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(Good vs Evil) vs (good vs evil)?

By Gerry Patterson

The concept of Evil is one that has evolved over the ages. Evil seems to have found a new face in the twenty-first century. But could the face of terrorism be just evil with a small "e" that has made the transition to prime time with a capital "P"? The terrorist attack on the New York and Washington owes it success to a chain of coincidences that are unlikely to be repeated. And the terrorists owe their fame to the subsequent mass media coverage.


evil with a small "e" -- According to Stephen King.

The Catholic Church began to cope with a new concept as it marched into the twentieth century: evil with a small "e". With a devil that was not a red-horned monster complete with a spiked tail and cloven hooves, or a serpent crawling though a garden -- although that is a remarkably apt psychological image. The devil according to the Gospel According to Freud, would be a gigantic composite id, the subconscious of all of us.

-- Salem's Lot, Stephen King

When the fictional Father Callaghan, the local priest in Salem's Lot, uttered these words, he was yearning for a confrontation with Evil (with a capital "E"). The circumstances that developed in the small town of Salem's Lot would propel him to just such a collision with the powers of darkness.

Although Stephen King's ideas may have been still developing in his second novel, the gist of his thesis seems to be that everyday evil (with a small "e") forms a subset of Absolute Evil (with a capital "E"). He seems to suggest that Evil is like a field that somehow lingers around the loci of evil deeds, similar to the field of magnetism that is generated around a strong magnet, and remains in the vicinity even when the magnet is removed. King seems ambivalent about whether Evil is merely the summation of many acts of evil. These ideas may be similar to those of the German-American political scientist Hannah Arendt, who speaks of the "banality of evil", when referring to Hitler and fascism as the sum of many everyday evil deeds. The twentieth century brought technology that had finally caught up with mankind's propensity to commit acts of murder during warfare. As a consequence that century saw many evil deeds on a scale that was hitherto unthinkable. Not to be outdone the twenty-first century has started with The Fall of The Twin Towers, a real-time spectacle of mass-murder and destruction. However, in terms of total body-count, it is a relatively minor act of mass-murder. The attack on New York on a bright autumn day was nevertheless, transmitted around the globe, and in its' own gritty breaking news fashion matched the most excessive Hollywood violence and pyrotechnic special effects. The incident therefore attained a spectacular pinnacle of evil in the eyes of the global audience. This extraordinary focus has similarly bestowed the principal architect of this attack with the mantle of super-villain.

Stephen King's preoccupation with evil (with a small "e") is understandable since he spent most of his adult life thrilling us with tales about Evil. I found myself thinking of King and his ideas of evil/Evil when I recently watched Coppola's Dracula, which I had missed when it made its' first appearance at the box office a decade ago. I found that the film drew on the many elements of the Dracula legend, including historical references to Vlad, The Impaler, who curiously enough (though some might say predictably enough) was greatly admired by Nicolae Ceausescu, former Dictator of Romania, so much so that Ceausescu initiated the making of a lavishly funded feature film of his own about the life and times of Vlad, The Impaler. This film showed a remarkable amount of empathy for the medieval tyrant. But here I am in danger of digressing, because the former Dictator of Romania, his fascination for the historical Count Dracula and his largely unlamented departure from the world political stage, is an interesting tale in its' own right. Nevertheless, the original Count had a well-deserved fearsome reputation, and legend has it, was the subject of scary tales told by nursemaids and parents in order to frighten naughty children into better behaviour.

Coppola also had an interesting new angle on the Dracula Legend. This film could easily have been titled Dracula's Story, because for the first time (as far as I know), a major film-maker has attempted to give us Dracula's side of the tale. I am going to discount the fascinating Ceausescu movie, because it dealt with the historical Dracula rather than the fictional Bram Stoker vampire. Until Coppola's movie, versions of the Legend have depicted (the fictional) Dracula as quite single-minded in his dedication to Evil. The vampire embodies lust, evil and is in league with Satan. If this creature has any free will, it is limited to evil options. The only other way of depicting Dracula has been to poke fun at him. Coppola, however explains that Dracula, or Prince Vlad, rejected God as an act of despair, after the death of his lovely wife (a double of the modern day Mina -- also played by Winona Ryder). At one point in the movie, the vampire decides not to inflict his curse (transformation into Nosferatu) upon the lovely Mina, out of love for her. He relents only when she, out of love for him, implores him to take her soul.

