Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Pavlovian Demise


The deaths of two unsuccessful defenders of Islam in Texas fall into a strange reactionary rhythm.

A heavily guarded contest to draw the prophet Mohamed is organized by critics of the religion.

A self-professed ex-Muslim who now draws right-wing cartoons wins the $12,000 prize for his effort.

Two extremists show up to defend the honor of their creed, wound a guard and end up being shot dead by the police.

While perhaps none of these events could be exactly predicted before they occurred, all of them seem completely predictable in retrospect. Like a well-rehearsed opera playing out in the heat of a Texas summer.

"America will call evil by its name." was one of the more memorable quotes of the Bush presidency.

Its the very idea of evil that made this event possible.

The desire to break through the politically correct wall and properly mock Islam on behalf of the organizers of the contest and the spirit of holy revenge animating the two dead men, have in common a notion of moral certainty that cries out to be affirmed.

The idea of evil is an interesting one.

Certain crimes, like ones committed by serial killers, are condemned by all societies. These crimes are, by definition, anti-social.

But then all of the worst crimes in human history are social crimes committed in the spirit of moral certainty. The certainty of 9/11 hijackers fighting a bloated empire of oppression. The certainty of the Third Reich out to eliminate a parasitic race. The certainty of communist fanatics mowing down the enemies of the people.  

All those folks had the notion "evil" on instant replay.

Whether all the genocidal henchmen were animated by moral certainty is up for debate, many were just sadists for whom history presented an opportunity. But the idea of fighting evil, at the very least provided a cover. Fighting evil gives killing a proper scale. Evil also allows for self-sacrifice on behalf of those fighting it.

Evil needs to be called by its name for any state to wage war.

Otherwise, why would a soldier lay down his life?

And since all human tribes at one point or another need people to die for them, we can rest assured that evil will remain as an animating force in human life for as long as it continues.

"Imagine there's no heaven," sang John Lennon.

Certainly the two dead men never imagined there was no heaven, nor could they imagine a world where evil should not be called by its name.

And so they burst out of their car with guns, ammunition and a certain spunk in their step that could only be assured by total moral certitude.

The Texans though, they had better aim.

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