The fight against ‘Evil’ continues, the ‘elimination’ of terrorism or, in the past witchcraft, is the goal. We are told this is a war we must ‘win’. Yet a moment’s thought will show that such a goal forever recedes before us. In a world so blatantly unjust, where some consume three quarters of the world’s resources while the rest live indebted and enslaved, how can those who wish us ill be eliminated?
Witches in the past were blamed for the envy which they understandably felt against those who denied them help. The guilt felt by the better off was reflected back and uncharitable behaviour became justified because it was against a ‘witch’. So nowadays a rich westerner or Asian can blame ‘fanatics’ for being potential suicide bombers. They can be angry at ‘asylum seekers’ for foolishly getting themselves born in a country where no economic living can be made or where torture is widespread.
A ‘war on terrorism’, the endless battle, paranoia, aggression and undermining of civil liberties which it justifies inevitably feeds the power of the State. It is easy to see how swiftly we can move towards the world portrayed by George Orwell in Nineteen eighty-four, with a seemingly benevolent ‘Big Brother’ telling us that ‘one more effort’, one more (temporary of course) erosion of our privacy, dignity, freedom or wealth will finally eliminate the ‘Evil One’. Just one more invasion to ‘root out’ the contagion, to ‘drain the swamps’, to eradicate the ‘vermin’, to crush and destroy.
All the metaphors are taken from the constant human battle to destroy - weeds, vermin, pests, wild animals – which have been classified as unworthy of respect or understanding. They are metaphors which were used in the medieval battle with Satan and his witches, and they are the ones used today.
If we make this last effort, the nightmare will be over, the ‘foreign bodies’ that infect our world will be eliminated, and utopia will be ushered in. For some this means eliminating the insidious poison of consumer capitalism. For others, the nightmare of closed and illiberal religious fanaticism.
Both dreams are unrealistic in our interconnected world. The masses will not want to give up the hope of living in a rich industrial society. Nor will we be able to stop them hating us, to persuade them to thank us for our civilized ability to soak up the world’s wealth. The best we can do is to control our level of fear. I agree with the great American president Franklin D.Roosevelt, ‘Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’