Like I said, we’re no angels

A further observation on the rather tired “celebration of the death of OBL” question.

I sometimes pride myself on an unusual ability to happen actually now and then to manage to notice the obvious, but it’s false pride, I know.

I want to look again at what Jeffrey Goldberg’s Torah teacher said.

I earlier pointed out one aspect of a neglected larger context – that OBL, unlike the Egyptians in the Bible story, died through human agency, not by his own bad luck or independent collision with the eternal will.  But there is another relevant aspect of the story, a different kind of distinction, this one directly mentioned by the teacher and yet ignored in her subsequent analysis:

The water closed in on these enemies while the Israelites broke out in ecstatic singing following Moses’ recitation of the “Song of the Sea” found in Exodus 15. The angels, the text states, wanted to sing  but God turned to them and said “My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?”

Note that the human beings, the Israelites, break out in ecstatic singing at the drowning of the Egyptians, and, at least in this recitation, are not criticized for it.  It’s the angels who are told to keep their empyreal mouths shut. The teacher continues (my emphasis):

Of course, there’s a desire to sing. There is a need to cry out in joy. But these knee-jerk reactions should be tempered by the larger question of what a human life is worth. Relief is appropriate. Celebration may just cross over a spiritual line.

Contrary to the teacher’s reading, and my earlier one, the Biblical text appears to be acknowledging and in effect affirming the expression of joy.  There is a need to cry out in joy.

Needs are needs.  There’s no choice about them.

Are human beings supposed to emulate the angels, to become angels?  In my Hermann Cohen-influenced reading of the prophetic teachings, I don’t think so.  Human beings do not become “more divine” by becoming “less human.”  Divine is a different category of existence altogether – human beings at most “draw nearer” to it – while the angels don’t really know what they’re singing about, because they do not also suffer and die.

More after I’ve had a chance to review and reflect on the relevant texts.


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29 comments on “Like I said, we’re no angels

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  1. Interesting perspective. The thing I would review and reflect on myself would be the part about the Divine being a different category. My sense is that mystics see us as divine. That separates their outlook from the institutionalized religious idea about us being eternally separate from God and “His” angels. It goes to the difference between dualism and non-dualism. So I would recommend continuing to be clear about this being a particular religious perspective on things as opposed to being religious substantiation of why it’s okay for humans to celebrate violence.

  2. If it wasn’t for human nature, wouldn’t have no nature at all.
    sez some

    I wouldn’t want to be a part of any nature that would accept me
    sez others.

    I yam what I yam
    is prolly closer to it than any measure of iambic parameters

  3. @ Scott Miller:
    I see it as a less a question of being OK or not, as a matter of any individual’s free will and spiritual quest, as a recognition of its inevitability. There is a need to cry out in joy at the destruction of evil, and that will always mean as long as there is evil, the destruction of human evil, and that will in turn mean the destruction of human beings. Whether you or I refrain from actually crying out, whether we even succeed in so thoroughly curing ourselves of evil motivations that there is no part of us that quietly cries out beneath the surface, there will be crying out. We can even imagine OBL himself, or some part of him, somewhere, crying out in joy at finally being relieved of the burden of being OBL, pursuing his lethal designs in his fortress-prison.

    As for the relationship of the divine and the human, that’s an interesting topic. Each different conceptualization will be definitional for each religion. As you know, I support the lunatic proposition that all religions resolve into each other eventually, but on the way to that ideal perspective, the differences are to be actually transited, not merely pushed aside or ignored. So, we’d have to be prepared to examine very closely, philosophically, what each different religious orientation meant, implied, or assumed under the heading “divine.”

  4. @ CK MacLeod:
    Now you’re not just in mid-season form, you’re like, I don’t know, Reggie in October. And since we’ve been seguewaying strangely in and out of basketball comments as well, I’ll throw in that I think Pau is getting an unfair amount of the criticism. The team is just burned-out. Phil’s burned-out. I think for a laid-back European intellectual Pau did pretty well mustering up as much muster as he did for the last two years. And unlike most of them, he did it straight. I’m not saying Kobe is on steroids anymore, but he takes something. He was always competitive, but not like he has been in the last few years. There was something going on, it wasn’t just Lamar sharing his candy, and I’m sure someday we’ll know what it was.

  5. What is the nature of this crying out?

    I think a fair amount of it is relief that a perceived threat has ended. I say “perceived” because I think the perception of threat, and its ending produces the crying out, not the actuality of the threat.

    What sustains the crying out past the initial exhaltation is fear and then anger. Remembered fear and fear that the threat may yet still exist. And anger at the sensation of fear itself, as well as its source.

    The longer we (decide to) sustain this dynamic, the more harmful it is to us.

