“Progressives can’t wish away human nature,” Charles C. W. Cooke writes, noting that unlike the lightning-quick deaths inflicted by the blades of the guillotine or Henry VIII’s axemen, “American journalist James Foley, by contrast, had his throat slowly cut with a tiny, possibly blunted knife, his head clumsily sawn off over seven agonizing minutes. Goats have been afforded better endings. Can this be real?”
Many among us seem incapable of believing that it is. On Reddit, users are furiously debating whether the footage was faked. Elsewhere, others are seeking explanations as to what might have pushed Foley’s killers to such extraordinary lengths. Perhaps, they ask, IS’s behavior is the fault of something else. The United States’ invasion of Iraq, maybe? Or the legacy of colonialism, or of global inequality? Do these men just need running water? This instinct is folly, the product of the mistaken conviction that man is perfectible and his nature pliant, and that there is something intrinsically different about our age. “The lessons of history endure,” Oklahoma University’s J. Rufus Fears observed beautifully, “because human nature never changed.” “All the human emotions,” Fears added,
are the same today as in Egypt of the pharaohs or China in the time of Confucius: Love, hate, ambition, the lust for power, kindness, generosity, and inhumanity. The good and bad of human nature is simply poured into new vehicles created by science and technology.
Of late, some of those “bad” attributes have been poured into vehicles that have guns mounted on their sides and driven with brutal force across Mesopotamia. The stated aim is the “establishment of the Islamic khilafah” — a neo-caliphate that would stretch across the whole world, subjugating everything in its path and bringing all mankind under its ghastly authority. Such promises seem almost risible when sampled from the comfort of North America. But there is little that is amusing for those who find themselves in the way — no comfort to be taken from arbitrary assurances about the “right” and “wrong” sides of history, or consolation to be derived in verbal condemnations from distant powers. Our security and our “progress” is what we make of it, for there are no wars to end all wars; there are plenty of barbarians in the year 2014; and it definitely, most definitely, can happen again.
And speaking of barbaric deaths, while the brutality of ISIS has been well-documented of late, Claudia Rosett ponders why the New York Times and the UN can’t rouse themselves from their slumber to protest the mass public executions in Gaza.
Update: “Somehow we keep missing the point: the story did get out; the severed head is the message.”