Tuesday, July 22, 2014

National Tragedies

Now that we are between national tragedies, it might be safe to complain about the tendency to instantly sermonise so many of our fellow citizens apparently have.  When bad things happen, it is because we have guns or because we don’t; that there are too many Lilliputians or too many people who don’t like them; too much Jesus or not enough; or a default howl that there are too many of the evil other guys, with their evil attitudes and evil schools and evil culture, and not enough of wonderful us.

We have each our own hobbyhorses to ride.  I think of Perchik in “Fiddler On The Roof” telling the story of Laban and drawing from it the lesson “never trust an employer;” or the fire chief in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, warning the children that this shed might have been destroyed by playing with matches, though everyone knew it was the Herdmans.

One could consider it an innocent annoyance, I suppose, a natural human tendency to find explanations, or incantations to keep the dark at bay. In the panic of tragedy, people emote rather than develop close arguments, and we shouldn’t be too hard on gentle, decent folk who are simply trying to express sympathy.  So the defense goes.

I take a grimmer view. These spontaneous sermons are based on previous rehearsal, and are intended to bend the world to one’s own viewpoint.  They are manipulations. They are the quieter everyday opinions, now nailed down hard as declarations and cultural markers, at a time when one cannot easily be called out for it.  Here we are in the midst of all this grief, and you are injecting politics into the situation by calling out someone else who tried to inject politics under the radar. You rude bastard.

I notice it because I slip naturally into the role of referee*.  I don’t bring up gun legislation or environmental regulations or Bush/Obama/Harding’s foreign policy – I just notice it when you do, and want people to fight fair. Most readers barely notice the insertions as they go by, and resent the entrance of an umpire.  But I believe this is how cultural change happens.  Putting down markers in a crisis is a way of gradually claiming territory. That’s why everyone wrestles hard to capture the event for their own narrative – because they know it works.

Hey, my friends do it too. I suspect it is a conscious manipulation only to the Rahm Emanuels of the world, and most other people think they are acting in all innocence.  Perhaps, perhaps they are using such a situation as a teachable moment, at a time when they can get people’s attention, because…well, because there are dead bodies on the ground and they want to exploit that because their POV is so important.  I’m sorry, did I say that out loud?

Certainly, the snipers also feel proper sorrow and compassion for the victims and their families.  The manipulation is likely well less than half their motivation for speaking. That’s why they get so insulted when they are called out – they only pooped in the corner a little bit before moving on.  Most of the time they were listening compassionately and saying encouraging things. Why should anyone complain?  

Am I being too harsh on small sins here?

*Nobody asked me.  True.


james said...

Is gossip a small sin?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It reached Commandment level.

Texan99 said...

Is there really something wrong with drawing a lesson from the apparent cause of a tragedy? People draw lessons that strike me as crazy, but I want better lessons, not no lessons at all.

Some tragedies, it's true, I can't conclude anything useful from. I can't get too worked up against Putin, for instance, concerning the Malaysia flight. I can object to his arming Ukrainian separatists, but not because it was bound to lead to collateral damage in the form of a commercial airliner. There's the general argument of "don't give whiskey and car keys to a teenager," but would the collateral damage in this case have been less likely if the cause of the Ukrainian separatists were more worthy, or if it seemed less likely that Putin was exploiting the situation to do another territorial grab?

Cause and effect deserve our respectful attention if we're going to make ethical judgments about human action. The purpose of the exercise isn't entirely about pointing fingers at enemies for political advantage; it's also about identifying courses of action that we might reach a consensus to avoid.

Anonymous said...

Can't find paladins that manipulate things as well if not better than the Emmanuels?

Kind of a bigger problem than you realize, if so.

Sam L. said...

You are not being too harsh; you have called too harsh by those who have sinned (because, of course, they are totally simon-pure in their hearts).