In the wake of the John Edwards confession, I’ve been trying to ponder what makes powerful men think they are above the law? Edwards blamed “an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want.” Larry Craig and Rush Limbaugh (both in their mug shots) are just two recent examples of this.
From Plato to Freud we have mapped two powerful forces at war in human consciousness: Eros and Thanatos. Eros is the life instinct, the fount of our culture, our love, our connection to divinity. Thanatos is the death drive which compels us to engage in risky, aggressive and destructive behaviors. The signs of this schizoid war are everywhere though Thanatos seems to be gaining the upper hand. The murder rate begins to climb again. Drugs like crack and meth savage city and countryside alike. Famous radio talk show hosts succumb to the lure of prescription painkillers. Senators risk their life’s work for a fling in a men’s room. We watch intently as young actresses play with death and addiction. And other addictions like gambling claim many a middle class household and we live as a nation beyond our means. Around the world America’s new reputation as an aggressive nation that will use force in a preemptive war, destroys our moral standing in the capitals of friend or foe alike.
Where does this appetite for risky, self destructive behavior–both at the individual level and at the level of the Office of Vice President–come from? Is this becoming more frequent, or has it always been this way?