Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 12, 2012

Four are killed in Libya: An epidemic of idiots, an etymology of idiocy

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 12, 2012

Sam Bacile is very sure of himself (and smart enough to use a pseudonym).  He is sure that the Prophet Mohammed was a fraud and worse.   Mr. Bacile is sure “Islam is a cancer” that threatens the world.  He has made a (bad) film to share his certainties.

Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor. (Hebrew Bible, Proverbs 3:34)

In recent days the film became available in an Arabic translation.  Some who have now seen the film’s trailer — or heard rumors of it — are sure the film reflects official American disdain for Islam.   In response they have protested, rioted, and murdered.

When the suffering reached them from Us, why then did they not call Allah in humility? On the contrary, their hearts became hardened, and Satan made their sinful acts seem alluring to them. (Quran, Al-Anaam 6:42-43)

An idiot in Los Angeles shares his idiosyncratic notions.  Once only a few neighbors would have been annoyed.  Today his ravings or their echoes are heard 7000 miles away.  Most appropriately ignore the ignorance.  But some other idiots take offence and respond with violence.

On a day dedicated to the memory of murdered innocents,  my representatives — the representatives of my nation and my values — are killed.  I am offended.  I am angry.  I hunger for  retaliation (literally “return like for like”, especially evil for evil).  The President promises, “Make no mistake, justice will be done.”

But with each permutation this idiocy threatens to make idiots — violent idiots — of more and more.

For the ancient Greeks an idiot (idiotes) was — among other things — a man who neglected civic obligations to focus on private affairs.   The term could also be applied to those who were patently self-interested in how they engaged civic life.

Aristotle argued, “The citizen in an unqualified sense is defined by no other thing so much as by sharing in decision and office.” (Politics, Book III, 1275a22) An idiot does not know how to share. An idiot does not know how to ask an authentic question. An idiot does not know how to listen sympathetically to an answer with which s/he disagrees. An idiot does not know how to frame, shape, and make a decision that will be shared by others. The idiot is blinded by and bound to the limits of self.

Idiots are sure of themselves in a way that is possible only for those lost inside themselves.

Timothy McVeigh was an idiot.  Anders Breivik is an idiot.  Mohamed Atta was an idiot.  James Holmes is an idiot.   Last night a gang of idiots committed murder in Benghazi.  These are each extreme examples of a global epidemic of self-absorbed, self-justifying, self-referential, self-assertive idiocy.

I am not immune.  I too can be an idiot.  Too often I mistake my own belief as the Truth.   I am strongly inclined to assume my personal experience as universal.  I conflate and confuse private and public realities.   I am unable or unwilling to honestly engage the different reality of another… and for this failure I often blame the other.  Regular readers have seen me make all these mistakes.  In my obsession with etymology I am probably being an idiot here and now.

There is disagreement on effective therapy. But many agree the typical rhetoric of  policymaking, strategizing, and analyzing  feeds the disease with self-assertion (and talking points).  Especially in matters of life and death a purposeful stepping out of  our selves is an essential discipline.  Take a walk, get a coffee, bum a smoke, tell a joke…

I read poetry. Reading poetry requires a patience and attention outside-the-self. I am not advocating poetry instead of policy.  I’m advocating the poetic as a complement to the political, practical, and policy-oriented thinking that dominates our professional lives.   Intentionally step outside the box before you decide.

The situation of our time
Surrounds us like a baffling crime.
There lies the body half-undressed,
We all had reason to detest,
And all are suspects and involved
Until the mystery is solved
And under lock and key the cause
That makes a nonsense of our laws.
O Who is trying to shield Whom?
Who left a hairpin in the room?
Who was the distant figure seen
Behaving oddly on the green?

… Delayed in the democracies
By departmental vanities,
The rival sergeants run about
But more to squabble than to find out,
Yet where the Force has been cut down
To one inspector dressed in brown,
He makes the murderer whom he pleases
And all investigation ceases.
Yet our equipment all the time
Extends the area of the crime
Until the guilt is everywhere,
And more and more we are aware,
However miserable may be
Our parish of immediacy,
How small it is, how far beyond,
Ubiquitous within the bond,
Of one impoverishing sky,
Vast spiritual disorders lie.
Who thinking of the last ten years,
Does not hear howling in his ears…

There are two atlases: the one
The public space where acts are done,
In theory common to us all,
Where we are needed and feel small,
The agora of work and news
Where each one has the right to choose
His trade, his corner, and his way,
And can, again in theory, say
For whose protection he will pay,
And loyalty is help we give
The place where we prefer to live;
The other is the inner space
Of private ownership, the place
That each of us is forced to own
Like his own life from which it’s grown,
The landscape of his will and need
Where he is sovereign indeed,
The state created by his acts
Where he patrols the forest tracts
Planted in childhood, farms the belt
Of doings memorised and felt,
And even if he find it hell
May neither leave it nor rebel.
Two worlds describing their rewards,
That one in tangents, this in chords;
Each lives in one, all in the other,
Here all are kings, there each a brother…

Our news is seldom good: the heart,
As ZOLA said, must always start
The day by swallowing its toad
Of failure and disgust. Our road
Gets worse and we seem altogether
Lost as our theories, like the weather,
Veer round completely every day,
And all that we can always say
Is: true democracy begins
With free confession of our sins.

