And now we get to the age-old enemy, the first enemy not of man but of man’s ability to organize, grow, develop and live in ways that stand the chance of increasing the level of civilization in the world.
This enemy was with us when humans first acted autonomously, then tribally, trying to prevent the autonomous or tribal pre-civilized person from doing anything other than complying or obeying. It pressed at the borders of organized villages, then towns, then cities, then states (as well as emerging from within those organized entities) in order to grab what it could, and enslave anyone unfortunate enough to survive the enemy’s onslaught. And it is with us now, no matter how many of us may have forgotten (or try to pretend it’s been bred out of the world).
That enemy is ruthlessness, an entity long-time readers will be familiar with since I’ve written about it a number of times in the context of the behavior of Israel’s foes generally, and BDS practitioners specifically.
But while I’ve previously discussed ruthlessness in various specific and contemporary contexts, I never got the chance to describe how Lee Harris discovered this enemy through the analysis of human development deriving from his theory of how civilization came about (described in the last post).
In one of my favorite parts of his first book, Harris speculates on how primitive man may have developed from autonomous (and nearly autistic) individual to a creature that interacts with others – either indifferently or aggressively (with cooperatively still off in the future).
Such speculation was first done by Rousseau who, in his Social Contract, posited pre-history as an idyllic scene of spontaneous cooperation that was only corrupted when someone invented the ideas of property and ownership, in effect declaring that the land everyone was sitting and cooperating on was his and no one else’s.
This “property-is-theft,” version of original sin obviously had great consequence in political history following Rousseau. But Harris takes a more pragmatic view of how primitive people may have first interacted, one that does not require complex ideas such as property and ownership to spring spontaneously into the mind of primitive people.
For early man either killed animals or gathered nuts and berries for his own survival, or did the next best (and natural) thing of stealing food from someone who had already done the work of hunting and gathering.
And as some people came to slowly realize that working together (most likely with family members) could increase the success of the hunt, another group of people came up with an equally ground-breaking revelation: that rather than just steal food from someone else, they could first kill that person and take what they wanted.
The reason this was so ground breaking was that murder was not necessary to survival (since simpler theft was always an option). But by needlessly killing another – and being known as someone who was ready to do so again – the killer could, in effect, make all those who lived in fear of him become his slaves. And there lies the origin of ruthlessness.
For the ruthless will always needlessly push the boundaries to get their way. Throughout history, you can see it in the actions of barbarian tribes pushing at the city walls from Rome to China, as well in the behavior of hard men within those walls who would ruthlessly utilize both the tools of violence and the tools of the civilization they wished to control to achieve their own ends.
In our rational age, we often think of violence and cruelty as senseless, welling up from irrational places such as hatred and fear. But with regard to ruthlessness, nothing could be further from the truth. For from the vantage point of the ruthless actor, acting violently and ruthlessly is perfectly rational. For if your desire is to get your way, to conquer another, to gain and hold power, to amass great wealth and the independence to do as you please (regardless of what this means for others), then the simplest way to achieve these ends (which are, of course, beneficial to the ruthless actor) is to act ruthlessly to get them.
The classic contemporary example of this phenomenon came in Europe before World War II where a traumatized continent would do anything to avoid another conflict like World War I. And while this sentiment was rational, so too was the decision of Nazi Germany to threaten to unleash such a conflict unless it got what it wanted (which it did for years without firing a shot, until it pushed too far – a classic error made by the ruthless).
Harris’ ruthlessness theory is one of the few that fits all the data we see when we look at the aggression that’s been directed at Israel since before its birth.
Israel’s neighbors demonstrate the phenomenon most overtly with a series of classic ruthless actors (originally kings, then military dictators, and now would-be theocrats claiming to represent God on earth) killing Jews when they can get their hands on them, but more frequently using the military machinery supposedly created to fight the Jews to murder and suppress their own people.
And here at ground level, what better describes the readiness of the BDSers to wreak havoc on civic society (in the forms of schools, churches, unions, co-ops and the like), many of which are fragile institutions that exist for reasons other than passing anti-Israel boycott and divestment resolutions than the willingness to act ruthlessly? Even their strange behavior (such as BDS sing-alongs and costumed protests) represents the BDSer’s readiness to do ruthless violence to their own character if it stands the chance of helping them get what they want.
One can easily link Harris’ fantasy-ideology thesis to this notion of ruthlessness since ruthless actors will always need a justification for their unprecedented ugly behavior. But their motivations/justifications are as academic as the question of whether ruthless actors are drawn to irrational Israel hatred, or irrational Israel hatred has the power to turn normal people into ruthless actors. For regardless of their motivations or origins, ruthlessness is the real enemy we are all fighting.
And now that we’ve identified who that real enemy is, it’s time to look at one more thinker who has identified the mechanism that links ruthlessness to anti-Jewish politics to create what I have been calling “The Big Ugly.”