Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Modest Post-Bombing Proposal

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, President Obama went on television to assert that, “We still do not know who did this or why.  And people shouldn't jump to conclusions before we have all the facts.  But make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this.  And we will find out who did this; we’ll find out why they did this.  Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice.”

Fine.  That is as it should and must be.  But while my emotional curiosity aches for answers to the questions the President voiced -- “who” and “why” -- my real concern is with a different question:  “what then?”  That answer, after all, is the one that will very likely be consequential. 

Justice demands that we answer the “who”, and hold him or her or them accountable.  But frankly the “why” offers precious little purchase.  The perpetrator’s particular complaints and condemnations will be spoken with their own nuance and inflection, but their essence isn't all that inscrutable -- and ultimately isn't all that relevant.  The act is heinous.  Does it really matter why it was committed?  Will any explanation assuage even one scintilla of the grief, the horror, the shock, the anger?  Someone was murderously mad about some personal or cultural grievance and unilaterally took violent action to right the perceived wrong, or flag the assessed outrage.  The technologies and the settings evolve and change but the rationales do not.  So answer the “who” but let go of the “why.  It's answer won't finally help or salve or matter.

But what happens next -- with us; among us?  That's what worries me. Our track record with that question isn't good.  Especially since 9/11, and again after every major tragedy since, we have propagated the delusion that we can prevent such acts from occurring.  We have installed X-ray machines and metal detectors at every entrance, imposed invasive searches, signed into law more and more restrictive legislation and broadened governmental surveillance authority, all under the belief that we can finally and conclusively “seal the can”, thereby eliminating any possible malevolent intrusion.  

The only problem is that we can't. We can only suffocate ourselves by the effort, and through the gasping only make ourselves more vulnerable by the delusion. To be clear, this isn’t an ode to fatalism, nor is it a concession to those who argue for more weaponry in the hands of ever more people.  No, they may be the most delusional of all.

Instead, this is a modest invitation -- plea, really -- to pause, back up and ponder the dynamics and relationships that give shape to our reality.  We cannot survive in bunkers.  And who would want to?  I am already sick enough of the war zones our airports have become that I look for alternate means of travel.  As long as there are people we will find ways to hurt each other, and to retaliate against them.  

The only sane answer to the question of “what next” is not to find more strident means of “protection”, but to seek and practice more effective, life encouraging methods of living together.  

Is that a fool-proof strategy that will prevent anyone else from getting hurt?  Of course not.  There simply is no such strategy.  The advantage of this course is that it is one in which, instead of merely hiding with our teeth clenched and our guns cocked while frisking each other every so often, we have some hope of actually living.