Saturday, December 12, 2009

Evil Talk

The first step to controlling your world
is to control your culture.
To model and demonstrate the kind of world
you demand to live in.

--Chuck Palahniuk

Dr. Evil: Why must I be surrounded by frickin' idiots?

--Austin Powers
, International Man of Mystery (1997)

Truth, justice and the American Way

--Superman's creed


An NPR commentator displayed a stupendous lack of awareness yesterday in a discussion of Obama's Nobel Peace Price acceptance speech. He explained that Obama used the rhetoric of combatting evil -- the rhetoric of his predecessor -- in response to Europeans who see America as an interloper in world affairs.

As Europe is generally far more secular than the U.S., Obama's explanation of combating a
questionable intangible must grate (see Religious America, Secular Europe?, Peter Berger et. al.) The idea of a nation embarked on a crusade against evildoers can only fan their fears. Who is Obama kidding?

To a non-fundamentalist, talk of fighting evil is crazy talk.
This may go over well from Rev. Wright's bully pulpit, but it does not play well to rational thinkers.

Foreign policy should not be based upon good versus evil.
We have not come a long way in eight years, baby.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I tend to agree with Ranger's position here - as I do most topics posted - I am a little more sympathetic to Obama's use of the term "evil".

From a practical perspective - meaning the bottom line of how it functions in the real world - any alternative terminology that I can think is equally flawed - albeit in less biblical proportions - because it is completely based on the self interested subjective view of the United States.

"Terrorist threat"? One man's "terrorist" is another man's "freedom fighter".....or in the case of Hamas, a democratically elected government.

Anti -democratic dictators can be friends and "partners" if they serve the US.

Even use of something like "international criminal organization", which is about as secular as one can get, can be abused, and subsequently criticized, on the grounds that it is the US defining both what is "criminal" and what should be done about it.

The US wants to project its power against those it sees standing against its interests. Period. Who are those people? Well, give 'em a name.

This is what should be of concern to "rational" folks around the world.

If Europeans are truly objecting to only the reilgious overtones of the word "evil", then f'em if they can't take a joke.

Does Ranger have a prefered terminology?

Just my humble opinion.....Avedis

Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 10:42:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

You've been on board long enuf to know that I view good and evil as a rubber yardstick. terrorist-freedom fighter etc..As you acknowledge.
Why not use the term-threat.That covers it. But the key point is that warriors like the US leaders will not accept anything less than total submission. This is contrary to our rhetoric but it's a fact. And no self respecting person or culture will accept such domination. The official State organs may but there will always be an opposition. Call it what you will. I'll stick with THREAT.
Obama reminds me of the comic book character often discussed by James Elroy, this is SHAPESHIFTER.

Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 11:01:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ranger, I didn't mean to set us off on some boondoggle of a discusion. We see eye to eye on the "key point" - which is what I was trying to emphasize as being of far greater importance than mere word choice.

Still not sure how calling it "threat" alleviates most of the issues involved with the key point, but it is cleaner and more concise. I would prefer it myself if only for this reason.

And I suppose there is that neuro-linguistics phenomena that must be considered. One can't negotiate with "evil". One could, however, dial down a "threat" through means other than total obliteration.

Best, Avedis

Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 12:08:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


I wrote this, and was simply noting the absurdity of the commenter and the speechwriter and the President who imagines that using a word like "evil" palliates the European crowds.

Europeans are more secular than the U.S., the most religious of the industrialized nations. Evil may play well to the FOX crowd, but evil is an intangible, which has no place in forming military objectives. My great Aunt may be evil, but we have no plans to smoke her.

As Ranger writes, we should concern ourselves with quantifiable, identifiable and realistic threats. Evil? Pfft -- you wanna spend the rest of your life routing out evil around the world?

First find a definition for it (and don't leave yourself out.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 2:41:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


p.s.: You acknowledge that we come at it from our perspective:

"Terrorist threat"? One man's "terrorist" is another man's "freedom fighter".....or in the case of Hamas, a democratically elected government.

