On Joshua, Dandelions, Tomcats, and the like.

Zdenko Frankenberger Daneš

And Joshua captured Makkedah on that day and went striking it with the edge of the sword. And he gave its king and every soul that was in it to death. He let no survivor remain. Thus he did to the king of Makkedah as he had done to the king of Jericho.

The reader of Joshua 10:28 will never remain indifferent: either he will side with the Israelites who, mindful of their covenant with Jehovah, have just acted as tools of a Divine plan; or he will join the camp of the sympathizers with Makkedah and Jericho and Canaan and a host of other kingdoms of the plains and mountains along the Jordan River and blame the Jews for multiple genocide, aggravated with blasphemy, and he will see little difference between Torah and Mein Kampf.

My wife has a green thumb. Her Christmas cactus, her philodendron and her potatoes are a thing to behold! So much so, indeed, that uninvited guests arrive by the legion to share the fruit of her labors: aphids, slugs, dandelions. Of course: they don't last. They get sprayed with poison. The aphids and the slugs are obviously in great agony before the merciful Thanatos escorts them to Acheron. The dandelions, fortunately, show no pain. They just wilt and die, their lush, green leaves slowly wrinkling and withering away, their rich, yellow blossom - perhaps the most beautiful yellow the vegetable kingdom has ever produced - turning orange, then brown.

Is there a connection between the Old Testament and my wife's plants?

Of course, there is: the undesirable is destroyed, so that the desirable may benefit. And all depends on whose camp we side with: Israel? Makkedah? Aphids? Slugs? Potatoes?

Now America is a free country and we may side with whomever we like. We may not make friends, but we shall not be violating this country's law. That's fine, I like it that way. But besides the question of right and wrong before the law, there is also the question of right or wrong before ourselves, before our conscience, perhaps before some Great Universal Principle that we feel, but don't comprehend, and interpret different ways at different times and in different circumstances.

It is not the purpose of this article to attempt to answer the second question. All I want to offer is a little preliminary, incomplete and probably incorrect analysis of how we proceed in deciding whom to nourish and whom to kill, for there is no nourishment without killing and no killing without nourishment: no joy without pain, and no pain without joy, whether we accept it as a reduction of some Great Truth of Hinduism, or just another conservation law that modern science is yet to discover.

It seems to me that each of us builds around himself an Imaginary Fence that divides this entire Universe into two distinct domains: the Inside and the Outside. The Inside is sacred; its prosperity needs no justification; and its welfare must be secured at all cost - to those of the Outside.

The Outsiders, on the other hand, are tolerated only as long as they are indifferent toward the privileged Inside. Should they be harmful, it is our sacred duty to wipe them out. If, on the other hand, they may be beneficial to the Insiders, they may be disgraced, enslaved, killed, disfigured, or subject to the utmost suffering, for such are the rules of decency.

The great mystery of the human mind seems to be in the precise location of the Fence. Some of it is obvious: we all put ourselves Inside and most of us extend the privileged region also to include our children and spouses. Some include also their parents. Likewise, most of us would keep rats, lice, cockroaches and the anthrax bacteria on the Outside. Some of the division is utilitarian: cucumbers in, weeds out. The Inside may extend over me, my family and our canary; or me and my nation; me and all Aryans, while the definition of Aryan will be modified to suit my political alliances; me, all white, protestant Anglo-Saxons plus my dog, but not the stray dogs, from whom my dog catches fleas. And certainly not my neighbor's dog that disrupts my sleep with his barking! It may include all of mankind, but not whales. Or whales plus all of mankind, with the exception of whalers.

Sometimes, entire species are Inside, other species are not, while the dividing line is oblivious of usefulness, intelligence of each particular species, or the zoological and botanical systems. Thus seals may be in, while the fish that the seals eat are out. But also out may be the sea lions and the walrus, the seal's first cousins, though not so cute.

Exceptions, too, are rampant: Jews may be out, but David Stern, who plays tennis with me, is in. Mice are out, but our boy's pet white mouse is in.

Political decisions are made according to which group is in, which one is out: Joshua's Fence did not keep the children of Makkedah inside, and I suppose the exclusion was mutual, though the Holy Scripture leaves us ignorant on that point.

At times, we hear the inclusion of a particular individual justified by "...he, too, wants to live." But that argument is not valid, since it could be extrapolated from Frank Danes all the way beyond the cholera germ.

Crossings of the Fence are frequent, too. Lovers are taken in, but unfaithful lovers are pushed out, and in a hurry. Jealous lovers' lovers keep jumping in and out.

But while the rationale behind the location of our individual Fences is obscure at best, it is a valuable measure -- indeed, perhaps the only measure -- by which we judge our fellow man. For a person is GOOD if we are his Insiders; if we are not, he is SELFISH, RUTHLESS and INHUMAN. If his Fence pretty much agrees with ours, he is WISE. If it includes large areas of our own Outside, and skips those of our Inner Zone, that person is NAIVE, IRRATIONAL or even FOOLISH. If it includes all of mankind, he is a PHILANTHROPIST, but if he excludes us and our favorite group, he is an ENEMY. If his Inside includes us, but only a part of our own Insiders, that person is PREJUDICED. If we are not in, he is a CHAUVINIST. And if he has fenced in all that we have, plus a good bit more, he is a NUT.

Conflicts develop when Fences of those whom we have included disagree with ours. Some fifty years ago, a pair of beautiful birds, the like of which we have never seen, built a nest in our yard. They were definitely in, to the exclusion of all the insects that those birds ate. However, our Fence and that of our tomcat did not match perfectly, and thus it came to pass that, one morning, our tomcat had a special breakfast. So I borrowed a .22 from the UPS Physics laboratory and was going to inform our tomcat that as an Insider, he done spent his welcome. But our children saw me and informed me in a dramatic way that, should I proceed, their future Interior zone would include only one of their parents, and I was not likely to be the one. So I capitulated and transferred that tomcat back to my Inside, to the exclusion of many other birds, mice, moles, shrews and little cute rabbits who probably also had their Fenced - in areas, and neither that cat, nor myself were their Insiders. And I went so far that I even bought some de-worming medication for that tomcat, and thus forced many worms (who, too, had their imaginary Fences) to the Outside, in more than one meaning of that word.

Where is your Fence?