As far as I know this is hitherto unexplored territory. The victim has often been described as an unwilling participant. This was part of the horrible fascination of the vampire. The victim feels lust, but is helpless, as a fly trapped in a spider's web. The transitory satisfaction of vile desires is of course no consolation for the loss of one's immortal soul, which is what the victim faces. The victim is transfixed or mesmerised by the vampire, and worst of all in the moment of surrender is fully aware of the awful consequences of eternal damnation. This is all quite standard vampire fare. The victim may feel a perverted type of lust for the vampire, but never love. The vampire on the other hand embodies lust and Evil, and could not choose anything affirmative, and could never be capable of love.

Coppala's vampire has some disturbing human qualities and might even be lovable. This sensitive new age vampire may even be capable of redemption. On the other hand, The humans in Coppola's film are more seriously flawed than Stoker's original cast. It seems they are not just helpless victims that fall under the vampire's hypnotic spell. Jonathon Harker chooses to dally with the three she-vampire's in an unholy orgy in Dracula's castle and Mina (Harker's wife) chooses to love Prince Vlad. The victims choose the vampire as an act of free will. This seems to remove the absolutes from the equation. Surely if the vampire is no longer Absolute Evil and the victim has choice in the matter, all bets are off?


The New Face of Evil.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side.

Bob Dylan, With God on Our Side.

This all comes back to Stephen King's thesis (if one can call it that) of Evil/evil. It seems a time to consider this question now that Evil has a new face (with a beard and turban?). Although he has been portrayed as an arch-villain, Bin-Ladin has achieved this status as much by an unfortunate coincidence of location and timing as criminal genius. It was due to the lamentable lack of security around domestic airports in the USA, the failure of the USA to take threats to the WTC seriously and the willingness of passengers and crew to enter into negotiations with hijackers. Since this incident, security around US cities will be tighter and twenty-first century air travellers will be less inclined to surrender their aircraft and more likely to put up a grim and determined resistance to any attempted hijack.

It also seems likely that the reason for choosing the upper stories of the WTC was to prevent access by fire-crews. Bin-Ladin did not expect the towers to collapse.

The 19 hijackers who attacked New York and Washington were armed only with paper-knives and The Koran. They belonged to a small group of fanatics based in a dusty, impoverished country that had been ravaged by war and murder and then (unwisely) abandoned by the USA after a conflict that had been largely fueled with American funds and weapons. It seems reasonable to label the terrorists as "low-tech". This is also explains the success of the attack. The operation was the ultimate KISS project. In case you needed reminding, KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid! Whatever else might be said about Al Qaeda, they seemed to have taken the KISS paradigm on board. The plan worked because it was simple. The organisation was broken up into separate cells, which in all likelihood were semi-autonomous. The only critical component that may have been vulnerable to the entropic cancer of complexity was co-ordination. However co-ordination only required wristwatches and perhaps mobile phones. In all other respects the plan was extraordinarily simple.

In the minds of the Islamic fascists, they are not doing evil. For them, the world has been reduced to simple stereotypes. Thanks to a one-dimensional world-view nurtured by a strict regime of religious indoctrination, with a top-dressing of dumbed-down political theory, they believe that they are, in fact, fighting Evil and their victims are not human, but mere objects whose extinction serve this great purpose. This simple mind-set and the simple concept combined to give a blueprint that was robust and deadly. Far more so than the fanciful plots that Hollywood villains might invent, involving secret underground laboratories, armies of technicians working round the clock on death rays, or genetically engineered killer super-bugs, etc. Even if some criminal mastermind had such resources in the real world the plans would be likely to fail because of their complexity.

