Thursday, August 10, 2006

"That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for."

Today is an easy day to be discouraged.

At least 21 (presumably) men from England were arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up a large number of planes carrying a very large number of people. Apparently these were all Muslims born in England. Early reports are that most if not all are children of Pakistani immigrants.

I don't think I'm going out on a limb in predicting that the average demographic will show them to be better educated than average, more prosperous than average, unmarried, and described by acquaintances as quiet, polite, and intense.

All will have attended the same two or three closely affiliated mosques with ties to Wahabi money.

Today we're already hearing that this is what Britain gets for being Bush's bitch. (Never mind that this plot was foiled, while that one manifestly was not. Or that logically, since these plotters came from England, we should in some way take pre-emptive measures against Britain, or at least British Muslims.) That three years into the Iraq Adventure, we're no safer today than we were on 9/10. The line will be that the British Muslims were enraged by the West's abuse of their co-religionists, and that their plan to kill thousands of civilians was just because of the disproportionate power wielded by the West.

The mad logic of that argument is that any rogue Christian militia would be justified in targeting any Muslim in a tit-for-tat escalation. After all, Christian governments are obviously ineffective in protecting their populations from the terror of Radical Islam. The danger of legitimizing asymmetric warfare is that once it's accepted, we might as well kiss our concepts of civilized disagreement goodbye. But that's the direction of thought for at least elements of the alienated West.

Of course, the pattern we're seeing in the 9/11, the 3/11, the 7/7, and (I'm assuming) the 8/10 suspects is one of alienation at the intersection of clashing cultures. Even the 9/11 bombers from the Gulf States were aliens within their home culture, being predominantly western-educated, well-traveled cosmopolitans. Frankly speaking, there was and is no place in the world where they fit. Combine alienation with indoctrination about the virtues of martyrdom, and you have a demographic ideally suited for the modern suicide jihadi.

Part of me wishes I weren't effectively an atheist, so I could thank God that Christianity has never glorified those who seek martyrdom. You get martyred, okay, assuming you weren't just stupid, but don't think it's anything special, dude. But Islam incentivizes martyrdom (at least as taught by those who can make use of it). Christianity's prime virtue is innocence, and its central neurosis is that no one is innocent. Therefore, the most virtuous act is to forgive and the most virtuous attitude is tolerance. From these seeds and some alchemy I do not understand has sprung an Enlightenment Culture which has made the vast majority of those living within it more wealthy, healthy, and free than any other culture in the history of humanity.

It also has the side effect of supporting a very high level of alienation within the confines of the greater culture.

Many of those alienated members see this as a good thing. No one minds being called a "free spirit", an "iconoclast", or even "totally out there, man". "Quirky" is not a pejorative. We celebrate the maverick, and we expect our heroes to have feet of clay. Misunderstood geniuses can at least take consolation in the idea that they are not inferior members of their cohort, but are the ultimate expression of the cultural ideal.

So the aliens walk and work among us, and we (correctly, I think) believe this to be a good thing. But for the angry and alienated young man who sees no good that can be done in this world that equals the good that can be done in embracing the next, it's obviously not such a good thing. For a fundamentally social being, with conflicting indoctrination on what it means to be social, facing a milieu that tolerates and even (to an extent) glorifies alienation, it must be a lonely, frightening, and demoralizing world. 72 virgins in this case probably is less about sexual reward than about finally finding empowerment and safety.

Of course, the memetic transfer that makes Islamic cultures so volatile today isn't one way; if you look, you can see apocalyptic thinking gaining ground in our proudly pro-alienation vanguard. Armed Liberal has a better written, but equally tortured, essay on what he calls "Bad Philosophy", asking what the linkages are between ideas and self- and societally-destructive behavior. He brings up the sad case of Deborah Frisch, Ph.D. in Psychology, who has apparently been in something of a death spiral for a while now, the latest manifestation of which seems to be an attempt to commit suicide by Wingnut. (She became an internet verb by making threatening and pedophilic threats toward Jeff Goldstein's family in the comments at Protein Wisdom, but more fascinating to me has been her attempts to taunt an ex-SEAL into some kind of physical confrontation.) She seems to be explicitly seeking some kind of martyrdom that will benefit what she sees as a cause greater than herself.

My name is Deborah Frisch. I live in Tucson, Arizona. I teach in the psychology department at the YOUkneeversity of AIRYzona.

You want to come find me, see that I'm real, hold a .357 magnum in my face, i say:


It's hard not to see parallels in Frisch's self-destructive search for catharsis and the jihadi martyr's ecstatic embrace of murder/suicide.

Frisch is an outlier, but I'm afraid she's not an actual island. Through all the craziness, she's had her defenders. And her rants (when she's not threatening 2 year olds or taunting SEALS to violence) seem right at home on sites like Democratic Underground, where honest disagreement on how to cope with threats to our society is not conceivable. You either agree with the community consensus or you are evil.

Pardon me if this looks like the first step toward a consensual madness that is uncomfortably analogous to the consensual madness taught at the terror madrasses.

As I said, while it's definitely good news that the multi-plane plot in England was foiled, the framework for the story is very discouraging. Someone once said something like "even if you're not interested in War, War is interested in you." To the horror of certain friends, I actually had (and still harbor) hope that the Bush Doctrine might work, and that liberalism could be liberated and cultivated in the Middle East. I've always assumed it would take years. I have always assumed that the gestalt of this country would keep faith with the idea that we, as a nation, are the good guys, and that good guys have a responsibility to try to spread the good, or at the very least to confront the evil.

Today, with recent political posturing and in the face of the obvious threats, I don't know that the West has the faith that the West, as a gestalt, is an inherently good thing. I'm starting to worry that we really may be entering a post-Enlightenment world.

Let me be clear; a lot of people I read think we're sliding toward dhimmitude. I think that's simply ridiculous on the face. What I fear is much worse; that some awful set of events will change us in such a way that it becomes a virtue to react to horror with horror, that we lose faith in our gloriously neurotic and successful celebration of the alien. We leave the world to its fate at our peril, because the world outside will not simply leave us to ours. That's quite demonstrably not how the world works.

What we may look like after the world comes to us and works its sea change is hideous to contemplate.


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7:22 PM  

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