Barry’s Blog # 7: The Outside Agitator

The “internal other” as drug dealer tempts the children, but the terrorist, the “external other,” wants to destroy the palace itself.

The truth is that right-wingers have perpetrated the vast majority of terrorist incidents in America in the past sixty years: the Kennedy and King assassinations; the Oklahoma City bombing; dozens of racially motivated church-burnings (civil rights activists called Birmingham, Alabama, “Bombingham”); and countless bombings and shootings by right-wing Cuban-Americans and anti-abortion fanatics.

Our image of domestic terrorism is a classic example of the inversion of fact. Its shadow or mirror is the agent provocateur, who has been present as an agent of the state, both local and national, at all public protests for 50 years, creating the impression that non-violent protest always leads to violence.

But fear of the outsider is stronger than ever, and that fear was nurtured through the deliberate creation of an image. For four decades, J. Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I. demonized anyone who threatened the status quo, regardless of their nationality, as “outside agitators.” This almost poetic image of the Dionysian menace implies three assumptions about us, the inhabitants of the polis. The first is innocence: evil comes from abroad. It implies that communist ideas couldn’t possibly originatehere. Terrorism, quips Noam Chomsky, is “what others do to us.”

A second assumption is weaknessJust as youths seemingly cannot resist drugs or sex, thepolis can entertain only the mildest diversity of opinion. If allowed access to the children, communists would prevent discrimination of right from wrong and infect the national immune system with their “agit-prop,” another of Hoover’s propaganda terms.

A third assumption about us is fairness.Pentheus, who would attack directly, throws fastballs, while Dionysus throws curves. The terrorist could be a friend or co-worker. He is urban, possibly Jewish. He infects us through trickery rather than through direct, “manly” confrontation. And since he refuses to play by our rules, we are justified in our righteous and overpowering vengeance.

Both terrorists and black men provoke the curiosity of the innocent, white citizen because they are close, much closer than the rest of us, to death. In the psyche, death evokes initiation. Perhaps the deniers of death, writes psychologist Luigi Zoja, envy the initiate, “he or she who has contact with another dimension… someone to whom a truth has been revealed.” This insight leads us back to the Greek meaning of scapegoat, the pharmakoswho was both the poison and its antidote. Anthropologists agree that sacrifice (literally, “to make sacred”) is a religious act, in which the victim is raised to the status of the deity so as to briefly bridge (Latin,ponsroot of pontiff) the gap between the worlds, unite the community and wash away sin. The outside agitator, the terrorist, the drug dealer all populate our imagination, just as the “red Indian” did for 350 years, so that we may remain innocent.

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One Response to Barry’s Blog # 7: The Outside Agitator

  1. Pingback: Barry’s Blog # 220: Redeeming the World | madnessatthegates

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