There’s that curious scene in Hamlet when Polonius, who seems to be some sort of advisor to the royal family – James Baker to the first George Bush or Karl Rove to the second – tells the queen that her son is quite mad:
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.
Yes, this man is a dangerous blowhard who cannot define madness – you see, madness is best defined as the condition of being mad. It’s simple really. And it’s not a definition – it is circular logic, or the absence of logic. Why do the terrorists want to terrorize us? Because they’re terrorists, of course – as you recall from the last administration. It’s simple, really.
That’s it? Many were puzzled by George Bush.
And Polonius was puzzled by Hamlet. Later in the act, as Polonius very slowly realizes that Hamlet is making fun of him, Polonius says this in an aside – “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” It dawns on him that something is up. Maybe he should not have been so glib and pompous – this madness stuff is curiously tricky. It’s easy to say oh, he’s crazy – forget about him. And it’s dangerous. Polonius shrugs and seems to put the whole madness question off – it’s something he’ll think about later. But the end of the next act he’s dead. Hamlet suddenly senses someone is hiding behind the curtain and listening in on his critical one-on-one with his mother – where he’s about to resolve all issues and make everything right – and he stabs through the curtains, shouting about a rat. And that’s that. And then he utters that other famous line – “I’ll lug the guts into the neighbor room. Mother, good night.” Polonius pays the price for not considering the nature of madness at all. It’s easy to call someone crazy. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they’re not.
And on Friday, September 10, there was this curious Reuters item:
The estranged daughter of a U.S. pastor who has threatened to burn copies of the Koran believes he has gone mad and needs help, she said in a German media interview conducted on Friday.
Emma Jones, who lives in Germany, told Spiegel Online she had e-mailed her father urging him to drop his plan to burn copies of the Islamic holy book, writing: “Dad, leave it be!”
He did not reply, she said.
Facing an outpouring of concern from U.S. leaders and anger from Muslims worldwide, Pastor Terry Jones, of Gainesville, Florida, said on Friday he no longer planned to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
But Jones appeared to leave open the possibility he could change his mind if a proposed meeting fails to take place on Saturday in New York with Muslim leaders planning to build an Islamic center and mosque near the site of the September 11 attacks.
“My father is not one to give up,” said Emma Jones, 30. “As a daughter, I see the good-natured core inside him. But I think he needs help.”
“I think he has gone mad,” she added.
But she doesn’t cite the obvious – “Terry Jones, the Florida pastor threatening to burn a Koran tomorrow on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was a high school classmate of Rush Limbaugh.” That would be Cape Central High School in Missouri – the class of 1969. Something was going on there. Instead, Emma Jones goes on about how the Christian community her father spent years building in Cologne slowly turned into a sect – all that total obedience and renounce you own family and give me all your money nonsense. Those folks kicked out her father in 2008 – but that’s a really complicated and ugly story as it seem that before Jones began ranting about Islam, Der Stern reported that he was having trouble with the local government because he organized a group of nurses to encourage very ill patients to end treatment in favor of prayer, and a lot of them died. And there were tax problems too – along with all the cult stuff that made the group tell him that he ought to just go away. The Reuters item was just a stub.
But is he mad? He’s still holding that threat in his back pocket, that threat to burn a thousand Korans in a big bonfire. It won’t happen on 9/11 as originally planned, but unless the imam in New York talks with him, or Obama and Biden and Pelosi and Reid agree to resign, or he gets free meals at Red Lobster for the rest of his life, or a new pick-up truck or something, he’ll do it – he swears he’ll do it.
Leonard Pitts Jr. in the Miami Herald lays it out:
He will do this, he says, even though he’s been denied a permit.
He will do it, he says, in the face of protest from Christians and Muslims alike.
He will do it, he says, even though half his church has deserted him.
He will do it, he says, even though it cannot help but inflame radical Muslims.
He will do it, he says, even though it might place U.S. soldiers overseas at risk.
Is that madness?
Pitts thinks so, but Pitts is no Polonius, and actually defines the madness:
There is in the act of burning something primitive and tribalistic, something that appeals to the lizard brain which has no ability or desire to reason, no comprehension of ideals and abstract concepts, that knows only that it lives in fear of a world it cannot understand and will do anything to send the fear away.
The process of becoming a truly human being is the process of conquering that lizard brain. Unfortunately, some people never do.
On Saturday, some of those people will gather round a bonfire to watch pages blacken and curl and turn to smoke. You listen to the hatred spewing from respectable leaders in prominent places, you think of how normal that has become, and one thing suddenly seems starkly clear:
We’re burning a whole lot more than books.
Pitts wrote that, of course, before the Saturday event was called off for now – “suspended” as Jones puts it. But the point remains. We are living in the Age of the Lizard Brain:
Indeed, it is difficult to escape a sickening sense that he only reflects the Zeitgeist of a nation that seems to have grown not simply more intolerant, but more accepting of its intolerance, more comfortable with its intolerance, more willing to rationalize its intolerance, than at any time in almost 50 years.
It’s hardly news anymore when a conservative pundit or public figure – and yes, that’s almost always the profile – says something belittling, bellicose, ignorant or hateful about gay people, Hispanics, blacks or undocumented immigrants.
And Muslims? Lord, it’s been open season on them for years, the increasingly strident denunciations of Islam culminating in this summer of discontent, of angry protest against proposed mosques, not just in lower Manhattan, but also in such far-flung burgs as Murfreesboro, Tenn., Temecula, Calif., and Sheboygan, Wis.
