Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Duality of Man

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment and create a pointer to Glenn Greenwald's latest post over at Salon. It is refreshing to see someone finally take on those on the left edge who simply want to paint George W. Bush as "evil."

Those who demand that a cartoon image of George Bush be embraced to the exclusion of all else -- that all one can say about him is that he embraced and brilliantly executed an Evil Corporatist Plot to enrich himself because he is Evil and that his evangelical furor is just an act -- are themselves exhibiting the precise mentality that drives the Bush movement.

I've always wondered how Bush could be chastised for painting the world in black and white shades, and using such rhetoric to bolster his political support, but those on the left are free to use the exact same tactic against Bush. Thought Alarm has been a personal exercise in dealing with this Bush administration, and its crippling effect on the country, but I hope I have never succumbed to painting him simply as "evil." Foolish, clumsy, unimaginative, maybe. But even these are just symptoms of Bush's persona. But motivated by evil? That's too easy.

I have learned, as others have, that there is a certain duality in things. I have found it interesting that the same core belief, an "us verses them" mentality, drives religious fanatics across faiths. The motivation of a Muslim fanatic is really no different from that which motivates a fanatical Christian. I have also learned that the far right paints reality in black and white, and the far left does as well. Extremism also seems to breed more terror, which breeds more extremism.

Consider the situation in Palestine. Israel has the most powerful military in the region, the backing of the most powerful country in the world, the political will (and international apathy) to use its overwhelming power to contain and control the Palestinians by launching military strikes, raids, building walls, and practicing a policy of apartheid. Has any of this curbed Palestinian zeal? Or has it driven many Palestinians to seek more extreme measures? If Israel, after sixty years, has not been able to break the will of the Palestinian people with top down military force, what makes us think we can do the same in Iraq?

The truth is it is simply easier, politically expedient, to paint and act in black and white ways. This is why Palestinians have turned to more and more extremist ideologies. Twenty years ago the official Palestinian position was a two state solution. Today we have Hamas. Not surprisingly the blame has gone to a lack of top down control in Gaza which opened the door for a Hamas takeover. But this completely ignores the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are separated by a country which has shown almost no interest in the Palestinian government being able to have any control, to say nothing of the ineffectual nature of extreme tactics to curb extremeism.

When Jimmy Carter attempted to bring this fruitless cycle into the light, in his now infamous book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, he was absolutely deionized, and the main points of his book were drowned out by those happy to keep the world in black and white tones. I am sympathetic to both Israel and the Palestinians. Neither are simply "good" or "evil" but are acting out of a complex set of motivations, most of which are an attempt to somehow gain lasting peace. But many find it unsettling to think that, perhaps, the two sides are motivated by the same goals, using what they perceive as the most expedient means available.

I recall a magazine cover from before the 2004 election pondering the question of Bush's divisiveness. People either love him or they hate him, but why? Now I think I know. The president, unfortunately, has become as disconcerting to most Americans as terrorism. As such, he too is presented only in extremes. In an unsettling reality he is, simply, "evil." An anomaly. A strange and atypical product. To admit, perhaps, that someone like Bush is not completely extreme, or motivated by evil, or greed, but rather a complex creation is to say that he might be closer to "normal" than we'd like to admit. If Bush is anything but completely abnormal, what does that say about our reality? But remember, this same extremist, this "evil" man, is the one we sought protection from after 9/11, and re-elected in 2004. What does that say about us?

Far too many of us find superficial comfort in re-painting the world in "binary" terms of: one side or another. This not only includes those who feel America can justify any action in the name of national security, or who view anything outside of Western Civilization as strange and disconcerting. It includes anyone willing to settle for simplistic answers. "
Understanding the world requires nothing more than figuring out who is on what side," Greenwald writes. "That explains everything. There are no complexities, nuances or shades to any of it." That temptation lies at the heart of the Bush legacy, but finds supporters on both sides.

Glenn Greenwald's book A Tragic Legacy goes on sale June 26.

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