Whose Death Matters More?
Back in that southern California classroom, plenty of us developed a real affection for Schmoe, and resented Einstein's importance. It somehow felt wrong to say that, if you could only save one of them, it had to be the great genius. What's wrong with rooting for the underdog? And so terrorists get a sympathy vote, just like Schmoe.
A lot of ideology rests on the love of Schmoe, even if he turns out to be a very nasty piece of work and wants us dead. At about the same time we were debating in our philosophy class, Norman Mailer was extolling the virtues of criminals, which had long been a staple of anti-bourgeois literature, especially in France, where the Marquis de Sade somehow became a culture hero. The nihilists couldn't care less about Einstein; they wanted to blow up the entire society that made him possible. The Communists wanted Schmoe to become part of a new proletarian dictatorship, where Einstein could work, to be sure, but his work wouldn't be any more important than Schmoe's. The Nazis wanted Einstein dead because he was a filthy Jew, while if Schmoe had a few generations of Aryans to his record he'd be hailed as a member of the Master Race. In many corners of the Islamic world today, Schmoe's in good shape if he's a Muslim, while Einstein gets blown up or beheaded.
You see where I'm going, don't you? After all these years, it seems more and more that my prof was right, most evidently in those cases when Schmoe, as he does so often, is trying to destroy a society that's clearly better than his own. Do the lives of Daniel Pearl and his executioner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have the same value? I don't think so.
Yet it's notable how often Schmoe wins popular sympathy. All those "anti-war" people, for example, end up supporting killer Schmoes against our best, indeed the world's best: the men and women of the American military. And while the anti-warriors are usually careful to tell us how much they "respect the troops" (which they don't), it's pretty clear that they consider a terrorist to be worth at least the same as a U.S. Marine.
Which is nuts.
In the "great debate" over Iran, you hardly ever hear any great concern over the fact that Iranian killers and their proxies are murdering and maiming American soldiers most every day. As if nobody really cared about our guys, who are defending a superior society and a superior culture against the depredations of terrorists from a tyrannical and fanatical regime that glorifies misogyny, stones adultresses to death, kills its critics, and rapes its prisoners as a matter of course.
A lot of the talk about the "Arab street" (which does not even exist), for example, is a reprise of the glorification of the weak, downtrodden working class (which does not exist either, although perhaps it did, once upon a time). They shouldn't be glorified. They should be freed.
Somewhere in that pile of Schmoes, other Einsteins will be found.