Excerpts from New Year Letter (January 1, 1940) by W.H. Auden

Auden dedicated this poem to Elizabeth Mayer.   I dedicate these thoughts to two men and a woman who I know did not sleep last night and may not sleep again this night.  To you and your colleagues, best wishes dealing with the idiots.

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Comment by Gerard Bellavita

September 12, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

Thanks for this post. No comment beyond my gratitude for your insight.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 12, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

I have not made an exhaustive search, but I cannot find a full version of the Auden poem online. I transcribed these excerpts from my own copy of “The Collected Poetry” (1945). I understand the very long — nearly 50 page — poem was also featured in The Double Man. If you find anything worthwhile above, the complete work is worth your attention.

I am self-conscious that some may find this an insufficiently serious engagement with what is certainly a very serious situation. There is something about rhyme that we now tend to associate only with humor and children. My intention could not be more serious. Auden was writing of war, grief, and deep longing.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

September 12, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

Thanks, Phil. Very tragic indeed. I too am outraged.


Comment by William R. Cumming

September 12, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

From your post I take it you agree with me that mankind will die from its own ego and hubris. Perhaps we have to look no further than our religious and political leaders, but perhaps they are the same thing.
And of course in all wars and violence ALL think they have GOD on their side as they kill and maim innocents.
We may grow closer to announcement of a GREAT CRUSADE
that will lead US and others to the Apocolypse!

Comment by Django

September 12, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

“a man who neglected civic obligations to focus on private affairs”

Sounds like somebody was describing Mitt Romney’s jumbled and outrageous response to this violence.

His private quest for the White House is starting to reveal his weakness on matters of the global community.

The problem is that it is not really Romney. It his his advisers who happen to be left overs from W’s administration.

Once again they are inciting violence and an unwillingness to understand the enemy.

When tough rhetoric is more important than saving lives world stability will not be the outcome.

Romney is not helping to secure the homeland with his reckless language.

Obviously it is not a priority…I would argue that the homeland’s security is getting in the way of his private affairs.

Simply…Romney is an idiot.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 13, 2012 @ 4:04 am

When I posted yesterday afternoon, The Telegraph was reporting the death of five in Benghazi. My original headline included this number. On Thursday morning I edited the headline to represent four being killed. I wonder if other victims, including Libyan security personnel, might not still emerge.

Bill, I think Freudian Ego shares a great deal with classical hubris and, yes, if we self-immolate a careful forensic analysis will uncover both of these agents at the source. There are, I hope and think I see, contending forces both political and religious struggling to deal with the motivations for this attack. There are many in Libya and elsewhere who are as horrified as we are by the attack (and there are some who are inspired). The epidemic of idiots is especially virulent from Cairo to Karachi. Non-idiots here and there are hard-pressed, but are struggling to find an antidote.

(My particular concern today is the discovery that a California-based Coptic Christian has been confirmed as having a leading role in the anti-Islam film. While the Coptic Church in Egypt has already condemned the film, this will fuel further idiocy.)

Django, I wrote the post before I heard Mr. Romney’s comments. Any implications for the Romney campaign are unintentional. While his comments on this topic were a mistake on several grounds, I do not perceive Governor Romney to be a chronic idiot. Like most of us, he has been exposed to the contagion and I do see him struggling (awkwardly, I will grant) to deal with more than a few idiots among his followers. The same can be said from time-to-time of President Obama.

There are, it seems, an increasing number of American idiots. All of us are susceptible. Once exposed we may fall in and out of the fever.

“Tough rhetoric” seems to be both symptom and carrier of this epidemic. Meaningful conversation seems to be the best antidote found so far, but we have not yet worked out a consistently effective dosage. Sometimes what begins as conversation concludes with an outbreak of idiocy. The other alternative, isolation, has also been shown to produce idiots.

More directly: self-aggrandizing and other-accusing language has become endemic to our political “dialogue” — both domestically and globally — this feeds the ego and hubris Bill references and justifies violence of various sorts.

Comment by Psalm 83! Hurricane Merkel and the Leopard Tanks To Qatar and Saudi Arabia....

