Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Necessity of Enemies

Every tribe in the world, past, present, and I guarantee you future, has referred to itself as "the Humans" or "the People" or "the Chosen," defining itself as human and relegating those outside the tribe to non-human and non-people status. The Chinese called China "the Middle Kingdom" (the middle of the Earth) and the Greeks called their local sea the Mediterranean (also the middle of the Earth). Not at all surprisingly, the Greeks called non-Greeks "barbarians," mocking the way they perceived their language ("bar bar bar bar").

The curious predilection of people to do these things is not only caused by our primitive instinct to form tribes (be they called nations, races or ethnic groups) but also by our narcissism, which in simplest terms can be defined as another instinct to divide the world into false but easily understood categories of Good and Evil.

Tribes not only define themselves as "the Humans," but also as good, thereby automatically defining Outsiders not only as non-human but also as evil. Unfortunately, it is a necessary thing to see Outsiders as both non-human and evil. In other words, enemies are necessary, and have to be created even when there are none.

When a tribe defines itself as good, the vast majority of members will never admit its imperfections. As such, those imperfections have to be cast elsewhere, and that elsewhere, of course, is the Outsider. The extraordinarily small amount of people who do see the tribe's flaws, the tribe will attempt to expel. Then they become Outsiders.

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck called this casting of imperfections onto others "scapegoating," and defined it as "the genesis of human evil." When people see themselves as good, of course they have to project their badness elsewhere, onto someone else. It's the first defense people engage in, and it's even the lesson of the story of the Garden of Eden, in which Adam blames Eve for his transgression, and Eve turns right around and blames the serpent, which is a symbol of envy and hate.

This projection is just about the first thing children do. What parent has not heard, "You/he/she made me do it?" And what parent will ever hear from a four-year-old, "Yes, I did it of my own free will, and I take responsibility for it"?

No tribe, in its self-defined grandiosity, will ever admit its mistakes, unless absolutely forced to. People will rationalize and make excuses like there's no end to it. Actually, there is no end to it. It's always going to be someone else's fault, and once "those people" are eradicated, then there will be "an end to evil."

The U.S. has done a great amount of good in the world, but it has also done horrendous evil. How many Americans are aware that when American troops invaded the Philippines in the late 1800s they killed up to 200,000 Filipinos? I'll tell you how many -- almost no one. And of those who do know, I've had some defend it, just the way they defend the fire-bombing of the non-military, undefended city of Dresden at the end of WWII. I repeat: people will defend anything to support their tribe, even if it’s indefensible.

I'm also going to repeat that since tribes consider themselves both "the People" and good, and their badness is always projected elsewhere, this means there must always be enemies. The tribe has to have enemies to maintain its fiction of "goodness." If tribes can't create enemies to project their imperfections onto, then it's possible the tribe can't maintain its cohesiveness. If a tribe can maintain the fiction that only it is "Human" or "Chosen," and consistently define Outsiders as non-human and evil, and who are attacking the tribe, then it's entirely possible the tribe can endure for thousands of years, as long as it can create enemies.

Rene Girard, the late French scholar who studied the mechanism of tribes, scapegoating and sacrifices, noticed the curious phenomena that when one tribe displaces another, the displaced tribe, being both scapegoated and sacrificed, thereby becomes "sacred." An example of this is the American settler's annihilation of the American Indians, who even now are considered "sacred," hence the fact that so many sports teams -- and military equipment -- are named after them.

Since all tribes attempt to scapegoat and sacrifice other tribes, this means a minority tribe being tolerated by the majority tribe will attempt to denigrate the majority tribe, and even try to get the majority tribe to denigrate itself, through guilt. This is why there are vicious attacks on "dead white males" and Western culture. It's an attempt by minority tribes to displace the majority tribe. It's why there exists such things as La Raza ("the race"), whose motto is, "For the Race, everything. For those outside the Race, nothing." They have to have an enemy on whom they can blame their problems; otherwise there wouldn't be any "La Raza."

Enemies need each other, and feed off of each other.

As one tribe after another is annihilated, what is left for a scapegoat and a sacrifice? Someone will always be found. That is why there will never be an "end to evil." It's always what happens when the tribe -- the group -- is considered more important than the individual.

Even if everyone in the world belonged to the same tribe, the same race, the same ethnic group, and spoke the same language, a scapegoat and a sacrifice will still be found, because someone has to be found to project imperfections onto.

This "we're good and human" and "you're evil and non-human" just might be the worst problem ever. It's what led Germans protecting "the Fatherland" to fight Russians protecting "the Motherland," culminating in the Battle of Stalingrad, a horrendous slaughter in which one million to two million people were killed.

This dichotomy has even infected and perverted religion, and has for a long time. Islam divides the world into "the House of Submission" and "the House of War." Guess who's human and good, and who isn't? If this isn't crazy, what is?

Christianity has done the same thing. The nutcase Christian Zionists infesting the U.S. think they can bring Jesus back by murdering Palestinians and Muslims. "We're the good Christians, so we have to project our evil onto the Palestinians and Muslims, who have to be eradicated so goodness can reign." Again, if this isn't crazy, then what is?

When soldiers are murdered in a war, then they are idealized for making "the ultimate sacrifice" and become "sacred," just as Girard suggested. If they refuse to be sacrificed, then they become scapegoats ("Get out of the country, you coward!"). If they consent to be sacrificed, then they are sent to fight other scapegoats in the form of the enemy. Either way, soldiers are either devalued scapegoats or idealized sacrifices for their tribe. They're not seen as individuals.

Or, as Hermann Goering, Nazi Minister of Propaganda, said: " is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Propaganda isn't all that hard, and people fall for it every time.

There are ways out of these problems, any of which I doubt will ever be implemented. You can get rid of tribes, which I doubt is feasible, since it has never been done in the past. You can get rid of our narcissism, the concept that we are the good humans and those outside the tribe are non-human and evil. I doubt that is possible, either.

You can change the common concept of good and evil, and cease to see it as good over here and bad over there, with nothing in-between. In reality good and evil are a continuum, and not two mutually exclusive categories. This seems to be at least a possibility.

You can get rid of the concept of "evil" altogether. Probably the best definition of "evil" that exists is what the Greeks called hubris, and the Bible "pride": thinking you are god-like, or the Chosen, or the only humans on the planet. It leads inexorably to Outsiders being deemed as non-human and evil.

It sure looks to me that what most people see as "good" and "evil" are instead a continuum from humility to hubris. I'd like to see someone come up with a definition of evil that couldn't be applied to anyone for any reason, thereby devaluing them into non-humans.

But what I do know is this: as long as we are tribal, and narcissistic, and divide people into good and evil, human and non-human, sacrifices and scapegoats, we must always create enemies in order to maintain our tribes, our narcissism, and our belief we are good and others are evil.

Orwell would have understood this.

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