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On the Mixtures We Are

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For the past year, I have been challenging liberals to think in terms of the e-word. That’s because I do not believe that we can understand fully the nature of the present crisis in America –with the rise of the Bushite power-- without including the idea of “evil.”

Yet this is a term with which many American liberals are highly uncomfortable. And one of the objections they raise is that thinking in terms of evil too easily leads to demonization of other people.

It is for that reason that I always talk not about evil people but in terms of evil forces and patterns. [See “The Concept of Evil” at opednews.com/articles/opedne_andrew_b_051114_the_concept_of_evil.htm .] That’s one reason, anyway. Another is that --because I see evil as working through people’s brokenness and woundedness—I believe that compassion is always called for in how we regard people, even the worst. Calling people “evil” carries the danger that we will see them solely in terms of their defects.

The other day, a couple of experiences –coming together in a marvelous synchronicity—brought all this home to me.

An Email Exchange

In the early afternoon, I got an email from a man who had read an article of mine in which I offered a solution to the puzzle: How is it that many remarkably decent people can support leaders who are remarkable precisely for their lack of such decency? [See www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=43 .]

In the article, I discuss a friend of mine whom I describe as being “as good a specimen of the upright man as I’ve met,” a fine father and husband, active in charitable works, impeccably honest and reliable in his business dealings. He also has twice voted for this Bushite regime, which I believe is far and away the most evil in American history.

To solve the puzzle, I suggest some vulnerabilities in his psychological structure that leadership like this Bush-Rove duo can exploit. “Righteousness,” I wrote, “is not all that my friend contains. There’s also what’s become of those forbidden, long-imprisoned impulses whose suppression the straight-and-narrow path required.” And thus “a president who struts the world and flaunts his power, who disregards the established rules and never admits error, who creates enemies and antagonizes friends –all in the name of the nation and its sacred ideals—offers his followers a legitimized collective way to enact the forbidden.”

The man who emailed me a response to this article is a man who, like me, is devoting his time to battling the Bushite regime. He disseminate those articles he feels best expose our evil rulers for what they are. But that article of mine was not to enjoy the blessing of such dissemination.

“I don't buy the premise here,” he wrote. “There is nothing positive I can say about your friend. Anybody who supports Bush is amoral at best.”

When I received this message, I had little time to respond. I was about to host the meeting of my “Movie Group” –about a dozen people who gather monthly to watch together some film of substance and then discuss it afterwards over a pot-luck dinner. So I responded with brevity: “It should not be impossible,” I replied, “to say something positive about someone who is a caring father, a devoted husband, a businessman with great integrity, etc. People’s shortcomings and defects do not wholly obliterate everything else about them.”

Then it was time to greet my guests.

Movie Group Gathering

Our film for this month’s gathering was Crash, the 2004 film directed by Paul Haggis. I didn’t know much about the film, but it had been highly recommended by several people.

The film, which takes place in contemporary Los Angeles, is grueling to watch.

One particularly harrowing scene takes place early in the movie. A veteran white policeman –who’s feeling frustrated for reasons we’ve just seen-- pulls over a black couple for altogether bogus reasons, just to hassle them. In its extremely intense, deeply creepy, and viscerally infuriating culminating moment, this cop virtually sexually molests the woman, in front of her husband, all in the guise of conducting a police search.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 
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