Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An Exercise in Relativism

Beheading. So barbaric. What kind of culture could have it not only as a mainstay of social justice, but as a means of private entertainment as well? Ours, of course, Western Civilization, which used beheading until, what, 1910 in Sweden; replaced by Germany officially in 1938 (the Nazis found a better way, apparently ... although there were 16,500 perhaps unofficial guillotinings in Germany-Austria during the Third Reich); the last beheading conducted by the French judicial system occurred in 1977. I was 18 years old. All these nations have since banned the death penalty entirely.

So wherein lies the root of our outrage with the Arabs, the Moslems, and even with the terrorists? Well, terror, of course -- but surgery can be terrifying. It's not the blood, not the mutilation. A neck really does stretch, with hanging. Lots of blood with being shot. And they are all accompanied by a copious release of feces and urine. It's a filthy business, execution. So it's not really the method that makes us feel superior.

Is it the crime, or "crime" itself that's the problem? Beheading adulterers or homosexuals or thieves -- whatever the offense, it seems petty compared to the punishment. Is that what it is? But the Bible enjoined the righteous to stone adulterers and rapists and sodomites, and incorrigible offspring, and the like. Surely the Bible is not wrong. Not to us, right-thinking folks.

So what's the problem we have with beheading and the Moslems with their sharia? -- because all such crimes, in the East as in the West, are committed against the necessary social order. Necessary in the face of the alternative. Such executions are a means of cultural self-preservation, the way you would kill the brigand who would destroy your way of life. Honor killings are about family structure and authority between generations. Without order and effective means of control, there is chaos, and more lives are lost under anarchy than by executions. So what's the problem?

The problem is this. There will always be abuses of institutions and official power. Nothing can remedy this fact -- we can only strive for justice, imperfectly. And every culture must determine what it considers to be justice. This too is unavoidable, and it is necessary. None of this is the problem. The problem is here: there has to be a place to run.

In the Bible, provisions were made for exile, for banishment, for Cities of Refuge. It was understood that the Hebrews were a separate people, and would never control the whole world. Same thing with Christianity -- it was never meant to be a government. Modern Western Civilization is composed of nation-states. We like it this way. We need it like this. Because a universal state will become corrupt, and then whither might we flee? What outside force will rescue us? There would be no such thing. The fact of otherness is necessary, for freedom. Whereas Islam, by definition, in its very core, requires that the unbeliever be killed, enslaved, or taxed. There is no other option, long-term.

In the best of our heritage, the incorrigible youth could go to a far-off land. The adulterers could go live among the gentiles, who are pigs anyway. The heretic could establish a monastery in the desert. The dissident could defect. But the infidel must be found out no matter where he resides, and he must submit to the rule of Allah. That's the problem with beheading. It is the tool of an absolutist philosophy, of utter conformity.

It has to do with respect for individuality. On the continuum of human character, there are hippie antinomianists and there are robotic totalitarians. Both are toxic. But provided they are not given effective power, we tolerate them. Whether they would work their harm by drugs or by steel is irrelevant. We can't let them work harm. But we can let them live. The sole remaining cultural practitioner of beheading does not apprehend the need to accommodate such ambiguity. This makes it an absolute enemy. Not necessarily on an individual basis. It is a conflict of civilizations. Beheading is just a convenient symbol.

So there it is. The details don't really matter. We all have shame in our pasts. They say that Arabs have a long historical memory. It's a lie, of course. They remember what they pick and chose, and lie about the rest. Too bad. But what matters is now. I don't care about beheading. I care why people get beheaded. A culture that wants to be universal wants to be pathological. The state of someone's soul is not the business of a society. The principle of separation of Church and State is all about having more than one Church, membership to none of which should be a beheadable offense.


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