  6. bob wrote:

    I say “perceived” because I think the perception of threat, and its ending produces the crying out, not the actuality of the threat.

    Good point.

  7. Lotta people perceived that the threat produced an actual whole lot of dead Americans and a whole big bunch of damage to America’s property.

    Lot of them perceived that the threat wasn’t gonna voluntarily go away and thought a dynamic response might be a help.

  8. @ fuster:
    This will seem like a Migg’s type mystery quote, but it’s not. It’s goes to perception of “lot,” it’s relativity, and how others have handled things more maturely than us.

    The Bhopal disaster was one of the world’s worst industrial catastrophes. It occurred on the night of December 2–3, 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. A leak of methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals from the plant resulted in the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people. Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release.[1] Others estimate that 3,000 died within weeks and that another 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.[2][3] A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.[4]

    UCIL was the Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). Indian Government controlled banks and the Indian public held 49.1 percent ownership share. In 1994, the Supreme Court of India allowed UCC to sell its 50.9 percent share. The Bhopal plant was sold to McLeod Russel (India) Ltd. UCC was purchased by Dow Chemical Company in 2001.

    Civil and criminal cases are pending in the United States District Court, Manhattan and the District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC, UCIL employees, and Warren Anderson, UCC CEO at the time of the disaster.[5][6] In June 2010, seven ex-employees, including the former UCIL chairman, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by law. An eighth former employee was also convicted, but died before judgment was passed.

  9. @ Scott Miller:
    Naturally, people will roll out the usual “it was an accident” comments. Spare me. The initial disaster was not purposeful in the usual terrorism way, but the subsequent denials, neglect, lies, etc, equals terrorism. What’s different is that there has not been the perception of threat that Bob pointed out and so things have gone relatively well for the corporate terrorists. CK will disagree, of course. It would be nice to see his objectivity champion the side of the powerless for once.

  10. interesting and understandable and I’m with you about the way and the extent that the poor and powerless are abused and ignored and discarded.

    but the subsequent denials, neglect, lies, etc, equals terrorism.

    that’s where I get a little bit lost…not sure whether you mean “as bad as” or “in effect” or just how those crimes equals terrorism.

  11. @ bob:
    I think you underestimate the moral dimension, or, if you prefer, the perceived moral dimension. It’s no small thing to have one’s faith in justice restored, to believe that crimes against humanity are punished, to believe that you or your nation play a role in defeating evil and achieving justice, and for the same reason people will resist the attempts of others to minimize what’s taken place and thus take their moral victory away from them.

    I think that also goes to the Bhopal catastrophe. The operators of the plant may have been negligent, but no one believed they had wanted the catastrophe to occur, or were actively preparing additional catastrophes in order to impose their will.

  12. The terrorists weren’t the operators. They were the people responsible for covering up the event, not cleaning it up, and doing nothing to keep future things like it from happening. It’s no small thing to have one’s faith in justice evaporated by corporations making money despite chemical disasters, oil spills, and power plant meltdowns and by government complicity in those events, to believe that crimes against humanity and the planet are not only never punished but rewarded, and for the same reason people will resist attempts of others to minimize what’s taken place and thus try to take their moral failure away from them.

  13. Scott Miller wrote:

    doing nothing to keep future things like it from happening.

    Except there haven’t been additional Bhopals, and, though it may be in the interests of corporations and government officials to evade responsibility, to take risks, and to get away with poisoning the environment and innocent people, it’s not in their interest to cause escalating catastrophes, or really to harm anyone.

    To the contrary, it’s bad for business, and none sets out to harm anyone. So we deal with them differently. People cry out for joy when evildoers of that type are also vanquished, but it’s still a different type of evildoing, leading to a different type of justice, and with widely varying views on what that justice would be.

    The chemical companies, oil companies, and power companies are not rewarded for causing disasters, but for producing useful chemicals, oil, and electricity. When they do cause disasters, it usually entails significant reduction in those rewards, up to the point of destroying their entire industries, as well as individual careers.

    I’m not arguing that perfect or even approximate justice has been done in all such cases, but the difference in intentionality shapes every aspect of how the phenomena are dealt with.

  14. @ fuster:

    I agree. My point had to do with the psychology of it which remains the same whether or not the threat is real.

    @ CK MacLeod:

    I wasn’t intending to assess the moral dimension at all. So it was only a one sided universality.

    Just tapping out loud here, does morality maybe derive from the dynamic relationship of threat perception and altruism?

