Have you ever been angry about something, and then caught a glimpse of your reflection? Have you ever recoiled, or started, or jumped at seeing the thing you felt so deeply reflected back at you?
For me, the reflection sets me on parallel tracks. A part of me, the angry part, carries on with fervor and fury and more impetus than sense. Another part of me is unsettled, disturbed, trying to step away. As the two tracks diverge, I feel the disconnect more powerfully. Anger begins to feel like theater. I very much want to be on one track only, and I very much prefer that it be thoughtful and careful. Yet the part of me that is running out that other track carries on regardless, and I wonder whether it will carry on forever.
This is how I feel about the Western world, especially right now.
No one denies that there has been a tragedy this past week. But how much they agree about that depends on how broadly you want to talk about it. I think we’re all on the same page to say the attacks in Paris are terrible. But I’d also venture to say there are a number of white people who are only about 3/5 as angry about Beirut as they are about Paris.
So I am seeing a few different stories. One story is about an unprovoked atrocity by evil people. One story is about many atrocities, all but one ignored. Both of these stories are true. But the scarier story is what we should do about it.
I think this is what unsettles me the most. People I would otherwise see as sane, rational human beings are telling a story I’ve heard before, a story I heard fourteen years ago before I really knew how to listen for it. It’s a story about being shocked and awed and horrified, and thus about inflicting that shock and awe on your enemies. It’s a story about self-righteous fiery vengeance, with no acknowledgement that it has a cost.
I could be wrong about it; maybe that story has some truth as well.
Let’s kill them. They deserve it. They hate you, and they want to kill you, and they are completely against you way of life. And we’re stronger—we won’t retreat. All we need is the courage to act. So let’s bomb the shit out of them.
It has one very American virtue: it’s a story from the gut. For some people, that’s righteousness.
For my part, I keep catching glimpses of the mirror.
Image Credit: Susanne Nilsson