This week, in Egypt, the Military turned against a segment of the Egyptian populace and killed or wounded hundreds of people in the name of protecting democracy.
Last February, Senator Lindsey Graham said, the US drone program had killed 4,700 people across the various MENA countries in the name of our war on terrorism.
In the last two years of civil war in Syria and what increasingly looks like civil war in Iraq, thousands of Sunni and Shia Muslims have killed each other, in the name of what I’m still not sure.
Twelve years ago next month, a handful of Islamists murdered 3000 people, mostly Americans, in the name of bringing down the financial and military empire of the United States.
In 1953, the CIA and British intelligence orchestrated a coup against the duly elected government of Iran and helped install the dictatorship of the Shah in the name of oil security.
The list of grievances against various monsters throughout the world could go back through the history of civilization.
Years ago, in therapy dealing with the effects of the rape and other abuses of my childhood, I once described the process to my therapist as, crouching against the wall of a room with glass floors over a basement full of monsters and realizing the only door out was on the other side of the room. I spent a good deal of the first year or two trying to figure out a way to get across that fragile floor without falling through and waking the monsters.
It didn’t work, of course. At some point in all that tiptoeing around, the glass broke and, bruised and bleeding, I had to confront those monsters in the basement. After all, I had created them.
By that, I don’t mean the things done to me by the man who ran the Children’s Home or, later, the physical and emotional abuses by my stepmother were not monstrous and dehumanizing. Abuse of power is monstrous because it is so dehumanizing. But long after both were out of my life, the monsters I had created as a child held sway over my life as an adult, leaving me in grave danger of abusing others over whom I held power and so, repeating the cycle.
Perhaps it is different for others who’ve embarked on that journey, but for me, the only way to defang those dehumanizing monsters I’d created was to reverse the process and humanize them again. I did not do that to excuse their behavior; it was inexcusable and, in the eyes of the law, some of it was criminal. I did it to regain my own humanity, my own power. It is as close as I have been able to come to what Christians call forgiveness. I suppose that is what is meant by “reconciliation”. And seeing them as humans who did monstrous things to gain or retain a power they didn’t believe they had, reconciling myself to the fact that justice is not always served because justice is meted out by humans who are not always just, I could commence the struggle to maintain my own humanity and find the power that comes with that humanity.
We cannot reconcile with monsters; monsters must be destroyed. And that, it seems to me, is where we find ourselves, today – living in a world full of monsters, abusers against whom we are powerless, with whom we cannot reconcile, who must be utterly destroyed even if it means destroying ourselves.
The monsters have many names. The Government. The Church. The Military. Bankers. Corporations. Oil Companies. Christians, Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, terrorists, drug addicts, criminals, him, her, you, me …
But in truth, the monsters have only one name – human being. And human beings who abuse other human beings do so to maintain the illusion of power against the monsters in their own basement. Whether you’re running a government or just trying to stay afloat in a world in decline, we cannot tiptoe across the glass floors in our own selves in hopes of avoiding the monsters in our basement.
All human beings do stupid, cruel and, sometimes, inhumane things. Sometimes human beings are brought to justice for what they do; sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes the monsters are of our own making; sometimes they’re forced on us to prop up someone else’s need for power; sometimes we just accept the monsters others create because they serve our own fears of powerlessness. But in a world where everyone becomes a monster to service someone’s fears, no one remains a human being.
We live in a world of huge perils, but they are perils created by humans, not monsters. If we have a hope of navigating those perils, we each have to fight for our humanity and the power that comes from that struggle. Lest we all become the monsters in someone’s basement.