  15. @ CK MacLeod:
    Well, you are consistent. You sound like BP’s lawyers there. It makes sense what you say, but it just isn’t reality. Corporations are rewarded for there behavior because corporations are allowed to be run according to what benefits the CEO and a few others. Of course, it’s bad business. Open your eyes. Look what they have done to the economy. Can you seriously sit there and believe that things are being run according to what makes sense from a business model or from a humanistic perspective? Come on. You see? That’s what happens when you allow yourself to be distracted by the distractions that serve the corporations and government. Who are you defending? And I’ve mentioned this over and over. As far as creativity, writing, and logic on an abstract level is concerned, you’re tops, but you allow yourself to be distracted by the sideshow. You don’t bother thinking Obama’s birth certificate is an issue, but the sideshow distracts you massively, you align yourself with the powerful at the expense of positioning yourself on the side that needs your voice, and most of all you do what’s called “splitting.” Here, for example, when reality doesn’t fit your ideological model you talk about intention, and when intention doesn’t fit your model you talk about reality. That way you don’t have to relate to what’s really going on. Splitting, of course, is something you have to work on in respect to psychology. It’s a defense mechanism and our defense mechanisms are not easily broken down. It takes psychological work and no amount of prodding from me is going to motivate you toward that. I wish it could.

  16. vigorous and sustained Tsar-prodding till the splitting ceases and the defenses are broken and rent is a privilege and a rite.

  17. Yes, and I am going to prod him a bit more. My point is about positioning. In my opinion, it’s what matters most. Ideas count, but if you position yourself poorly, as the Tsar has done in this case, the ideas can’t help. Developing the BP lawyer-type logic as a supposed defense only makes sense if you are a man for hire. OBL could have hired CK to make the same case for him. It makes more sense to me if CK was willing to argue either side. It would work. He can defend the powerful as well as any lawyer. But he’s always on the same side. That’s why I asked him to read “The Barbaric Heart.” The author positioned himself extremely well, without any of the obvious things that CK would decry in respect to anti-corporatism, etc. It didn’t matter. At this point, CK is on the side of the powerful no matter what. Position-wise, that’s clear. Too bad. Outside of sports, you don’t want to position yourself as a homer, always defending the same side. It’s why Miggs and CK can stand each other in the end. The positioning is not as different as it appears and from a psychological perspective, it’s called “repetition compulsion.” I’m a meanie for saying so. I really am. I know. I’m sorry. I’m not positioning myself well here. I hope CK will forgive me. I really do have his best interests in heart. My intentions are good. But I bet that doesn’t matter to CK. He will just feel my position. That’s natural. That’s my point. I haven’t positioned myself well here in respect to helping him feel loved. That’s not only unloving, it’s unintelligent. But there it is. With politics, as with real estate, it’s position, position, position. Hegel may have been a relatively happy guy, as CK let me know, but he didn’t position himself well. He didn’t help the people he should have helped. CK is going down the same road here. BP has its own lawyers. It doesn’t need CK. The poor need CK. The powerless need CK. And I apologize for the personal point here, but “splitting” is exemplified by the reactivity required to swing from the Marxist nuthouse to Conservative nuthouse. There’s no difference. It’s poor positioning. At least the Marxist nuthouse considers the people’s plight ideologically. BP doesn’t need CK since they have their own lawyers. OBL doesn’t need CK since he has God. Let’s position ourselves to serve where the service is needed even when it comes to moral defenses.

  18. @ bob:
    I was suggesting that the reaction – “celebration” – has additional dimensions beyond perception of the threat and of its reduction. What it all comes down to at bottom, assuming it all comes down to one or two things, or that it can or should be brought down to one or two things, is another question.

  19. To be clear about my “Barbaric Heart” reference. What I was getting at there is that the author positioned himself well without the usual liberal defenses. So I was hoping that CK would see how that’s possible. But the ideology was all that mattered to CK. There is no ideological fix. CK was dissatisfied with White’s end-game ideas. So was I. It would be great if there was an ideological fix. There isn’t, which is why positioning matters more than ideas. The angels may not need to position themselves better, but we do. We fail to do that when we allow ourselves to be distracted by the sideshow. Birth certificates and assassinations are the same in that way. Obama speaks out against one sideshow even as he helps write and produce another one.

  20. @ Scott Miller:
    We have different perspectives on what “helps” the poor and the powerless and does other good things. I don’t mind sharing the same planet with Don Miguel and you, and I don’t think being able to “stand” Don Miguel is a bad thing. I’m also not interested in a political line that amounts to “destroy all monsters.” We are also the monsters, for good and ill.

