Will the War on Terror Ever End?

Wars are fought to be won. Yet the War on Terror feels immortal. A whole generation has come of age since 9/11, yet still no end can be seen. No end seems possible. An eternal war. A contradiction in terms?

When will the War on Terror ever end?

The harder the goal is pursued the faster it recedes. The papers are full of blood each day. Again. Again. Again. Such news barely registers anymore.

Can this war ever end?

Let us take the War on Terror at its most noble. Let us leave aside all those dark questions about oil, or American hegemony. This is the good War on Terror: a fight to defend democracy. A fight against the people who want to violently overthrow freedom, and replace it with an empire of intolerant theocracy.

In this war Democracy dominants the intellectual space, it holds the moral high ground, and it has chosen to rely on two tools above all: the law and the military.

Be a terrorist and you will get arrested. Be a nation of terrorists and you will get bombed. The aim – put every last terrorist in prison, or a grave.

Will this work?

Will the bloodshed ever end?

I don’t know what will happen in the future. But I do know a little history. Idly skimming the pages of the past, something familiar caught my eye. I feel like we’ve been here before.

Once upon a time there was another power. It too dominated the intellectual space. It too held the moral high ground. It too relied on the law and the military.

What caught my eye was a certain obscure old war fought by this power: A murderous ruler harboring evil-doers. A short official invasion to clear them all out. Early success. “Mission accomplished,” one might have been tempted to say. Then decades of war, massacres, reversals, revolts, and – if you care to use the word – genocide. Sound familiar?

That war was the Albigensian Crusade. That power was Catholicism. This was the age of the Crusades. And when you start to think about it, the fundamentals of it all, it begins to look eerily familiar.

In medieval times the great enemy of the Church was heresy. Heretics were a threat to goodness of the gospel. Heretics where a threat to power of the church. Heretics were willing to use violence. Heretics were evil. Heretics had to be stopped. Heretics were an enemy within.

Being a heretic could get you arrested. Staying a heretic could get you executed. Being a land of heretics could get you invaded.

This was the War on Heresy.

And it was brutal.

The Waldensians were burnt. The Free Spirits were burnt. The Lollards were burnt. Even the dead were dug up and burnt.

Military campaigns were launched against all the enemies of Catholicism: the Muslims in Spain, the pagans in the Baltic, and, of course, those Albigensians in France – those ones got hunted down for decade after decade after decade.

In the War on Heresy torture became permissible, executions became a necessary evil, and collateral damage was dismissed with the words, “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

To pursue the heretics unto the ends of the Earth, a special anti-heresy division was created  – the Inquisition. Its reputation lives on. Noble aims got mixed up with dirty politics, and corruption, and outright sadism. The noble faith of all-loving Jesus was enforced by boots and chains.

And it worked.

For centuries it worked.

Heresy was under control.

Until it wasn’t.

The Protestant Reformation broke out. Whole countries went heretic. Many of those previously defeated heretics reemerged and fused to the new movement. Suddenly there was an ocean of heretics.

They couldn’t all be imprisoned, reformed, or executed. Not that it wasn’t tried. Millions of people were stabbed, hacked, and burnt to death as both sides engaged in decades of war, massacre, and counter massacre in a futile attempt to eliminate the other. Both failed. But Catholicism failed most. It permanently lost its War on Heresy.

The medieval Catholics never dealt with the real problem: that their own moral corruption was fueling outrage at the Church, and that universal agreement on religion is an impossibility. They fought a war of ideas, a war of morals, with a butchers knife. They lost the moral high ground. Then the intellectual space. Then their political power.

Today the heretics rule the world.

Our War on Terror is also a war on heresy. Democracy has heretics.  They are those groups of people which cannot be tolerated in a tolerant society – the people who don’t believe in tolerance. The two are mutually incompatible, just as Catholicism and it’s heretics were mutually incompatible.

The Communists. The Fascists. Now the Islamic terrorists. They are our heretics.

Enraptured by the mythos of World War Two we are snared in the belief that the enemies of democracy can be defeated with guns. World War Two made such a grand tale. It felt so final. It was our glorious crusade. We defeated Nazism because we shot all the Nazis.

