The Blame Game

September 19, 2011

The oddest thing happened to me last Monday.

I don’t count myself among the “blame America” crowd.  You know, the people who think that America is evil, has no conscience or soul, and pretty much everything it does is wrong.  See also: “the Great Satan.”  This group is made up mostly of people who I like to haphazardly label “flaming liberals.”

I also don’t consider myself a supporter of Ron Paul, because I can’t decide if the Ralph Nadar of conservatism is crazy like a fox, or crazy like Dennis Kucinich.  Literally everything he does could go either way, right down to him wearing a blue plaid tie to last week’s Republican debate, a strictly red tie affair.  I like to carelessly paint all of Ron Paul’s supporters as “right wing sociopaths.”

But as I watched the debate last week, Ron Paul said one thing, just one thing that actually got him booed, and I haven’t been able to get out of my head since then, because it illustrates a growing compulsion in our culture.

Let Me Quote Osama Bin Laden

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about all week.  Ron Paul said a lot of things that many of us would think are crazy, including me.  He said that the U.S. should abandon its embassies in all foreign countries, for one thing.  But then he said that the reason the U.S. was attacked on 9/11 was because it had military occupations in Middle Eastern countries.

And people booed.  The statement smacked of anti-military, blame-America rhetoric that would be welcome in any Democratic debate, and that doesn’t fly with people who bleed red, white and blue..

And Paul actually looked perplexed, as if to say, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”  After all, he didn’t just make up this answer.  He was just quoting what Osama Bin Laden had told us was the reason we were attacked.

Good vs. Evil

It was strange.  A candidate for President (though an unlikely one) was simply telling people what we were told was the reason we were attacked.  And he was booed.  Not that quoting Osama Bin Laden should get a standing ovation, but still…

I know why the audience booed.  Because for ten years, we’ve built our version of why we were attacked.  We like to think that we were attacked because we are a beacon of light, freedom, justice, righteousness, women’s rights, and baseball to the world.  Islam is dark and evil and opposed to all things good and American, so naturally, evil Muslims attacked us because they couldn’t stand how good we are.

It’s a great set up, the classic tale of good verses evil.  There’s no question who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  And the best part is, evil attacked for no other reason than because it’s evil, and the good guys are good.  That’s what evil does, apparently.

My List of Things to Do Today: Be Evil

The problem is evil doesn’t usually sit around thinking it’s evil, and finding good guys to attack for no reason.  Even evil has to have a motivation.  Evil always justifies itself, whether it’s in a terrorist, or an evil thought in our own hearts.  It doesn’t have to be a good reason.  But no serial killer, however “insane,”  was ever caught and asked why, and answered “Eh, no reason.  I’m just evil.” 

We only think that’s what evil does because we watched too many cheap cartoons when we were kids.  Seriously, He-Man is now on Netflix, so my wife and I queued up the first couple of episodes…and were shocked at its epic crappiness.  What struck me more than the awful animation, voice acting, storylines, and Man-At-Arms’ mustache was that it just started.  No explanation of why Adam is a prince, or what Castle Greyskull is, or what secrets it holds, or why one day Adam held his sword aloft and said, “By the power of Grayskull!” or why he gains his power by stripping down to a loincloth, or who the hell Skeletor is and what is his motivation, much less, why he doesn’t have a face.  There was no reason given for any of those characters to exist…except to sell toys.

And that’s how we think the world works.  Whenever someone doesn’t like us, or attacks us, or our spouse chews us out, we think they don’t need a reason except that they don’t like how awesome we are at everything, and they’re just insane and evil.  That kind of thinking works great at keeping our consciences delusionally clear.

Whatcha’ think?  Does evil have to have a motivation, even if that means America did provide a reason for terrorists to attack us?  Like I said, it doesn’t have to be a good reason?  Do you do the same thing with the people you don’t get along with at work or at home or in church?

23 responses to The Blame Game

  1. Yes, I think even evil has a motivation. I think we all do. Now, I have dated one or two dumb guys who when asked why they did something just answered, “uh, I don’t know…” But I don’t think there was no motivation there – I think there was a HUGE lack of self-awareness.

    I will say that I personally am usually motivated by selfish reasons. What is the payoff? I did not become a Christian because I am noble and altruistic. I needed savin’ and Jesus is where its at. I got something out of the transaction. There are some people who would say that makes *me* evil. Can’t help that.

