Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don't Get Caught Between the Fairy Tales

A MeanMesa look at the tragedy at Fort Hood

As the news of the gun fire was arriving, inevitable, unavoidable questions arrived with it. Perhaps first in the minds of Americans the issue of terrorism lurched forward to take its place in its usual, unannounced immediacy. After all, five Brits were gunned down by an Afghan policeman with a heavy machine gun only two days ago. Was this the ominous first step of yet another style of terrorist tactic? The “turning” of those previously trusted into murderous terrorists?

We all know, now, that the strategies of an insurgent force against a modern European army will constantly seek out weaknesses available to be exploited. For example, home made IED's would not have amounted to nearly such a problem in WWII Europe as they do in the unmanageably large, wind swept, deserted desert nights of Afghanistan. Given the rather illegitimate, yet still effective, religious zeal our media has so craftily insinuated into our Taliban adversary, our view of both the practice and the players of this insurgency's activities is already dangerously pathetic so far as any possible objective analysis is involved.

As media consumers, we are stranded with the unpleasant prospects of trying to make sense of the news based on what is becoming clearly little more than a national movie script. It is both embarrassing and dangerous.

Literally moments after our first news, the professional pundits had landed to feed on the event like voracious deer flies at an unguarded picnic ham. The event perplexed our normal, continuous expectations of simply more of the mundane variety which falls within our comfort levels – difficult traffic, a troublesome office mate or a neighbor's barking dog. It was confounding. All manner of details of the incident seemed paradoxical, puzzling – threatening. Had thirteen American soldiers been killed in the war zone, we would have consumed such news with the same distant detachment we daily attribute to tens or hundreds of local dead after a terrorist car bomb in Mosul or Peshawar. We don't feel that kind of death at all. There might have been a short lived empathy for fellow Americans meeting the same mortal fate, but as that passed in minutes, our days would have resumed, unperturbed.

But with American blood and death in Texas, we immediately became context-challenged. Worse, once trapped by our fearful realization of the unusual nature of this inconvenient disturbance, we immediately reverted to an age old, quite healthy, human habit – we wanted to “make some sense” out of it, and we wanted to accomplish that pretty damned quickly. In fact, we found ourselves so anxious to satisfy this “itch” of ours, we even became willing to devote a little “conceptual” sweat to the undertaking.

We desperately needed to place the events of the day into a familiar context, some comforting frame of reference which might provide anchors and landmarks, you know, explanations which didn't require any taxing construction of alien paradigms necessary as foundations for our consideration of it, but still credible and comprehensible enough to restore our numbing complacency. After all, weren't the medicine commercials intended to be the most disquieting parts of our commercial media's news products? Now, this.

This MeanMesa post concerns the “familiar” context we anxiously selected as we pursued this understanding.

Where did we turn for this context we needed so much to restore our “conceptual” comfort in our understanding of the outrage?

As human beings, we might have dared to indulge ourselves in a deflecting consideration of the killer and the dead from an organic human viewpoint. We might have thought, however fleetingly, about being the man with the gun. Granted, trying to “make sense” of the news we had received from that point of reference might have been quite disconcerting, but, considering the “big picture,” such an approach might have provided some very illuminating conclusions no matter how troubling they might have been.

It was, after all, another of our homo sapiens species there, pulling the trigger over and over, replacing twenty round clips one after another to sustain his murderous obsession. Taking this approach would have cast us – as news consumers intent on framing the event – in a somewhat uncomfortable role of empathy. What would have had to necessarily been present in our own thoughts to explain his actions had they been our own?

As members of a peaceful society (at least, largely peaceful in the domestic frame …) we might have taken up a social view of the killer's place. Such a model would have included the security of our – almost – universal commitment to the social contract, the violent capacity of law enforcement to promote that traditionally defined environment and the place in which miscreants and other “social contract breachers” would place themselves when they violated it.

That line of perspective would have yielded a “plan” and a “justification” to restore order. As social creatures, we find it essential to see things in this way. The peace and justice our system imposes on our streets and homes is a valued one. When the spell is broken by repeated acts of premeditated first degree murder, we, as social creatures, are compelled to reintroduce security, calm and the durability of social institutions – usually, in that order. We place a great weight on the idea of “reaffirming social norms.” In fact, socially, we might say that we are defined by that impulse.