But a war of ideas is not a war of guns. Nazi-style beliefs still lurk underground. Waiting. Surprisingly common.

In contrast, Communism was ultimately defeated because Communism was discredited, by the Communists. They proved themselves a failure. Now not even Communists want to be Communists.

So how will our current war against today’s theocratic heretics of democracy end?

History suggests four broad options.

One: the war will never end. Not for us at least. A bullet cannot stop an idea, and an idea cannot stop a bullet. Each bullet inspires a new convert. Each convert inspires a new bullet. This war will be waged for centuries.

Two: the war will be lost. The war will be abandoned because the war itself is what feeds the enemy. One day there will be too many heretics, and too few bullets.

Three: the war will be lost. The war will have made us our own heretics. A Christian who kills souls to save souls can hardly be called a Christian. The free who destroy freedom to save freedom are not free. Democracy will pass away. Instead we will kill Muslims because they are killing us, and Muslims will kill us because we are killing them.

Lastly – four: the war will be won. This fight will be seen for what it is: a contest of ideas, a struggle of social change, a choice between democracy and theocracy. We’ve made this choice before. The implosion of the old Crusader’s world, that all-encompassing violent repressive theocracy, is exactly the world from which modern democracy was born.

Perhaps, it could be done again?

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole:

The Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars, on Wikipedia, here.

~

© Under Obvious, 2017.

The True Meaning of Lawns

The weekend rolls around. A look out the window. Grass. Long grass. Didn’t I just mow that? Go to the garage. Check the oil. Fill up the tank. Yank, yank, yank on the cord till it starts. Time to mow the lawns. Suburban Sisyphus begins again.

Even now the air hums with lawnmowers. Yet I know from conversation that many of these people will in truth despise their lawn. And I know from walking the neighborhood that few people use their lawn as anything more than a spare car park, or an open air dog toilet. Yet they toil. They buy the petrol, fix the mower, weekly they battle the grass.

Why bother? It’s not like it’s the only option. We could have:

  • zen rock gardens,
  • concrete slabs,
  • fields of veggies,
  • piles of gravel,
  • sunflowers,
  • wildflowers,
  • permaculture food forests,
  • carpets of rosemary, mint, and thyme,
  • an elaborate series of interconnected goldfish ponds,
  • or we could have at least stuck a goat on it.

Instead we have lawns.

Why?

It wasn’t always this way. The original lawn was not lawn, but pasture – somewhere to graze your sheep. Purely functional. Then in the 18th Century the English landscape garden was born. Naturalness was the key to this style, and grass was front and center. If you want to know what these gardens look like, visit a golf course.

At this point the lawn was pure aristocratic extravagance: beautiful, expensive, and pointless.

Then in the 19th Century the lawnmower was invented. Lawns went mainstream. However, this was at some level still both a status symbol, as well as  a functional sporting thing: croquet, tennis, lawn bowls. The modern pointless lawn would have to await another invention.

Suburbia.

Now the aesthetic of the English landscape garden was applied to town planning.

Strangely, in these suburbs the lawn has come to play a much bigger role than pure aesthetics. If you want to discover that role for yourself, then stop mowing. Life could get very weird.

Passers-by will shake their heads, your neighbors will twitch with an unnatural desire to mow your lawns for you, and you might even get arrested. Lawns spark an alarming degree of passion. Fanatics will cover the slightest brown blemish with green paint. Heretics will defiantly let the yard go wild.

Lawns are a statement.

Lawns are a moral symbol.

In a community dominated by lawns, with unfenced front yards, we become one lawn indivisible. The state of your lawn becomes a statement of virtue. The unkempt is the un-neighborly, the unreliable, the possibly dealing drugs or dead. Tear up the lawn and you are tearing up the community, setting yourself apart, destroying the illusion that we all live in one big happy park. The lawn is the symbol of the egalitarian, affluent community.

That is the idealized philosophy of lawns. This moral pressure ensures that even those who hate lawns have them, and those who have lawns maintain them. So ingrained is the idea of lawns that we struggle to imagine suburbia without them.

