Deeper Darkness to a Night Already Devoid of Stars

From a FB friend of mine on the death of Bin Laden:

I don’t want to celebrate anyone’s death. Even HE was someone’s child, brother, friend… “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – MLK

I read that comment and many others like it today, although overwhelmingly the comments were celebratory. I focus on this one because it epitomizes those non-celebratory messages, providing me with some focus.

To be clear, however: I’m not celebrating — I’m not sure what to feel, but I want to form a perspective that will allow me to hang feeling onto.

So I begin…

As each of us are cells in the human body, when we consider having to cut out a cancer or other destructive thing to our corpus, we do not anguish over the death of the targeted harmful cells. You do not have to celebrate bin Laden’s death. But for others, it’s like the end to one 10-year long session of radiation therapy.

Relief, respite, a type of convalescent calm…

At this early hour, the only thing possible is speculation on the consequences of bin Laden’s death, and that speculation is inherently flawed. Still, the importance of his death has its consequences. Certainly one consequence will be a sense of triumph in the United States. To others, this will be another false claim by the United States. For others it will be a call to war. We know little beyond what we have been told, but we know it matters. (~

…before the storm.

The cancer may be more malignant, and killing bin Laden may be just another note in the opus of rationalizing the deepening darkness.

Presuming Goodness by Virtue of Basic Relationships

Pondering the humanity of bin Laden. He had a life and he was human. Is all human life sacred — or is the violence of killing, the horror of it, what highlights the value of a life? I ask these questions in an effort to understand the platform suggested by introducing MLK’s words with “HE was someone’s child …”

The underlying argument seems to construe those virtuous relationships to be HIS (bin Laden’s) redeeming feature. In fact, even Hitler was those things: a lover, child, friend, etc. These relationships are expected, indeed, to be loving relationships, but not quite the foundation needed to segue into MLK’s words.

This form of argument is a type of genetic fallacy where you ascribe to the ‘whole’ virtues (or evils) of its parts [or from the whole to the parts]. If we assume all humans have these relationships and that these relationships are inherently good, the fallacy is in ascribing that goodness to an individual.

In fact, by virtue of being an organism of this planet, many of those relationships exist as a function of being. And presuming a goodness in them that extends by default to the organism is romanticizing.  Being loved by someone (as a child or a lover or a brother) doesn’t make you lovable or capable of loving in a way that extends beyond basic (or base) affiliation or affinity.

The argument from basic relationships is not relevant to evaluating the ultimate effect of bin Laden and his affect on innocent lives.

In a similar vein, another FB poster quoted Lincoln: “I destroy my enemies by making them my friends.”  A noble sentiment.  But one has to ask: what was the likelihood of making bin Laden a friend?  I think you have to target your formulas for the evolution of humans based on their current level of development or prepare your remedies relative to the nature, type, and severity of the disease.

I am not totally blind to how the Lincoln quote could translate to the al Qaeda phenomenon. You can make “friends” of the people who would subscribe to bin Laden’s perspective, starving the movement by attrition…barring the affect of their religion’s commands to islamicise the planet & the strength of their customs that have institutionalized animosity.

Sometimes the prescription from the “Coward of the County” is the right medicine.

Should we just give up?  No.  But I think the therapy of love requires an adequate evaluation of the elements in reality that are ailing the patient in order to make the prescribed remedy more effective.  The heart-felt sincerity in offering up simple-sounding transcendental statements does nothing to confer practicality to the spiritual perspective.

Sorting Out Hate

In this FB post and other comments around the web, the terms hate and murder were used and fused.  There is no necessary equality of “hate” with excising bin Laden as a threat to the West. Surgery and self-protection can be done without that emotion. Even with some type of emotion, like that which arises when your child is threatened or you own life is in jeopardy, hate is not required.

Is hate an inherent part of killing another human?  The question touches on: why are we talking about hate when it comes to eliminating bin Laden as a threat to U.S. safety?

Let’s say that ‘hate’ is the opposite of ‘love’, and ‘love’ would not kill this man. Moses killed quite a number of people, so did a number of other Biblical characters. But let’s also factor out the Bible and just Let’s also say love is, to bring it down to the selfish level so natural to us, treating others as we would be treated and tend to others as we tend to ourselves…at least if we don’t have self-loathing or warped self-esteem.