However, the homo sapiens empathy and the social order restoration approaches were no where to be found in the flood of inflammatory news. Those possible sources of explanatory context were discarded at once in favor of a seemingly unlikely alternative. Yes, there is unquestionably a great conflict. Yes, on both sides of a structure of smoke there are players such as our murderer. Yes, behind each single trigger flicking murderer there are myriad legions of slightly more peaceful types who quietly believe exactly as the killer does only more acceptably, less actively.

However, the stage was set for the context we all -- nationally -- seemed to choose first. The corresponding, tortured explanation will, sort of, well, follow.

For our comforting frame of reference we plunged back through history. The problem with this murderer, concluded this way, arose thirty or forty centuries ago in the deserts of the Middle East. That will be the context at play until something better is found -- not likely.

The personal nature of the trigger puller turns to a comfortable, impersonal shade when he and his treachery can be placed in the context of Biblical ills. If terrorism is convicted in our indictment, the adversary will be forced to define himself by the same ancient context. After all, for years we have faced "enemies" redefined as "evil" and treated as "criminals."


That ancient context is absolute. It blankets all sorts of possibly constructive analysis with an arcane ideology well costumed as religion, written by tribal herdsmen worried about their young migrating to Babylon for a weekend away from the drudgery of the sheep. There can be no angst with the ancient tribesmen. They historically promoted whatever program they thought necessary for their survival.

You know, talking trees, receding oceans and angels dispatching first born Pharaohs -- all stories arguably necessary for the conditions of the moment. In fact, probably stories which could have provided some advantageous context for the questions of the nomadic illiterate during that ancient day. After such a journey through history, these stories have held less and less relevance since then except as they are perpetually made material by vast populations of minds untroubled by their fantastic origins -- minds quite modern in their habits of unexamined acceptance of such mythological stuff.

This complaint is not one sided, either. Our opponents, if they are actually opponents, are plagued with a similar addiction to their own fairy tales. As an ultimate irony, both stories began "on the same page," formalizing the start of their separation with an ancient named Benjamin. After that, convenient hybrids rose by serial sequence, each one -- on either side of the two fables -- reconstructing itself to maximize passing instants of manipulation and consequence.

Now, we can read of the bloodbaths around Jerusalem when dates only had three digits. We can peer through the haze of these reconfigured ancient myths of an Armageddon to a modern Persian calling for a Biblical destruction of a modern state. Nationally, we have insinuated ourselves into the frothy mess. Our autocrat spoke to the Arabs of his god's message and Crusades. Sexually challenged modern herdsmen lament our sinful ways while cleaning their rifles. A man in Texas suffering under all this artificial enmity unloads his automatic pistol on those who trusted him for reasons extracted from this synthetic conflict.

What are we doing?

Whether the mindless chanting of boys in a Pakistani madras or the imposed evangelism of the officers at our Air Force Academy, we seem uninterested in moving so much as a single inch from the fairy tales toward some more rational position which might promise an end to the madness. If it were a single "church of death," we could rise up against it, but two such churches -- for each, the threat of one defends the avarice of the other.

The conflict is useless. It doesn't matter whether the most recent participant is a teenager burying a 175mm Howitzer shell on a back road in Afghanistan or another teenager listening to his Colonel explain just how he might serve Jesus with his sparkling F-16 fighter bomber. There is no possible spiritual relief. If there ever were any, it was happily discarded by an ancient Pontiff or an ambitious Caliph hundreds of years in our past, you know, at some new, necessary hybridization of one of the religions or the other or both when "immediate" meant something like 861 AD.

Will we allow patriotism and love of nation to be any position other than more of the same insanity? The "battle" between the fairy tales is a gaseous deception -- both for us and for them! In fact, both contestants are drenched in traditions of battle. Its edifice for us is a grisly three trillion dollar monolith covered in the blood of thousands of our neighbors' sons. For them, their monument is covered with the blood of hundreds of thousands or millions.

Fairy tales?

The mind of the pistol man was the war zone of the fairy tales. The death and tragedy of his testimony present us with a message, unavoidable and compelling. It is either a herald of more discouragement or a startling challenge of hope. The ancient fairy tales from the desert -- along with all the chaos and destruction -- must be abandoned or, at least, disarmed and relegated to a harmless dust bin somewhere with nothing more dangerous than a parking lot and a cheap microphone (and no tax exempt status ...).

From those old books, either Bible or Koran, "It is childhood's end."

It must be so -- now.

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