The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, September 14, 2007

Don't think your enemies are stupid

I made the comment that it was unlikely that Islamic fanatics don’t know we want to lure them to a useless location to engage with us, and that we wouldn’t be likely to accomplish anything useful thereby. A reply was offered that such people are driven by emotion (true) and not operating with clarity. A blanket reply: anytime your strategy depends on your opponent being stupid, you’re in trouble. The natural human tendency is to think that “we” are smarter than “them.” Everybody does it. It’s my observation that that approach is almost always wrong.
I’ve reluctantly decided on an approach with my “Old Friend” who just got out of jail. After speaking with him, to my horror, I realized that he is still rationalizing what he did. Poor, poor bastard. It is clear that he cannot wrap his mind around how far from the rest of humanity he has slid. How deeply and profoundly he is lying—to himself. Even naked self-interest would show him that he can’t maintain such a delusion without warping the rest of his reality. And even if he’s right, and the rest of society is wrong, he is setting himself up for disaster. He’s not strong enough to stand against that avalanche of contrary opinion.

Yes, I think it’s heart-breakingly sad. For instance, he wants me to believe that 1) this 13-year old girl loved him. And 2) that she was and is some kind of super-genius.

Really? Super-genius? Did she know that what they were doing was hellacioiusly illegal, and would destroy his life? Then she couldn’t have loved him much, now could she? What we have here (in James Cameron’s words from Terminator II) is a delusional architecture so fragile that it will not survive contact with the real world. My friend isn’t going to make it. He believes so desperately that if I just understood how lonely he was after his divorce, I would see his position. If only I knew, I’d behave the same way.

Dear God. Lonnie Athens, quoted in the fantastic “Why They Kill” talks about stages of criminality, and how the final stage is an internalization of a core reference group’s attitudes. My friend is right there. He has to believe that, why, ANYONE would do what he did, given the same pressures. Right? Right? Wrong.

And yet, I’m not psychologically set up to “abandon” someone who has ever touched my heart. This is my own damage. But I tore myself apart 12 years ago in an eerily similar situation, and I won’t do it again. So what I will do, as soon as I can get my shit together, is write him a letter, explaining my position. I will tell him that I fear for his soul, and am not in a position to help him unless and until he does two things:
1) Gets a steady job.
2) Lets go of his obsession with being “right” about what he did. He must make full confession, and show genuine contrition.

Given those two things, he would, for the first time in his life, be a genuine adult, and a responsible human being. I can’t help him get there. But if he can find the strength to get there himself, I can help him move on from that platform.

I’ll give him my email address, and web site. People can always reach me.
And then…I will delete him from my address book, and delete the emails that gave me his. I never want to hear from him again, unless he has had an epiphany. I will pray for my friend. But I have miles to go before I sleep. Too much to do, too many people to help. I can’t waste even another erg of effort of moment of time on someone who is, frankly, doomed. Unless he finds grace.

I will pray for my friend. God damn, this is hard.

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