In the past two weeks have you too been made sick and exhausted by the screams and screeds of the fanatical believer? A pox on the fanatic. A curse on the rioters in the ‘Arab Street’ and on the Islamophobes who stoke their fire. A curse on all those near and far of any political persuasion or cause who bear the fire in their hearts that tells them that they have been anointed as the voice, as the prophet, as the avenger of the righteous, the sword of the Way. A plague on all those who describe some human beings as inhuman others, who labor to turn them into golems, into things, creatures, cartoons, into parasites — all of these labels conspire to make them into herds of sub-humans that can be treated howsoever the fanatic may choose. In the eyes of the true believer, they lose their individuality. They lose their connections to common every day life. Their yearnings and humanities become nothing.
The fanatic believes that he belongs to a club, a sect, a tribe, a party that has received the truth from seers who possess sources that no one else can see. He believes that those who live outside the tribe cannot see this truth because they are unbelievers or deluded, stupid or sinful. He believes this truth to be so potent that given power, he will enforce it through law or violence. For him facts are propaganda. Therefore, ignore facts. Ignore logic. Celebrate his propagandist. Disdain reasoned argument. Abhor disagreement for disagreement is heretical, and heretics must be ridiculed and banished, or worse, heretics must be exterminated.
Murder is the ultimate tool of the fanatic, the logical end consequence of the poisonous fusion of certainty, overweening pride and fear that guide all fanatics. If the impure resist, they must convert or die. If the impure are such because of their race or religion or ethnic heritage, then the fanatic decrees that they must be cleansed, they must be removed from the presence of the pure. Removal has been a nightmare euphemism for 100 years.
Fanatics harden their hearts against the suffering of the impure. In their warped vision, compassion is a weakness and callousness the most heroic virtue. They make themselves cold so that they may exercise their bravery.
In a review of George Orwell’s Diaries Barry Gewen* describes how Orwell distrusted “abstractions” for “they destroyed the diverse particulars of everyday life and necessarily culminated in some type of inhumanity, killing people for the sake of an idea.” Gewen says that Orwell “placed his faith in common people, who went about their lives without the need for Big Ideas, practicing what he saw as the common people’s singular virtue — decency. Decency didn’t require an idea, let alone an ideology, for validation. It was the morality of the here and now, available to everybody.”
It doesn’t seem like much of a weapon against the fanatic, but then it doesn’t function as one. Decency is the side-step away from the screamers and the haters. Decency is the refusal to look at another and see a devil. Decency is the calm voice asking if a stranger needs a hand.
*The New York Times Book Review, August 31, 2012