Manifest Destiny Manifest Terror: The World in the Grips of Victimary and Triumphalist Mentalities

A Heretic’s Log: A series of philosophical essays written between September 20, 2002 and July 15, 2004.

The source of future troubles for the world, troubles that can indeed threaten the very continuity of modern civilization, no matter how one defines it: Western, Christian, Secular, or simply human, is not terrorism per se, and is not simply the resentment that the people of the underdeveloped world harbor towards more developed countries, as some do indeed assert. Nor does it squarely lie in the triumphalist attitude exhibited by the peoples and governments of the developed countries – in that sense of hubris that imbues all of their actions and modes of address vis-à-vis  everything “other.”

The main problem, rather, lies in the fact that a sense of common destiny has not been reached yet by the majority of peoples and governments on earth.

For while the inhabitants of the developed world seem to revel in their imagined “victory” over the rest of the world, the inhabitants of the underdeveloped world continue to wallow in their seeming ignominy and all too real frustration, blaming all their misery on their rich neighbors.

Everybody is, thus, still caught up in that all too familiar worldview that pits “us,” however we define ourselves, against “them,” how we define them. This at a time when all ideologies have failed, and/or are failing, and all borders are becoming increasingly meaningless and artificial.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict, among many other ongoing conflicts in the world today, may indeed encapsulate this tendency: the failure of ideologies in this instance and the artificial nature of the borders involved being all too demonstrable. Still, the tendency itself transcends regional conflicts and is quite global in both essence and character. This is evident even from a casual consideration of the ongoing US-led global anti-terrorism campaign, with all the controversies and dilemmas it is provoking, and the way in which a saintly in-God-we-trust America is pitted against a declared axis of well-nigh inexhaustible evil.[1] Or, looking at it from the point of view of Usama Bin Ladin and his sympathizers, the way an evil and greedy superpower is trying to impose its ways and pursue its interests on the expense of the inhabitants of the Muslim World, its peoples and its cultures.

Such mentalities, triumphalist on the one hand, victimary on the other, cannot and will not, in their nature, be accommodative of the needs, desires, points of view and aspirations of the other side, no matter how legitimate and human they happen to be. The same goes for the accursed progeny of these mentalities: globalization and modernism[2] in the first instance, fundamentalism and terrorism in the other.

For globalization, as a project for the not so distant future, seems pretty much to occur concomitantly with the process of leveling, that is the process of creating smaller and smaller, and hence more controllable, entities out of existing countries, with the pretension that this is being done in order to accommodate various ethnic and sectarian aspirations. The main problem with this project is that the prosperity, if not the very survival, of the smaller entities will always be dependent on their ability to service the needs of, and accept the role assigned to them by the project leaders, the emerging larger blocks, chiefly: the EU and North America. As such, these smaller entities will always live at the mercy of the large blocks and will never have the chance to mount any serious challenge to their global domination. These are the real lessons of the US-led intervention in Former Yugoslavia, and in Iraq and Afghanistan.[3]

And while globalization pits smaller entities against larger blocks, modernism pits ways of life and modes of thoughts against each other, giving absolutely no chance for the possibility of accommodating any piece of existing traditions, and precluding the very possibility of analyzing traditional culture with the aim of actually learning from it and probing and absorbing what is actually useful in it. This is so simply because modernism seems to posit its values as a new faith system. In a sense, then, it is not modern at all. It is, in fact, an extension of the very traditional system of thought it claims to replace, with some of the terms having been changed and new ones introduced and adopted.[4]

This being the case, it was only natural for the proponents of tradition to be hardened in their stands, to dig deeper and to embark on founding a counter-ideology of sorts, leading to the emergence of various fundamentalist creeds all over the world. Thus, fundamentalism is, in part at least, a response to modernism – to that triumphalist and disdainful attitude that many people, especially in the developed world, reflected vis-à-vis traditional culture, transforming it into the “mother of all evils.”

Still, one has to admit that modernity and its values, regardless of their transformation into an ism, did impose themselves upon the lives of people in both the developed and under-developed worlds, in an all too quick, perhaps even sudden (especially in the case of the underdeveloped world) manner, so much so that it left many people gasping and unbalanced. Modernity, in effect destabilized whole societies and shook most people’s faith to its very foundations.

