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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The greatest insult

If Martians decided that the biggest insult would be to call people "Mercurians," and if a Martian then went right up to you and called you a "hot-blooded, two-eyed Mercurian fleej," while curling one of his antennae in disgust, would it matter to you? Would you be filled with rage and decide to destroy Mars in retaliation? Chances are that you would laugh it off as if the insulter was a child.

Now imagine your Martian would-be tormenter returns to his home planet and starts bragging to his pals,"You should have seen that Earthling! He was stunned! He didn't know what hit him!" while his compatriots give him a series of high-threes.

But as they monitor the Earth TV transmissions, they see that the hated five-fingered newscasters look at the incident as a minor, laughable act of a deranged Martian rather than being deeply insulted.

The Martians, of course, need to let the Earthlings know how badly they lost this skirmish and how they should be ashamed to be in the same solar system as their much-superior antagonists. So they write op-eds in Earthling-language Martian media, that might sound something like this:

Bush made a light-hearted remark, a joke even, as the second shoe sailed by, just past his head — "It’s a size ten!" — in part to ease the tension, in part to reduce the gravity of someone throwing anything at the President of the United States, but in large part because he had no idea how deeply he was being insulted.

If the man had thrown a stone or even a grenade — the former more dangerous than a shoe, the latter potentially lethal, it would have been a more respectful gesture; an attack on the president's physical safety but not on his honor.

There are two parties to every insult - the insulter and the insulted. For an insult to be effective, the person who is being insulted is the one who needs to realize it, not the insulter.

The Arab world is so psyched about the shoe thrower, utterly uncomprehending that the West looks at them as if they are mentally deficient to make such a big deal over this. And since they are emotionally attached to the idea of dishonoring their greatest satanic enemy, they are desperately trying to let all of us know that we should be deeply shamed. Because what kind of a victory is it when the loser doesn't know he lost?

The paradox is that it is their very obsession with this incident that proves that they are the losers; that to the Arab world, symbolism is more important than reality. The fact that Americans don't feel shame over this incident is in fact much more shameful for the would-be victors, because it shows them that what they consider victories don't gain them a single thing in the real world, except a momentary imaginary boost of self-esteem.