In the first book by Bruce Wilshire that I read, “Wild Hunger,” I left him sprawled in a hammock, zonked on ayahuasca. Sheesh. But I’d already ordered other books of his and now I’m reading “Get ‘em All! Kill ‘em!” Sub-title: “Genocide, Terrorism, Righteous Communities.” Reduced to its bare bones argument, Wilshire is proposing that the horror of genocide comes directly from the horror felt by a righteous community when the bottom drops out of their world, whereupon they blame some expendable population and try to eliminate them as disease, corruption, and the source of trouble. He is specific about “horror” -- he means that specific emotion. Makes sense to me.
Wilshire keeps me reading in part because he can turn a phrase as few others can, approaching poetry even as he is analytical. But also I know this body of references he uses and if I had had support for them in seminary, things might have turned out very differently. (William James they would accept: Suzanne Langer and Mary Douglas -- well, they were women, weren’t they?) Emerson they were forced to accept, since he is celebrated in the UU community, but they did NOT read him the way Wilshire does. Anyway, Wilshire in this book is tempering his knife to a sharp edge so that it can cut deeply into contemporary phenomena.
He is the first person I’ve heard identify “witch hunting” in the 15th through 17th centuries as a genocide of dangerously uncontrolled old ladies. But also he is choosing some familiar examples: the Fascists, Bosnia, Rwanda, and the California “digger” Indians, which is a story rather different from that of the Plains Indians. I think that he would agree with an assessment that the treatment of HIV-AIDS patients is genocidal, particularly the young male ones, particularly the gay, the poor, the dark, the sex-workers, those separated from families and living in the streets. The reasoning goes that they must be “bad” in some sense and therefore the relevant emotion THEY should have -- which onlookers would like them to admit so the onlookers won’t have to look in the mirror -- is shame and guilt. But Wilshire is saying that’s NOT the key. The key is specifially horror, the HORROR of treating them this way, the HORROR of Whoredom, if not sexual then as hospital fodder for the subsidy money going to the hospitals and clinics, when the government feels interested in the project. (Meaning whether the voting population will go for it.)
One doesn’t really get interested until the risk comes home. Old people are also hospital fodder and a pharmaceutical bonanza. I could so easily be defined as a witch, though it would be expressed as heretical, immoral, poor, unclean, a loser, a safe target, a challenge to local values like a nice lawn. This is a motivating self-interest and another reason to throw in with outsider boys.
The revulsion of the people convinced of their own worth -- because of the community to which they belong -- is compared by Wilshire to a “flood of diarrhea” that MUST be addressed by any means available, even deadly force. But it goes beyond that. In full-blown genocides, dead pregnant women are torn open in order to make sure the fetus is also dead, to have the certainty of actually killing it. Get EVERYONE. Even Ishi, the last of his tribe, was dismembered for autopsy against his wishes, although in the most scientific way. And reciprocally, Little Dog made sure his white cavalry officer persecutor was really dead by de-boning him and throwing the bones in the river. This stuff works both ways, which is part of the reason it goes on and on.
It’s not that the offended community is promoting survival of the fittest by eliminating the worst sub-categories: by the standards of the blonde healthy strong-minded Aryans he was supposed to be defending, Hitler -- little weenie with coprophilia -- should have been the first to go. Rather, the Jews eliminated were those seen to be privileged, gifted, at the top -- but in some illegitimate way, as though they had stolen their wealth, their minds, their education from Aryans. The irrational notion was that if the these undeserving people were eliminated, suddenly there would be Aryan millionaires, scientists, brilliant leaders. It did not happen. In fact, Pol Pot and the Chinese Red Revolutionaries eliminated all the people who had made their culture rich and valuable -- all the professors, the international figures, the artists. To unjustly blame and destroy these people badly damaged the countries the leaders said they were protecting. They can only catch up by sending their young people to study in America.
Wilshire is not bashful about claiming the 9/11 disaster is an example of a striking-out Arab world that feels their foundations slipping from under their feet, but a little less open about pointing out that this vulnerability had the same effect on Americans feeling thrown into disaster, disorder, and contamination. Here’s a sample of his rhetoric: “As the colossal World Trade Center towers sank down from the sky and into themselves, they spewed out their burned guts in an impossible fountain of horror. Impossible and unthinkable, yet it was happening all right.” It was easier to blame 9/11 on “North Atlantic secularism” provoking retribution than in the next catastrophic challenge: Hurricane Sandy. I’m more enthusiastic about the target for blame in this flood and blackout: corporations and profiteers. We’re back to the equivalence of money with shit as we shovel the mud-diarrhea out of the art galleries of Chelsea and Tribeca, identify the bodies, and add up the insurance payout.
Wilshire says, “Some deeply believe that any attempt to explain genocide is a tacit exoneration of it. One thinks: “To explain it is to adduce causes such that those caught up in them cannot do otherwise. So they are not responsible. So they cannot be blamed. No, genocide is absolute evil, the work of weird demonic forces beyond natural understanding.”
“But I believe this is an inverted form of dogmatism, group mystification, a version of tacit supernaturalism. It is to claim to know we cannot know evil, and without even trying to know it. It cannot face the actual facts of our weird emotionality, our ephemeralness and vulnerability, our limited point of view, and the devious ways of denying these painful actualities.”
“If we begin to explain evil acts it will not be to deny that they are evil. It will deepen our sense of that evil, how wretched, pathetic, horrible, and deplorable it is. Evil is an ever-present possibility of the human condition, I believe. We must try to stop it. “