    Envisioning, or presuming that you have envisioned, some ideal justice or way of life, and then calling for the destruction of everything that, today, doesn’t seem to fit within it, is mainly self-destructive. It happens to be typical of terrorist ideology – the political actualization of extremist fantasy – though terrorism itself more properly refers to a tactic rather than an overarching philosophy. You started to advance an alternative definition of terrorism that leads to calling anything that causes people to be terrified terroristic. That’s sloppy thinking, and perhaps a different kind of splitting: Some people were talking about something, but you wanted to talk about a different thing: It’s also called thread-jacking: If you want to put together a post on the evil bastardliness of CK MacLeod and his failure to help the poor and powerless, you can do so. If you want to attempt a perhaps more difficult thing, explaining the connection between such bastardliness and failure and moral-philosophical view on the reaction to the killing of OBL, then it might fit better in this thread.

  21. @ Scott Miller:

    Understanding transcends positioning and includes seeing and feeling every POV,
    Every now and again folks mistake a well-reaoned expression of the odd POV with support for it.
    Every now and then folks are right and understanding does sweep away too much of the distaste and sympathy does lead astray, but what the heck.

  22. @ CK MacLeod:
    The “fit” was fine. We’re no angels? What I wrote addressed that question perfectly. The angels are positioned one way. We’re positioned differently. Once again, you’re being defensive. I understand. You feel attacked. I’m sorry. But, really, there’s no point in failing to understand things better. You know I think it’s a good thing for you to “stand” Miggs and vice versa. Everyone should stand everyone. That was not what I was getting at. It was a minor point anyway, and the fact that you latched onto it shows a little desperation. To explain: you two disagree aggressively. The reason you can both continue the debate is because the psychological positioning is more similar than it seems. The defense mechanisms are compatible. That’s a good thing between you two, but both of you are, in my opinion, positioned poorly. The mirroring might lead to a change on your part since you do not agree with his ideas. You also know that I do not consider you to be an evil bastard. Borderline interpretation? If you can’t hear this more objectively from someone who you know loves you and is your biggest fan, then who? Your position is what sucks, not your ideas and your ideas would serve either side, so what good are they to anyone? I couldn’t appreciate your creativity, writing, and abstract logic more. Your ideas here don’t serve because they could be used by either side and because they only make sense in connection with the sideshow.

  23. @ Scott Miller:
    I understand that you seem to have certain ideas about what the proper “positioning” would be, but beyond that I don’t understand what you’re trying to say. I don’t agree that the OBL question is a “sideshow,” or any more a sideshow than any other topic we might choose to take up. We could discuss Bhopal, BP, or the fate of the Earth, or the fate of the Universe, or the fate of the poor, and it wouldn’t inherently make our discussion materially significant, or more significant. The apparent bigness of the topic doesn’t make the discussion big. It would still be an itsy-bitsy teenie-weenie show, invisible to the world, and still about the same “size” as a discussion of a freckle (or is it perhaps a mole?) on the back of my left hand. My position in regard to the freckle/mole is a complex question. My eyes are above it, but my fingers are approximately on the same level. Is that good or poor positioning, overall?

  24. @ CK MacLeod:
    The relativism expressed there is what keeps you from understanding what “positioning” means. Boxing out well in basketball is positioning. It doesn’t guarantee that you will get the rebound but it gives you the best chance at doing the right thing on the court. We are on the human team. The people on our team who need the most help are poor and powerless. To get the rebound for them, we need to position ourselves a certain way, and that is not possible as long as you use your talents to defend either side of the fundamentalist equation and you know you are in particularly bad position if either side could use your arguments as a defense. No fundamentalist–especially not a Christian fundamentalist–is going to use MLK’s statement as a defense. Not going to happen. MLK positioned himself incredibly well. He was exactly where he needed to be. You have the gifts necessary to be a special voice. You even have the voice to be a special voice. If not in this life-time, then in the next.

  25. Also, positioning doesn’t have to be ordinary in the sense of being physical. You can position yourself well physically by actually standing with the powerless and feeding the poor. That works. You can position yourself the way White did with his book but that’s tricky because you get into relativistic issues like the ones you get into. You can also position yourself well with meditation and let that positioning “benefit all beings.”

  26. @ Scott Miller:
    We’re just talking past each other at this point. You seem to me to be working from unstated assumptions and definitions that I don’t share.

    Also, I don’t think Curtis White is just a little bit wrong on the implementation, I think his approach is fundamentally ill-conceived, a dead end, and possibly insane.

  27. CK MacLeod wrote:

    and possibly insane.

    That is talking past me. Insane? Wow. I hope I’m not responsible for your slip into hyperbole. In case I am, I’ll just speak calmly here. It’s going to be okay.

  28. @ Scott Miller:
    I don’t think it’s hyperbole at all to describe White’s approach as similar to and suggestive of a willful embrace of madness – “making our own world, demanding the impossible, and calling it Beautiful.” Those words could apply to many patients under treatment, at least in the manic or ecstatic phases of their cycles. That he borrows explicitly from Nietzsche in his final chapter strikes me as symptomatic.

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