(Hamlet, act 5, sc. 2)
Given the massive media coverage, to further expostulate on the Charleston murders, why day is day, night is night and time is time, were nothing but to waste night, day and time, to borrow from Polonius.
Call for indignation? Yes, with some reservations, lest, unawares, indignation becomes an indirect instrument to set the conscience at rest.
Still, the justifiable massive coverage, reactions, outcries and analyses, inadvertently conceal a certain quality of casualness in this tragedy. For every day, assuming the statistics correct, 289 people are shot, 86 of them die, 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves (of these 20 are war veterans), 2 die accidentally and at least one is shot during a police intervention. Furthermore, multiple murder events when the victims are 4 or less, barely make it outside the local news.
Perhaps we can imagine the thoughts of the victims in the instant, when they realized they would die, for no other reason than being black and kind to the murderer. Did they have time to think of the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns?(1)
For it must have been the morbid fascination with the mystery of death and eternity that, in times past, brought rowdy crowds to witness public executions. Then, however, the condemned had time to think what he wanted. Perhaps, in the moment before the guillotine severed his head, or the noose his neck, he may have recalled the countenance of a loved one, or a flower, or the twilight of a day as after sunset fadeth in the West,(2) anything to wrest his thoughts away from the realization that a man’s life is no more than to say “one”, literally, the millisecond between the temporary before and the forever afterwards.
There is a kind of unwanted coldness in talking or writing about an event so inhuman as the murder of 9 people, but these are the inevitable limitations of language – to describe is to exclude, including emotions. That said, the event can be seen as one more post-scriptum to the history of slavery. And one more consequence of the unresolved contradictions inherent in the glorious and glorified Declaration of Independence, and between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
For the Constitution replaced the old English authority with a new one; the old manorial ruling class by a new Republican ruling class, resting on the property and social distinction and eventually heredity, as much as the old one had done. Plus adding slavery as a feature of the new Republic, which England had removed.
The big difference was that Americans could not admit the hereditary and social distinctions on which their society, like every other society was based. And this created a gap between theory and practice, between the theory of equality that united the nation and the practice of competition, with its unequal and selected results. The tension between theory and practice between equality and competition would never be admitted, let alone resolved.
The frauds and the illusions necessary to conceal it became part of American history and of history itself, and are still here today.
Back to the Declaration. Here is a document that denies its content in the moment it is printed. That all men are created ‘equal’ is questionable (or at least vague) and, in the context of the declaration, a fraud.
But before proceeding further, I should add a few notes about what I knew of the history of America as a high school student. In Europe there was not enough time to cover the history of America but Hollywood amply filled the gap.
We know that history itself reflects our position in time and forms part of our answer to the broader question, namely, what view we take of the society we live in.
With America, there were several historical waves that Hollywood delivered to the European colonies. The first had to do with Native Americans, cruel primitive savages to be destroyed by brave cowboys managed by John Wayne, Inc. and associates. Then, when the final Indian was dispatched (“The Last of the Mohicans”), followed the almost interminable series of movies celebrating America’s victory in WWII, against the evil Nazis – intermixed with successful spying actions by the CIA against the (now) evil Russians.
The issue of slavery was quickly dealt with when the macho hero of a popular Hollywood blockbuster regaled his wife’s plump negro servant with a red petticoat. The general message being that slavery was a generous and selfless move by the newly independent America to introduce inferior races to the gifts of civilization. Anecdotally, in the dubbing of the African-American servant’s speech into European languages, she was given a very guttural (almost primate-like) voice and a sentence structure where all the verbs were in the infinite tense, (e.g. me go eat, etc.).
In other words, slavery was a beneficent act towards the lesser members of the human race by the God-blessed nation. No exaggeration.
No movies were obviously made about Nat Turner’s rebellion, or the biggest slave rebellion in the United States before the Civil War, in 1811 in New Orleans, when hundreds of skulls from the beheaded rebels were stuck on poles along the banks of the Mississippi. Today we would call it a “deterrent.”
Or for that matter about Daniel Shay’s rebellion in Massachusetts, who was a white farmer. Nor it occurred to the mesmerized viewers then, and I suspect now, to ask the question, “If England was the tyrannical ruler of the American Colonies, how is it that Canada did not rebel as well? In fact, it was unknown that the first US imperialist war in 1812 was aimed at annexing Canada.
Said the hawk Henry Clay to Congress, “The conquest of Canada is in your power. I trust that I shall not be deemed presumptuous when I state that I verily believe that the militia of Kentucky are alone competent to place Montréal and Canada at your feet.”
And General William Hull, assigned to invade Canada across the Detroit River issued the following proclamation, “Inhabitants of Canada! You will be emancipated from tyranny and oppression and restored to the dignified station of free men.” The first humanitarian war.
He did not succeed. In fact, the united forces of the Canadian militia and Native American units quickly dispatched him, but you get the drift.
To conclude the parenthesis, given the necessarily limited scope given to the history of foreign lands in European education, what remains are the Hollywood myths, better remembered according to the principle that “things that move sooner catch the eye than what not stirs.”(3)
But even in the United States, the views about slavery’s history are part of the contradictions inherent in the Declaration of Independence. Compare the claims of equality, freedom and opportunity with the reality faced by minorities, and increasingly – we may add – by the 99%.
However, if there is a will there’s a way. If the worst thing about slavery was denying to African Americans the rights of citizenship, simply offer them the title of citizen, elect a few black mayors, even a president. Problem solved.
