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Eating the Last Cannibal

Generally, a state that wants to claim to represent "civilization" will take pains to obscure its original sins and keep its barbaric dark side classified and in the shadows. But the dangerous new trend among right-wing leaders is to "courageously" dispense with this charade and openly embrace criminality.

LJUBLJANA – Recall the story about the explorer who encounters an aboriginal tribe for the first time. “Are there cannibals among you?” he asks. “No,” they reply, “We ate the last one yesterday.” To constitute a civilized community by eating the last cannibal, the final act must be called something else. It is a kind of original sin that must be erased from memory.

Similarly, the transition to a modern legal order in the American “Wild West” was accomplished through brutal crimes and the creation of myths to cover them up. As a character in the John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance put it, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

But the “facts” that are born of legends are not verifiable truths. Rather, they are social artifacts: shared ideas that form the basis of the actually existing sociopolitical order. If enough people were to reject them, the entire order would disintegrate.