“I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil.” ― Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands With The Devil
In Shake Hands with the Devil, Romeo Dallaire, former head of the UN mission to Rwanda, described shaking hands with commanders of the Hutu militias responsible for the 1994 Tutsi genocide. He felt he was in the presence of evil, or, to his Christian outlook, the devil. When faced with incomprehensible savagery it is hard to find human nature behind it and natural to look for some invisible hand of evil. The same outlook is understandable to some in west African countries, where the leaders have for years been suspected of complicity in ritual killings, or torturing their own citizens and using their body parts as amulets for power. Compulsory membership of politicians in certain Masonic lodges and the undeniable power and wealth wielded by the powerful, support both the cult rumours and the presumed effectiveness of evil forces being invoked. These so-called powers are also sought by some militias.
If a person is thought to embody evil in themselves, the person is demonized in the eyes of the other. Once a large group has designated another entire group as evil, actions no longer matter. The ensuing war will have nothing to do with good actions and bad actions and everything to do with one side exterminating the other. Those facing the side designated as evil are then depicted as Good, and any behaviour of theirs will be justified thereafter as can be seen in the excuses made for Rwanda actions even today. Some groups can carry their indestructible Good status in the face of all evidence of their actions for generations and against completely different opponents, as we see with Israel and the fact that they still have defenders justifying their ‘right’ to torment and murder others.
Countries that have had an acknowledged atrocity are much more self aware and able to recognize and stop new ones. If an atrocity is outside the Overton window of what a people will believe about themselves they will deny it happened or ignore it. For Canadians, the pull of the manufactured self-image of ‘nice’ is too attractive to confront, even when faced with human rights and environmental disasters Canada is responsible for worldwide. To acknowledge that global mining atrocities are a fundamental part of Canada, that a Canadian child has now been tortured and imprisoned for the thirteenth year, that these actions cannot be blamed on one government but are part of Canada itself, is an attack on their self-image that many Canadians refuse to face. The US was previously the same with their acceptance of ‘freedom’ propaganda and their refusal to see their own police state as anything but protection.
A good guy / bad guy, personality based morality is very helpful for any who wish to wage wars or destroy the lives of others. No one has to think, just identify the Good Guys and the Bad Guys, be for the one, beware the other. We really don’t need legions of security analysts, militaries and intelligence to sort out Good Guys from Bad Guys. Bad Guys are destroying, killing, enslaving and robbing, Good Guys are creating, researching and caring for others. Bad Guys are capable of becoming Good Guys as soon as they stop the actions harmful to society and start the ones helpful to society.
The myth of free will and the myth of equality
I was one of those children forced into fighting at the age of 13, in my country Sierra Leone, a war that claimed the lives of my mother, father and two brothers. I know too well the emotional, psychological and physical burden that comes with being exposed to violence as a child or at any age for that matter. – Ishmael Beah
In order to designate someone as evil and deserving of any horror that the powerful wish to inflict on them, they must be held personally responsible for the actions of themselves and their ‘side’. In order to hold people personally responsible even for their own actions, the public must believe they had free will, something that does not exist. The idea of personal responsibility also depends on an assumption that people have equal access to information and the ability to process it. Propaganda and coercion which comes from the top is denied and blame is cast to those at the bottom who acted upon it. The propaganda masters convince the public that the weak-minded and the vulnerable must take responsibility for acting as the zombie army of the powerful who are absolved of responsibility.
For punishment to be applied equally to all, the public must believe that all are equal, which is also false. The myth of equality is essential for sustaining this binary outlook and careful censoring of information is essential to maintaining the myth of equality. ‘Hamas is evil, bomb Gaza’ cannot stand in the face of relentless social media pictures of babies, beautiful children and wonderful people well-known to the online community being blown up by Israel. ‘Boko Haram is evil, Nigeria military should kill them all’ is shocked by images of little boys fighting and being killed on both sides or Nigeria military torturing a little girl working for Boko Haram. Hillary Clinton deplores the loss of imperial control over information and Netanyahu bitterly calls his victims “telegenically dead“. The old media control which depicted all enemies of militias as adult men with guns was essential to justify any war.
We have a tendency to think of our villains as geniuses or assume they at least have the ability to predict the outcome of their actions but for those filling prisons and dying in wars that is not always the case.
While most people recognize the ability to rehabilitate child soldiers, what of those who are not rehabilitated? If they do not bear responsibility as children, why does the responsibility for their formation descend upon them as adults? How can anyone presume to know what has happened to the mind of anyone who has lived completely different experiences than them and possesses a completely different mind?
If it is agreed that charges should only be applied to criminals who have attained a certain standard of cognitive ability, why is the same penalty applied to all at that point? If the spectrum of ability and advantage continues above the line labeled competent, should the penalties not be a corresponding spectrum? If they must attain a standard of cognitive ability, why are moral imbeciles judged by the same standards as the socially normative? Why is sociopathy not recognized as a mental illness if insanity is? What if sociopathy is a physical disease? What of those with fetal alcohol syndrome and other forms of physical brain damage that currently fill prisons and militias?
The role of drugs in convincing militias to commit atrocities and overcome guilt is seldom reported. Not only non-state militias employ drugs, the US military even has a follow up anti-guilt nasal spray to prevent troops from feeling natural remorse.
Not all opponents are worthy of hate.
Few believe that all of their own ancestors should have been wiped out, but everyone has ancestors who displayed what we like to call inhuman characteristics. Why do we believe they are absolved from the personal responsibility we bear today if not because we accept the power of social coercion and social norms? If social coercion and social norms applied in the past, why is their power denied today? The US government acknowledged the power of seductive coercion with what they cynically called the battle for hearts and minds in Iraq. They of all people understand coercion and knew that their actions would have the opposite affect.
Any suggestion of deliberate social auto-coercion is met with howls from free will advocates, especially from the US, that bastion of personal freedoms perverted to suit corporate ends. Every intelligence agency in the world, all corporations and all militaries constantly manipulate public norms and behaviour, but an attempt for a community to regain control is depicted (by corporate media) as an attack on freedom and autonomy instead of the assertion of it.
People can somehow become convinced that if we only kill enough people, inherent goodness will shine from the survivors. In the end, we can’t kill enough people to make the world a kinder gentler place. We have proven enough times that there is no time and place immune to an outbreak of human savagery. UN peacekeeping is incompetent, political, and after the fact. We need societies resilient to violence. In the end we will need to understand each other and use social auto-coercion as we do after the horrors of every war in order to return to normal life. We need to start using it before the outbreak of any violence, not to stop Bad Guys but to stop bad actions. Instead of spending vast sums tracking individuals and their connections in the search for Bad Guys, we need to strengthen social auto-coercion and fight the coercion coming from sociopathic power.
For those who insist societies will never function without military and police hard coercion, societies worldwide did, very well. For those, usually the same people, who insist that seductive coercion is immoral, seductive coercion is what creates a society out of a group of disconnected people. For those who do not believe that coercion ought to be in the hands of the people, coercion ought never to be anywhere else. The only way to prevent coercion by a secret oligarchy is to use it as community.
“If we don’t harness their potential for good, their societies will continue to reap their capacity for evil.” ― Roméo Dallaire, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children
Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands With The Devill: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003)
Ishmael Beah, Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (2007)
Roméo Dallaire, They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children (2010)