May 26, 2004

I realize Nixon lied to the nation, but he withered under his own weight

* Sex and violence and Iraq. excerpt:

"So this is one problem: a culture whose definition of 'good' and 'bad' has been flattened and evacuated by the massive disrespect for human life that seems to have permeated it (and I am talking about the lives of the born, now, not the only lives that the Republicans ever seem to be concerned about). But there is something else about the photos from Abu Ghraib - something that was pointed out in a piece by Susan Sontag that has been making the rounds.

"There are, after all, photos out there of the civilian victims of our violence. They don't run in the American media, of course; but they are not hard to find on the web, in the Arab media as well as the British and European press. But what those photos do not show is what Sontag identifies as the most distinctive and disturbing feature of the Abu Ghraib photos: the smiling faces of the perpetrators. As Sontag points out, the Abu Ghraib photos bring it home to us once and for all that the people who are torturing the bodies in these photos think that what they are doing is A-OK. There's no remorse, no revulsion, not even a slight shudder of squeamishness. They have embraced this evil as their good; and they're sure that we the viewers will do the same.
"And if we accept that things like the Makr al-Deb massacre are natural, necessary, and right, then we are all saying it right along with Kimmitt, the torturers of Abu Ghraib, and Satan: 'Evil, be thou my good.'

"Don't worry - I'm quoting Milton's Satan here, the one from Paradise Lost, not the Biblical Satan. I haven't gone evangelical all of a sudden. But I will say that one of the worst things that the Christian right has done to discourse in this country is to capture the language of morality. We secular humanist types now feel as if as soon as we start talking about good and evil we are one step away from frothing about FORRRRRRNICATION! But good and evil are not the prisoners of any one religious system, nor do they require a deity or an eschatology to shore up their meaning. And it is absolutely insane that they have, in our country, become so thoroughly entangled with sexual morality. We spend all this time fighting about whether it is or is not evil for two consenting adults of the same gender to have sex with each other, and we have apparently failed to maintain our grasp on the concept that killing people is wrong. We have spent so much time as a culture obsessing over sex as foul, filthy, and obscene that we have forgotten how foul, filthy, and obscene violence is.

"I hope we can get back one of these days to a responsible, honest, and usefully complex understanding of good and evil. I hope, someday, public policy and public discourse will be founded on a shared believe in the value of human life and human dignity rather than one sect's tendentious and self-serving interpretation of one book. I still hope to see us, one day, find our way out of the moral wasteland into which Bush has led this country. And the rest of the world no doubt hopes to see it too, because in our descent into hell we are pulling a lot of the world in after us.

"I hope we find our way out of Iraq and that we find it soon. But it will only be the first step in what will be a very long journey home."

* BBC Reports the obvious: that the war in Iraq has helped Al-Qaeda recruit.

* "Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music, But, man, there's no boundary line to art." -- Charlie Parker


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