Wednesday, July 10, 2002

COGITATIONS AND RUMINATIONS ON THE TODDLER AS PROTO-TOTALITARIAN: I wonder if the war against Islamism lends support to an argument I've been chewing on: that the Islamist threat to civilization shouldn't be characterized as "religious" anymore than the communist and fascist threats should be characterized as "secular," because what each of these threats have in common, and what drives them, and what makes them so dangerous and destructive of the lives of millions of people, is that they're utopianist ideologies. Communists wanted to create the global worker's paradise at the end of history; fascists wanted to create the perfect nation-state; and Islamists want to create the perfect Islamic state, a polity and economy perfectly governed by "Islamic" ideals. Each ideology seeks to create heaven on earth; each has the impossible goal of human perfection, whether on a national or global scale; and each tries to square the circle of perfecting human nature by killing off imperfect human beings. My point is that we don't need to blame religiously-inspired Islamic terrorism on religion anymore than we need to blame atheistic-materialist-bad-economics-ly-inspired communist terrorism on atheism and dumb economics or nationalistically-inspired fascist terrorism on nationalism. It doesn't matter whether you like religious folk, atheists and dumb economists, or nationalists, none of them are dangerous until they decide to create a perfect society by force of arms. Now all of this cogitation on the common utopianism of religious and secular totalitarians relates to my cogitation on a related theory, that utopianists are just toddlers who never grew up. Despite their messiness and unruliness, the toddlers I've known have all had an instinct to impose their notion of perfection on the world. As a child, symmetry fascinated me. My Lego constructions and my drawings had to be geometric and symmetrical. If I'd known about them, I'd have preferred French gardens to English. In childhood games, I demanded perfect obedience from my younger siblings, and when such obedience did not come, I responded with force, until Mom or Dad threatened me with a good whuppin'. To this day, my wife mocks my cooking, because I insist on seeing whether the meniscus lines up with the measurement mark on our liquid measuring cups. My wife confesses to annoying her parents as a child by reading them riddles from a book, then telling them they got the answer wrong when they did not give the exact, word for word, article for article, comma for comma answer in the book. I see the same instincts in my two-and-a-half-year old son, who lines up his cars in perfectly straight lines, and throws a hissy fit when his perfectly straight building-block tower falls over. Kids don't want to be governed, but they want to govern and bring order to a messy world. Totalitarian dictators are much the same, only they use bigger words and carry AK-47s. But the difference is that most toddlers grow up and out of their instinct to control others. They discover that humans and human affairs are messy and unpredictable, that they often don't live up to their own principles, and that it's hard enough (and much more fun) to control one's own life and put principles and ideals into individual action than to create the perfect society out of zillions of people. But a few toddlers never grow out of their instinctive totalitarianism and, fired by religion, materialism and bad economics, or nationalism, or some other idea we haven't thought about yet, try to impose their order on the rest of us. Now, when these totalitarians were young, they probably just needed whuppin'. But once they grow up, and take up arms against the rest of us, they just need killin'.

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