Jones’ plan, then, feels somehow … inevitable.
It’s odd how that word keeps coming up – but there’s a lot of madness going around, as many know only that they live in fear of a world they cannot understand, and will do anything to send the fear away, as in this bit of news:
This past Tuesday, the FBI arrested 26-year old Christian radical Justin Carl Moose in Concord, NC for “providing information to create explosives” to “blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic.” Through his conversations with an FBI informant and his Facebook page, Moose expressed virulent “anger at abortion doctors, President Barack Obama’s health care plan, and plans to build a mosque near ground zero in New York City.” He goes on to describe himself as “the Christian counterpart to Osama bin Laden” who “has learned a lot from the Muslim terrorists and have no problem using their tactics.”
That may be mad, but it also may be inevitable. And Andrew Sullivan thinks he knows why – it started with the Coat Factory Community Center stuff, where the Republicans, out of power and even less popular than the Democrats, decided to play a new card, which Sullivan calls Christianism. And that changed everything:
It’s a tipping point where mainstream American Muslims become indistinguishable from the mass murderers of 9/11 in the psyches of those too poorly educated to know the difference. Religious warfare, once begun, is hard to stop; and when it is tacitly endorsed by a political party many of whose members believe that the president is a Muslim and no one in the GOP directly attacks, rebuts and discredits this nonsense, we are in very dangerous territory. The disturbing fusion of nationalist Christianity and loathing of Obama in the Beck-Palin movement – crystallized by the Park51/Cordoba contretemps and the August Mall rally – wittingly or unwittingly gives these violent fringes a coherence and legitimacy. Because it’s not just hatred of Obama at stake anymore; it’s a conflation of Obama with Islam and then a conflation of Islam with Jihadist terror. If that’s in your mind, it takes very little to set off a chain of inflammatory acts that build on one another.
Is there a method to their madness? Well, it may not be madness, but there is method:
No, the GOP elites have not done this explicitly; but they have allowed these connections to be drawn in the minds of many of their followers, and in a time of economic depression, and easy Internet demagoguery, this simply must not stand. We need more Republicans like Colin Powell to stand up for the New York mosque and for American Muslims, whose admirable conduct these past nine years has been in stark contrast to much of the extremism in Europe. We need Republican leaders aggressively to counter these myths about the president, to say what McCain was forced to say in the campaign. We also desperately need them to reiterate that being a Muslim and being an American is no contradiction and no conflict; and that our war is absolutely not with Islam, but with those who pervert it and take it to violent extremes. I reiterate my request that former president Bush come out on this, to pierce the noise on the far right and defuse it as much as possible.
That won’t happen. You don’t walk away from a sure-fire strategy to win back power. But Sullivan sees a bit of a downside:
We are in a religious war; but it is not one religion against another. It is for freedom of religion against those who would destroy it by violence and tyranny.
We are losing this distinction. If we lose it, we are lost ourselves in a war that will forever provide its own fuel for continuation.
But there was Obama’s news conference where the president said this:
One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal-clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam. We were at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam, had stolen its banner to carry out their outrageous acts. And I was so proud of the country rallying around that idea, that notion that we are not going to be divided by religion; we’re not going to be divided by ethnicity. We are all Americans. We stand together against those who would try to do us harm.
And that’s what we’ve done over the last nine years. And we should take great pride in that. And I think it is absolutely important now for the overwhelming majority of the American people to hang on to that thing that is best in us, a belief in religious tolerance, clarity about who our enemies are – our enemies are al Qaeda and their allies who are trying to kill us, but have killed more Muslims than just about anybody on Earth. We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other.
And I will do everything that I can as long as I am President of the United States to remind the American people that we are one nation under God, and we may call that God different names but we remain one nation. And as somebody who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can raise. But I’m also respectful that people of different faiths can practice their religion, even if they don’t subscribe to the exact same notions that I do, and that they are still good people, and they are my neighbors and they are my friends, and they are fighting alongside us in our battles.
Was Obama begging Bush to chime in and say what he said before? That won’t happen. Bush’s party benefits from as many folks as possible in lizard-brain mode. Encouraging madness is sometimes necessary.
But you can go too far, as Dave Roberts explains here regarding global warming skeptics:
Consider what the Limbaugh/Morano crowd is saying about climate: not only that the world’s scientists and scientific institutions are systematically wrong, but that they are purposefully perpetrating a deception. Virtually all the world’s governments, scientific academies, and media are either in on it or duped by it. The only ones who have pierced the veil and seen the truth are American movement conservatives, the ones who found death panels in the healthcare bill.
And this might be more dangerous than you think:
It’s a species of theater, repeated so often people have become inured, but if you take it seriously it’s an extraordinary charge. For one thing, if it’s true that the world’s scientists are capable of deception and collusion on this scale, a lot more than climate change is in doubt. These same institutions have told us what we know about health and disease, species and ecosystems, energy and biochemistry. If they are corrupt, we have to consider whether any of the knowledge they’ve generated is trustworthy. We could be operating our medical facilities, economies, and technologies on faulty theories. We might not know anything! Here we are hip-deep in postmodernism and it came from the right, not the left academics they hate.
Something is up. But since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief – these folks are mad. But it can be explained, not just asserted. But that doesn’t make it any better, does it?