry. Like a dog gnashing fiercely at the fleas in its tail, the organizational hierarchy snaps at its lower parts. What happened? Who did it? Where is it? Papers fly back and forth. the critics often become so fascinated with sight that they forget what they came for in the first place.
The extreme mentality of the police state extends beyond "you shall not know anything beyond what we wish you to know," to the point where "you shall know nothing." People seeking to know, as they must, about government, are suspected and investigated, in order to see that they will not be able to discover anything. Dossiers are gathered on the most curious people, as it they were potential criminals. All institutions tighten up. They hide from each other and from their superiors. there they build counterespionage systems to find out what the others are doing, and these systems turn naturally into outright espionage systems.
Hoaxes, leaks, and gossip take the place of information. Cooperativeness among individuals and organs of government diminishes. Legalists and bureaucrats clutch like leeches onto the process of documents and information exchange. suspiciousness spreads throughout the culture.
In order to combat suspicion and mistrust, controlled information is produced. Each unit of government multiplies its publicity agents and lawyers. For every representative of the people there are a hundred mouthpieces whose noise effectively guards and censors the external communications of the executive branch of government. The companies regulated by the government resort to the same practice against the agencies and the legislature.