Thursday, July 19, 2007

Clever Boy

It's all so reasonable sounding. The London bomber-doctors aren't evil, they're sad and pathetic. They're weird goofballs. They're gay. Indeed they are. How does that make them not-evil? "Evil is cool. Evil is wicked. Evil sells DVDs and airport thrillers. Evil is a gang you might want to be in if you were a clever boy in a cultural mess with a chip on your shoulder. We’re not talking anything as clever as Evil here..."

Indeed. Evil is all that, when you don't think too deeply about it. When you fantasize about the careless cruelty you could inflict on those who annoy you, and about the sinuous women urgent to service your desires, and about the cold power that defies an uptight God and gets away with it -- that's so cool. I do it all the time.

But that sort of evil doesn't exist. We find it only in DVDs and airport thrillers. What would such an adolescent fantasy-definition be doing in a serious editorial about terrorism? Because real evil, the sort that actually exists, beats up its wife if dinner isn't hot on the table when I come home late. Real evil blows away a liquor store clerk because the cash register won't open. Real evil fills up the bio-waste bins with tiny little body parts at abortion clinics.

True, evil does give some men erections. We call them child molesters and predatory sexual sadists. Evil does satisfy after a fashion some empty place inside some people's soul -- Vlad the Impaler comes to mind, with his forests of victims, all clutching with their hands to stave off the gravity slide down a stake shoved up their anuses. He strolls through his fleshy arbors listening to the moans of agony like wind through leaves, chuckling to himself over the absurd antics of the agonists. Delightfoul. Hardly any terrorist would be recruited by lures such as these. They respond to the adolescent definition of a sexual paradise, which ironically almost seems to match the fantasy definition of evil -- hot chick slaves doing it to you all the time.

How is it that some editorial writers get themselves so balled up? They must mistake fallibility for silliness. Isn't it silly, after all, that these failed bombers didn't know their basic facts of chemistry. What fools. Gasoline, you see, “is not explosive and propane is not explosive: what is explosive is a mixture of these with air, within narrow composition limits (2-9 per cent by volume for propane, rather less for petrol vapour). Large volumes (the car ‘bombs’ specified hundreds of cubic metres) will not form spontaneously under any normal ventilation conditions.” Elucidating. Gasoline isn't explosive. That's why we never see fireballs in movies.

You and I will have to take his word for it. Hope that doesn't make us fools. But we are not fools for making mistakes about facts. We would be fools for believing wrong things about fundamentally important realities. To be a terrorist might be evil, and it might be foolish -- it would depend on definitions. But to believe that someone is not evil who takes irreversible actions that he might murder hundreds of innocent people -- to believe that because their plot failed they are not evil but rather crackpots -- honestly, to believe that is just foolish.

It's not hard to sound plausible. I do it all the time. You have to check what I say against your own values and sensibilities to decide if I'm right. We have to question, before we believe. And when we believe we still have to question. So, someone has suggested that it's a good thing that the Iraq war has lost so much support. Otherwise, if "commuters on trains really were part of a Washington crusade, we could ... more plausibly be portrayed as a military target." Sounds reasonable. If we're harmless, we'll be safe. Very plausible.

But since when do terrorists care about military targets? Terror is about attacking innocence. And that, regardless of the facility with which an attack is carried out, is evil.

It's easy to get all bound up in words. I do it all the time. We don't want to believe words, though. We want to find the meaning, and test it with reality. Terrorism and evil and foolishness -- words are just boxes that we fill up with imagination. Let's not start thinking they are real. The sad fact is that murder is real, and so is innocence. It takes words to communicate this obvious fact. But it needs to be communicated, apparently, because whole well-written articles get published, in which such obvious facts have been missed. And it would just be a shame if we didn't bother to defend ourselves because some clever boy convinced us that ignoring killers would make us safe.

Still, they failed to blow that last thing up. What's the worry? Gasoline doesn't explode.


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