    I do not in any way think that all those men spent so much time learning to fly planes and plotting out a course of action randomly. I don’t think they just woke up one morning and said, “hey, I’m evil! Let’s go kill people”. That plan was years in the making. It was not just a bunch of evil particles that all came together one morning and we have attacks. They knew they were going to die in the process. Violently, at that. There are people who are mentally ill who do kill themselves, seemingly without reason. I have had several such people in my own family. However, finding 19 men who had the exact same mental illness, who could sustain a pointless idea of killing themselves over a long period of time, and then put a plan in motion with that kind of precision is just an idea that doesn’t hold up.

    So does evil have a motivation? I say yes. Is it a good motivation? Not to me, obviously. But it can be a good enough motivation in the mind of some people that they would give their life for it. Does that mean America provided them with that reason? Well, they think it did. I’ve never lived anywhere but the US, so I cannot say with any certainty what I would do if the US military started putting bases in my country and the countries around me. I’m truthful enough to say I just cannot answer that question.

    As for people at work or at home or at church that I don’t get along with… well first of all, with one or two very specific exceptions, I don’t see them as evil just because we aren’t getting along. Do I think they have motivations for the things they do that irritate/hurt me? Yes. I don’t think our whole world is made up of random actions. Do I think it is specifically aimed at irritating/hurting me? Rarely. Anybody who thinks that things like that are always aimed at them specifically has an ego problem, in my opinion. I’m just not important enough for that many people to spend that much time plotting against me.

    Rant over. Thank you for your support.

  2. There’s always a reason. Of that, I have no doubt. I found out that a couple of people genuinely don’t like me this summer, and it turns out, it’s not just because they’re ignorant. They have their reasons, even if I think they’re misguided. And they certainly think they’re the good guys, so who’s to say?

  3. Great topic. I think Ron Paul is a flake when it comes to foreign policy. Many students that have been indoctrinated in the “we should not be in any foreign country culture” have never been taught about the term “balance of power.” I wrote history papers in college on the causes of WWI and WWII. It is worth googling at the very least.

    Ron Paul was not wrong as you stated, but I think as Americans the political battle (which used to be war vs peace – both of which failed during Vietnam due to ridiculous politicking) is now about our marketed perception in other countries. It is about the propaganda in Russia that only reports on the mass crazy man killings such Virginia Tech and whatever the media thinks of arrogant tourists in the Bahamas. It is a war of cultural perceptions. It is not about facts, and for the most part won’t be.

    The heart of men gushes evil. Only in redemption can we turn from our wicked ways. Even in the church community we like to bend the rules to fits our cultural and world views.

    When we think about terrorism, and evil men that would die for their religion, we can get all excited, and prideful and patriotic. But didn’t Jesus ask us to do the same (in peace, not violence)? He asked us to give up our lives for the sake of the Gospel, but many won’t.

    The motivation of true evil is to destroy the works of the church for which the gates of hell cannot prevail.

    In life I meet some misguided people that believe lies, yet their label and some of their behavior looks all Bible like. That in itself is one of the lies of religion. In my world their are no “good” people, there redeemed and unredeemed.

    • Wait, so David are you saying that those men better exemplify their religion than most Christians do? Holy jihad, Batman!

      • Umm, yeah.

        It is interesting I have a friend that pastors a church in Lakeland not far from where that guy killed his wife, and then went and shot the pastors of his old church this weekend. Whatever it is that we want to tell ourselves about Christianity, the real deal is where we stand with laying down our lives for the Kingdom of God.

      • At least you can say that they were very sincere in their beliefs and that they did not separate their spiritual life from their everyday existence. Of course, according to the Bible, they were sincerely WRONG. I am roughly translating what my pastor has said numerous times when the question of “Do all paths lead to God/heaven?” comes up.

        Christianity is the only religion where people say, “I am evil and I don’t want to be evil, because I don’t like the results, but I can’t stop being evil on my own. I need help!”

        Ron Paul is the Ross Perot of the 21st century.

  4. 1) That’s kind of the rub, isn’t it? Most people that do really evil things tend to also believe that they’re completely justified in what they’re doing, and they pretty much never believe that THEY’RE evil. I can’t think of a single “real life” villain that fit the profile of a typical comic-book villain–someone who just woke up one day and decided to be evil because it was their job.

    2) 80’s cartoons really don’t hold up nowadays, do they?

    3) During the last election, I had a suprisingly sane coworker who was a Ron Paul supporter. He said it was because he was “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”, supposedly. There aren’t really a whole lot of candidates out there that fit that description.

