When I read or watch the news headlines, there are moments when I imagine a sleepy croc eyeballing a nearby human and bothering about as much as you would noticing a small cabbage white butterfly doing its antics in a spot of predictable garden. The croc would consider making a big effort to move and go gulp that guy, but he is not that hungry, so it doesn’t make sense to go lust after this morsel of lesser evolutionary bite. Better conserve energy and snooze.
I watch the news, and get this visceral sense that mankind can come up with all sorts of advances to optimize longevity and good health, or make up for the unfortunate lack of an exoskeleton that appears to be an extremely important factor in the longer haul of evolutionary history. But none of it will matter, because the bomb within tic-tacking its countdown to the 00:00:00 hour of human extinction is as intimate as our physicality, but completely different:
It’s our quest for a valuable identity in a meaningful life.
This noble human quest is our ticking self-destruction mechanism – as in, I don’t know your book of scripture, but mine tells me that I can kill you if you threaten what is meaningful to me and my own, so I will. Your book of scripture or bill of rights or whatchamacallit in your part of the world doesn’t o.k. that? Not my problem. You don’t offend me, I won’t shoot you. You offend me, I can shoot you. I offend you and you can’t shoot me?… That’s your book, not mine.
So, come a shooting impasse, of which a digitized and globalized world has ample opportunity for, heads will roll, and news headlines daily tell us they do, all the time, anywhere. Some feel they’re rallying for purposeful justice, and thou may kill. Others feel their hands tied by thou shall not kill. I grew up in a small Western country where freedom of expression was out of the question during my childhood and preteen years. My parents, however, held freedom of expression sacred, first secretly, and then openly after the regime exhaled its last breadth. By now, they’ve come full circle and reverted back to the good old safe times when you got arrested in PJs in the middle of the night for ventilating non-sanctioned opinions – but the people who lorded over your country came from your country and spoke your language. They could be evil, but it was our evil, not a foreigner holding us in handcuffs. And righteously so, I may add! Consequently, I believe in tolerance, freedom of expression, and integrity, and hear my aging parents gloss over Salazar and Angela Merkel in the same sentence, at the expense of the higher ethos of their prime adulthood.
So when I encounter a demonstration fueled by that movie The Innocence of Muslims downtown the European city where I currently live, I recoil in something hard to digest whole: a mix of fear of the mob, loathing of xenophobia, and that mother of all greater evil, deep-rooted anger. Anger at seeing the streets occupied by savvy terrorists: opportunists presenting violence as just retaliation for such poor cinematic quality that only those eager to pick low hanging forbidden fruits would bother watching. Anger watching the disproportionate quantity of police in place for a crowd too small to make the local news. Clearly, terrorizing the common passer-by population with the magnitude of police muscle is worth a tactical “cease and desist” intent.
The Execution of Christ, a piece of world quality art (not amateur motion picture garbage), comes to mind: a life size sculpture installation of Jesus in front of a firing squad of Chairman Maos. Unsurprisingly, in China this piece is art-non-gratta. But more to the point, Catholics aren’t raging against the Chinese because two Chinese artists produced this. No Catholic is murdering any Chinese ambassador because of it. The Pope and Her Majesty are not encouraging holy wars. What’s this fundamentalist pseudo-Muslim rage all about? Who’s feeding the fire?
Reading about the Taliban who shot in the head up close a 14 year old girl who’d been writing a blog since 11 – really, Malala Yousafzai is right up there with Anne Frank – makes me wish being a sniper who happened in the neighborhood and shot the hooligans dead on the spot. And doing it again, and again – oh, the satisfaction of the rumor beginning to make the rounds of the encrypted terrorist underground! The glee imagining the insidious fear infiltrating the ranks, I dunno how it happens man, but it does, you shoot or rape a female, you die. The sweet balm of revenge envisaging partisans mobilizing and educating women to take it upon themselves to rid society of people who shoot girls in the face. Once upon a time it was up to women to claim the right to vote. In our time, it’s up to women to rid themselves – and their daughters, and their good husbands and fathers forced to choose between dead literate daughters or a living illiterate ones – of men who maim and kill women.
And then I get that croc-eyeing-butterfly-human moment.
It’s a world of many kinds of people. Some believe that tolerance is good. Others don’t. Some think freedom of expression is good. Others don’t. Some believe integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. Others don’t. Some believe that to kill someone because of a badly produced demeaning video is a just purpose. Others don’t. Some believe they must kill a young girl who writes what she observes and feels. Others don’t. Some feel they must shoot the shooters, but don’t. Others do.
We are not here for the long haul, and we can’t help it.
It’s who we are.