Know Your Enemy

Know Your Enemy October 4, 2012

I’ve been introducing one of my housemates to Battlestar Galactica and we got into an argument about whether it’s acceptable to root for the Cylons or specific Cylons.  Luckily for blog readers you don’t watch BSG (shame on you), this spilled over into a more general argument about what qualifies an individual as an enemy.

I don’t think there are any humans about which you can exuberantly say delenda est – that which must be destroyed.  There are times when lethal force or imprisonment is the least bad solution we have; we don’t have enough time to stop and heal someone before they seriously harm themselves or others.  But putting them out is something we should do with regret, and not with a sense of justice.

Imagine switching places with the person you’re fighting.  In the inevitable Nazi-related hypothetical, imagine you were offered a choice of being born to and raised by nice but not necessarily good Germans in enough time to be an adult during World War II.  Your other option is something unpleasant like losing your leg now.  Most of us would take a lot of pain to avoid putting ourselves at moral risk.  Plenty of ordinary people didn’t overcome those circumstances.

When you wouldn’t be willing to switch places with your enemy, when you see their tendency to fly off the handle as a burden you’d like to avoid, I’d argue that’s revealed pity.  You’d give a lot to be saved from having the misapprehensions/weaknesses/flaws of your enemy, and, if that were impossible, you’d want to be stopped. There’s no ontological difference between you and the person on the other side that means they wouldn’t want the exact same thing, if they were in full possession of the facts.

If I have a friend who struggles with alcoholism  they may interpret my concern and interventions as enmity, but I would say that my enemy was the alcoholism, the thing my friend has difficulty resisting.  If I’m in a fight, I’m in an alliance with my ur-friend, trying to free them from an oppressive force.

You can misidentify which part is the error and which part is your friend-as-they-are, but that mistake still shouldn’t lead you to ever think of a person as your enemy.


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