getting the enemy right

Journeying Together

Memorial to the Victims of Communism (Prague)

It seems to me that if we want to find any passion and determination inside of ourselves (collectively or individually), we need to have some clear and shared sense of which enemy we are really wanting to fight. If we can find a common enemy that crosses political (or theological) lines, so much the better.

What many politicians throw at us is these days is that the enemy is “terrorism” – a ridiculous, if not laughably pathetic, answer given that a) the statistical odds of being directly affected by terrorism in North America (and most countries) is minuscule and b) when we want to identify the enemy we would be better off identifying the disease (which is present everywhere) and not the symptom (which is mostly present in the places already devastated by the real enemy). Terrorist acts are the predictable effects of a much greater enemy, and that is the enemy we should be trying to track down – the enemy that has proven itself capable of continually generating fresh pockets of terrorism.

Of course it is political opportunism that has deliberately offered up “terrorism” as the replacement for “communism-as-master-enemy,” a very useful enemy that had the misfortune of falling apart after nearly a century of justifying nearly every evil imaginable. What after all (the powers-that-be seem to think) is a little genocide, assassination or economic enslavement here and there if it helped the West to protect itself from the spread of communism?

I’ll grant that communism was certainly a better suggestion as an enemy than terrorism in that it goes a couple of levels closer toward what I will soon suggest is the actual enemy. The problem, however, isn’t so much that communism was an “effect” of the real enemy (though that case could also be made), but that it was only “one example” of the real enemy. The crucial thing to remember is that all the violence and exploitation that was used to defend the “freedom” of corporate business interests reveal another example of the enemy closer to home.

In a brilliant but sobering moment, President Eisenhower in his farewell speech warned Americans about the dangers of both the “military-industrial complex” as well as the “scientific-technological elite.” This was now getting even closer to the naming of a true enemy; one sign that this is true is that his language named the enemy at work both at home and among opposing power blocs. (Never trust the naming of an enemy that is not at work at home as much as abroad.)

It’s quite possible that Eisenhower’s terms still have a great deal of currency, and I wouldn’t argue against anyone who still focused on those terms. However, when I think of today’s global corporate world, which is increasingly entangled through huge trade pacts that always sacrifice human scale (the small, local and personal) for the sake of mass global competition (and thereby always sacrificing the weak in favour of the powerful), then I think new language is now required.

So here is my suggestion, which I confess from the outset is, unfortunately, not nearly as catchy as “military-industrial complex” or the “war on terror.” I believe the enemy that we face is the “global system* of dehumanization based on exploitation, fear and violence that co-opts the participation** of masses of good people.” When it doesn’t occur directly through the exploitation, fear and violence, this co-opting takes place by cloaking itself either in inevitability or invisibility (i.e. layers of mass bureaucracy or laws and agreements that are indecipherable at any human level). There is a clear subliminal message that we are powerless to change any of this – so just submit, obey, and hope for the best. This is the enemy we need to fight, and I believe that it is an enemy regarding which we can join together across many of the arguments which divide us. (And it’s ok with me if you want to call this enemy Satan – though more accurately that probably refers to the “spirit behind the system.”)

Memorial to the Victims of Communism (Prague)
Memorial to the Victims of Communism (Prague)

*I hesitated about making this plural or singular – certainly there are many systems, but increasingly these systems are all becoming entangled with one another and it may be fair to consider it as one mass network of systems. Of course, Walter Wink’s writings on “domination systems” are part of the inspiration for this perspective.

**The co-opting of the masses is a crucial aspect (in spite of the complication this adds) because no enemy is frightening and powerful enough if it doesn’t make us all participants in the evil.


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