The witty professor Cornel West has appropriately defined this procedure as “the niggerization of the plantation.” For, as we have seen in so many occasions now, when incorporated into the “system” newly privileged African-Americans behave more or less like the white enslavers of old – if not in their own, then in foreign countries.
One glaring example, but there are many, is the pitiful image of Colin Powell showing up in Congress with a vial full of milk as evidence of Saddam Hussein’s possessions of chemical weapons of mass destructions.
Nor Powell can claim redemption by publicly regretting that fraud. Say that to the millions killed and to the nations destroyed under the same or similar pretexts.
But how can this have anything to do with the outwardly sane appearance, but deeply deranged mind of the Charleston murderer?
If the history of slavery can be forgotten and slavery absolved by incorporating a minority of blacks into the entourage of the rich, people like Dylan Roof lose their last tenuous mental foothold of their inherent assumed superiority, as enshrined in the paradoxical statement of the Declaration of Independence.
Where all men are created equal but not really – as the whites are better than slaves, who at the time were barely considered human. From this point of view, the South fought to maintain in practice what the North only disguised with fancy words, for they were afraid to admit it.
In these cases, a weak mind inflamed, and maybe already troubled by other grievances, loses the faculty of reason. In the instance, he found his victims in the most innocent among those whom he wanted to collectively punish for having unwittingly deprived him of his superiority.
But frauds can rarely survive alone and after the event, came the reinforcements. Starting with the syntactically incoherent and tortuous explanation by the FBI Chief that the Charleston massacre was not an act of terror (!) A challenge, that is, to those who had dared to detect what he desired to conceal.
A denial that would be the epitome of ridicule, were it not that only by creating an inexistent and unbelievable distinction, this exemplary authority can justify the existence of the National Security Administration) and its associated inflow of billions into the pockets of the free and the bank accounts of the brave.
For drone-killing 40 or 50 people at a funeral or wedding on the other side of the world with the flimsy excuse that “they may harbor an enemy of American interests”, does not differ one iota from the twisted reasoning of the disturbed young man of Charleston. His victims were black, the CIA’s victims are generally brown and “not Christian.”
One further fraud is the attribution of the murder to “mental illness.” For if the murderer is mentally ill, so are the killer-drone operators at the video-game consoles. And, logically speaking, they are worse, for Dylan Roof, in his twisted reasoning had constructed an explanation that seemed cogent to him.
But the operators of the pushbuttons of death, or those who compile the “weekly murder lists”, do not even give their victims the time to know why they are murdered.
Searching for yet another Orwellian verbal cop-out various pundits have suggested “hate crime” – which makes the drone and bomb killings even worse, for, with the drones, the killer is an order-executing murderer, which brings us back to Nuremberg, now buried in the tomb of the irrelevant.
For among authorities, self-love is often rather arrogant than blind; it does not hide their faults from themselves, but persuades them that they escape the notice of others, and disposes them to resent censures lest they should confess them to be just.
Therefore the authorities’ words of sympathy ring hollow. For Obama to say that “Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy” equates to stating that “a great cause of the night is lack of the sun.”(4) And he added, “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”
The politically insignificant citizen, and perhaps some of my 25 readers, would like to ask, “Have you ever wondered why?”
One vociferous and, in my view, somewhat pharisaic party, wants to remove the confederate flag and any other confederate symbol from the state of South Carolina. This almost equates to electing an African-American president to forget the painful heritage of slavery. Cicero remarked that not to know what has been transacted in former times is to continue always as a child. With some adjustment we may say that pretending not to know is to continue always as a hypocrite.
Still, apart from the historical trail briefly described above, just as behind every act there is an idea, behind every idea there is a philosophy. In the instance, compounding the murder itself with the related posture of the authorities it is possible to trace the philosophy back to its origins in the 1920s in the Republic of Weimar, shortly before Hitler came to power, namely to Carl Schmitt ad even more so to Leo Strauss.
In this conception, if I can summarize it, the sphere of nations is the sphere of conflict. But the conflict is not one of give-and-take. The adversary represents the existential other, the absolute enemy, with whom the conflict aims at its complete extinction.
At the time, this philosophy fostered the idea that the very presence of the Soviet Union was a historic and existential threat to the German nation and the Western world. A danger sufficient to justify Hitler’s dictatorship and National Socialism as the last weapon for the total destruction of the enemy.
Today the same philosophy has morphed into the theory that Islam is the new absolute enemy of the “democratic tradition.” Hence the twisted theory of the “clash of civilizations,” and the justification of the murder of millions. While for the deranged Charleston murderer his victims were symbols of his absolute enemy to be eliminated.
To conclude, while they publicly condemn the Charleston tragedy, the good fellas in charge of foreign policy may want to look at themselves in the mirror and ask if they are any better. Or, as Timon said to a courtier, “Wilt thou whip thine own faults in other men?”(5)
(2) from Sonnet 73
(3) Troilus and Cressida
(4) As You Like It
(5) Timon of Athens
NOTE. For those interested among the section “Historical Sketches” in this website, two links connect to videos on the War of 1812, respectively,
part 1 http://youtu.be/urpdaLARf5w
part 2 http://youtu.be/AmZeEvkKPGo
part 3 http://youtu.be/lcuHuksVNOE
In the play. Horatio advises Hamlet that soon the king will know what happened in England to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.