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Monday, August 21, 2006

The heart of darkness

In an essay on John Updike's Terrorist, and on terrorism in general, Theodore Dalrymple writes:
It is not the personal that is political, but the political that is personal. People with unusually thin skins ascribe the small insults, humiliations, and setbacks consequent upon human existence to vast and malign political forces; and, projecting their own suffering onto the whole of mankind, conceive of schemes, usually involving violence, to remedy the situation that has so wounded them.
Dalrymple makes the case that "terrorism is not a simple, direct response to, or result of, social injustice, poverty, or any other objectively discernible human ill," and compares Updike's book to one of Joseph Conrad's novels:
Updike’s Terrorist has much in common with Conrad’s The Secret Agent, published 99 years previously. In both books, a double agent tries to get a third party to commit a bomb outrage; in both books, the secret agent ends up slain. In both books, the terrorists operate in a free society unsure how far it may go in restricting freedom to protect itself from those who wish to destroy it. The terrorists in Conrad are European anarchists and socialists; in Updike they are Muslims in America: but in neither case does the righting of any “objective” injustice motivate them. They act from a mixture of personal angst and resentment, which easily attaches itself to abstract grievances about the whole of society, thus disguising the real source of their consuming but sublimated rage.
Indeed, so many of the ideological stands I see people take around me come not from a worldview reached from detached contemplation but from that "mixture of personal angst and resentment," manifested upon a fashionable target. No one gives your writing the respect it deserves, blame it on those incestuous literary (or blogging!) cliques that keep outsiders at bay. MBA school refused you admission, well, who wants to join the bloodsucking corporate world anyway? You want to be known as warm and compassionate, attack the evil capitalists for the inequities in society. And if there are random frustrations you can't articulate, there's always Big Bad America to rant about, even if you use Microsoft and drink Coke and wear Nike. (Hating it in the abstract but loving it in the concrete, as Victor Davis Hansen might have put it.)

Naturally, these are caricatured and extreme examples, and not all believers in any ideology are motivated by personal demons they are in denial of. But I've seen too many of these types around, and so, I'm sure, have you. No?

(Link via email from Sonia; more Dalrymple links here.)
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