It is more than a little disingenuous to try and label our adversaries with giant catch-alls like "evil", which would seem to imply an absolute nature.

To those who belong or believe, Taliban or al-Q. or whoever is not evil. However, you, the opponent, are.

Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 2:49:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa,

Agreed as to the inapropraiteness/silliness of the term "evil" directed to a European audience.

"My great Aunt may be evil, but we have no plans to smoke her"....LOL, ditto my mother-in-law; though the fantasy of it has been cathartic on a couple occasions.

But seriously, Europeans were not the only listeners. The Islamic world is very much rooted in a manichean world view. Maybe that sort of rhetoric has some appeal to them - the majority that aren't in league with terrorists.

OK. I confess. I liked the speech. I thought that, taken in its entirety, Obama did a pretty good job
weaving his way through a minefield within a politically awkward situation. I think, overall, he set a decent balance of pandering to the multiple and varied interest groups that he much consider, both domestically and abroad, and delivering a message that correlated with the spirit of the moment.


Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 4:20:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


As you can tell, I'm not that impressed, either with Obama's words or his actions (the latter of which is more important, anyway.)

Far as Manichaean worldviews go, no subtlety emanates from these United States. Especially not from our past couple of presidents who feed us glurge from the pulpit.

Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 6:35:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Ghost Dansing said...

i suppose i have to remind everybody again.... rock 'n roll ain't evooo....

Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 7:21:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


EVOO is what you cook with -- I've seen it on t.v.

But I'm very glad something is still pure and good, and not tainted by the grasp of SAA - TAN (Thank you, Dana Carvey.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 8:55:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

We negotiate with evil every day of our lives.

Monday, December 14, 2009 at 11:06:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Terrible said...

Well I'm not sure this is the place for this but I was thinking about something this morning. It is about evil I guess. The US State Department is paying Blackwater, which is a known radical christian religious extremist organization that is known to be involved in child prostitution, to provide security for US diplomats in Islamic countries. The US Defense Department is paying Taliban freedom fighters, who although they are known to be radical islamic religious extremists are not known to be involved in child prostitution, to not attack US convoys. Wouldn't it make about a million percent more sense to be paying the Taliban for the diplomatic security and then they'd be too busy to attack US convoys anyway? And keep my tax dollars out of the child prostitution business. The only down side to the idea I can see is Blackwater waging an insurgency here in the US but the logistics of fighting that insurgency would be much less then fighting one on the other side of the planet in a foreign country. And US civilians would be more then happy to join in putting them down.

Monday, December 14, 2009 at 11:18:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Terrible said...

In reference to Avedis comment I'd say it's rather important to note that neither the Taliban government of Afghanistan nor the Bathist government of Iraq ever posed any threat to US interests PRIOR to the invasion of those countries!!!

Monday, December 14, 2009 at 11:23:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We negotiate with evil every day of our lives."

You and I know that....and we can admit it.

My point was that many people - especially those who like to put up a self righteous and/or religious front, do not.

So I was agreeing with Lisa - and you - that there is a certain danger inherent in the use of terms like "evil".

Terrible, I have to disagree re; the Taliban not being a threat. They did shelter Bin Laden, et al.

I will concur re; Iraq.


Monday, December 14, 2009 at 6:52:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yes, Terrible, I second your view of Blackwater.

Very dangerous - dare I say "evil" - trend".

The CIA has always used security companies as fronts for muscle wok (Wackenhut (sp?) comes to mind), but never so openly and never with so much $s involved.


Monday, December 14, 2009 at 7:13:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Range, what's wrong w/ Rev. Wright? True, his TIMNG was wrong when he ranted (ca. 9/11/01) and I would have said "God damn the POLICIES OF America, as opposed to "God damn America". But the way see it, he told it like it was. The chickens HAVE come home to roost; we're hated around the world for generations of arrogance, exploitation, racist foreign policy, etc.

