Sunday, January 15, 2012


Do not watch this vid carelessly. My tender-hearted cousins are strongly warned away. The url was sent to me by a Potawatomi poet grandfather I’ve known for fifteen years, since I pretended to be Native American in order to join Reznet. (Oh, I suppose you thought only evil-doers did that!) This man, who really IS Potawatomi, identifies the Evil recorded here with the Evil genocide of the indigenous peoples of all continents, probably going back to the Neanderthals. I agree with him, but I’ve never seen bodies quite like these, though my years of scraping crushed animals off the streets of Portland were an education in mangled tissue.

White phosphorus, or “Willie Pete” in military jargon, is something like napalm and showers intense light and smoke. If it gets on flesh, it burns, dissolves faces . The bodies in the video show this. Their clothes remain. Their skeletons remain. The flesh partly remains and WP doesn’t seem to bother the maggots much. I suppose it’s worn off by the time their eggs are laid. This corrosive stuff was used in the 19th century Fenian revolution in Ireland, in Greece, in just about every war against insurgents, including war on the IWW Wobblies. The video claims to show the results of United States usage of it in Fallujah. There is considerable discussion at the level of international arms negotiations about whether it is a tolerable weapon, how it should be restricted, and so on. Is it worse to kill a child or woman with white phosphorus than it is to kill a soldier? Is it worse to napalm whole countrysides, whole ecologies? Oh, we just use it for the light and smoke, say the military. Sorry about the side effects.

I see this video as a good opportunity to talk about Evil. I try to stick to “religious” topics on Sundays and Evil is just as religious as Good. Evil is often described as being black, but it could just as easily be as white as “Willie Pete.” A whiteout, we prairie people know, can be deadly and a white polar bear is more dangerous than any dark bear. There’s a condition at sea called a “white storm” that is nearly unsurvivable, the turbulent water/wind combination whipped into foam.

Repeatedly I try to say that Evil/Good are HUMAN, just as religion itself is human. Evil results are constructs derived from human ecology/genes/memes as they have played out, region by region, year after year. The fact that Good/Evil are human classifications means that they can be reorganized, reinterpreted, and -- one hopes -- eventually curbed. White phosphorus is not an Evil Substance: it simply IS. Far more terrifying than our personified images of Good (God) and Evil (Satan) is the raw fact of physical existence which is NOT anthropocentric. Neither are its natural “laws” anthropocentric. We all die, no matter how virtuous we are. Few escape suffering. But to destroy masses of other living humans to protect our own wealth and interests is Evil.

What is labeled with stigma and punished with human zeal varies from one time and place to another, but it is always administered with righteous enthusiasm to those who defy authority, whether they try to go off on their own or stay to actively oppose the standing order. Questionable measures taken by either side are usually kept secret or vigorously denied. I’m not saying this idly: in mild ways I’ve been there, done that, been a witness. Now that I’m old and willing to risk a little more, like my Potawatomi friend, I go into forbidden thought territory a little more. Suffering, disease, hatred -- that sort of thing. It’s clear that we’re in the midst of a massive culture-wide re-framing of the rules about Evil that nearly amounts to an insurgency, begun in the Sixties, abandoned, and now somehow appearing again, except this time it has spread around the planet even more than it did last time. What IS bad? And WHY?

Clearly every ecology is an economy: resources for living things (such as people) can give rise to an equity or an inequity. It is the inequitable distribution of resources and the ferocious attempts of people to survive (though their ideas of what survival is might be twisted or excessive) that give rise to Evil. Volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, tsunamis, droughts are simply the active surface of the planet and it’s gaseous envelope. The Evil arises in the enforced famines of North Korea, China and Russia when the people are carelessly starved like fishes at the bottom of a drained lake, flopping briefly. Or on the great threshing floor of the homestead years on the American prairie or the urban grinding machines of the industrial revolution which continues in China. Evil is arising today from the overpopulation that makes children into disposable commodities and adults into owned labor, worked until their souls are rubbed out of them. (Doesn’t take long.)

Ironically, overpopulation arises from what we thought was good: sanitation, antibiotics, transportation. So often this happens: a physical fact is converted into immoral destruction: a poppy is just a flower until it is “crack,” called into existence by human craving, either for profit or oblivion. THESE derived things should be labeled Evil. The systems that support unwanted babies, unwanted lives, are so often the result of greed, not just for money but also for respect, for the feeling of worthiness and mattering in the world. Religion is supposed to supply that, even the ones that oppose contraception.

My movie last night was “True Confessions,” the John Gregory Dunne movie from his novel and then screenplay (collaborating with his wife, Joan Didion). With the usual Hollywood cynicism, everything is corrupt, everything is split between the fabulous rich and the blameworthy underclass, and the basic assumption is that if we just KNEW what goes on in church, whorehouse, police station, town hall, everything would be cleaned up by “decent” people. But here we are -- watching a movie that drew a map for us years ago, and nothing has changed. Maybe “Homicide” and its descendent “The Wire” are a little smarter about how systems work and why decent people do Evil things, but they too despair over equitable reform.

Because of the sudden interest in Marie Heavyrunner’s murder, reporters have been finding my blog and calling. The NY Times guy was transparently interested in becoming a hero by revealing the “truth.” The Montana guy had worked with reservations before and knew how convoluted the secrets can be. He doesn’t even mind driving up here. When I suggested to the NY Times guy that in a Third World setting there is always a parallel economy of secrets and sex, his head jumped to Hollywood, something dramatic. The Montana guy knew I meant little accommodations, banal pillowtalk and over-coffee flirtatious tips -- let alone bar gossip. Of course, people have to be a little more careful these days because of all the fancy electronics. Is that guy at the next table talking to his wife or recording your conversation? Even in Fallujah, the images, grinning skulls, are talking on video. They speak Evil.

So where is religion in all this? I don’t know and I don’t think any of the churchly institutions know either. The Roman Catholics, for instance, have discovered that you can’t take sex out of the church's economic network. They are now allowing married men to be priests under special circumstances. Eastern Orthodox and Greek Orthodox priests, who marry, must be grinning through their beards. White teeth. Not evil. Just human.

If you google Marie Heavyrunner you might find a website where people pray for others and see that her daughter, when she couldn’t find her mother, asked those people to pray.

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