I had planned to spend this evening working on my novel. I’ve written about 12,000 words in the past 2 weeks, with a planned schedule of about a thousand words per day. But today, at the risk of depleting the supply of words I may have for my novel, I am going to make words here about today, about what happened today, about what may be described as a tragedy, definitely, or what may be described, less popularly, as a wake-up call.
First of all, I am terribly hurt that lives were lost or permanently altered as a direct result of the bombings in Boston this afternoon. My heart goes out to all involved. What I have to say here should not diminish this tragedy as a personal one that personally affects so many people. However, it is impossible to regard an incident like this solely in the context of personal tragedy, and therefore discourse about the incident as metaphor is demanded and must be answered.
There is a right way and a wrong way to do this, and a spectrum of ways in between. I would assert that Alex Jones chose the wrong way, who tweeted these two sentiments in the same breath, “Our hearts go out to those that are hurt or killed #Boston marathon - but this thing stinks to high heaven #falseflag.” I am not sure what I am doing here is the right way or the wrong way. When does the window open when it is not “too soon”; when does it shut when it is too late, when people have already moved on to the next sensation, whether real or manufactured? Perhaps there is no window at all. Perhaps, to some people, it will always be wrong for me to say these things. I’ve already been accused of “turning this political” and being in “bad taste.” Perhaps others are ready to hear what I have to say. Perhaps they have been ready for a long time.
We (and Americans, I am speaking specifically to you) need to take a moment and consider our reaction to this news. When you heard, when someone told you or you saw the headline, what was your first thought? What thoughts did you have after that? How did your brain feel, your heart, your guts? Did you try to contact people to be sure they were okay? Did you spread the word? Did you research the news to see what facts were real and which weren’t? Did you formulate scenarios, imagine who was to blame, maybe even speak aloud this speculations to see if others agreed?
Did you do the same thing after Newtown?
Did you do the same thing after 9/11?
Did you do the same thing after you heard 16 civilians were killed yesterday in Iraq by bomb, bringing the total civilian body count in Iraq to 187 in April alone?
Or didn’t you know that.
Or didn’t you care.
The thing that makes the Boston Marathon Bombing different, even though fewer people are dead, is that it happened here. Except, what about the 28 people, including 3 children age 13 and under, who were killed by gunshots over the weekend. That happened here. It happened everywhere, all over America. In fact, it happens every single day, all over America.
How does your brain feel reading that, your heart, your guts? Why is it so different than when you heard that there were two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon?
I believe it has to do with the ideas of safety, expectation, context, circumstance. The problem with 9/11, the problem with Newtown, the problem with Boston is that the people who were hurt were analogs for ourselves, for our friends and families. In our minds, these people are, we are, innocents. We are supposed to be safe. We did not choose the kind of life where death and destruction are a normal circumstance. But in our minds, if it could happen to those people, it could happen to us, and the realization that we are not in control—that no one, not our police, not our military, not even our gods are in control—is frightening on a level that goes soul-deep.
The problem, though, is that when we think of ourselves that way, as innocent, as out of the circumstance of violence, the implicit assertion is that people in those other circumstances—Muslims living in a third world war zone, say, or gangbangers living in a first world war zone—are the opposite of that. Whether subconsciously or otherwise, there is the thought that these people somehow were not completely innocent or undeserving of what they got. Collateral damage in a war zone is not shocking; it’s barely news. It’s a ticker beneath a celebrity nip slip. Getting the annual homicide rate below 200 in Baltimore is considered a success. Maybe if those people don’t want to get killed they shouldn’t be involved in the drug trade, right? Maybe they shouldn’t be poor. Maybe they shouldn’t be black. Maybe if they lived in a nice Boston neighborhood and could afford to take the day off work to watch people run for fun and not because they’re being chased it would be more gut-wrenching when they died, and people might say it’s in “bad taste” when someone else politicizes it.
You’re not safe, my fellow Americans. Your safety is an illusion. And that illusion is a pacifier that keeps your eyes off the ticker, keeps them glazed over, keeps your mouth shut except when your knee jerks because you have a ready-made sound bite you can throw at something you think deserves throwing-at. You are not safe because you live in an aggressive, hostile bully of a country—except America doesn’t steal lunch money, it kills thousands of innocent people in foreign countries, sends thousands of soldiers to die in foreign countries, and makes the deaths of thousands of victims on domestic soil into a wedge issue instead of a dire fucking emergency.
More people have been killed by gun violence since the Newtown shooting than were killed in 9/11. You want to talk about terrorism? The government has you in terror that you’re going to lose your guns so much that you forget to be scared of actually losing your life. You’re lulled into submission because we spend more on defense than the next 13 countries in the world combined so that you can feel safe, so that “war zone” is a pithy metaphor used to describe two bombs going off in a major American city, instead of your everyday forever reality. So when something like the Boston bombing happens, you get upset because something woke you up.
It’s okay to be upset. But you really ought to follow up that emotion with some good old-fashioned, red-blooded American anger. And then you better fucking do something. The window for talking about this isn’t open and isn’t closed because it doesn’t exist because somebody somewhere made you think it was in “bad taste” to talk about it, because they don’t want you to talk about it. If we want the killing to stop, if we want true safety instead of the mere illusion thereof, we must treat all deaths equally with our brains and our hearts and our guts.
How many commercial breaks until you’ve forgotten? Don’t be one more American Idle.
Here’s my thousands words.