Monday, November 16, 2015

This Is Why I Despair

I suppose I should get these two quotes out of the way first:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.  ~MLK


When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." ~Mister Rogers

Like millions of people before me, I share these quotes, as I have before, in the hope that people will see their wisdom, and turn to children to love and help them through their fear, but this morning I feel I'm doing it as a kind of pantomime, trotting them out there without any hope that we the people will listen.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorists attacks in Paris, the great Charlie Pierce wrote a wail of despair on

Something awful has happened in Paris. Out if it will be born something awful in the collective mind and the collective heart and the collective soul. I wish I weren't so sure of this, but the planet looks awfully black from up here, and it doesn't look any different if you close your eyes.

I share his despair. Firstly, for the terrorist acts themselves, and secondly for the near certainty that we will respond exactly as they want us to -- out of fear. There is no military solution to terrorism. We should have learned that by now, we should know that a military response will just create more angry, desperate recruits, but the chicken hawks are out in force, having learned nothing. Treating this like a war plays right into the terrorists' hands, dignifying them and making them stronger. I had hoped we had learned that lesson after the most recent fifteen years of futile, fearful war mongering, most of my daughter's life. Indeed, we have been at war for most of my life, most of every American's life, and there are more terrorists than ever.

But the sabers are already rattling, our elected representatives are calling it "an act of war," which is exactly what the terrorists want. It's much easier to recruit angry young men to your cause if it bears in imprimatur of something as nobel as war and the spiral will resume: they kill dozens of us, we kill hundreds of them, they kill hundreds of us, we kill thousands of them; almost all innocent, many children.

As David Wong wrote in his excellent Cracked piece in the aftermath of the last terrorist tragedy in Paris:

Whenever some notorious rapist is caught, exactly 100 percent of the conversations or Internet comment sections about the subject will say, "I hope he gets raped in prison!" . . . See, because that would "even the score." But even five seconds' consideration demonstrates how monstrous that idea is: "rape is awesome, as long as it's targeted toward people who deserve it!" No, the cruel reality is that if that guy gets raped, the score isn't Rapist 1, Society 1. It's: Rape 2, Society 0

And the same applies terrorism:

So the next time you turn on the news and see that terrorists have blown up 10 children with a car bomb . . .  Realize that the scoreboard lies. It will tell you that winning the game means dropping bombs that you know full well will splatter ten times as many children as collateral damage. The score -- the real score -- would then be: Violence Against Children 110, Humanity 0

This is where the war mongers step in with their mockery, "So what do you suggest? Inviting them in for tea and cookies?" That is an actual quote from this weekend. "I suppose you think we can make them stop with understanding and tolerance." This is why I despair, because this, I know, is the overriding attitude of we the people. It's the mentality of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and it's the mentality of the spanker, the one who persists in beating children even as he knows that with each swat, he is increasing the odds of that child resorting to violence himself, of behaving like a bully, of suffering depression, of becoming alcoholic, of struggling in relationships, in school, and in life in general. We should know that engaging in the barbarity of killing more of their children won't finally bring them around to disavowing their own barbarity, yet the only alternative we the people can see is that those channeling the voice of reason want to "let them off the hook" with the tea and cookies of understanding and tolerance.

This is why I despair.

There is a reason that these criminals are so easily able to recruit (mostly) young men to their insane "cause." I'm not an expert on the Middle East, but I've learned a little something about human beings over my half century and the only way you get people to commit atrocities like this is if they start off feeling sad/afraid/helpless. For young men in this state, these feelings are easily turned into rage at the world (young women tend to turn those feelings inward toward self-injury). When we declare a "war" we give them a noble cause -- these young men are responding to a call to arms. We make their leaders into great generals, we make their horrible acts into a kind of patriotism, we make their dead into martyrs.

The first thing we need to do is to stop the war rhetoric and treat their leaders as we do common criminals. Our goal should be to find them, arrest them -- not assassinate them, not torture them -- and make them stand trail. That is what civilized people do, transparently, according to rule of law. Let their prospective recruits see that we are nothing like the barbarians: we are fair even when we're angry, even when we're afraid. Show the convicts in shackles, sure, behind bars, pathetic, weak and alone, like common criminals, not war martyrs.

But more importantly, and what should be so obvious that I shouldn't even have to mention it, is that we must work to address the root problem, which I'm assuming is largely poverty (again, I'm no expert on the Middle East). If we reduce the desperation, we reduce the pool from which they can recruit. This is not about religion, it is about despair.

Of course, that's easier said than done. It requires turning to the only real solution we ever have to any human problem: talking and listening. This is what the war mongers mock as "understanding." But, of course, talking and listening does not mean being namby pamby: it just means trying to understand -- not necessarily agreeing -- just understanding. Nothing can be solved unless we first understand. The worst way is this knee jerk, blood-thirsty eye-for-an-eye crap, which, as Gandhi points out, "makes the whole world blind."

This morning, I'm more convinced than ever that this is the only way forward and I'm equally convinced that we the people will not even attempt the first step along that path.

I will be in the street, driven by my despair, to protest this new war; it's the only way I know how to be a helper. Look for me.

Update: Since I wrote this post, Charlie Pierce has had some time to reflect and his newest piece lays the blame, and finds a part of the solution, right where blame and solutions often lie: the bankers, states, and conservative oligarchs who bankroll groups like ISIS. It's not about religion, it's about how the Middle Eastern elites retain power.

It's time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world.

And I will add, their wealth should be confiscated and used to help the poor in their own countries, salting the fields from which terrorists seek their harvest.

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Unknown said...

Some similar thoughts you might find interesting.

Sandy said...

Thank you Teacher Tom. Shared far and wide.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. We are not alone in our thoughts and we will all be helpers and dreamers of a peaceful world and light will overcome darkness xo

claire brunner said...

Just brilliant. Shared, and shared again.

Honeybug said...

Nicole Linn said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I am in despair as well, seeing what the next steps with most likely be and watching history repeat again and again. Thank you for sharing your words - you are not alone.

jessicajspencer said...

I love this. Thank you for sharing.