Yet lawns might not last. In my own community, lawns have become an inversion of their origin. Lawns, in the open front yard style, are the garden of the poor. The rich, in contrast, can be identified by the height of their walls and smallness of their lawn. The middle-classes, for the most part, are stuck between the two extremes, unsure which way to go. Considering how we got lawns, they will likely choose walls. It almost makes one feel sad for lawns.

Deeper Down the Rabbit hole:

If you’re looking for someone to blame for inventing lawns, try  Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Here.

“Turf Wars” Evan Ratliff. Here. An interesting read on the fight over lawns.

The Lawn Institute – making the case for lawns since the 1950s. Note how community is one of the first arguments they turn to. Here.

It’s not just lawns. See “Suburban Ideals on England’s Interwar Council Estates” for an example of how suburban gardening in general has always been a minefield. Here

 

 

© Under Obvious, 2016.

A Pirate is not a Pirate is a Pirate

Blackbeard was a pirate. He shot at people with cannons. The Vikings were pirates. They were into raping and pillaging. Napster was a den of pirates. They gave us free music.

 Something isn’t right here.

Why is copyright infringement called piracy?

It makes no sense.

A pirate is a thief in a boat. Copyright infringement is different from theft. Boats are optional. For example, if I steal your wallet, then you have no wallet. That’s theft. If I used a boat, then I’m a pirate. However, if I make a copy of your brand new novel The Heart of Love

Nothing happens.

You don’t lose anything, except… a possibility: the chance to sell me The Heart of Love.

Likewise, if I give away copies of The Heart of Love to the whole world, then all you have lost are more opportunities. Is this harmful to your revenue? Potentially. Is it theft? Not quite. Is there a boat? I wish.

So why do we call this piracy? Is it a bad metaphor? We surf the web. The web is the ocean. Computers are boats. Therefore the criminals are pirates?

The truth is much stranger. And older. Piracy was born back when… well, back when piracy was born. Blackbeard-style muskets and peg-legs piracy that is. Sometime after the invention of the printing press, back when pirates were a real hazard to your ocean-going health, people started calling copyright infringement “Piracy”. Actually, that’s not quite right. Or weird enough. It wasn’t quite copyright they were talking about. That didn’t exist yet. “Piracy” predates copyright.

Everything making even less sense now?

The connection becomes clearer when we consider how pirates like Blackbeard often got their start in life. They were privateers – legal government backed pirates. Military. Then they went rogue. They become outlaw pirates. Unauthorised. Illegal. Perhaps… a little bit like brother Cuthbert setting up one of these new fangled Gutenberg book making machines in yonder barn without getting the proper permits. Hmmm? Unauthorised! Illegal! Naughty, Cuthbert! Naughty!

Let’s say you don’t like brother Cuthbert churning out bootleg copies of racy Renaissance poetry. You’re in the guild. You got the royal permits. You got the legally guaranteed monopoly on that poetry. Cuthbert is undermining the whole system! Well then, you’ll need a good slur. Something with emotional punch. How about “Pirate”?

Somewhere, someone struck upon this word, and it stuck.

Strangely, by the 1600s “piracy” had become a technical term, whereas copyright as we know it was still on the way. But the word “piracy” likely did play into how we would come to see things. The word “piratedoes two things:

1) it tips the emotional scales against the person working outside the official system, and

2) it creates a sense of how the world ought to be: a world where words and ideas can be treated like gold and tobacco. Things that can be stolen by pirates. Property. Intellectual property. “Pirate” is a very useful word to have if you happen to own those property rights. Touch my property and you are a thief. We hang thieves. And pirates.

This is the view, and the emotion, we have ended up with. Regardless of how copyright ought to be dealt with, the copyright debate has been biased in a certain direction for a very long time. “Piracy” helped put that bias in place, and “Piracy” will help keep it there. It would seem that this paradoxical label was never harmed by its contradictions. Chances are it was popular because of them.

 

Deeper Down the Rabbit hole:

Copyright And Incomplete Historiographies: Of Piracy, Propertization, And Thomas Jefferson. Justin Hughes. (2006). Southern California Law Review [Vol. 79:993], Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 166. Here

 

© Under Obvious, 2016.