September 13, 2012 @ 5:49 am

Psalm 83 resonates loud and clear a the Germans will soon march over the border into Syria and Merkel’s strategy in sending 600-800 Leopard tanks to Qatar and saudi Arabia shortly and very much assertive in her ways can be construed as idiotic, however the reality of a new Confederation of Middle East States as allies to Germany as well as even Hamas and Hezbollah frowning on these “Brutes of Tehran” having a hand in the mass murders in Syria while this evolvig Chinese-Russian alkiance appears…well, read Pslam 83 and don’t criticize the fella from Belmont so easily as we have Not been assertive and we have flipped flopped in every way for this “Goldman Sachs WH” has never read Pslam 83!

The post is again so thoughtful and considerate.

Germany with its fast deployment Army and new naval vessels and its arrogance in ego and demeanor presents reality and while this Chicago city street slicker from his Rev Wright-Obama pulpit has preached far too many empty rhetorical orations and his so perverse and so narrow in perspective and “whispers” to the “KGB Putinites” and this half white man leaves a Black America with soaring unemployment numbers far worse than in 2008….an administration which has snubbed the Israelis and Jerusalem whenever possible and a convention which must deliberate as to whether God and Jerusalem should be part of its platform in this Judeo-Christian Republic…idiots!

Idiots who lose – yes, supposedly lose $750 billion in initial stimulus funding and “Smug-smiled Pelosi” and “Mr. Barney” along with Hank Paulsen et al when asked where the monies and these idiots as well as both sides of the Congressional aisle so self-serving…a few even nodding off in “Sleepy Hollow” where term limits and recall initiatives and more should be expected from these egomaniacs who could give a damn about their constituents other than making it look good and all the while conducting their inside stock trading as well as engaged in small arns and ammunitions trading…

As Independent Voters here on Cape Cod and throughout America, We shall oust this “Chicago-Hollywood-Washington Express” comprised of idiots whose devisiveness in agenda and bringing discord among its citizens will no longer be tolerated for it is not the – idiots – who climb embassey wall and tear ‘ol Glory to bits that worry us, but these idiots who do not understand that our WMD’s in Europe must be – yanked – out and brought home and placed along our boundaries and to be assertive and not wobble in course much like Hurricane Issac for it is Hurricane Merkel and her fast deployment Army and the manufacture of weapons and Leopard tanks to Qatar and Saudi Arabia and in parallel with forewarnings from scripture and more sepcifically, Psalm 83 which is why We may not Love Mitt Romney or even embrace all which the Tampa convention espoused, however this narrow minded WH which pledged harmony and has brought so much intentional divide and shredded the Constitution whenever possible imposing more and more government when We fled King George III from such burdensome taxes and fees…these idiots in Chicago – thugs – who perpetuate such arrogance and condescending ways in promoting class war…well you idiots at the State Department and to those climbing embassy walls and killing American diplomats, you will never read Pslam 83 as you, too in your self-serving ways and narrow perspective like this Chicago ciry street slicker and this supposed first lady sitting on a folding chair…the Germans are again marching and the veil of evil ways and dastardly acts far greater than even your idiotic clamorings will shock first shock Tehran as so many are appaled at Tehran’s direct hand at killing innocent Syrians and the real game clock has started and it is the now weakened US with its aging naval vessels and older aircraft which demands your assertive vote on election day as independent voters come out in troves….

I have called on Americans to hoist their front porch flags upsode down to depict their congnizance in the reality of the – distress – our nation and its people of all classes now begin to succumb as our core values have been torn and God has hidden half his face from us as we show just what a bunch of idiots we are when we hear Rev Wright and this Obama pulpit talk of the Rights of Iranians to have WMD’s if the Israelis have such right…what a bunch of perverse and bad folks…not idiots, truly bad, bad folks and soon, Germany again will take center stage as it has usurped us in establish trade agreements here and there and We have as the electorate been enamored by such empty rhetorical orations with self-agenda and divide to promote class division and establish big government as knowing better than the compassion and charity which America in its Judeo-Christian manner has willingly stepped up to the oppressed far ashore and now We here on “Main Street USA” are no the oppressed from those from within who have besieged us and We were forewarned by the insightful forefathers who were not idiots and needed no deliberation in convention to establish our allencompassing core in Love and commitment to God and Jerusalem!

Gold will soar like the unemployment numbers since 2008 of Black America and the dollar will be devalued and infltion will reign and unless you thwart these “Goldman Sachs WH” idiots who are self-absorbed abd so lustful for power, We shall soon see global depression and War! Merkel and her troops and soon her downsized ten (10) nation EU will once again bring calamity to humanity and America who has done so much to enable these idiots climbing the walls of embassey and burning ol “glory, well just wait as Germany has far worse up its sleeve and WWII and its treachery will be reintroduced as so many will be hoodwinked by this new Federation of Middle Eastern States which has very particular designs much like these Chicago thugs who have moved replaced Winston churchill’s bust at the WH with Martin Luther King clearly showing their narrow perspective as to 21st century requirements with fast attack Russian and Chinese nuclear submarines here off the Chatham coast where it is not only sharks lurking about and closing our beaches….

