Is Good Good Enough?

My wife Carol made the mistake, as she occasionally does, of taking a closer glance at some of the weird stuff stacked on the floor of my study, awaiting an eventual promotion upstairs to one of the rooms filled with action figures, comic books, and fantasy/horror/science fiction novels. What she saw this time was the title of a collection of Golden Age comics reprints. The featured character was The Super Wizard Stardust by Paul Karasik. (If it helps you take all this a tad more seriously, the back cover features a blurb, written, I assume, before he died, by Kurt Vonnegut.) The art is strangely stylized, and the superhero looks uncannily like the British hero Marvelman.

I always like to think comic book creators knew more than they let on, and that in this case “Stardust” reflects “Zardusht,” another version of “Zarathustra.”)

Anyway, the title Carol saw was a quote from a dastardly supervillain in one of the stories: “I shall destroy all the civilized planets!” Understandably, she kind of shook her head at such silly extravagance. What a wholly pointless design for any intelligent being, supervillain or not! Why would a Lex Luthor or a Dr. Sivana, dastardly as either may be, cherish such a plan?

But I suggested that such a villainous sentiment, though rankly absurd, is altogether plausible! After all, does it not correspond rather notably to the ideology of Al-Qaida and its congeners? These nuts are a caricature of the old James Bond villains. They form an independent international terrorist organization bent on world domination. One big difference: Goldfinger and Dr. No at least had some ideological or self-aggrandizing motivations, but not Osama bin-Laden. No, he and Mullah Omar and the whole rotten gang are trying to destroy Western Civilization and making that phrase look an awful lot like a redundancy in the process.

What would they put in its place? Some superstitious and tyrannical theocracy in which men have more affection for goats than for females of their own species. At least they treat them better. A regime in which public hangings replace sports events in otherwise abandoned soccer stadiums (the Taliban). A world in which a man is rubbed out by thugs for daring to get a European-style haircut (Baghdad insurgents). A world in which terrorists are stupid enough (Hamas) to believe the deadly hoax of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic concoction of the Czarist secret police to inflame persecution of Jews.

I know well enough that one may readily point to moderate, literate, humane Muslims in plenty. And yet these good folk would be the first beheaded by their zealot coreligionists if the latter took power.

But am I not prisoner to the one-sided Eurocentric perspective? Should I not be open-minded enough to grasp that the Islamofascists are pursuing the Good as they see it? Of course I know they are. But they’re wrong. Or let me put it this way: if they are right, then the universe is a mad-house and God is a devil. Hitler thought he was right, too. Bluebeard (i.e., child-sacrifice murderer Giles de Rais) famously prayed, “Evil, be thou my good!” In effect, that is just what the murdering minions of Al-Qaida have done, and anyone who thinks negotiation with them is possible is a fool. Their whole reason for existing is to take a stand and not to budge an inch. It is budging an inch that they believe sends one to Hell. No, they must be destroyed, and it is only a matter of tactics. If we do nothing, if we are so impotent as to believe the Iranian Hitler Ahmadinejad cannot mean what he says, we are only broadcasting that our civilization is decadent and perhaps deserves to fall to the savages. Because, left to their devices, they will pursue the goals we once relegated to two-dimensional comic book villains: “I shall destroy all the civilized planets!”

Why do you get such rants from me and not from milder-mannered commentators who sagely nod their heads and mumble about “sanctions” and “compromise” and “packages of incentives”? Maybe it is because, unlike them, I spend my time reading comic books rather than foreign policy quarterlies. But I think my sources are more appropriate than theirs given the character of the present threats. Our geo-political specialists are playing the game of diplomacy, and so deeply into it are they that they can’t help expecting that everyone else is playing it, too. And some are. Negotiations do sometimes work. But the enemies of our civilization (and that of “all civilized planets”!) have more the mentality I encounter in comic books. They are supervillains who want to bring down civilization because they hate everything we love about it.

Sober, secular analyses of Islamofascism and what to do about it are like psychiatrists who insist on understanding the insane by the canons of sanity. Forget it: it’s never going to work. Lacan, Foucault, and Derrida saw that. Our enemies are collectively crazy. As individuals they might not give themselves over to such pursuits. But they have fallen in line with a collective ideology that renders their culture (or faction) quite insane. We must learn to decode their Mahdist craziness, their apocalyptic insanity.

I see it as a matter of Jungian archetypes. The secular policy wonks don’t reckon with such factors. Archetypes are not on their maps, only money, weapons, national prestige. Others, like me, can see that we are, as we were in World War Two, engaged in a death struggle with the forces of Evil, embodied in an Axis of Evil. We can see there is a larger dimension to the conflict, and that we must engage it. World War One and the Vietnam War, e.g., were not archetypal struggles in this sense. Not all wars are. But this one is, this War on Terror. And that is because our enemies have made it one.

Jung would say the Islamofascists have identified too closely with a chosen archetype and become inflated with it, producing fanatical insanity. If President Bush were actually looking how to steer this conflict into the fulfillment of biblical prophecy (as some critics slander him as doing), he, too, would have become inflated by an archetype with which he too closely identifies. But he doesn’t, as far as I can tell. (Criticize him as you will; I don’t care. Just don’t get it wrong.) But he sees what many of his critics do not see: there is a larger dimension to the present conflict. And if we refuse to recognize it, we will be at a significant disadvantage compared with our fanatical enemies who put it there.

So says Zarathustra.

Robert M. Price
July 2007



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