The Hidden Enemy

Puppets 300It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I mentioned in an earlier post that a childhood friend of mine, Tony Kushner, won the Pulitzer for his play Angels in America.  I have only seen the movie of it, and movies do not have the immediacy and intimacy of a play.  But just looking at movies, I preferred Tony’s screenplay for the film Munich, for which he, co-writer Eric Roth and director Steven Spielberg all received Oscar nominations.

And I never want to see it again.

It was just too depressing. Watching the emotional pain and confusion of the Israelis who were hunting down and executing those responsible for the Munich attack was emotionally wringing enough.  But the film also portrays the horror on the Arab side as well, showing what they and their families were going through.  In fact when the film came out, Tony, Roth and Spielberg took flack for being too sympathetic to the Arabs.

I liked it for exactly that reason.  Not because I’m of Arabic descent; except for a grandmother straight out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I think of myself as American.  Rather, I liked Munich because it tried to be sympathetic to both sides.  There are powerful forces that do not wish us to look, and listen, think, and feel, because when we put aside our prejudices, when we start to see the humanity in our adversaries, then we start to see common ground where we can agree.  That would make those powerful forces much less powerful.  So what I hope to do with this blog, in fact, is to get people to look at all sides, be sympathetic to all positions, before we make decisions.

For instance to my mind, one difference between popular literature and serious literature, is that in the popular view, there are good guys (who are just like us) and there are bad guys (who are completely different).  That is also the difference between populist government and serious government, and the popular populism is evident in politically divisive rhetoric:  American vs foreigner, right vs left, white vs nonwhite, Christian vs Muslim, capitalist vs socialist.

But in great literature, and in great statesmanship, there are only people.  Everyone in the narrative is a reflection of us.  We see ourselves everywhere.

There are really bad guys, of course, the Ted Bundys and Adolf Hitlers, people who are most definitely different.  I will come back to them in the future.  But to deal with the rest of humanity, we need to see the shared concerns.  And to do that, we need to be able to seriously consider other viewpoints.

When we don’t, then we make the decision that ideology is more important than humanity, and that – somehow – divisiveness is more productive than compassion and communication.  We can point fingers at many people who are responsible for this, and we can talk about the reasons that we behave in this way.

First of all, we all need to point at the mirror.  Admitting we have a problem is the first step to recovery.  And when we admit that we are all part of the problem then, yet again, we start to see our shared humanity, and we can start to see where we agree, and where we can begin to cooperate.

And then we need to look beyond who we think is our enemy.  I have noted that we tend to get caught up in an ‘us against them‘ mindset, and that the powerful will pit us against each other in order to protect their power, position, and privilege.  To protect themselves, it is important that we fight against each other, refuse to listen, and deny the shared concerns and values of the other side.  Anger is key, because anger prevents us from working together against them.

Right now we are in one of the most disturbing and divisive presidential campaigns in US history.  What both sides have in common, however, is that they are seeing the rise of outside challengers, who agree on one point:  our government doesn’t work for us, it works for the powerful.

There’s the rub.  And here is the essential thing that we all need to recognize: the other side is not the real enemy.

The real enemy is the people urging us to fight.

Puppets courtesy of Tony Sinnett.


  1. Dan

    I hope you are not floating the idea that the major parties are equally culpable for the ugliness, rancor, and racism we are seeing. The very person most visible in “urging us to fight” is the presumptive Republican Presidential candidate.

    You can say that Trump doesn’t represent all Republicans if you wish, but even those party leaders who are most critical of him claim they will support and vote for him if he wins the nomination.

    That should tell you something.

    • m

      I think I agree.

      I saw an earnest, non-scripted moment when Rubio conceded. For a brief moment what appeared to be sincere, honest exasperation came through with his remarks about “division” and “making us hate one another.” (to wit)

      I don’t believe in panaceas but it troubles me to no end to see issues like solar energy — with its capability to liberate us economically, militarily, and environmentally shoved into a dark hole and never spoken of because the “debate” is dominated by “walls” and “immigration” and “Muslims.”

      Similarly, no debate can be had about Sander’s “Socialist” proposals because of their “cost” with little or no attention to the price we’re already paying for health care and incarceration and reduced competitiveness due to horrible education.

      This particular state, Louisiana, is the prison planet of the entire world because imprisoning people has been turned into a for profit adventure.

      It’s all sound bites designed to polarize and energize. Fear mongering.

      • Bookscrounger

        Good points. I will add this: a friend of mine was bashing Bernie over socialism. I finally got him to admit, not only did he not know the definition of socialism, but also that he refused to look it up.

        That may sound laughable, but the post here on Labels, where I tried to look look dispassionately at the definitions and situational usefulness of socialism and communism, fell flat on its face. It was one of my worst performing posts to date.

        A lot of people won’t even consider the concepts.

        • m

          Speaking of worst performing posts, “The Sound of Silence” was an utter flop when initially released and Simon & Garfunkel broke up and returned to college.

          A producer remixed it without their knowledge or consent and re-released it to #1 in the U.S. along with a number of other countries.

          And a photo of mine with zero likes on FB got picked up from another site by an Indian blogger and went on to 100k views.

          It’s all very black magic-ish in the world of blogging and social media.

          • Bookscrounger

            Thanks for reminding me. Another one is Hall & Oats’ “She’s Gone” which flopped on its first release. It’s one of my favorites, great lyrics, great music.

    • Bookscrounger

      Dan, are you willing to say that Democrats have never indulged in ugliness, rancor and intolerance? It seems to me that when we say ‘It’s all their fault,’ we are doing just that.

      If we believe that all of the problems lie with the other side, then we have become part of the problem. That was the point of the post.

      As I think about it, it may be the point of the whole blog. We are, all of us, too comfortable blaming others, and then using that blame as an excuse for refusing to listen to them. And so democracy, and progress, fail.

      Right now, even my conservative friends have to admit that Bernie is collegial and honest. They lampoon his ideas of course. But I believe that he is the reason the debates on the Democratic side have been so professional.

      Bernie has taken the high road. He avoids ugliness, rancor, and intolerance.

      • Dan

        In answer to your question, there is no doubt that some of the worst racists in this country have been Democrats.

        And, it is true that throughout the years there have been many Republicans who have behaved with civility and made significant contributions to the U.S.

        However, during the last eight years, and in the current election cycle, the Republicans are, without the slightest doubt, responsible for the vast majority of the rancor, intolerance, and sexism we hear about in news reports on a daily basis.

        And, although you can argue that “demagogue one”, is not a Republican, you can probably not find a Republican leader who is willing to say that he or she (if there are any “she’s”) will not support him.

  2. Eddie Cazayoux

    I think you are right Joe when you say “The real enemy is (are) the people urging us to fight.” I think their tactic is to keep us confused, angry, and arguing against each other. That is how the magician works – he has you watching one hand while the other pulls the rabbit from his coat with the other.

    As far as the two parties, I like what old Huey had to say about that – “The only difference between the two parties is that one steals from you from the ankles up and the other from the ears down.” This two party system is killing this country. Our politicians do not represent us any more, just their party and whoever gives them the money to get and stay in office. There is too much money in our politics and big money has the politicians in their pockets. As Dylan said “money doesn’t talk, it screams”.

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