Let’s not say ‘Let them all kill each other’

“There are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General for political affairs Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council. “The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people.” Reuters report, 28 February, 2012, on the assault of Bashar al-Assad’s forces on the civilian population of Syria

There is a saying among people for whom the disintegration of an enemy’s infrastructure of steel and flesh, through mayhem, madness and war, is greeted with darkly cynical glee. “Let them all kill each other,” they declare, feeling that they are blessed to be witnessing some kind of karmic cycle, in which the wicked devour each other into nonexistence. In mythological terms, it’s like watching Titan Cronus (or Saturn) eat his children out of fear they would overthrow him, and cheering at every flesh-tearing bite like a bloodthirsty crowd at a 2012 Republican debate.

Saturn Devouring His Son, by Francisco de Goya

In the Cronus story, Zeus, the secretly exiled son, returns to free his siblings, who are still around, twisting in the old titan’s gut. He forces his dad to regurgitate a family reunion, and the rest is myth-tory. But in the twenty-first century version, the onlookers are hoping that Assad will gorge himself until he consumes even his friends in Iran, at which point he will agree to eat a wafer thin mint, then explode. Check please.

There is a problem in the logic that says it is good fortune to get to observe Syria’s carnage with your hands clasped behind your butt, like a dispassionate scientist watching a lion take down a zebra on the Discovery Channel. Of course it comes off as a cold and dispassionate exercise, but it also is shortsighted. As an example of the perils of this schadenfreude, one does not have to look much farther than the United States’ 2012 presidential race.

Look how gleeful Democrat pundits and politicians are, at the way the GOP seems to be imploding, devouring each other, charring the Republican brand to hard, black toast. Actually, their self immolation is real, but it has an expiration date, and it’s not when there’s no one left standing. There will be a phoenix for them, rising from this “fucking mess,” as GOP strategist Ed Rollins said, in describing Republican reaction to the party’s primary insanity, to writer John Heilemann for a recent (and awesome) New York Magazine article.

When they are done going at each other, they will reach consensus and turn their fangs on us, and all the happiness we may now have watching the GOP going so far off the reservation – hell, to the moon and beyond – is going to have to transform to resolve. Otherwise, we’ll still be standing there, grinning like idiots at the last slapstick frame of the primaries, while the Republican nominee and his super PAC mount an effective, money filled campaign against President Obama.

So it is with what is going on in Syria and Yemen and Egypt. To be sure, from a humanitarian standpoint, the stakes in the events in the Middle East and Southwest Asia are much, much higher, as the people there are enduring profound pain and sorrow to which the petty words of American electoral rhetoric are incomparable. They are killing each other, but the lesson is the same. Eventually, they too will reach an accord, and they will turn, or return, to their age old political and cultural enemies, and that is us.

So temper your humanness with your humanity. Have a heart for the suffering of others, when that’s all that you can give. Raise your voice, so they cannot help but listen.

Finally, it is better to engage your enemies; don’t engorge yourself with fear and animosity. You’ll never, ever, be able to keep all that hostility down. It will come back on you like a garlicky pizza, or a rebellious child.


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