For many people, then, the transitional period into modernity was not long enough. Perhaps, for some, it could never be long enough. Still, and while there is a real need for people to be given the necessary opportunity and time to absorb the values of modernity and learn of their necessity on basis of their own experiences, such an opportunity is exactly what the proponents of globalization and modernism are not willing to give.[5] Greed is a factor here, of course, but so are the isms involved and that sense of Manifest Destiny and that revisionist view of history that transforms the entire human experience into a mere prelude to the arrival of the modern age as a new messianic age.

The proponents of victimary thought, on the other hand, and while they may not refer to themselves as such, do, naturally, share that messianic outlook on things. Indeed, the two mentalities are essentially united in this respected, being two avatars of the same lacking deity that is human pretension and perennial sense of insecurity. But in this case, the messianic age is yet to come. In the mean time, there could only be desperation, lethargy, rebellion, and, for some, as we have seen long before September 11 and continue to see after, terrorism.

Terrorism is the choice of the totally dejected and inherently irreconcilables, those whose own sense of Manifest Destiny is no less strong than that of their modernist brethren. But they have reality to contend with, a reality that does not augur well at all for any of their dreams, leaving them no option but to confront it with an act of complete and total negation, of themselves and the world.

The nihilistic tendency in terrorism is all too visible, but so is the nihilistic tendency in modernism itself which, in effect, denies the possibility of any future development, or evolution, beyond the bounds it prescribes. For though modernism does not pretend to predict the future, it, nonetheless, delineates it, that is, it puts an overall framework for it, and, as such, limits its possibilities. Perhaps this gives some sense of purpose for the “faithful” (and the profiteers), but, as is the problem with all faith-systems, it also blinds people to the possibilities that exist outside the bounds of their familiar modes of thought, leading, at occasions, to a benign dismissal of these possibilities as irrelevant and temporary heresies, and to a total rejection of, and an unavoidable face-off with them, whenever they appear too real and present, and perhaps even too relevant, to be shunned.

Such was the situation that was created by the September 11 Attack. The heresy was made all too visible and relevant through the acts of terror that took place, and the face-off, that is, war unlimited and unbound, was, thus, made “inevitable,” in the logic of the prevailing system of thought.

And as war gives an even better opportunity to the protagonists of globalization and modernism to carry out their plans and speed up the pace of their execution, it will also supply the terrorists with greater justification to implement their own equally, though more flagrantly so, nihilistic schemes, the scales involved in both cases notwithstanding. And as the two groups of believers in Manifest Destiny compete against each other,[6] each seeking victory rather than trying to find some common grounds with the other, humanity will be driven further and further to the brink of disaster. Yes, humanity did find itself in a similar position during the Cold War, but the fact that it has survived is no reason for optimism. Optimism should rather be derived from our ability to resist and avoid being put in such positions to begin with. Our survival should never be the subject of gambling. Only when this realization begins to seep deeply into our “collective consciousness” and notably affect our “collective behavior,” will we have a good reason to be manifestly optimistic and to set optimistically on working out our ever not-so-manifest individual and collective destinies.

Notes

[1] The real underlying issues in this case, as in all cases, can be put aside here, for cultures are much more affected by the public debates that take place, rather than an in-depth knowledge of the real factors involved (economic, political and social), since public debates tend to resonate much more effectively with the prejudices that each party harbors against the rest.

[2] Not to be confused with modernity, which, to me at least, represents a set of values open for criticism and for further elaboration and development. Modernism, on the other hand, is the new-found religion based on the ideals and values of modernity, as such, modernism treats the values of modernity as something sacred and beyond any serious criticism, an attitude which runs contrary to these very values.

[3] And now, we seem posed to witness another, perhaps final?, round of intervention in Iraq, which is bound to lead, sooner or later, to the emergence of more new small entities in the region. And not only in Iraqi territories.

[4] Modernity, of the other hand, does not seek to replace traditional thought per se. Rather, it attempts to correct it, enlarge its scope, add to it, and always be willing to dialogue with it, criticize it and be criticized by it.

[5] For modernity to impose itself on people is one thing. But, for it to be imposed by others (as the proponents of modernism and globalization are want to do), is a completely different matter. In fact, such a tendency is a blatant betrayal of the very values of modernity.

[6] Common grounds are only reachable, of course, when the two sides stop being too “ismic” about their particular views and show more willingness to sacrifice some of their perceived interests.