I was listening to the radio a few days ago when I heard an officer of the U.S. Marine Corps discussing the military assault that was about to take place on the Iraqi rebel stronghold at Fallujah. He talked about U.S. military superiority and about unleashing an “unprecedented level of violence” upon the “terrorists”. But then he paused, and carefully clarified this comment. It would not, he said, be any ordinary violence. It would be a specific, focused sort of violence–aimed with surgical precision at carefully selected targets. It would be–he actually used these words–“violence with compassion“. Wow, I thought. Such an Orwellian phrase. Surely somebody capable of talking about compassionate violence would be equally likely to speak of lighthearted Rape, affectionate murder, sympathetic genocide. Perhaps there will soon be Hallmark cards for brutality and intolerance.
Pick up the paper or Google through the news sites these days and you come across stories of U.S. states legislating against gay marriage, suspicions that the touch-screen electoral procedure had been tampered with and rigged, and talk of the Bush administration going all out with respect to missile defence and stacking the U.S. Supreme Court with hand-picked Justices in order to ensure favourable right-wing legislation in areas such as abortion. More and more it feels as though we are witnessing the death of progressive values, and possibly even democracy. It’s starting to look like fascist armbands are the new black.
Perhaps worst of all, even those of us who believe that a better world is possible are too busy to notice, or too jaded to think we can make a difference. To quote the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”. Distracted by shiny, buzzing electrical devices, we’re so busy downloading Norah Jones, watching reality TV. shows, or driving our global-warming machines out to the big box retailers in the `burbs that we fail to notice or choose to ignore the reality that “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” and masquerading as “globalism”, “traditional values”, “security”, and even “compassion”. We simply don’t want to think about how we can make a difference, how we can counteract the clamouring voices of intolerance and greed that are chanting out their messages, in our country as well as south of the border, that oil is more valuable than life, the economy more important than humanity. This is a real problem because, as Martin Luther King suggested, the voices of our enemies are not nearly as damaging as the silence of our friends.
It seems to me that now is the best of all possible times for the voices of true compassion, as opposed to violent compassion, to speak out and be heard.