It takes tremendous effort

It takes tremendous effort

It takes tremendous effort to bring dormant aggression to the surface, and to give it a coherent, collective expression. This is as true of mass atrocities in distant lands as it is in the ominous rise of populist hatred and terrorism in our own midst. There is nothing random or spontaneous about radical evil. It is a conspiracy of prodigious proportions. Rarely does it creep up on us without warning, without premeditation, and planning. The real question is not whether we’re capable of stopping atrocities. It is whether we have the will to intervene.

–Payam Akhavan, Special Advisor to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (among quite a few other things), in the third 2017 Massey lecture (MP3)

… yes, we’re at two posts, two things from Ideas. Matter of timing. I happened to start working through a long-backlogged queue of them, just as I also started this thing back up. Got to this one in a block of these Masseys, earlier today.

There’s an element of this thing that really struck me: Akhavan’s entirely fascinating–and I think persuasive–view of the premediated nature of atrocities.

It’s a bit of a trope that humans are just naturally violent. Sure, or maybe…

… but I think he’s got credibility, here, as someone who’s been on the ground through a few of these things now. He makes the point in the context of a description of the Rwandan genocide, but he’s seen others. And it’s a point well-taken, I think: genocide, requiring the organization it does, is hardly a spontaneous crime. Nor do they rely simply upon some reflexive animal instinct, more generally, these manipulative and frequently obviously politically beneficial (narrowly, and only to some) programs of hatred, spurred by modern populists.

There are beneficiaries. There is planning. These things, they are also engineered. It doesn’t just happen.

There’s a longer essay lurking in this, it seems to me. Think also of all those safaris networks and newspapers go on, into whichever imagined ‘Trump country’ hinterland. They seem, to me, almost to deny agency to their subjects. Like those they interview simply naturally support a demagogue, as some kind of instinctive reflex. As though they’re no more at fault for this than is your knee for twitching, when your doctor smacks it with a rubber hammer. And let’s not think either of the demagogue himself as anything other than an inevitability, given, perhaps, economic stresses.

I think, on the contrary, I’m inclined to go with Akhavan, here. The effort, the organization, it does seem to stick out, through these miserable histories.

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