Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words


  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.



Dead head, dumb head

There is a strain of thought, if that is the word I want, that in America is peculiar to liberalism. At any signal success by national security forces, they warn us solemnly that in fighting our enemies we are in danger of becoming infected by them or just becoming them. It seems to be there all the time, perhaps because liberals are pretty much opposed to the U.S.’ fighting our enemies. Perhaps the word is cliché, or maybe prejudice.

Lee Siegel takes a ride on this trolley at The New Republic as he reflects, if that is the word I want, on the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last week (Zarqawi's New Hostages). As is typical of non-Angry Left day-trippers, the monster down the track is evoked by projecting his own emotions upon the nation.

“[W]hy do I wince when I see the image of his death-face, bruised and distended, in all the papers and on all the airwaves?” he asks. Because we have “become inured to real images of death” he explains.
It's not just the face of this sick and sadistic man that you take in when you look at his lifeless features. It's the fact of violent death in general, beyond Zarqawi. As you look at the--truly obsessive--repetition of his image, you are not just enjoying the profound satisfaction of seeing evil defeated. You are experiencing a greater intimacy with the fact of killing . . .
Siegel is not only projecting his reactions on the rest of us, he is projecting his news-consumption habits on the vast majority of us who are not culture commentators and so do not have to read four newspapers and three news magazines before breakfast and obsessively surf news Web sites and cable channels. What struck me about the news coverage was how quickly the al-Zarqawi story disappeared or moved on.

The projection of his own guilty pleasure onto the general populace is even more obvious in his closing passage, which builds its case on utterly imaginary insights into the “national psyche”.
Zarqawi was the mastermind behind the beheadings of Nicholas Berg and other innocent victims of his rage, a rare savagery that sickened, horrified, and perhaps also fascinated Americans. The act of cutting off a person's head, an American person's head, traumatized the national psyche. That is one reason why the image of the dead Zarqawi, which consists of only the beheader's head, is so cathartic to (sic) so many people. [How many people? What people? No one I know.]

But the fanatically reiterated image is also a way for this rare savagery to creep through the back door into our vindicated psyches. Zarqawi made beheading real, and now this image of Zarqawi makes it familiar, and just, and ours. Eye for an eye is a militant Muslim thing; it is their thing. . . . Now, with Zarqawi's head in all the papers, on all the airwaves--on all the poles of our culture-- this insanely archaic type of justice is becoming ours. Believe me, I like seeing that image of bloody extinction, too. I feel worried, and ashamed.
[emphasis added]
I think what Siegel really likes is pretending to flagellate himself because it shows how much more virtuous he is than the rest of us. His fervor carries him beyond coherence: What does he mean by “Zarqawi's head [is] on all the poles of our culture”? Oh, maybe he’s referring to the Philadelphia’s Symphony’s concert this weekend, where the stage was festooned with giant banners of Zarqawi’s bruised and distended mug.

I know the word for this, lots of words—horse-hockey, sentimental sludge, thumb-sucking blather—take your pick. Siegel has gone off to that special place that every liberals has, where he is purer and more sensitive and more virtuous than everyone else, and he can scold everyone else for how naughty they are.


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