It’s about nurturing and well-being.

Now, apply that to bin Laden.  I still see a diseased-limb metaphor forming strongly in my mind.  I love myself strongly enough to cut off my gangrenous arm before it kills the rest of my being. Well-being seems to start with survival. Base, primitive motivation.

“Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that” on a planetary scale is tied to the (spiritual?) evolution of mankind.  I perfectly well understand that some processes require many generations (or much time) to arrive at a result and that we (now) can only do what we can at our atomic level to effect the change.

It can easily appear to us at this level that our efforts to love are wasted like a single raindrop upon the desert floor. We persevere with hope that our contribution matters in the long run because, with equal hope, we want to believe that more loving is amassing, like a gathering pool, the result of which will eventually overcome inclination to hate or ostracize or demonize.  That, in spite of the overwhelming contrary environment — the desert dryness — around us. We hope our efforts become a cumulative oasis until its mass can transform the desert into paradise, even if it is only by nourishing one plant at a time until we have a forest of evolved humans.

However sometimes, — going back to the human body metaphor — before the body can heal and move forward, radical surgery is required.  Radiation therapy. Excision of the nastiest bits…remove the largest obstacles to love before loving tissue can grow.

From the same high-altitude perspective, it is obvious mankind’s collective mind cannot see the forest through the trees.  We are blind to the whole, and react to the immediate.  It’s a catch-22 poured as a sauce over the chicken/egg problem. At what point can the U.S. forgive a massive wound (show love) and not have the not-so-loving, remaining elements on the planet swarm in?

Where does “love” begin?  At what point do we risk our personal (atomic) safety or the safety of our loved ones in order to demonstrate a love that will eventually (not in our lifetime) result in the spiritual development of all mankind?  Perhaps I have overreached in my extrapolation of what people hoping to dispel hate want to accomplish. Perhaps it is not human evolution, but more like the attainment of peace. Not quite sure.

As I don’t see hate in killing bin Laden, neither do I see his death as justice or of retribution. He was removed as a player in the matter of our safety. I doubt his killing will change much of anything because extremism is extremism, and I don’t see humans spiritually or civilly evolving at a rate I, at my atomic level, can perceive.

However, maybe — just maybe — we as a nation can temper our ‘celebration’ of a death with somber reflection on the nature of evil, the deaths, the extremism that foments violence. Our nation might not be able to turn the other cheek, but we can at least demonstrate moral maturity instead of vengeful jubilation. In that way, perhaps, love for life can be demonstrated; and that demonstration would affect others; and love can push away hate.

Blind to Darkness

From a wonderfully stated article in the Huffingtonpost:

In one piece a student had put a film of bin Laden’s face over a mirror so we saw our own face staring back at us through his. The point was not that there was equivalency between Bin Laden and us, but to acknowledge that evil is not something that only exists outside of us that we can point to and kill once and for all. Evil doesn’t work like that. All humans have the potential for grace, but we also all have the potential to sin and do evil. It is a tempting yet dangerous practice to look around the world for evil people and target them. That is just what Osama Bin Laden thought he was doing. We must be vigilant that we do not become what we despise. We must be careful in the way we use religion and the name of God to further our own causes or to ever manipulate people into hate or hate.

Celebrating a death does deepen darkness.  It deepens when we accept or obscure our own evils by focusing on the evils of others and become blind to our missteps in our journey toward the Divine, if indeed we are on such a journey and not one of self-affirmation dressed in church clothes.

If  killing bin Laden amounted to anything, I could rejoice.  But it doesn’t, so I won’t.  I think for now, I will be happy for those who have been affected by his agenda: may they find consolation in his death, but beware deepening their own darkness.

As for adding stars to the night, my estimation of mankind’s potential is very low considering the depth of selfishness that is our natural state. Self- and group-affirmation of identity and value. How does love deal with that?

UPDATE (5/10/11): more thoughts about the death of bL below in the Comments.


4 Responses

  1. A great post on the Crooked Timber blog about referring to killing bin Laden with “justice.”

  2. I wonderful, thoughtfully reasoned (as usual) post by the Slacktivist, where he argues that:
    1) bin Laden was a combatant.
    2) expecting soldiers to not act like soldiers is weird.
    3) the argument that it was unjust has no foundation.

