And His Eyes Have All the Seeming

… of a demon’s that is dreaming, if you remember the old Edgar Allan Poe verse.

We all know the purposes that are served by demonization. By making someone or something the cause of an absolute evil, we mobilize loyalties and energies against it. The US political machinery found it useful against Saddam Hussein, against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, against the Taliban, and so on. But as in the story of the boy who cried wolf, when used too many times, this technique creates a cynical response. One begins to ask, “Who’s the villain of the month and what’s really behind this?”

On the other hand, what purposes are served by accusations of demonization? That is, arguments that have the form, “X is demonizing Y,” or “Stop demonizing N”? These arguments should send us back to the prior question, “Is Y or N really being demonized?” Is there an area of blame, censure or protest that amounts to telling Y or N that they’ve done something wrong and shouldn’t continue, without making the improbable and in sum theological argument that Y or N is pure evil and any opponent of Y or N, for whatever reason, is therefore an agent of good?

When there has been some legitimate cause of protest, the accusation of demonization comes across as childish and petulant. It amounts to saying, “Any criticism of Y or N is inherently a total rejection, and as such, unreasonable.” Or even: “You claim I am totally bad! But you must be wrong (because nobody is totally bad all of the time)! Therefore your criticisms are null and void! I’m actually totally good!”

Such absolutism leads nowhere but to the stupidity of black-and-white thinking. It is amusing to note that the protests against demonization occur within a political and media environment of relative pluralism (more than one political party within reach of power, an independent judiciary, press organs owned by bosses who disagree amongst one another sometimes, etc.) and are meant to protect single-party state apparatuses from criticism. Those apparatuses, that is, that can really put on the dog, demonization-wise, with their monopoly on media channels and governmental power, and are prone to do so when it suits them. Deem on…

(and, footnote: it is amazing that an article in The Nation should quote Henry Kissinger as an authority on diplomacy)