The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Rachel Corrie – remember her? She has long since been abandoned by the MSM, but the angry left has granted her de facto sainthood and continues to dedicate random events, memorials, and Web sites in her honor.

A quick fact-based refresher from Wikipedia:

Rachel Corrie (April 10, 1979–March 16, 2003) was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who traveled as an activist to the Gaza Strip during the Al-Aqsa Intifada. She was killed in Rafah in the Palestinian territories when she tried to obstruct an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Caterpillar D9 bulldozer operating in an area designated by Israel as a security zone, adjacent to the Egyptian border. The circumstances of her death are disputed: the ISM and other eyewitnesses claim that the bulldozer driver deliberately ran over her twice, while the IDF claims that the bulldozer driver didn't see her and that the cause of death was falling debris pushed over by the bulldozer.

When I first encountered her story a number of years ago, I believed that Rachel Corrie was a well-intentioned, profoundly idealistic young woman who was swept up in the a cause that she believed would free the “oppressed.” To some extent, I still believe this to be the case.

And yet, her motivations continue to fascinate.

Obviously no one can say they knew what motivated Rachel Corrie with absolute certainly, but Lee Harris suggests that people like Rachel harbor a “fantasy ideology.” To describe this, he discusses a personal encounter with an activist from another era.

My first encounter with this particular kind of fantasy occurred when I was in college in the late sixties. A friend of mine and I got into a heated argument. Although we were both opposed to the Vietnam War, we discovered that we differed considerably on what counted as permissible forms of anti-war protest. To me the point of such protest was simple — to turn people against the war. Hence anything that was counterproductive to this purpose was politically irresponsible and should be severely censured. My friend thought otherwise; in fact, he was planning to join what by all accounts was to be a massively disruptive demonstration in Washington, and which in fact became one.

My friend did not disagree with me as to the likely counterproductive effects of such a demonstration. Instead, he argued that this simply did not matter. His answer was that even if it was counterproductive, even if it turned people against war protesters, indeed even if it made them more likely to support the continuation of the war, he would still participate in the demonstration and he would do so for one simple reason — because it was, in his words, good for his soul.

What I saw as a political act was not, for my friend, any such thing. It was not aimed at altering the minds of other people or persuading them to act differently. Its whole point was what it did for him.

And what it did for him was to provide him with a fantasy — a fantasy, namely, of taking part in the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. By participating in a violent anti-war demonstration, he was in no sense aiming at coercing conformity with his view — for that would still have been a political objective. Instead, he took his part in order to confirm his ideological fantasy of marching on the right side of history, of feeling himself among the elect few who stood with the angels of historical inevitability. Thus, when he lay down in front of hapless commuters on the bridges over the Potomac, he had no interest in changing the minds of these commuters, no concern over whether they became angry at the protesters or not. They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama. The protest for him was not politics, but theater; and the significance of his role lay not in the political ends his actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, he was acting out a fantasy.

It was not your garden-variety fantasy of life as a sexual athlete or a racecar driver, but in it, he nonetheless made himself out as a hero — a hero of the revolutionary struggle. The components of his fantasy — and that of many young intellectuals at that time — were compounded purely of ideological ingredients, smatterings of Marx and Mao, a little Fanon and perhaps a dash of Herbert Marcuse.

For want of a better term, call the phenomenon in question a fantasy ideology — by which I mean, political and ideological symbols and tropes used not for political purposes, but entirely for the benefit of furthering a specific personal or collective fantasy. It is, to be frank, something like “Dungeons and Dragons” carried out not with the trappings of medieval romances — old castles and maidens in distress — but entirely in terms of ideological symbols and emblems. The difference between them is that one is an innocent pastime while the other has proven to be one of the most terrible scourges to afflict the human race.

I contend that Rachel Corrie and the tens of thousands of angry Left “activists” who lionize her are fulfilling a fantasy ideology. To paraphrase Harris, the Israeli bulldozers were, for Rachel, “there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in [her] private psychodrama. The protest for [her] was not politics, but theater; and the significance of [her] role lay not in the political ends [her] actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, [she] was acting out a fantasy.”

Obviously, a harsh and tragic reality intruded on Rachel Corrie. Unlike those on the far right, I am saddened by her death.

But I am also saddened by those who choose to define victims and oppressors without regard to any objective truth; those who immediately assume that countries with democratic (Western) values are always wrong, while murderous “oppressed” regimes and those who support them are always right; those who lord their perceived moral superiority over those who take (dare I say it?) a more nuanced view of the world.

Like Rachel Corrie, you can choose to live by a fantasy ideology, or you can view the world through an undistorted lens. Neither approach is perfect, but I contend that the former leads to narcissism while the latter leads to truth.