Murder has always been a totally tribal offence – by which I mean it’s only offensive when the deed happens within one’s own national community, and not elsewhere. The murder of foreigners rarely disturbs anybody.
One doesn’t have to be Jewish or Christian or Moslem to accept that The Ten Commandments have always been purely tribal in their application. The prohibitions against killing, stealing, coveting and the rest of them don’t apply when foreigners are the victims. Tribal traditions all over the world endorse this judgment. Traditions of hospitality – where they still exist – generally outweigh the predatory urge, as many a backpacker has learned to his delight.
(However, the tradition is more in the nature of a truce, in times of conflict. These days, young US backpackers would be wise to masquerade as Canadians – as they used to do back during their nation’s invasion of Vietnam.)
Modern nations are simply closed-minded tribes wearing a thin veneer of hypocrisy. Human behaviour hasn’t changed in ten thousand years. The modern concept of human rights has never stood a chance of superseding tribal rights. Our Western communities all claim the right to kill foreigners at will and without restraint. Mercy is for wusses.
Generally, we don’t recognize the deaths of foreigners as a bad thing; and therefore their murder – even en masse – can be safely shrugged off, even if it’s we who are the predators. Indeed, our political leaders become indignant when somebody else horns in on our killing-fields. Our NATO governments claim first-dibs on homicide in Syria, for instance, and are angry at Russia for its intervention. The cheek of it!
A “foreigner” isn’t necessarily someone of a different nationality, just as a “tribe” isn’t necessarily a nation. In the context of religion, a foreigner is someone not of our faith; in cities he may be a member of a different street gang, or of the Police; in the Police Force he’s a resident of the ghetto – or, increasingly, any non-Policeman. To severely autistic individuals – out-and-out psychopaths, for instance – he’s everybody and anybody.
By popular definition, a psychopath is someone who commits wholesale murders without remorse. That pretty much describes every NATO nation’s political leader and every one of his or her lieutenants. And every terrorist, of course; I don’t mean to imply that NATO’s leaders are any worse than terrorists.
This perceived right to kill is a horrific conception, when you think about it. Such savagery is unexpected in our modern world. Yet civilians in their millions fall victims to it every decade. A former US Secretary of State, when asked about the morality of the US embargo on the sale of medicines to the people of Iraq, cheerfully defended it. The resultant deaths of half a million children had been “very much worthwhile”, she said. The recent bombing of the Medicins Sans Frontieres hospital in Afghanistan was barely a blip on the radar of the current Secretary. “Meh...”
It’s fair to wonder how mankind manages to survive this perceived right to kill. One plausible explanation is that one community’s tribal instinct is in some degree countered by another community’s survival instinct. After all, a weaker tribe’s members would be better off surrendering and living as slaves, than to die fighting a battle they can’t win. Though not on all occasions…
In Too Many Gods (posted here in December 2011), I quoted from the Biblical legend of the fate of one defeated tribe:
And they warred against the Midianite and they slew all the males. And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captive, and their little ones. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel to commit trespass against the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man. But all the women children that have not known man, keep alive for yourselves.
Slaughtering prisoners of war, raping and killing their widows and sons, and keeping the little girls as sex slaves… it all seems somewhat excessive to anybody handicapped by a “live and let live” sentiment. Yet the practice is as common today as it was then. ISIS does it, and NATO nations do it, and their allies. “We have a right to kill you, and we will kill you, and torture your families. The most you can hope for is that our soldiers will keep your daughters alive for their own purposes.” Dear God!
Mankind’s tribal brutality really hasn’t improved any in the past three thousand years, has it?