Oh wait...did I offend anyone with that last crack? Before you answer, let's talk about victims. As Americans, as human beings, our collective hearts bleed for victims, whether from violent crimes or tsunamis or school bus accidents. Because of that compassion, we allow victims a special voice within our culture. We listen to victims because their loss gives special poignancy to their words.
I was in New York City right after 9-11, and I sat in bars in lower Manhattan and listened to people who had lost friends, relatives, spouses, children. Some of those people called for immediate, bloody reaction in the United States...I just nodded my head and bought the drinks. If you were to ask those same people today whether they still called for detention camps for Muslims and Star Chamber trials, they would be mortified. In fact, I doubt they even remember those words so many years back in dark Manhattan bars.
Yes, the words of victims have special poignancy, but what they don't have is any special truth. Grief drives us to look toward the heavens and demand an answer from any nearby Deity. Grief drives us to demand a solution to the fundamental insoluble problem, which is that the world is as it is. Bad things happen, often to good people, and grief drives us to...do something.
To me there is no greater sin...and I use the word "sin" specifically...than harnessing grief to serve a crass political agenda. This from Reason:
In Obama's telling, only "powerful interests that are very good at confusing the subject, that are good at amplifying conflict and extremes, that are good at drowning out rational debate, good at ginning up irrational fears." That's pretty rich, coming from a man who claims that massacres like the one that took 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last December have become "routine," who falsely asserts that the man responsible for those murders used a "fully automatic weapon," and who in response to that horrible event pushes policies that could not possibly have prevented it, while citing the grief and outrage it generated as if they were arguments for the same gun control policies he has supported all along.Remember, Michael Bloomberg created a "SWAT team" for gun control, just waiting for something to happen to so he could drive home the same old agenda. He just needed the blood.
When I was in high school, my brother — 2 years younger than me — died of brain cancer. It took a year for him to die, and what little I know of grace I learned from him in that singularly horrible year. In the wake of his death, my family, staggered by grief, simply self-destructed...I played my own part in that self-destruction, driven by an anger...no, that's not strong enough...driven by a fury — to hate...God, my parents, the people around me, the sons-of-bitch doctors who failed to keep my brother alive. Funny, but after more than half a century if you ask me what I think about doctors, before my brain even has a chance to turn on 17-year-old Michael will erupt with, "I hate those sons of bitches!"
I grieved and I hated and more than anything else in the universe I wanted to...do something, even if that something I was doing was obviously destroying the world around me. But grief does that to a person. And that is why even though we share the pain of those who grieve, we cannot allow ourselves to build, or rebuild, the world around them.
Doing something is an anathema to intelligent action; it allows us to believe that somehow feeling supersedes thinking, that the public expression of emotion, as cathartic as it might be, is grounds for reshaping our entire country into something the Founders never intended.
One more personal piece of data...when I was in college in Florida, I was dirt poor and lived in an ancient, decaying trailer park in a 1952 Spartan travel trailer, the ones with Studebaker roll-down windows and a porthole in the door. The residents of the trailer park would make a good reality show...the mandatory hooker, a murderer who got off on a technicality, a rodeo cowgirl who kept her horse at a farm across the road, and a "hack" writer — the first professional, e.g., a guy who got paid for it, writer I'd ever met. Each month he'd get a request list from his agent in New York for "2 western stories, make the heroes like John Wayne," or "4 short-short science fiction stories, one with evil aliens," stuff like that. And Bill would sit at his manual typewriter and bang them out like clockwork.
In his spare time, he drank too much — natch! — and studied history. He had an old reel-to-reel tape recorder, and sometimes when I was over at his trailer helping him imbibe he'd play me tapes of speeches. His favorites were Hitler, whom he had fought against and hated..."just listen to the cadence, Michael. Forget the words. Listen to the power. He sold a whole country with that voice. With emotion, not reason." Bill's long gone, but the lesson remans the same.