Sunday, June 24, 2007


The mark of an extremist is his focus on enemies. Fanatics are consumed by the rightness of their own cause, and by the evil, the industriousness, and the genius of the enemy. More moderate temperaments understand that evil is an exceedingly rare thing ... real evil, I mean. Usually the cruelty we encounter can be explained away by citing an unhappy childhood, a bad dating experience, or too-tight shoes. The malicious, the vindictive -- payback and getting even -- the teach him a lesson sort of mentality might be the topic of casual conversation, with reasonable-sounding arguments being made on either side. But the shock of evil is uncommon.

We hear of abortion. We never see it, most of us -- only some young woman who feels the need to undergo that procedure -- but we hear of it, in largely abstract terms. Even the young woman doesn't see it; nowadays the abortion technician has learned to shield her view from even the ultrascan screen. (I pick abortion as an almost random example.) When one does think about abortion, such ideations must involve an eidetic image of something very much like a human form, being torn apart. Surely, surely there is some delicate thing in each of us that must respond to such an image, at some level, as evil. Even if we excuse away the very concept of evil as a convention determined by the arbitraries of culture. Such is the danger of using emotion-laden examples. But the argument stands, that whether or not a thing actually is evil, the impression of evil is shocking. Such shock is rare. If it weren't rare, it wouldn't be a shock.

It isn't my purpose to talk about abortion, though, or evil, or even fanatics. I'm talking now about enemies. There are such things, you know. Maybe you don't know. I do.

I'm not going to be telling those stories. I will say that there are people in the world who take it upon themselves to destroy others. I think it must involve some admixture of certainty and malice. I'm right, therefore I will destroy. When such a person is not right, however -- well, the effect is evil. I know. This cryptic and generalized conclusion has a specific application for all of us. Because it is not only I who have, or have had, enemies. You do.

Churchill said of WW II, "There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action." Churchill, you see, understood the power of words. He understood their power because he understood the fact that words have meaning. They are meant to communicate, either as subterfuge or as truth. We understand the peacock with its spread fan -- display. We understand the direct stare and the barred teeth and the raised back of the wolf -- attack. We discern between the peacock and the wolf by considering their capabilities, their histories and their manifest intentions. As it were.

Thus, when Hitler wrote in 1924 that Germany must rearm to take back its "lost territories" -- and then, when he came into power and started to rearm ... well, Churchill was a man who could read writing on walls. Some demagogue haranguing his followers from a prison cell is one thing. A Fuhrer investing the greater part of his nation's wealth in preparing for war is something else.

Bin Laden? In 1998 he issued his so-called “fatwa,” charging that “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it ... in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim..." The Moslem must "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah." Well, that's a little hard to follow. A "duty"? On "every" Moslem? To "kill"? "Civilians"? Maybe he doesn't mean it.

When China's, Red China's Deputy Political Commissar of the PLA Air Force says, “when a nation grows strong enough, it practices hegemony. The sole purpose of power is to pursue even greater power.... Geography is destiny" -- well, who are the Chinese? An insignificant people, and of no importance. PLA? People's Liberation Army. It would be ridiculous to imagine that something named a Liberation army could be used as an instrument of oppressive hegemony. Clearly we must be misunderstanding something. Good translations are so hard to come by.

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei ("Supreme Leader" ... now why does that sound familiar?) speaks of a great “Islamic awakening” that will impose Islamic rule on the entire world. "The U.S. and the Western imperialists [have] plans for absolute global hegemony," which depend on controlling or suppressing "this Islamic awakening in the next few years with political and economic measures, through propaganda, and as a last resort through military aggression..." Well, maybe it's true. In any case, it is certainly reasonable to arm oneself against an imperialist aggressor who would suppress an awakening through military violence.

Surely there is some moderating voice, though? Some benevolent and disinterested third party who can act as intermediary between us and them? Why, how about our good old new friend, the Former Soviet Union? The Russians are all sensible capitalists now, and not motivated by any weird economic or religious cult, right? Thus we have V. Putin, who calms our unease in an Al-Jazeera interview: when asked about the Iranian nuclear program, he stated, “We know the position of our Iranian partners.” Oh. Well, maybe he's just being diplomatic. "Partners" need not indicate bias. To "know" of a position need not indicate agreement or support. The fact that the Russians provide technical aid for Iranian nuclear development is functionally meaningless -- if they didn't, someone else would. And an oil-rich nation like Iran has every excuse to develop nuclear power. The oil will run out someday, right?

There are real enemies. Somewhere. Maybe their names are written on a wall somewhere. Then there are fake enemies. When Mexicans in Mexico boo and chant "Osama" as the US soccer team takes the field ... when Mexicans in Mexico boo and chant "Mexico" as Miss USA takes the stage ... these are signs of pettiness, of ill-will, of low-character -- but being scum doesn't necessarily make one a blood enemy. If you lived in a corrupt third-rate country, maybe you'd be jealous and petty too. We need not find actual enemies in this. Ingrates, bigots and fools -- not enemies.

We are not extremists, we are not fanatics, to call to mind the fact that there is evil in the world, and more specifically, there are enemies. The point of this discussion is not Iraq, or Iran, or a rising China or a Machiavellian Russia, or an envious Mexico. Iraq is just a battlefront, and the wisdom of opening such and such a front will be determined by the ultimate outcome, not by the vicissitudes of the moment. Iran may want nukes for entirely defensive and sane reasons. So might North Korea. China has to do something with all the money it's making -- why not built up its military? Russia is not unreasonable in forming profitable alliances with neighbors. Isn't that what we're doing with Mexico, by importing its excess population as illegal labor and exporting our surplus dollars as remittances? From a certain perspective it all, all of it, makes perfect sense.

To maintain such mental equilibrium is an indication that we are not fanatics, for all that we argue passionately for one position or another. Time, not any cleverness of our verbal formulations, will prove the case. But behind the rationalizations there does need to be some sort of underlying awareness about the fragility and artificiality of civilization, and the harsh and unrelenting nature of ... well, of nature -- red in tooth and claw.

The lesson of the fable of the boy who cried wolf is not that false alarms are bad. The lesson is that there are wolves. Isn't it strange how that almost incunabular moral has faded, so that crying wolf stands now for saying there is danger when there is none? The point of this discussion is that every village must guard against wolves. Because there are wolves.



Teague said...

Not being of a moderate temperament, I manage to find real evil in my own navel.

Must be why I hate people.

Never had a cause I didn't fervently pursue.

Seems people recognize me as a wolf readily enough.

Jack H said...

A Q-Tip might be of assistance, re your toxic belly button lint. Maybe soak it in holy water?

"Hate"? Little children, love one another.

That's what causes are for -- to be pursued, fervently. That's why we have to select them carefully.

I count myself a watchdog.