Sunday, April 15, 2007

Lizard Logic and Hamster Morality

When we analyze a problem, we need to be balanced and objective. Take all the evidence, all the factors into consideration. It is not a time for sentimentalism. Observation and morality are two different things. We need to be reptilian. Cold blooded. Do a cost-benefit analysis. Of course. It's what sane people must do.

Thus John Mueller -- in his Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them -- is certainly on solid ground when he informs us that over the past four decades, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism "is about the same as the number killed over the same period by lightning, or by accident-causing deer, or by severe allergic reactions to peanuts. In almost all years, the total number of people worldwide who die at the hands of international terrorists is not much more than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States."

Yes. Indeed. Who can argue with that? Who can argue with math? All these deaths are almost trivial in absolute terms, almost comical -- with of course all due commiseration for the bereaved. Mueller is on very solid ground indeed, suitable for any land-based reptile ... not at all the mushy mire of the amphibian. "To deem the threat an 'existential one,' he relates, "is somewhere between extravagant and absurd." Surely no one can find fault with the pure logic of this statement. He is correct. He is correct, when we take as the meaning of "existential" the idea of "continuing to exist". Reptiles, after all, enjoy no truly individual life. They exist. Indeed, as memory serves, the whiptail lizard exists entirely parthenogenically -- they are all female, and reproduce by self-cloning. I seem to recall that the golden hamster, and parasitic wasps, and some fleas, can do the same. They exist, solipsistically -- and how cosmic it is, that there is no single anagram for solipsistically.

Once we've framed the data in a comprehensible way, however, it comes time to make a decision about what to do about the situation. At this point the saurian brain must yield its primacy to the perhaps more torrid cogitations of the mammalian cortex. To give lunch money to the bully, to give hushmoney to the blackmailer, to give the gangster his payoff, to give the Barbary Pirates their tribute ... well, we make compromises, sometimes. We cannot always be courageous. Sometimes we will sacrifice our integrity for our comfort, our material comfort. Perhaps though this is still the influence of the serpentine way of thought.

When I read of the Realists, who along with the Liberals would have us out of Iraq, well, yes, they certainly do have a case to make. Of course they do. Guns do kill people, per the Left. Evil cannot be defeated, existentially defeated -- it can only be contained, per the Realists. Part of that initial need for cold-bloodedness requires that we acknowledge the validity of points not in favor of our personal inclinations. Once we have done this, however, reptile time is over.

This is indeed an existential conflict. As Mr. Mueller so coyly ignores, the word existential is not pragmatic, but ontological. It has to do not with the mere fact of, but with the meaning of existence. We cannot remain who we are, we cannot remain the nation that we are, by making a peace, any peace, be it separate or corporate, with terrorism. If it were only their desire to kill us, we could ignore them. What have we to do with their desires? But they act on their desires, and promise to continue doing so. It matters, mathematically speaking, whether many or only a few innocents fall victim to their terror. We will be realistic about this fact. But our response will vary only in the amount of resources we commit, not in our determination to resist.

"Intolerable" is an elastic term. We find we can tolerate far more than we dreamed. But when we come out of such dreams, when we come to ourselves and realize what it is we've lain down with, our morality -- seared, perhaps, but not incinerated -- becomes incensed, and we must act. We must act if we are to remain, or become, what we wish to be.

That's idealism. It has no practical value. It is functionally useless. The way men are useless, when parthenogenesis is an option. Useless the way music, and poetry, and art are useless. The way beauty and honesty and integrity are useless. These things can be faked, after all.

Do I have a point? It's just more of the same, from me. I am an idealist, pretending to be realistic. Just faking it.


1 comment:

Jack H said...

Solisistically: Ill, oily spastics! Li'l socialist spy! Sissy lilac pilot! Silly coital piss! Oil scaly pistols!