In the real world, short multiple chains of events instigated by a small band of evil-doers who don't believe they are doing evil, have a much better chance of success than any gargantuan imaginary Evil plots that might be concocted by Dr. Fu Man Chu, Goldfinger, Lex Luthor or similar fictional super-villains of the silver screen.

The threat of Chemical Biological Warfare (CBW) has loomed large in the media since 9/11. This was, in part, due to the Anthrax Letters, which followed on the heels of this event. These letters were constructed to give the impression that they came from an Islamic terrorist group. The current US administration has talked up the dangers of CBW and the connection with Islamic terrorists. And it seems that some terrorists may even have started to believe the hype, as the recent attempt to manufacture ricin indicates. And if terrorists should take any lesson from the Anthrax Letters, it would be the propensity for such attacks to create hysteria among the (esp American) populace. CBW, however, is notoriously unpredictable and imprecise. Its' use in WWI sometimes lead to as much injury to the side deploying the weapons as to their foe, and their effectiveness tended to vary considerably with meteorological conditions.

Although they have been lumped together as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), CBW weapons pale in comparison to nuclear weapons, which must surely be in a class of their own. It is true that CBW could be a low-cost option, however the potential that it has for genuine mass destruction can only be realised by an effective delivery system, which can be costly and high-tech. For Bio-agents this usually means deploying a specially prepared form (i.e. weaponised). Effective dispersal of chemical and biological agents is most often achieved by aerial bombardment or spraying.

The perpetrator of the Anthrax Letters used no such method of dispersal, even though the agent was weaponised. It seems the letters were designed to cause maximum alarm and minimum harm. They are now believed to have originated from the USA, most likely from within the CBW research establishment. Which suggests that the list of possible suspects should be short, and may even fit on a single page. In this case, the failure of the FBI to make any progress in the investigation is disturbing, and has been discussed at length in late-night radio spots and science shows, but conveniently overlooked by the US administration. (see bibliography for details).

Despite the hype about WMD, future attacks from terrorists such as Al Qaeda will continue to use simple weapons. Given the nature of the organisation and the type of attacks carried out so far, it is unlikely that they have obtained WMD or that they ever will. The logistics of assembling, maintaining and deploying such weapons would expand the size of a conspiracy beyond the small cells of followers with generalist skills that is their preferred organisational structure. Even more unlikely, would be the formation of alliances with nation states that have these resources. Many of these weapons systems (esp nuclear) require technical support staff. A nation state which has the means to assemble such systems and support staff would not be willing to lend them to a band of fanatics such as Al Qaeda. In any case, such terrorist organisations will continue to choose simple weapons such as bombs made of fertilizers, because they just work. As far as weapons systems go, they don't get much simpler than paper knives and scissors.


Doing GOOD.

He restoreth my soul;
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

If Osama Bin-Ladin represents absolute Evil, this does pose the question of "When did he turn to the dark-side?" Several years ago when he was not considered to be allied with the Forces of Evil, the American media romantically portrayed his little band as "Freedom Fighters". At that time, during the insurgency in Afghanistan the US administration showed considerable good will and even generosity toward Osama Bin-Ladin and showered him with money and weapons. The other question that seems pertinent is "Why has Saddam Hussein suddenly replaced Osama as the principal agent of Evil?" Surely if Osama is now allied with The Forces of Evil, then representatives of The Good Force should pursue him relentlessly? Despite vague unsubstantiated hints about the connection between Osama and Hussein, it is generally known that the two are implacably opposed to one another, and an alliance between them would be about as likely as an alliance between the USA and Al Qaeda. Still given the fluid nature of recent US alliances, perhaps I should not follow that line of thought.

In any case, it seems that the moral certainties of the Bush administration are not up to the complexities of real life politics.

George Bush professes to a born-again Christian and since assuming office has brought with him fellow travellers from the far right side of the spectrum of American Christianity. One of the more controversial has been Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose appointment caused some consternation amongst people with a rational view of religion and its' role in the modern secular state.

