Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Les mots justes

Feeling a little odd. Don't quite know how to say it. It's almost a kind of vulnerability. I don't know. You tell me. Just lounging around, chatting, cooling down after some exercise, and I overheard a snippet of conversation. "That was my first experience. I was fourteen and she was eighteen. Ever since then I've sort of had a thing for Japanese girls." And there was some ensuing conversation from another fella -- but that's the gist of it. And it kind of unsettled me.

As you will know by now, faithful reader that you are of these trenchant pages, I was a teacher for many years, of teens. I learned very quickly to put my students, and by extension all teens, in a special category. Hands off. And imagination off, too. So that's part of it, the unease. But only part. Because there is, for all that I don't like it, a sort of poignancy to it. First love and all that. Even though it isn't really love. That's not it entirely though, either. A sort of jealousy -- not one of my habitual emotions, but there is that sense of lost opportunity, of unexpressed instinct in an environment of dread and repression. Why couldn't I be normal. What's so wrong about trying to be happy? You know -- the regret that righteousness has of itself. The repenting of virtue. It's just being human. No one is good but God.

But I was in the midst of another conversation. I never do that. Never. Politics. I don't bring it there. But someone was talking about maybe going to Turkey -- oh, it's so dangerous. I had to put in my two cents: It's one of the best Islamic countries -- like if Mexico was Moslim. Fascinating place -- crossroads of civilizations. But this fella has an unusual name, so maybe if he got in trouble the US Embassy might not be such a help? Well, y'see, my parents were hippies.... And I had mentioned last week my hostility toward hippies, so another fella had to make a little joke about that, and it all grew into a discussion of terrorism.

It boiled down to this. "D," I finally said, "I understand your point. I just don't agree with it. The outcome of American actions and of terrorist actions may be the same -- dead people. But it's not the same. It's like a doctor who has a patient die on the operating table. Murder, right?" "That's not the same at all." "Exactly. We agree. Intentions matter." He knew I must be wrong, somehow, but couldn't think where my error was. At such times, it's important to be patient, and generous. It's a conversation, not an argument.

Of course innocent people get harmed. Of course. The world sucks. People are scum. But given these self-evident facts, we can still decide between the imperfect and the more imperfect system. Civilized polices do not target noncombatants for perceived political gain. That, alas, is the definition of terrorism. And we must distinguish between true militant actions, of, say, legitimate insurgents -- and terrorism. Attacking strategic infrastructure, attacking soldiers, setting bombs for their vehicles, assassinating ambassadors -- these things may very well be legitimate tactics. Ugly, horrid, but perhaps justifiable. I expect that if the USA were taken over by space invaders, I would take to the hills and wage whatever resistance I might be able to mount. Whether or not an insurrection is objectively right is a different question than whether the tactics are legitimate.

Terrorism is always wrong. Blowing up a barracks is categorically different than blowing up a school bus. Even if I am IRA through and through, and want the dirty limey Beefeater oppressor out of my fair Erin, to hear that someone acting for my cause had murdered school children must sicken my heart. A cause that employs such tactics is discredited. The moral sensibility of every sane human being must be incensed by such actions, and we may turn away even from what we believe is right, overcome by shame and dismay at the horror of those who have disgraced not just our cause, but humanity itself.

In contrast to this, we have, here, an imperfect system, imperfectly executed -- but the culture that thrives under these flawed conditions is the same that has honed our consciences, so that we, you and I, are outraged at the very thought of corruption. We will not tolerate it. We demand that it be burned out like a noxious infection. If some individual in our military acts in a shameful and illegal way -- well, I just said it, didn't I. Illegal. We have a system, however imperfect, to deal with it. Whereas the cultures that produce institutionalized terrorism -- well, I just said it. There is no outrage, and there is no law against it.

Young D will have given what I said some thought, on his drive home. He will have come up with what he thinks are the flaws in my position. Such is the way of things. We all do it. The failed surgery is not murder, but military actions are the same as terrorist actions. Something like that, I imagine. Ah well. It's the same with me. It took me a while to find the right word for his error. Moral equivalence. He mistakes the insurgent with the terrorist -- the patriot with the monster -- Americans for islamists. Because the material result might be the same -- broken buildings and dead civilians -- the agencies must be equivalent.

We are fragile, and our words have power. It's not an intellectual thing. It's emotional. I have conversations so rarely nowadays that ideas come slowly. Part of it is the damage my spirit has suffered. Part of it is being out of practice. Whatever the reasons our arguments might be flawed, and however swift we are in seeing the error in someone else, it's important to remember the fundamental fact, that we are fragile, yet we have power. A casual comment about a long-ago sexual encounter can send troubling ripples through the soul of some passerby. The fervor, or patience, with which we refute the fallacies in someone's reasoning can make an enemy, or move him closer to friendship.

There is no arguing with emotion. It is an animal. We, of course, are more than our emotions, more than animals. We have worth, and we must have dignity. We must remember this, of ourselves, and of even those with whom we contend. To neglect this reality -- well, that's what makes it possible to be a terrorist.



n said...

rolling with a cut, i think, got me some stupid skin infection. and my shoulder is still funky. and now im missing all the drama at JJ. dammit.

hope u guys are all well.

Jack H said...

Wondered what ever had become of you. Feeling a little rejected, in fact. *Thinks he's too damn good for us, huh?* Glad to hear it's something medical.

Try coconut oil, both topically and internally. It's antimicrobial, and adds a delightful dash of that certain tropical something to the palate!

And as for drama ... oh, I'll give you drama! More drama than you can bear!!! ... Oh. Well, if you've glanced through this blog, maybe you've had enough?

Take care.