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[Nettime-nl] Enzensberger [was derde kolone]
Eveline Lubbers on Thu, 27 Sep 2001 22:14:42 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-nl] Enzensberger [was derde kolone]

> > >> Voordat men de straat optrekt, raadt ik iedereen wel aan even het
> > >> bijzonder heldere verhaal van Hans Magnus Enzensberger In de
> > >> NRC van vandaag (za 22) te lezen.
> > >Ik lees het NRC niet :(

Waarbij het jammer is dat de NRC dat stuk dan weer niet op de website
heeft gezet, van dat zuinige PCM-niets-van-Internet-begrepen gedrag.

Het verhaal komt uit de de Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, maar ik struikelde
daar over archief dat betaald moet worden.
In Australie had iemand het integraal in het Engels op het net gezet, ergens
verborgen in een discussie, ter verduidelijking; daar heb ik het dan weer
afgeplukt, ben de URL al weer kwijt.


Human Sacrifice Is a Thoroughly Modern Phenomenon

By Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 17

Born in 1929, the poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger was a member of the influential postwar literary Group 47; in 1965 he founded the journal Kursbuch, which he led until 1975. Since 1979 he has lived in Munich. Numerous books of his poetry and essays are available in English, including "Civil Wars: From L.A. to Bosnia" (1995).

The swifter the comment, the shorter-lived its relevance. Nothing against timeliness! But moments when no one knows what will happen next are precisely the times when there is good reason to attempt a distanced view.

For example, on globalization: A German academic by the name of Karl Marx analyzed this phenomenon in considerable depth as much as 150 years ago. He certainly would not have dreamed of being "for" or "against" it. In the conflicts that erupted in places like Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa, he would have seen no more than a bout of shadow-boxing. Protesting against such a massive historical fact may be honorable, but the best it can achieve is worldwide television drama, showing that naive anti-globalization protesters are in fact themselves part of what they seek to combat.

In his day, Marx described globalization as a purely political and economic phenomenon. And in 1848, that was the only possible angle, as the expansion of the world market and the politics of the colonial powers were then the key driving forces. But since then, this irreversible process has come to affect all aspects of life. Those who look at globalization in purely economic terms have not understood it. Today, nothing is left that can remain separate from it, neither religion nor science, neither culture nor technology, not to mention consumerism and the media. Which is why its costs are counted everywhere, in every sphere.

Not only the countless economic losers are affected. Around the globe, sudden collapses, weapons, computer viruses, new types of epidemics, ecological disasters, civil wars and crimes all take their lead from the world market with its currents of money and knowledge. The belief that any society could isolate itself from these consequences is absurd. One such consequence is terrorism. And it would be a miracle if terrorism had remained the only thing not to go global.

Faced with fanaticized masses, the modern world has long clung to the view that it was dealing with the peculiarities of backward societies. Many believed that sooner or later, the unstoppable process of modernization would put an end to such atavisms, even if the occasional relapse proved inevitable.

The murderous energies of today cannot be traced back to any tradition. Neither the civil wars in the Balkans, Africa, Asia and Latin America, the dictatorships in the Middle East, nor the countless "movements" under the banner of Islam should be seen as archaic throwbacks: They are absolutely contemporary phenomena, reactions to the current state of global society. This also applies to a venerable religion such as Islam, although it, like ultra-orthodox Judaism, has not developed any productive ideas for a long time. To date, its strength has consisted in a determined negation of the modern world, to which it thus remains bound.

The immanence of terror, regardless of its source, is evident not only in the protagonists' behavior, but also in their choice of methods, pathological copies of the enemy like those made by a retrovirus of the attacked cell. The feeling that this attack came from outside is mistaken, since no external realm of human and inhuman action exists outside the global context.
Those who carried out the attacks on New York and the Pentagon were right up to date, not only in technical terms. Inspired by the pictorial logic of Western symbolism, they staged the massacre as a media spectacle, adhering in minute detail to scenarios from disaster movies. Such an intimate understanding of American civilization hardly testifies to an anachronistic mentality.

It is no coincidence that at first, doubts were voiced concerning who was behind the attack. On the Internet, blame was leveled at extreme right-wing groups in the United States, while others spoke of Japanese terrorist groups or a Zionist intelligence service plot. As always in such cases, all manner of conspiracy theories immediately sprang up. Such interpretations are a measure of how infectious the culprits' mania is. But they also contain a grain of truth, as they demonstrate how interchangeable the motives for such attacks are. The letters claiming responsibility in the wake of most attacks, full of clichés and phrases learned by rote, resemble one another in their vacuity.