The fundamentalist approach to most issues is uncompromising. A fundamentalist will take a certain stand on a particular issue based on opinions that have supposedly come from a higher authority. In fact the highest authority of all. This moral superiority seems to make it acceptable to bend the rules in the pursuit of a desired outcome. In the secular world, this approach to religion is mirrored in the neo-conservative pursuit of political goals. The neo-conservatives believe that because they hold the moral high ground they are somehow exempt from the conventions that other morally inferior protagonists should obey. In the business world, it seems that many of their friends have a similar attitude to the conventions of accounting and due process.

Since 9/11, President Bush has increased his religious rhetoric and seems to be wrapping himself in the cloak of righteousness. He has taken to peppering his speeches liberally with references to God and quotations from scripture. Significantly many of these quotations are from the Old Testament. On the first day of February 2003, the space shuttle Columbia made its' last fiery and tragic re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. In the aftermath President Bush addressed his nation (and the world). His closing sentences were as follows:

In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah;
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens.
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name.
Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home. May God bless the grieving families, and may God continue to bless America.

The American civilian space program is something about which the USA can feel justly proud. A close look at the composition of the crew and cargo however, reveals that as with many American enterprises, this was a global venture. One which many nations feel a part of. And for this reason the speech was of global interest. It seems strange therefore, perhaps even disturbing that the president aimed his remarks at the members of the American Christian right wing and their ilk who mostly subscribe to a literal interpretation of arcane religious texts. In so doing he left the other 98% of the world's population struggling to comprehend how this apocryphal speech might be relevant to the lives and deaths of the young men and women on board the shuttle. Those astronauts would most probably have subscribed to the scientific/engineering paradigm to which they dedicated and ultimately forfeited their lives.

The propensity George Bush shows towards doing Good, and his displays of public piety may be a great comfort to him and the American Religious Right, but it is less comforting to the rest of us. Islamic fascists also favour a literal interpretation of religious texts. The devotees are fanatical and eager for martyrdom in the name of God. The prospect of an American president girding his loins and assembling cruise missiles and stealth bombers to venture forth and smite the wicked Saracens in the name of the same (or similar) God, is to put it mildly, somewhat disconcerting. (see the bibliography for a frightening essay on this topic by William Cook).

Globally, there is considerable unease about the very righteous George W. Bush, whose popularity is probably the lowest of any American president. In Australia, supposedly one of the United States best allies, up to ninety per cent of Australians do not approve of his Good intentions. It would seem that in Britain, to date the only other paid-up member of the Coalition Of The Willing, a similar proportion of the public feel the same way. Of course George Bush need only concern himself with the opinions of those people who are registered to vote in the United States. But current polls indicate that six out of ten American voters do not approve of the administration's war plans for Iraq. If past trends are repeated, support will decline even further, once the conflict has commenced. And in the meantime the vast reservoir of good-will and solidarity that was felt towards the US in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 has evaporated, and an opportunity to build a genuine international coalition has been missed.

The fundamentalist doctrine will not be swayed by logic. They would not be persuaded by argument that in times such as these, an American president who truly had the best interests of his nation and his people at heart has a relatively small agenda, which in order of decreasing importance would include:

  1. Encouraging the reduction of fossil fuel (hydro-carbon) consumption and the development of alternatives (esp hydrogen).
  2. Making a strong commitment to the institutions and conventions of democracy and ensuring the continuation of a robust secular and pluralist state, since these are America's greatest strengths.
  3. Capturing or liquidating the principal architect of the 9/11 outrage.

On points one and two the Bush administration has gone in the opposite direction. On point three they seem to have merely substituted Saddam Hussein for Osama Bin-Ladin. Had they been successful in producing Osama (alive or dead), things would have been different. And recently there has been some movement on this front, culminating in the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan. Of course, if the Evil One is brought out into the bright sunshine and a wooden stake hammered into his breast, we might all get back to business as normal. Although some doubts are arising as to whether the Bush administration really wants us to get back to business as normal. If we do, the American public might start asking some awkward questions about a number of domestic issues that, were it not for 9/11, would already be well and truly on the front-burner.

