coromandal


my brother’s hunter

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”  Pogo Possum

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars — but in ourselves…”  Cassius, Julius Caesar

Edward Said’s book Orientalism published in 1978, told us the reality of the world was a clash of civilizations:  between the familiar West and the strange East.  It became and is still the go to explanation for conflict in the world.

I don’t know Said’s work except in sketch form, so I’ll put this next thought is it’s own paragraph.  That our civilizations rightly clash is what we firmly believe:  foreign laws are regressive, their ideas threaten our way of life.  We’ve taken it far:  they are taking our jobs, and even, let’s go and kill them.  I guess Said’s idea was complex and nuanced, but also that our advanced crass politics do draw their heritage from it.

Here’s strong evidence for another view:  that in fact most conflict in the world is a lot more local than Said and the priesthood that propagate his beliefs, and the word on the street, and pretty well the whole world, seem to think.  I’ve hunted and pecked some excerpts from Russell Jacoby’s essay Bloodlust below, which show that the enemy is not the stranger, rather it is us.

If you take it chronologically, the fratricidal Cain and Abel are the obvious archetypal start.  Not a war, but the first murder in a pretty important book.  The Peloponnesian war is another early example;  Thucydides account of the Corcyrean civil war describes loyalties that turned families viciously against each other.  Not nations, families.

Since WWII, there have been five times more civil wars than conflicts between nations, says Jacoby.  The bloody 15 year Lebanese Civil war was spurred by local differences between communities.  And finally, today’s wars all of which are ‘regional, ethnic, religious’:  Iraq, Rwanda, Sudan, the Balkans, Libya.

Of course, it’s hard to accept that seemingly trite family squabbles lead to killing and war.  We don’t want to believe it, says Jacoby. It’s easier to believe that foreigners are bad and we should engage in war with them than that minor local differences are the source.

The Clash of Civilizations is like a big brassy blockbuster:  3D! panavision! technicolor!  Much easier to believe; or at least to enjoy believing.  To think conflict is complicated and local is like reading the book.  Yawn.

My final excerpt from Jacoby’s essay below is a difficult quotation from the sociologist Rene Girard.  Girard’s trope – a dialectical truth – is that we humans like each other and on the other had we like each other’s likes.  And eventually and inevitably we desire them and fight each other for them.

Girard explains that order and peace depend on cultural distinction.  In other words, by adding externals, unknowns, strangers into the pure family context, the rivalry that is the root of all family relations is dissipated.  Difference, heterogeneity maybe, distract the family members from their petty – and bloody – preoccupations.

Here is the (long) excerpt from Jacoby’s essay Bloodlust:

“Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, ‘us’) and the strange (the Orient, the East, ‘them’),” Said wrote.

[…]

If the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted 15 years, can highlight something about how the West represents the East, it can also foreground a neglected truth: The most decisive antagonisms and misunderstandings take place within a community. The history of hatred and violence is, to a surprising degree, a history of brother against brother, not brother against stranger. From Cain and Abel to the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries and the civil wars of our own age, it is not so often strangers who elicit hatred, but neighbors.

This observation contradicts both common sense and the collective wisdom of teachers and preachers, who declaim that we fear—sometimes for good reason—the unknown and dangerous stranger. Citizens and scholars alike believe that enemies lurk in the street and beyond the street, where we confront a “clash of civilizations” with foreigners who challenge our way of life.

[…]

We live in an era of ethnic, national, and religious fratricide. A new two-volume reference work on “the most severe civil wars since World War II” has 41 entries, from Afghanistan and Algeria to Yemen and Zimbabwe. Over the last 50 years, the number of casualties of intrastate conflicts is roughly five times that of interstate wars.

Corcyrean civil war was one of the main conflicts in the Peloponnesian war, account by Thucydides:

“There was death in every shape and form,” writes Thucydides. “People went to every extreme and beyond it. There were fathers who killed their sons; men were dragged from the temples or butchered on the very altars.” Families turned on families. “Blood ties became more foreign than factional ones.” Loyalty to the faction overrode loyalty to family members, who became the enemy.

Fratricide, kith and kin, fear —

Today’s principal global conflicts are fratricidal struggles—regional, ethnic, and religious: Iraqi Sunni vs. Iraqi Shiite, Rwandan Tutsi vs. Rwandan Hutu, Bosnian Muslim vs. Balkan Christians, Sudanese southerners vs. Sudanese northerners, perhaps Libyan vs. Libyan.

[…]

The proposition that violence derives from kith and kin overturns a core liberal belief that we assault and are assaulted by those who are strangers to us. If that were so, the solution would be at hand: Get to know the stranger.

[…]

We don’t like this truth. We prefer to fear strangers. We like to believe that fundamental differences pit people against one another, that world hostilities are driven by antagonistic principles about how society should be constituted. To think that scale—economic deprivation, for instance—rather than substance divides the world seems to trivialize the stakes. We opt instead for a scenario of clashing civilizations, such as the hostility between Western and Islamic cultures. The notion of colliding worlds is more appealing than the opposite: conflicts hinging on small differences. A “clash” implies that fundamental principles about human rights and life are at risk.

Rene Girard

“In human relationships, words like ‘sameness and ‘similarity evoke an image of harmony. If we have the same tastes and like the same things, surely we are bound to get along.  But what will happen when we share the same desires?”  However, for Girard, “a single principle” pervades religion and literature. “Order, peace, and fecundity depend on cultural distinctions; it is not these distinctions but the loss of them that gives birth to fierce rivalries and sets members of the same family or social group at one another’s throats.”

Bloodlust: Why we should fear our neighbors more than strangers, Russell Jacoby

adapted from the book Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence From Cain and Abel to the Present, Russell Jacoby

Advertisements

Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: