Sunday, November 28, 2004Discontent
Well, I'm in a mood.
It's not a sad or an angry mood, although there's been a great deal of brow-furrowing seriousness involved. It began sometime yesterday for no readily apparent reason; since I got up today it has become deep enough that I'm finding it difficult to be sociable -- my thoughts keep drifting elsewhere. Why it come over me or what inspired it, I don't know -- the creeping winter darkness, maybe, or the blurred twilight between a vitriolic political season and the compassion of Christmas. I only know that I began contemplating issues of class and status, particularly where the concept of entitlement enters the picture, and now I can't stop.
I admit that I resent those who display their sense of entitlement, From George Bush on down. Those who assume that the world is theirs alone to do with as they please, those who take for granted their innate superiority on every level -- moral, ethical, mental, material -- to others in the world. If I were forced to name a place where the left- and right-wing ideologies fundamentally differ, it would be on this: that the left assumes an intrinsic "I-Thou" relationship to the world that the right just doesn't understand.
In truth, once you start to look at other human beings as your equals -- even with their flaws and shortcomings -- it becomes extremely difficult to sustain the attitudes that the right thrives on. Each of us -- even the most moral, the most ethical, the most peaceful -- contains the potential to become a torturer, a murderer, an abuser; it only takes the right circumstances to bring that potential out. (This is why decrying the violent acts of others is so crucial to those of us on the left -- we realize that it COULD be us doing these things, and speaking against it is the only obstacle between us and the existential abyss. It's harder work to remain compassionate that most people realize; fear and destruction is the coward's way out.) Bombing the living fuck out of Fallujah is an exhilerating triumph if the people who live there are reduced to an inhuman bunch of "its"; but it becomes a horrific tragedy when you look at those once-living/thinking/breathing/feeling corpses as people who, in every meaningful way, were exactly like you. There is no just reason in the world why it should not be you lying in a fly-ridden pile in the street, except that you have had the good fortune to be here and not there when the bombs began to fall. There is no other difference; the bombs don't know or care who you were when they blow your body to pieces, they simply pop the mechanism and dispatch you. We can only hope that the people who would drop them do care about those intangible concepts as justice and innocence... and apparently they don't.
So I guess my question -- to George W. Bush, but also to all those who support this war and all of the bloody, brutal episodes that take place within it -- is, who the hell are you to decide who deserves to live or die? How is it that you feel entitled to judge? What god gave you that right?
"The hijackers," they might say, "decided for us who lives and dies; and eye for an eye."
To which I would answer: the hijackers all died that day. You can't kill them twice. If you choose, you can become as barbaric as they, killing your enemies without a thought as to who actually bears responsibility for whatever wrong you feel has been done to you; that position is always up for grabs. But don't mistake that for any kind of justice; that's merely revenge, one of humanity's darker, less useful impulses.
(We can at least be honest about our motives, yes?)
And as for "an eye for an eye"... the old-testament admonishment in question was never intended to be a incentive to make sure you get as many eyes as possible, it was a warning against doing more harm to those who've harmed you than they themselves have done. If someone gouges out your eye, you have -- at most -- the right to one of theirs, but not the right to kill them entirely, for example. It's not about revenge as such; it's about a response that's equal to the crime.
We lost something over 3000 people on 9/11. In Iraq we have killed -- depending on whose data you trust -- between 30,000 and 100,000 people... and those were people who by definition had nothing to do with the WTC attack. Is that an appropriate response? The only rationale would have to rest on the assumption that American lives are somehow worth more than Iraqi lives -- going back to the I-Thou concept, treating other people not as people but as objects. Otherwise, we have vastly over-reacted, becoming the very thing we claim to be fighting against.
What makes us think we're entitled to that kind of power? And who am I, the lefty peacemonger, to assume I'm above doing it, too? And for that matter, why is it that some of us refuse to take that step into brutal aggression?
As you can doubtless see by now, this line of reasoning doesn't readily lead to any concrete answers.
There's a great post up at Atrios' place about advent and the sense of waiting for something as yet unknown. And the poster is right... there is a sense of something coming, something significant. (My question is, will we know it when we see it? Or have our sense been so dulled by meaningless bullshit that we've forgotten how to recognize meaning when we see it?) Also, there's an interesting piece about Liberal America as battered wife at Deride and Conquer. (If the conservatives gets wind of it, we'll be treated to a barrage of, "I'm the abused one, officer, she hit back!" A whinier bunch of narcissistic victim-junkies you'll never see.) |