Lately George W. Bush has been looking a little weary. Is he perhaps wondering why most of the people in the world don't appreciate his Good work? Does he even care that the overwhelming majority of the world's population would rather see the president do good rather than Good? Will he be forced to compromise with the real world politics? Or will he continue on his chosen path, unshakable in the belief that the administration's fantastic master plan for the middle east has been endorsed by the highest judge of all?

And what will horror writers like Stephen King write about now that our concept of Evil has been so radically updated?

We may soon know the answers to these and other questions.


Addendum: Flowers of evil

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers every one
When will we ever learn?

-- Pete Seeger, Where have all the flowers gone?

Since this was written almost a month ago, there have been a number of developments in the global arena of Good vs Evil. As expected, the Coalition Of The Willing have advanced into Iraq, ostensibly to bring Freedom to the long-suffering inhabitants of the region. American public opinion has swung decisively behind the president. This may be as much due to an unrelenting propaganda campaign from a largely compliant mainstream media as to any well-reasoned discourse. In Australia support has also increased for the government, although to a much lesser extent than in the USA. In Australia, the change in sentiment is more likely due to a grudging acceptance of a fait accompli and support for our troops then approval for the government's decision.

The Bush administration's most extraordinary propaganda achievement was the seamless morphing from Osama to Saddam. This was accomplishe with barely a murmer of dissent from others on the main political stage. Fortunately at the street level, not everyone in the USA is asleep at the wheel. Although there has been protest from the street, there is a worrying lack of opposition at a Political level (capital "P" intended) and an equally troublesome acquiescence from the American mainstream media. It seems that many in these institutions have neglected their duties. Perhaps they should check the archives and acquaint themselves with what happened last time they ignored legitimate protest about an illegitimate war.

The torrent of misinformation that flowed from Washington prior to the invasion was so effective, that they may have deceived themselves. A key assertion from the neo-cons was that the Iraq military would deflate like a punctured balloon. According to this line of thought, the Iraqi people would, in fact, rush out and greet their liberators with flowers and demonstrations of unrestrained joy. As with so many neo-con proposals, their case rested on a bottom line. Namely that the war with Iraq would be cheap. The mainstream media, eager to co-operate and perhaps even cash-in, embedded large numbers of journalists with the American forces. This would enable them to document the spectacular pyrotechnic destruction of Saddam and his evil republican guard cohorts and could be juxtaposed with images of happy Iraqi children running out of their houses, with flowers in their arms. All of which, would make for riveting reality TV. The stock market rocketted to record heights as soon as the attack was imminent.

After the capture of American soldiers on the road to Baghdad, the Iraq regime triumphantly paraded them on TV. An interviewer asked them in a mocking voice:

So, did the Iraqi people greet you with flowers ... or with guns and bullets?
Washington was incensed. They accused Iraq of flouting Geneva conventions regarding treatment of POWs. The stock market paused.

A few hours later, American bombs rained down on Iraqi TV transmitters, which silenced Iraq's official TV station. However, this did not muzzle the strident Arabic voice of Al-Jazeera. The president requested that American networks refrain from showing the footage of American POWs. And the networks obediently rolled over for him. But the video still leaked in from cable networks. The Bush regime contend that they are not at all concerned about the propaganda defeat. According to them, their only concern is the American families of the POWs, and the Geneva conventions.

Nevertheless, more astute (cynical?) citizens might be forgiven for wondering, as Pete Seeger did so many decades ago, "Where have all the flowers gone?" They might also wonder at the US administration's new-found respect for Geneva conventions, which seemed to have been lacking in the treatment of POWs at Guantanamo. Also if such broadcasts are a contravention, the triumphant displays of early Iraqi surrenders may have, on the face of it, contravened the same conventions. And while citizens are wondering about these things, they might also ask themselves how it might be possible for grateful Iraqis to give coalition troops bouquets of flowers in the wake of recent suicide bombing attacks. It now seems that civilians who approach US forces are likely to be fired upon. And well may citizens ponder such questions, because the American networks don't seem to be asking them. The embedded journalists now spend most of their time studying dirty columns of smoke on an altogether bleak desert horizon, speculating about how awesome the final confrontation will be.

