Gregory, Rebecca, Anthony and I sat at the kitchen table in Gregory's compound listening to reports of the
terror attack in Nice, France, committed by a truck driver. After a while
Gregory switched off the tv and said, "Let's start with what we know about
the truck driver's mind."
"He's dead, or I would read
it," I said.
"Yes, but what do we know without
Rebecca said, "We can be pretty
sure he had an ideology about the killings, but that is superficial from a
mental point of view. The underlying cause was not his ideology, but his
desire to kill people. The ideology justified the desire. The
desire is the issue"
"I agree," Anthony said,
"that's the purpose of ideology, to justify doing what you want to do
"Yes," I said, "The
'isms' we heard Rebecca talk about to her congregation serve as
justifications for people's desires, whether it be communism to justify
bureaucratic power, or capitalism to justify money-making power."
Gregory nodded. "The truck
driver may have been indoctrinated as a jihadist, believing that French people
offend God and that God wants them to die, but in his inner mind, he just
wanted to kill people, any people."
"The 'isms' are written by the desires" Rebecca sighed, "We fight because our desires compete. Sometimes I wonder if I'd have been better off born an ant. Their desires are in sync."
"I agree- the 'isms' aren't the
cause," I said, "The 'ism' in Nice, if it was jihadism, was a
mind-control tool used by manipulators of the truck driver. The people
manipulating the truck driver are the real danger, because they can replicate
the driver's actions again and again."
"What if society made 'isms'
illegal?," Anthony asked, somewhat surprising the rest of us. "I mean
any 'ism,' capitalism included."
"You're suggesting outlawing
capitalism? Good luck with that," I objected.
"No, people could invest, own
businesses and make money, all the things capitalists do, but they would not be
allowed to promulgate a belief system in which capitalism is a theoretically
sanctified way of life. If we did that to all the 'isms,' we'd have
grounds for barring jihadism as well."
It was an interesting idea but I had
doubts. "Don't forget empiricism, skepticism, altruism. There
are dozens of 'isms;' I don't think you can outlaw them all. It
might be especially tough to pass a law against altruism."
"I'll rephrase, "Anthony
said, "How about a law that no one be permitted to commit an action and
then explain it in terms of an 'ism.' So if someone helped a needy person
without expecting a reward, while he would be permitted to do the altruistic
act, he would not be permitted to explain it in terms of his altruism."
This irritated Rebecca (presaging times
to come, as in 2044 when she and Anthony become- unbeknownst to them now- bitter opponents
in their campaigns for U.S. President), who said, "I feel we are playing semantics instead of facing the horrible tragedy in Nice."
Gregory intervened: "Semantics is
a distraction only if its focus replaces the important meanings of the words themselves.
It's legitimate, Rebecca, to define the role of belief systems in the
Nice murders. And there is an obvious point in speculating on ways to deal
legislatively with the problem of murder, but we are also dealing with
something outside laws, a philosophical question- the question of whether
desire itself is justification for action. In all life except human,
desire justifies action. There is no morality issue when a lioness snaps
an antelope's neck then eats it alive. The lioness wants to do it, so she does
it and the pride eats. We don't say the lions are wrong. Why is
Rebecca answered, "Animals live in
an ecosystem developed over millions of years, where eating animals alive has
developed as the way carnivores nourish themselves. There is no other
way a free lion can eat. The prey are not "victims" in our
sense. They are animals turned into food. There is no 'ism'
involved. No right or wrong. But people don't live in an ecosystem,
at least not one that has lasted long enough to take a settled shape. We
truly have been expelled from the Garden, as the myth has it. The whole
species wanders a metaphorical desert looking for an ecosystem we can't find.
We have to make up our own ecosystem as best we can, but we are evolving
too fast to do it properly."
Not for the first time, I marveled at
fourteen-year-old Rebecca's intellect. I haven't looked at the 2044
presidential election results, but I find myself hoping she wins.