    But while I thought the piece rang true for me, the comments were astoundingly cogent. There was a link to Salon article that was remarkable in the pointing out this marvelous dichotomy:

    I think what’s really going on here is that there are a large number of people who have adopted the view that bin Laden’s death is an unadulterated Good, and it therefore simply does not matter how it happened (ends justify the means, roughly speaking). There are, I think, two broad groups adopting this mindset: (1) those, largely on the Right, who believe the U.S. is at War and anything we do to our Enemies is basically justifiable; and (2) those, mostly Democrats, who reject that view — who genuinely believe in general in due process and adherence to ostensible Western norms of justice — yet who view bin Laden as a figure of such singular Evil (whether in reality or as a symbol) that they’re willing to make an exception in his case, willing to waive away their principles just for him: creating the Osama bin Laden Exception.

    I fall in the #2 category. The suspension of the respect for law and, especially, the Constitution was something that bothered (and bothers) me about the Bush administration’s circumvention both of those in a variety of ways, arguing something like, “isn’t it preferable to sacrifice a few freedoms to ensure our safety?” My stance is no, yet I rationalize that killing bL was fine.

    But when I think about it, maybe I don’t view terrorists as criminals, but rather enemy combatants! I don’t care if the warriors don’t have an identifiable homeland — if a group of people under a single banner (especially a religious banner) declare a fatwah and holy war on you, then it’s war, and the participants are combatants. Would we have also argued that Christianity’s surge through the Middle Ages had an identifiable homeland (Rome), or would we argue that Christianity’s ruthless intolerance was given substance by religious fervor and self-righteousness?

    The difference between bL and Hitler & his Nazi henchmen is that, when the WW was over, the Nazi participants were NOT fighting. In other words, they were not combatants. In the case of bL, he was still at war and still plotting to kill innocent people and US citizens. Unless he surrendered or declared his participation over, he was an active combatant. Even people sitting at desks doing nothing more than relaying messages are combatants, their role in the effectiveness of their war’s effort no less important.

    UPDATE (5/11) The Slacktivist published a follow-up to address some of the arguments against his position, including references to (and from) the Salon article. As it turns out, I’m still with the Slacktivist (Fred), while still holding on to the ‘enemy-combatant’-definition problem.

    But as the Salon writer (I think) points out, the concept of what an “enemy combatant” vs a criminal is not defined. Was Timothy McVeigh an enemy combatant or a criminal? Are the Christians who killed abortion doctors combatants or criminals? The point is that, unless it has a definition, anyone can be made out to be an EC.

    So now we have to face the stark implications, even “locally” or nationally. Think about the way the Right frames its issues: “assault on” our freedoms, our country, our religion, our children, marriage, etc. As the Salon article makes clear: how do you contain the bin-Laden test once it has been accepted as part of State operation? Elements within the Right have referred to revolutionary and violent “remedies” if they don’t get their way. How easy it would be for a theocracy to declare, as they are trying to do in Uganda, all homosexuals to be criminals to be jailed or — in this case — executed as combatants intent on destroying “our” country?

    I find myself agreeing 1000% with this guy Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post. At the same time, I now have to soberly consider the implications, and they ain’t pretty.


  3. This from Michael Moore:

    Some believe that this was a “war” we were in with al Qaeda – and you don’t do trials during war. It’s thinking like this that makes me fear that, while bin Laden may be dead, he may have “won” the bigger battle. Let’s be clear: There is no “war with al Qaeda.” Wars are between nations. Al Qaeda was an organization of fanatics who committed crimes. That we elevated them to nation status – they loved it! It was great for their recruiting drive.

    We did exactly what bin Laden said he wanted us to do: Give up our freedoms (like the freedom to be assumed innocent until proven guilty), engage our military in Muslim countries so that we will be hated by Muslims, and wipe ourselves out financially in doing so. Done, done and done, Osama. You had our number. You somehow knew we would eagerly give up our constitutional rights and become more like the authoritarian state you dreamed of. You knew we would exhaust our military and willingly go into more debt in eight years than we had accumulated in the previous 200 years combined.

    Italics mine. Full article here.

    I think I’m beginning to see the nuance in “enemy combatant.” Since the Mafia isn’t a country, we can’t have a war with the Mafia, can we? They are an “organization.” However, couldn’t you also argue that a country is an “organization,” only with explicit geographical boundaries?


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