sun 24 jul 2005 12:00:00 raamgracht
people are insane
people are insane.
or shall i say, madness seems intrinsic to human nature.
there are no sane people, but many of us do have moments of clarity, some more than others. and the saner we are at any moment, the less likely we are to do evil. sane people don't do terrible things.
by the same token: sane people don't do great things. if you believe some crazy shit, you will build the cathedral at rouens. otherwise you'll just go do the laundry.
mass delusion is usually powered by our craving for an "us".
i'm often amazed at the intellectual extremes to which very smart people will go just to avoid believing something stunningly obvious — if that something insults their clan identity, or challenges the inherited beliefs that help define their sense of who "we" are.
indeed sometimes it seems we'll believe anything, as long as everybody around us believes it too. as long as we can avoid taking individual responsibility for what we think and how we act.
a lot of people think we need a government to protect us. they haven't noticed that governments cannot protect us. they can't admit that the only thing that protects us from harm is our mutual good will. good will? what the hell good is that? in times like these when good will is ebbing, we can't believe that nothing can help us except each other. we don't trust each other, so we want dad. and dad's not coming.
when small polities failed to adequately protect us, we pooled them to form nations (england, france, germany, united states, etc). when nations failed to protect us, we tried to form leagues of nations and united nations, european unions, north atlantic treaty organizations and so on.
none of those inventions ever saves us from harm. typically the opposite happens. the clans, nations or super-polities define themselves and maintain their significance only in contrast to some opposing entity. that insecurity, that fundamental us-against-themness, leads to strife, of which we are the tools — so we end up serving the polities and hurting each other.
through all this we continue to believe in fairytales: that really this is about "us" and our leaders against "them" and theirs. we are unable to see the obvious — that the real struggle is of all of us against all of our leaders. we can't let ourselves believe that our leaders almost always use us to hurt each other. that our rulers gain power by using fear to disrupt our existing, natural loyalties to each other — to make us loyal to them, against each other. despite thousands of years of recurring evidence, nobody wants to admit that's the way it works. what do we think, this time it's different? are we tripping?
even if governments were ever really trying to protect us, it's become clear that they cannot. what governments can do, is go hurt somebody else after someone has hurt us. and they call that defense. we give them a lot of money for stuff like that.
retribution isn't defense. if you kill my friend, and i kill you, i have not saved my friend. what people call defense is just a display of brute force. so why do we call it defense? maybe because we are slaves to our faith that vengeance can somehow serve a purpose.
it's typical of shows of force that they miss the mark. force rarely strikes the supposed target. but it's funny how that doesn't seem to matter to anybody. as long as we make ourselves look powerful, we feel proud — regardless whether we achieved anything we promised.
of course there's the old fashioned "deterrence" theory — that by a show of force we discourage others from trying to hurt us in the future. that strategy doesn't actually work. it defends no one, least of all the innocent. all it does is create new enemies and change the shape of threat. for example, given the might of the american military, no military power would intentionally tangle with america on its own terms. okay so nations will not attack america militarily. big deal. people who want to will find other ways to hurt america — or what they think is america.
the trouble is, just as nobody really knows who "the terrorists" are, nobody is sure what "america" is any more.
when i use the word "america" i am specifically referring to the polity, the nation as a political unit. but as a phenomenon at large in the world, "america" means a lot of things to a lot of people. america is mcdonald's in china. america is israel, america is hollywood. america is reruns of "friends" on dutch television. america is anywhere that rapacious greed is disguised as "business" as an excuse to make obsolete whatever is local or sustainable. and yes, these are ridiculous generalizations. but since nobody can succesfully attack the political unit "USA" any more, instead they lash out at many things that somehow smell american. and the more "america" diffuses itself throughout the world, the harder it gets to do that significantly. so the disgruntled are reduced to blowing up anybody anywhere touched by "the west", whatever that is.
when i use the term "terrorism" i mean it in the abstract fundamental sense: any action, large or small, intended to achieve a goal by frightening someone.
because one of my goals is to simplify, i deliberately avoid euphemisms and describe behavior as generically as i can. if an action is basically the same regardless of scale, actor or location, i define it as one behavior. therefore: if i bomb an embassy to protest a nation's policies, that's terrorism. if i bomb a crowded marketplace trying to frighten a people to bend their will, that's terrorism. if i hold a gun to your head and demand your wallet, that's terrorism. if i tell you to pay your taxes or i'll put you in jail, that's terrorism. any time i use force or threat of force to achieve my will, that's terrorism. the subtleties and shades of meaning don't help when you're trying to get back to basics and build a morality. that's why i so strenuously disregard them.
i have lived into a time when the new world power struggle is "government versus terrorism". and for my whole adult life i have believed that government and terrorism are bascially the same thing. terrorists are would-be governments. governments are vested terrorists with certificates and buildings that make them look legit.
in effect, what we call government and terrorism are each other's counterparts, because they reinforce each other and make each other appear necessary. but what's interesting is that in the contemporary world both "government" and "terrorism" are becoming more diffuse and less clearly goal-oriented.