Anthony persisted, "So you want to
let everyone do whatever they desire? We don't have to kill each other to
While the two sparred Gregory went to his bookshelf and took out William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and hell and located some
passages. As the rancor in the room grew he interrupted and said, "Rebecca
and Anthony, we're not going to be able to figure out human morality in
our time, not without a settled ecosystem, either natural or artificial, as
Rebecca points out [I noted a moment of jealousy in Anthony]. What's
important today is that we address the question at hand: Is desire a
justification for action? People all over are wondering, and some believe the answer is 'Yes.' The poet William Blake, who is taught in
every high school in the country, believed that desire justifies action. He wrote [reading from the
book] Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted
desires. He saw religion as the source of oppression against
desire. Listen to this poem, called
The Garden of Love
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
binding with briars, my joys & desires.
"That seems to be about sex," Anthony said. "We don't
have an ecosystem for that either."
Rebecca gave Anthony a sharp look and we
lapsed into silence for a while.
Gregory finally spoke what was on all our minds: "France will react
very strongly to the terror act. A battle fever is in the making. This represents a
major advance towards the global war we have been working to
"It also represents a victory for the idea that desire justifies
action," I added. "For the French population, no one will believe now
that their desire to kill needs any more justification than the desire itself,
which appears to them motivated by self-defense. The fact that there is no way to
kill the people actually responsible for the truck driver's crime will not
occur to them. The people killed in retaliation will be on
the lower end of things, manipulated by the same masters of the truck
driver. We will not kill the people who sent the truck driver and warped
the minds of our enemies. They will be watching from safe positions.
Thus, whatever France does in response to the attack is already certain
to have no effect." I thought for a moment, then said, "I'm
going to see a movie this afternoon."
"Well," I explained, "I've been reading a lot about Purge,
the election. It seems more relevant to current events than most
blockbuster science fiction films. I may pick up some ideas"
"Why not," said Gregory, "we're not going to accomplish
much else today."
Gregory gave me a ride to the Cinemark Theater in Palmdale where I bought
to Purge, the election. The film has a decent script as apocalyptic movies go (with a few ponderous sub-plots), memorable characters and great music. It is graphically violent, but it did bear upon our question about desire and action.
The premise of Purge, the election is that a newly
formed American government, led by a group called the "New Founding
Fathers," who are all WASP's, have instituted a national holiday called
the "Purge," in which all laws, including laws against murder, are
suspended for a day. People from all over the country and the world flock to U.S. cities to hurt and kill people. The victims are disproportionately black and
Hispanic. The rationale of the Purge is that since people desire to injure and
kill others, and since there is no known way to change people's desires-other than blotting them out with drugs- there must be some point in satisfying those desires, as
long as the satisfaction is limited by time. The purging characters are
often philosophical about what they do. One fearsome young girl,
who wears a nightmarish white mask with sharp bloody teeth and "Kiss
me" written on the forehead, tells her murderous girlfriends, "This is the day when you get yours and they get theirs; when everyone
gets what they want!"
most interesting characters to me were the heavily tattooed and muscled White
Power bikers who work as enforcers for the New Founding Fathers. They look like
Medieval Vikings ready to plunder Brittain, and they clearly believe that their
desires justify their actions. The real Vikings,
after they subdued the locals, went to war against each other to see who would be
the aristocrats in the conquered lands. England's and Russia's aristocracies, and in an
extended sense America's (the WASP's) were founded by homicidal Vikings.
The Vikings put the "white" in "white people." The Cold War was a Viking civil war.
My guess is that if
you researched all the aristocracies in history, you would find they all
descended from homicidal Viking types. The business about "nobility" and "royal blood" is spin to cover the embarrassing roots (though aristocratic music is great!).
the lesson for us, as far as terrorism? The only lesson I'm getting is
that everyone now is trying to be a Viking, a bully who desires something and
so takes it, since the reasonableness prescribed by President Obama has not worked.
Donald Trump represents this idea. He is the candidate who says,
"Desire justifies action."
Nothing has changed then, we've made no progress. Whatever new
civilization we build now will be the same jerry-rigged malfunctioning piece of
junk as the old one. We need something more than this.