My favorite living historian Victor Davis Hanson wonders if we are living in a world today where the orcs are winning.
Tolkien’s literary purpose with orcs was not to explore the many shades of evil or the struggle within oneself to avoid the dark side; he did that well enough in dozens of once good but weak characters who went bad such as the turncoat Saruman the wizard, his sidekick Wormtongue, a few of the hobbits who had ruined the Shire, and, best of all, the multifaceted Gollum. Orcs, on the other hand, are unredeemable. Orcs, goblins, and trolls exist as the tools of the even more sinister in proud towers to destroy civilization, and know nothing other than killing and destruction. Their reward is to feed on the crumbs of what they have ruined.
In the 21st century we are often lectured that such simplistic, one-dimensional evil is long gone. An ubiquitous civilization has so permeated the globe that even the worst sorts must absorb some mitigating popular culture from the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook, as if the sheer speed of transmitting thoughts ensures their moral improvement.
Even where democracy is absent, the “world community” and a “global consciousness” are such that billions supposedly won’t let Attila, Tamerlane, and Genghis Khan reappear in our postmodern lives. To deal with a Major Hasan, Americans cannot cite his environment as the cause, at least not poverty, racism, religious bigotry, nativism, xenophobia, or any of the more popular –isms and-ologies in our politically correct tool box that we customarily use to excuse and contextualize evil behavior. So exasperated, we shrug and call his murdering “workplace violence” — an apparent understandable psychological condition attributable to the boredom and monotony of the bleak, postmodern office.
Evil is ancient, unchanging, and with us always. The more postmodern the West becomes — affluent, leisured, nursed on moral equivalence, utopian pacifism, and multicultural relativism — the more premodern the evil among us seems to arise in nihilistic response, whether it is from the primordial Tsarnaev brothers or Jihadi John. We have invented dozens of new ways to explain away our indifference, our enemies hundreds of new ways of reminding us of our impotence. I suppose we who enjoy the good life don’t want to lose any of it for anything — and will understandably do any amount of appeasing, explaining, and contextualizing to avoid an existential war against the beheaders and mutilators, a fact well-known to our enemies.
The Europeans are shrugging that Ukraine is lost and will soon sigh that the Baltic states are a far-off place not worth risking the coffee shops of Amsterdam to defend. Westerners lament beheadings but then privately mutter that journalists know just what they are getting into when they visit the Middle East. Murdering and abusing a U.S. ambassador on video is not such a big deal anymore and is worth only a second or so mention on Google News.
So we wait behind our suburban Maginot Lines, arguing over our quarter- and half-measure responses, refighting Iraq and Afghanistan as if they were the Somme and Verdun, assured that we can distract ourselves from the horrors abroad with psychodramas about Ferguson, the president’s golfing, his lectures on fairness, and which naked celebrity photo was hacked on the Internet.