of course right now as i write this, many of us desire to think "the terrorists" are some particular bunch of people, preferably devout islamic extremists whom we, westerners, can somehow identify and neutralize. but we don't really know that. in fact, anybody can practice terrorism according to their own interpretation. they always have.
remember that the best way to defeat something is to deprive it of power. and the best way to make a nation powerless is to make it unnecessary. we've seen that feelings of nationalism grow stronger when the nation is under threat. same thing with strong religious sentiment or any other scenario where one's sense of belonging, of identification with a group, is heightened by collective peril to that group. sometimes a group forms in response to threat. but always, a group hardens under threat. that's why the term "national security" sounds so ridiculous to my ears. nations are defined by insecurity. when they are secure, they become unnecessary.
so on a tuesday in september 2001, a bunch of guys mostly from saudi arabia crash planes into the world trade center. they seem to be trying to symbolically hurt america. instantly the tv news graphics scream "america under attack." but all they've really done is murder thousands people from all over the world. the perpetrators of "nine eleven" are not hurting those who particularly offended them, whoever that is — but that doesn't matter. they've made themselves look big and scary, and that's what counts.
whatever their goals were, they didn't hurt america. instead of hurting america they almost instantly make america more powerful and dangerous. america couldn't have hired a better ally than the nine-eleven terrorists.
soon, america attacks afghanistan, deposing some fanatics and chasing some other fanatics around the mountains. about a year and a half later they march into iraq under a different pretext.
in response to nine-eleven, america has to go hurt somebody, so they do. but they do not hurt the people who seemingly attacked america. nor do they deter future terrorist attacks. if anything, they incite further antagonism by pissing off millions more people around the world. on the surface, none of this would seem to make sense. so why do they do it? well the people making the decisions have their own private reasons — but ask a devout american why. "we had to do something, didn't we, i mean we can't just take that lying down. they attacked us." and it's true: many americans believe that that taliban and/or saddam hussein did nine-eleven.
america can't take revenge on the people who actually offended them. so they do the next best thing. they go hurt some people who resemble those who offfended them. while they are at it, they hurt a lot of other people too, who had nothing to do with offending america in the first place. and of course that's not the point. by going to kick somebody's ass, america makes itself look big and scary — and incidentally by right of conquest gathers some extra wealth for some of its supporting businessmen.
this teaches me that a show of force is its own glory, and has no other meaning. it may have a purpose we don't understand and therefore cannot proclaim out loud. but it certainly does not serve its stated purpose of defense. it is not doing anything it rationally purports to do. like other forms of terrorism, military violence has ancillary tragedies for its subjects, and ancillary benefits for those pulling the strings. but it's not defense.
governments everywhere proclaim an intention to stamp out terrorism -- as if terrorism is somewhere or somebody. but the war on terrorism is not defending you and me — any more than taking down the world trade center is defending islam.
what people can't bring themselves to admit yet is that nobody can really stop someone from hurting us if they really wanna. almost anybody with a grudge can make a bomb. it's easy to hurt a lot of people.
maybe that's why "terrorism" nowadays is becoming more random. the targeting of victims is growing nonsensical, the enemy diffuse.
lately violence seems to be vaguely directed at western (ie modern globally greedy) civilization. but no demands are made, there are no negotiating points, and no organization is stepping up saying "give us this and we'll stop hurting you." much as we want to believe in one, there is no real organization, no tangible enemy.
why is this happening? i dunno, but here's what i sense:
human civilization could not find a rational way to check its own excesses. so now the species is irrationally (ie, insanely) finding a way to check itself, to frustrate its own victorious ooze, to trip up its own rampancy. it's too soon for me to call this cultural suicide, but i can say there is a spirit of slaughter rising over the people, seducing us into an increasing polarization that sets the stage for massive violence. that motive is bigger than any person or group of people, so we can't compass it or make sense of it. instead, we do is invent local excuses for it — the same way psychotics always dream up perfectly reasonable explanations for their behavior. therefore: it's because you insulted islam. no, it's cuz you insulted america. you hate our freedoms. no, you hate our religion.
it's all quite mad, if you think about it.
humanity is insane.
this is world war three. okay so you thought it would be fought between nations. okay so you were wrong.
now in the midst of all this, i do believe some things can become clear. for instance, we may see that we are our worst enemy and our only hope. we may realize dad is not coming. that there is no santa claus and no justice. and that all we have is each other.
all the makings of peace are at our fingertips. it's not a new thing. we have plenty of experience with just getting along with each other — especially in those moments when some would-be superpower isn't busy stirring us to hate.
that's why i keep saying the silence between gunshots is world peace. world peace is never more than two seconds away.
i am impatient for us to learn our lessons faster. but because each person is born knowing almost nothing — and because we're so distracted by flashing blinking pop icons that we ignore or forget everything our species learned just 30 or 60 years ago — this process may take us tens of thousands of years.
that's why i'm worried that these foolish words are carved not on huge stone blocks, but rather on a whirling magnetic disk that will soon stop spinning. these words will disappear.