  5. To quote the real Paul, “anything that does not come from faith is sin”…sin equals evil…right? so we are all screwed…all together!…(thank you jesus for your saving…had to add that)

    I have a co-worker that uh…bats for the other team…if you know what i mean….very open…details and all…NOT COOL! I hate it…but you see…in that hate…i realize…i’m being evil…OH CRAP!

    great read matt…

  6. I’d agree with the general consensus here: evil has a motivation. I certainly have a motivation when I directly disobey–selfishness, usually–but I’m very good at finding some “good” reason for my behavior.

    As to whether it’s a good motivation? Most of the time, probably not. And that’s where it gets tricky. Should we dismantle all of our military bases because it pisses people like Bin Laden off that they’re there in the first place? Perhaps, perhaps not. It’s up to greater minds than mine to make that call.

    But I can certainly bring that to a more personal level. I’m sure people have various reasons for treating each other poorly. I know I come up with reasons enough not to love others. If some behavior of mine gives others a motivation to treat me poorly, should I change that behavior? Perhaps, perhaps not.

    Thanks, as always, for the food for thought.

    • Ah yes. Does evil have a valid motive, and is an otherwise valid motive made invalid by evil’s actions?

      • “Does evil have a valid motive, and is an otherwise valid motive made invalid by evil’s actions?”

        Just reading that question makes my head hurt for some reason.

      • Oh, interesting. I hadn’t actually thought of it in those terms–as evil’s action invalidating their motivation. I was more thinking of it in terms of overall good, I suppose.

        For instance, if we take your example of Bin Laden and our presence in the middle east: Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that his motivation for the 9/11 attacks (not the attacks themselves, certainly, but the motivation behind them) was justifiable and was what he said it was. I don’t know that that’s enough to say we should remove our troops–there’s so much more going on there. Whoever has to make these kinds of decisions (and I’m glad it isn’t me) has to weigh many things–the stability of the region, the oppression of various people groups, the US’s role in the world, etc. His anger at our presence there can be justified without necessitating us leaving, regardless of his actions.

        I’m not sure that made sense. I tried. :)

  7. So…I’m confused. Terrorists attack us so they can sell toys?

  8. While I’m not saying that the audience at the debate understood this and were booing for this reason, I think that the word “occupation” is thrown around a lot in sentences where the speaker actually means something else and/or they are using it on purpose in order to utilize the negative connotation that it brings with it (e.g., bin Laden’s use of it). Occupation is Germany invading France during WWII and taking over AGAINST THE WISHES of the government. The US has yet to simply invade a country, take over a government, and rule said country without the consent of those governed or at least those in charge. The lone exception to this statement was during the time that the “Coalition Provisional Authority” was in charge in Iraq. Once the “interim government” was put into power and authority was transitioned (on my birthday) in 2004, the local government REQUESTED (under no duress that I know of) that the US military stay. At that point, the “occupation” was over. To say that the US is “occupying” multiple countries in the Middle East is to say that the US is still occupying Germany and Japan. We have troops stationed at bases which are leased from the local governments (some permanently so, but still). Same with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and others. The term “occupation” is inflammatory and is currently mostly used incorrectly to pump up rhetoric.

    All that to say that Osama bin Laden used the term incorrectly (and in an inflammatory fashion) in order to justify (if not to himself, at least to those who followed him) heinous attacks against the US.

    And yes, I think that evil considers that it has a valid reason other than to just be evil.

    • I totally agree. People who say that the US just takes over other nations need to ask which nations are we controlling. Japan? Germany? Last I checked, the US may go to war with a nation, but we always give the nation back to the people when we’re done.

  9. Some days politics intrigue me and others it is disgusting. I think Ron Paul has more than a few screws loose, but that doesn’t mean his point about why other countries hate America is invalid.

    In this case I would say that “good” and “evil” is relative. Doesn’t every side think their’s is the “good” one?

  10. This post instantly reminded me of that old fable with the frog and the scorpion: frog sees scorpion on side of river, scorpion asks if frog will graciously carry him to other side of river, frog has doubts about scorpion, scorpion reassures frog, frog decides to carry scorpion across, and scorpion stings frog halfway across river saying it was in his nature.

    All that to say…what WAS Ron Paul thinking with that tie?

  11. You had me at He-Man. Seriously, that was a continuous after-school special. Not only did I buy the toys, but I think you’re right. We drink the kool-aid that evil is as evil does.

    I think this is why it is super-important that people get involved in missions. Not because we, the supposed superior Americans, have something to offer the rest of the rabble. But because we need the perspective. Oh we need it bad.