Ideological analysis tells us nothing about the origins of the psychological energy that fuels terror. Labels such as left or right, nation or sect, religion or liberation all lead to exactly the same patterns of behavior, and their only common denominator is paranoia. Just how important the Islamic motive was to last week's mass murder in New York will have to be evaluated. Any other motive would have served just as well.

In a gray area as murky as this one, certainties are hard to come by. Yet it would be hard to overlook the one thing that practically all terrorism as we know it has in common -- the extraordinary self-destructiveness of those who perpetrate it. This is true not only of the groups of conspirators and countless warlords, militias and paramilitary groups that have laid waste to large parts of Africa and Latin America, but also to so-called rogue states such as North Korea and Iraq.

Such dictatorships seem bent less on annihilating their true or imagined enemies than on ruining their own countries. The as-yet unsurpassed pioneer of such suicidal behavior was Adolf Hitler, who was able to count on the support of the vast majority of Germans. Russia took 70 years to reach a state of total collapse, while Iraq even takes pride in its own demise.

Countless "liberation movements" are pursuing similar goals. Algeria, Afghanistan, Angola, the Basque Country, Burundi, Indonesia, Cambodia, Chad, Chechnya, Colombia, Congo, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kashmir, Liberia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda -- they make up an alphabet of horrors that shows no signs of ending.

The logic of self-mutilation applies to the terrorist attacks on the United States too, as their most devastating consequences will have to be borne not by the West, but rather by that part of the world in whose name they were perpetrated. The foreseeable consequences for millions of Muslims will be disastrous. Yet Islamic fundamentalists are already celebrating a war they will never win.

Nor will the suffering be confined to refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants. Beyond all sense of justice, entire peoples from Afghanistan to Palestine will have to pay an enormous political and economic price for the actions of those who claimed to be acting in their name. The expected retaliation will not spare innocents any more than did the attack that provoked it.
The West has consistently underestimated the power of this collective urge to self-mutilation or even suicide. Reflecting on one's own past is apparently not enough to make the unfathomable any less incomprehensible. For that reason, perhaps it is time to risk a comparison with more familiar phenomena. One glance at a newspaper is proof enough of how irresistible this pleasure in one's own demise really is, even in the so- called developed world. Although drug addicts and skinheads knowingly rob themselves of every possible opportunity life has to offer and although hardly a day goes by without some new "family tragedy" or someone going on a shooting spree, we nevertheless continue to assume that most of what we do is dictated by the survival instinct.

Every day brings new evidence to the contrary: A schoolboy lunges at his teachers and fellow pupils with a knife, someone who is HIV-positive tries to infect as many of his sexual partners as possible, a man who feels his boss has treated him unfairly climbs up a tower and shoots at anything that moves -- not despite, but precisely because this massacre will bring his own end sooner.

There are certain parallels between individual death wishes like these and the motives that drove last week's hijackers. No matter how real or imagined the endless calamity is that he believes is threatening him, the individual or collective suicide candidate invariably prefers a calamitous end to every other alternative. The only difference is in the scale. Whereas the skinhead is armed only with a baseball bat and the arsonist only with a gasoline canister, the well-trained assailant has financial backing, sophisticated logistics and state-of- the-art communications and encryption technology at his disposal. And before long he will have nuclear, biological and chemical weapons too.

For all the differences in scale, there is one thing that all these perpetrators have in common. Their aggression is directed not only at others, but rather -- and above all -- at themselves. If a terrorist can claim to be pursuing a higher goal, then so much the better. It does not matter which particular chimera it is. Any authority will do, any divine mission, any sacred fatherland or revolution. If necessary, the murderous self- murderer can even make do without such second- hand justifications altogether. His triumph consists in the fact that he can be neither fought nor punished, because he has already taken care of both these things himself.

Those who prefer to remain alive will have a hard time understanding this. Although the overwhelming majority of us has never felt the urge to go on a rampage, none of us stands a chance against the adherents of suicide. As there are probably hundreds of thousands of human bombs in this world, their violence is likely to accompany us throughout the 21st century. What we are witnessing now is the globalization of another of our species' ancient customs: human sacrifice.

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