Chriistopher Tingus

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 13, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

Mr. Tingus:

While you have been reading Psalms I have been reading the Book of Job. What I read there is a lesson regarding threats that emerge from non-intentional randomness, yet are interpreted as purposeful oppression and injustice.

The Job narrative also seems to suggest that whatever the threat(random or malign)self-righteousness amplifies the threat and complicates our effective response.

I have been struck by the continuity of Job with the last lines in the Auden excerpt:

And all that we can always say
Is: true democracy begins
With free confession of our sins.

If so,rather than a voter identity card, in November many of us might offer a confession of self-righteousness. Pride, Ego, hubris — whatever we name it — is, I have personally found, a treacherous adversary indeed.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 13, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

Django, Since responding early this morning I have had an opportunity to more fully examine Mr. Romney’s series of statements regarding the situation in Cairo and Benghazi. I have concluded that your analysis is more accurate than mine. Whatever the chronic condition, this was certainly an acute episode. Thank you for ensuring our attention.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 13, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

Saturday AM looking like major turn out of over 1 M of Egyptians protesting US policies.

So what exactly is the policy of
Romney and Obama in MENA now that the lid has come off
the notion that the Arab Spring was somehow favorable to the USA?

And is my understanding correct that withdrawal from Iraq was the big foreign policy success of the Obama Administration? Or was it the backdoor support of the EU Banks?

What exactly is the official policy of the MORMON CHURCH to each of the three desert religions?

Comment by Hurricane Merkel and the Leopard Tanks To Qatar and Saudi Arabia....

September 13, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

..and as I have said, Hurricane Merkel to sweep into the Middle East for this wealened America will open the door and enable the Germans to oimplement their strategy and while looking like the peacekeeper…watch as they march over into Syria and watch the Germans and the Vatican –

The Us must pull out, stop all funding and come on back home and leave the Muslim world to be dealt with by the Germans who will with the Vatican by its side address the Middle East accordingly as it brings humanity again into calamity and World War !!!! The bias I heard on CNN tonight spending all this time attacking Mitt Romney for a remark while the Middle east is in crisis as I have stated long ago…repeatedly and to hear the UK Independent report that US diplomatic channels knew of an attack against the embassy 48 hours prior to 9/11 and Marines were ordered by this Commander-in-Chief to stand at attention ourtside the US Embassy, however with no ammmunition in their rifles…

What a charade and again Pslam 83, not the Book of Job Philip..Pslam 83 and a forewarning of what will now take place…Keep a weary eye on the Germans and the ever powerful and corrupt Vatican as it sweeps in and most assuredly the 600-800 Leopard tanks sales to Qatar and saudi Arabia and this evolving Federation of Middle East State including Hamas and Hezbollah as allies to Germany will shock and awe so many who continue to fail to read Pslam 83 a d truly understand what we are being told….

I have been writing about the Middle East now for over two years and this snubbing of Israel by this immature and naive WH with its narrow Chicago city street perspective has only made us so weak and We all should have known that the Arab Brotherhood and some 75% of Egyptians seek Islamic fundamentalist ways and as this further evolves, Turkey and its moderate Arabs will have its challenges as well. Do not fear though as Germany is just about ready to establish its long planned strategy and has done much itself to undermine and usurp American trade routes and power….

It is time for America which now has fewer middle class folks and with time more and more poverty will grasp more Americans and an America disrespected and still willing to send billions of dollars to support Islam and this administration doing its utmost to erode our own core values of Judeo-Christian values and this weakness has prompted these fundamentalists to rise up in power and cause much concern among moderates….

Again, Germany and its fast deployment Army will be on the march shortly and the Vatican once again shoulder to shoulder….

God Bless America! “This Chicago-Hollywood-Washington Express” has Not a clue not the State Department.

Marines atnding guard without bullets…treason I shout! Treason I shout! Oust the “Goldman Sachs WH who leans over to whisper to the “KGB Putinites”” – what else has been said and one at this WH where we are more than distrustful of this ongoing failure whether in creating jobs for Black America whose unemployment numbers especially with the young have soared…and wheter domestic policy or otherwise, a failed government which has prove its own dysfunctional ways….

Pslam 83!


Comment by JD

November 1, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

The few lines that follow your excerpt are, I think, quite critical to this discussion:

And all that we can always say
Is true democracy begins
With free confession of our sins
In this alone are all the same
All are so weak that none dare claim
“I have the right to govern,” or
“Behold in me the Moral Law,”
And all real unity commences
With conciousness of differences.

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