Monday, December 14, 2009 at 11:27:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's "TIMING". Sorry. Damn keyboard.

Monday, December 14, 2009 at 11:28:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

I do not see the Taliban as a thrreat to the USA. It's a threat to Karzai and that is not our problem.
OK the Talib gave safe haven etcc... but so what when you compare where the funding came from.
Where's the real threat.?
You must differentiate betw near and far threats just as an Infantryman does between effective and ineffective fire. You can't possibly address every threat.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 10:18:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


What's wrong with Obama channeling Wright and all of his ilk is that he is our president, the president of a nation with a clear separation of church and state. Our Army does not fight EVIL, it fights discrete threats to our national interest.

That old black magic/evil rhetoric may play well to the church crowds, but it doesn't play well on the world stage.

We're fight EVIL? Give me a break. There's a whole lotta evil going on out there -- which evil despot is next? Guarantee you it's not one governing a nation lacking strategic interests for the USA.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 3:43:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, I'm with you re; not being able to address every threat and the necessity of wisely selecting not only which threats need to be addressed, but also the proper type/level of intervention.

As far as the Taliban goes, my opnion is that they were a threat that simply had to be dealt with by force of arms circa 2001 (actually before that even). Today? I don't know. I do not have the information that would be required to understand the potential for Afghanistan to once again become a base of operations for groups seeking to attack US interests and/or undermine the fragile political structure of neighboring countries of undesirable ways.

Karzai? He has got to go.

Funding for terrorist activities? Absolutely a serious consideration. I can imagine that we have people doing what they can to distrupt these networks, but again, I lack the information to assess the effectiveness of the operations.

So where does that leave me? Trusting in our leadership?

Scary thought. I don't think those people can even find their helmets. But what's a poor citzen to do?


Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 2:47:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

I'd like to suggest recommended reading.UNDERSTANDING TERROR NETWORKS by Marc Sageman.2004. Pennsylvania Press.
This may help clarify the ideas that I try to express. This book is one of the few that is written scholastically and is not an emotional screed.
I'd do a book report but it's much too complex for a simple blog essay. I try to keep the writing at a level that Rangers can grasp without hitting themselves in the forehead.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 12:50:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

Avedis says:

"As far as the Taliban goes, my opnion is that they were a threat that simply had to be dealt with by force of arms circa 2001 (actually before that even)"

But ... before that, the U.S. was supporting them, rigth?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 5:46:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lisa-But I don't believe Obama channels or channeled Wright. Seems to me that during the campaign, he tried to distance himself. But I think you got the wrong anon, as I'M the one pointing out Wright's timing and the proper context (i.e. "God damn America vs God damn the POLICIES...). I never mentioned evil. You can no more fight evil with the Army (or Navy, Marines, AF, CG)than you can fight an "ism" with the military.

Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 2:10:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Terrible said...

Avedis, should the US military be sent in to take over the FBI headquarters? They too are known to have provided "safe haven" for al Qeada operatives in 2001. And it was that "safe haven" that allowed them to launch a terror attack more so then the Taliban ignoring them in Afghanistan. The al Qeada operatives did their work here not there.

Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 10:47:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

To Anon who addressed Rev Wright,

My suggestion was that Obama was borrowing the rhetoric of the pulpit, any fundamentalist pulpit. (Wright happened to be his mentor.)

David Brooks in the NYT yesterday seconded my idea that Obama was borrowing directly from the muscular Christian lineage. IMHO, I feel there is no place today for that rhetoric from the U.S. president. We are dealing with a fractured image based upon our betrayal of our better selves (torture, indefinite detentions, etc.)

So it smacks of hypocrisy for the torturer to call the other guy evil. Pot calling the kettle black? And torture still continued under Obama. Neutral observers are still not allowed to interview detainees as to their treatment.

Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 11:31:00 AM GMT-5  

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