Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sophocles and the Question of Inhumanity

I'm cynical about the Democrats in Congress who now summon up the courage to say that they made a mistake, that they were misled into voting for the war. If I knew the Bush administration was lying, how could they not know?
From the first major speech of the chorus, in Antigone:
Man the master, ingenious past all measure
past all dreams, the skills within his grasp--
he forges on, now to destruction
now again to greatness. When he weaves in
the laws of the land, and the justice of the gods
that binds his oaths together
he and his city rise high--
but the city casts out
that man who weds himself to inhumanity
thanks to reckless daring. Never share my hearth
never think my thoughts, whoever does
such things.
It's an astonishing speech, and deserves comparison to the Psalms ( which will come later). It is also, in the context of the play, clearly aimed at Antigone, although it just as clearly becomes aimed at Creon. But those last words, like the hand supporting the accusing finger, point back at the chorus themselves, the "voice" of the community that will be affected by the tragedy of Creon and Antigone's conflict, and which has its part to play, as well, in what unfolds.

"Never share my hearth/never think my thoughts, whoever does/such things." That was the response of the nation to Cindy Sheehan and to anti-war protestors and to critics of the Bush Administration, and it was the shield wielded to great effect by Karl Rove and others, until Katrina.

What happened?

The question revolves around that line just before: "the man who weds himself to inhumanity." And who is that? The terrorists who attacked New York City and the Pentagon on 9/11? The sentiments of that line have been used to justify everything that's happened since then, and that justification has largely been taken up without question. James Carroll recently directly linked Dick Cheney to the events of that day, and this time, almost no one noticed. What has changed?

Well, the sentiment stays the same; what changes, is what it pivots on: where we place the charge of "inhumanity."

It is why there is still no public outrage over U.S. involvement in torture (although obviously, that is coming). It is why we don't want to know what happened in Fallujah, and may not concern ourselves too much if it turns out white phosphorous was used against civilians. It is the question of "inhumanity."

And it is why we have turned against Bush, now. Because Katrina showed us that he had wedded himself to inhumanity, and we cannot share our hearth, or our thoughts, with such a man. The city casts out that man.

"Never share my thoughts." Even in an age as sex-obsessed as ours, in which we define ourselves more by our sexual preferences and our sexual drive than by our acts of humanity or the number of our possessions, sharing thoughts is the ulimate intimacy. It is why "gay marriage" or even abortion, stirs such outrage. What is more intimate, more truly mine, than my thoughts? And what is the greater driver of my dreams, the telos of my desires, than that others share my thoughts? What else, after all, are blogs and comments for? "Never share my thoughts, whoever does such things." But only when we decide "such things" are "inhumane," does that ban take effect.

And yet when it does, it is total; it is absolute. On that we agree with Creon, if on nothing else: "Once an enemy, never a friend,/not even after death." Unless we admit the possibility of forgiveness; but that is another matter entirely. If we start with reason, this is where we must end: deciding what is, and what is not, inhumane, and driving away from us, as an anathema, that which is the former.

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