It seems that Saddam Hussein has finally got religion. The Ba'ath party is now abandoning decades of brutal secularism to be replaced with brutal islamism. They are now calling on Iraqis and all Moslems to defend their faith from the ungodly infidels. At the top levels of government, leaders of other Moslem nations remain sceptical of Saddam's new-found piety, but on the Arab street, many of the faithful declare that they will heed the call to defend the faith. The war may eventually have the effect of rehabilitating Saddam in the eyes of the Arab and Moslem world. Until the recent invasion, Saddam Hussein was almost universally despised. Now the coalition forces are discovering that although Arab Moslems (used to) loathe Saddam Hussein, they loathe George W. Bush even more. For the Bush regime this must surely be an unintended and altogether undesired consequence of their foolhardy and adventurist Christian Crusade. Although the allegations of an alliance between Al-Qaeda and the Ba'ath party were nothing more than a neo-con fantasy concocted to justify their own greed, and detract from their incompitence, the changed political circumstances that the war has brought about could actually create such an unthinkeable alliance.

In the meantime a parade of talking heads from the Pentagon assure us that it is all going to plan. As Baghdad crumbles under ever escalating bombardment, black smoke obscures the sun, fires break out around the city and the horsemen of famine and pestilence join the horseman of war on the dusty, smouldering horizon. If this was all in the plan, then it would seem to be a plan forged in hell. A plan worthy of the Prince of Darkness himself. As Americans shuffle somnabulistically behind their president into the deadly and potentially unending embrace of Holy War, it seems that American democracy is indeed under the most serious and sustained attack in its' history. To discover the new face of evil however, Americans do not need to look to the East. They need look no further than The Oval Office.


BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Wendy Barnaby The Anthrax Letters. Transcript from The Science Show, 13/7/2002. Last year, science journalist Wendy Barnaby summarised the evidence for the origin of the The Anthrax Letters. There has since been at least one thought provoking TV documentary on this intriguing case.

Michael Rectenwald Letter to a Freeper. Not all US voters are laughing at the "wit and wisdom" of their president. Here is a letter from a voter who seems rather "miffed" about the "stolen" election of 2000.

Real People For Real Change George W. Bush, Jr. - The Dark Side. This site presents a rather sinister view of the world's least popular American president. If half of it is true, one might expect a few chickens coming home to roost, provided they can find their way through the smoke and fog of war.

William Cook Armageddon Anxiety. The most chilling of the anti-Bush pages. Many orders of magnitude more frightening than a horror story from Stephen King. This is bound to make the less righteous, and even some of the more thoughtful members of the righteous congregation, sleep less peacefully at night. Let's all hope (dare I say pray) that it is only paranoia.

Additional Material:
David R. Loy Getting Beyond Good vs Evil. An article written from a Buddhist perspective, which examines the question of Evil with a capital "E", and the shortcomings of this approach. Highly recommended for those seeking a sane perspective amongst all the religious madness.

Dan Byrnes Lost Worlds Editorial. Poet/historian Dan Byrnes calls for reform of the US constitution. The current article on Evil started as a debate between the two of us regarding the significance of Oil in the current situation with Iraq. This resulted in two articles, Oil, Religion and Fascism, and 9/11 The First Anniversary. We have agreed to disagree about the issue.

Norman Mailer Only in America. A verbal broadside, delivered with wit and eloquence that neo-conservatives cannot match, limited as they are by a vocabulary that only encapsulates the concept that "greed is good". Mailer gives a scathing summary of the conservative republican pedigree, and an authentic American perspective into the malaise afflicting the American psyche.