Sunday, September 10, 2006

Destruction and Creation

Berserkers were ancient Norse warriors who, dressed as bears, destroyed all they encountered. Rape and pillage. Shock and awe. Relatively speaking--sometimes literally--destruction occurs in an instant, a flash, while creation, construction, is a laborious, unending process. It is both deliberate---that is, planned--and accidental, proceeds not just through the conscious accumulation of goods and experiences, as when one goes traveling or to school or shopping (not intended here in the American consumer sense), but also through the accretion of routines and friends and treasured objects that form the ektoskeleton of our lives with all its encrustations and dings.

Being a land of social-climbing, freedom seeking immigrants, America has a strong tradition of individuals wiping the slate clean and starting over, theoretically if not practically leaving their former selves and lives behind. The 'born again' religious phenomenon is one aspect of that. On the societal level, Jefferson believed in a self-renewing political revolution every generation, and many other revolutionaries have embraced some form of permanent revolution, only to run afoul of the propensity of individuals, governments and societies to maintain and build upon their power and privilege. That deep conservationism promotes stability, which is widely perceived as a positive attribute until the society becomes so corrupt and unjust that the people rise up--in myth, anyway. In reality, a minority makes revolution--and it's not usually the most downtrodden--and it sweeps away the good and the bad.

The Russian anarchist, Mikhael Bakunin, no commoner he, said: "Bloody revolutions are often necessary, thanks to human stupidity; yet they are always an evil, a monstrous evil and a great disaster, not only with regard to the victims, but also for the sake of the purity and the perfection of the purpose in whose name they take place." It's not that Bakunin disapproved of revolution; it's that he saw the outcome, most obviously that the high drama and purpose of the French Revolution produced senseless mayhem and slaughter and ultimately the opposite of what it was intended to create. Napoleon managed to marshall and unloose that destructive fury on Europe for reasons, Tolstoy, for one, tried desperately to understand, without much success, and I'll not try here.

I've been working on this post for so long I've nearly lost my way, but I'll try to wrap it up...I invoked Bakunin because I think his comment about revolutions--I took the quote, I believe, from Camus's The Plague but am unable to find the source in Bakunin's oeuvre--applies to destruction of any sort. Destruction obliterates everything associated with that which is destroyed. Oh yes, I hear it said that there are records and artifacts and, among the living, memories, but finally they, the living, must rebuild around the emptiness left by the vanished. That, as I've said, takes time.

Bringing it to Iraq, then, not to mention Afghanistan, shock and awe overthrew the prevailing order and, in so doing, unloosed forces of destruction that the Bushies' never even tried to imagine. Clearly they have not yet played themselves out. The Bushies, "the wannabe berserkers," who keep insisting they can affect a revolution from outside and above, in fact, simply wanted to throw Saddam out. Judging from their actions, they believed Iraqi society would smoothly reconfigure itself under new leadership. They were wrong on all counts, as we know, because the destructive force had not played itself out. So now, the Bushies are trying to put that force back in the bottle, and they can't. Indeed, as nearly as I can tell, if the Bushies really want a unified Iraq, they should be backing Muqtada al-Sadr and the nationalistic Sunnis who, of course, want the Bushies out. So there's the final irony no one here wants to face.

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