Monday, October 31, 2005

Myths of New Orleans: Poor, Bad Blacks -- Who Got What They Deserved

The attacks of 9/11 tore aside a significant part of the veneer of civilization that had shrouded us from certain continuing, ugly truths about ourselves. In the wake of the attacks of that day, many of us -- led by our president, cheered on by the neoconservatives, and also by many conservatives and liberventionists (those alleged "libertarians," who think government should stay out of our lives at home but should simultaneously seek to rearrange the globe by military force -- and who appear to think it represents the apex of intellectual integrity never to even acknowledge this contradiction, let alone try to justify it) -- enthusiastically embraced a simple storyline: Western civilization, more particularly the United States, constitutes the highest point of possible human development. It is only "freedom" and "democracy" as practiced in the West that can guarantee a future of peace. (Never mind the West's uninterrupted history of warfare within its own ranks, and never mind the West's unending, centuries-long interference with the rest of the world.)

The West has the answer to successful human life. Since it does, and because certain elements in the rest of the world have now chosen to attack us on our own ground (and never mind that we have invaded and ruled over vast portions of the rest of the world since time immemorial), we must enlighten those benighted portions of the globe in our defense. Our chosen method of enlightenment is brute military force, to be deployed even against countries that did not threaten us. The lack of a genuine threat is no argument against spreading our version of "civilization," for our mission is grounded not only in self-defense: it is also a moral mission. Our success and our "peace" directly correlates to our virtue. Those countries and those civilizations that do not enjoy the same success and peace are without virtue. In the most extreme (and, one could argue, most consistent) version of this tale, non-Western parts of the world are less than human -- and they are subhuman by choice. They are immoral, and sometimes even evil. Since we represent the good and they represent the evil, we are surely entitled to improve them, by invasion and bombing if necessary. If they do not threaten us today, they might at some indeterminate time in the future. And while we might kill many innocent civilians in our campaign of civilization, those who survive will be infinitely better off than they would have been otherwise. Besides, how "innocent" can any of them be -- since they are members of inferior, less than fully human civilizations, and since they are so by choice?

Read the rest at the Power of Narrative weblog!

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