Archive for February 2nd, 2010

Christmas Cheer

i am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together
see how they run like pigs from a gun
see how they fly

i’m crying

—John Lennon

Rasmussen Reports is not a reputable polling firm. But the results it obtained when it queried the American people on whether they approved of subjecting Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab to waterboarding and other forms of torture—58% said yes, while 12% were “not sure”—sound about right.

To begin to understand why, we can start with the news release on the poll from Rasmussen itself. There, Mutallab is not once mentioned by name. Instead, he is referenced variously as the “plane terrorist,” “the terrorist who attempted to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day,” “the Nigerian Muslim,” “the bomber,” and “the Detroit bomber.”

Neither was Mutallab identified by name by the Rasmussen pollsters when they queried respondents. Instead, Mutallab was referenced solely as “the suspected bomber.”

These people, then, were not really considering whether or not to torture an individual human being. They were focused instead on an act. In the Rasmussen survey Mutallab was rendered an unperson—stripped even of his name—and reduced but to a thing that he did. And history shows that when once you succeed in dehumanizing a person, you make it possible to do to him anything at all.



Linnaeus And Mr. Ha-Ha

The first step of science is to know one thing from another. This knowledge consists in their specific distinctions; but in order that it may be fixed and permanent distinct names must be given to different things and those names must be recorded and remembered.

—Carolus Linnaeus

By naming and by knowing the names of things he proposed to see into the secret cabinet of God. Travelers from Madeira, Virginia, from all over the world, risked dangers in vast forests, on high cliffs, in the deepest chasms to send him packets of seeds. He catalogued American falcons, parrots, pheasants, guinea fowl, American capercaillie, Indian hens, swans, duck, geese, gulls, snipe, American crossbills, sparrows and turtledoves. He classified creation according to sexual organs; he gave each creature two names, a general and a specific name.

He wrote that riches vanish and stately mansions fall into decay, that even the most prolific families die out sooner or later and that the mightiest of states are overthrown, but that all of nature must be obliterated before the genera of plants and “he be forgotten who held the torch aloft in botany.” But as he grew older, he suffered a stroke, and after this he began to lose more and more of his memory.

Gradually he no longer knew Systema Naturae, and after all this, in his last years, he forgot even his own name.

—Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature

When I Worked

February 2010
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