Bombings in Boston. A man with loaded weapons on the White House grounds. Poisoned letters. A massive explosion in Texas.
It has been the kind of week that makes you feel like it’s quite possible you’ve simply gone insane; that some fantastic machinery cooked up in the architecture of your sleeping brain must have lumbered into your waking life. Surely none of it is real, right?
A lot of Americans (and I’m including myself here) are incredibly poorly equipped to deal with the brutal and unpleasant nature of the world that we have, in part, helped to make the way it is. It’s worth noting that the entire country has apparently lost its collective mind over the attacks in Boston that killed three and horribly injured dozens, but that on that same day in Iraq, a string of bombs in Baghdad killed 55 people and injured countless more. Obviously any connection between the two – Boston and Baghdad – only exists (if at all) in a tenuous and non-causal way, but it still needs to be strongly emphasized that even one of the worst days in recent memory in America is pretty much kids’ stuff compared to daily life in many, many places, some of which got to their present state directly or indirectly because of U.S. foreign policy. I’m not copping some idiotic and callous “chickens coming home to roost” attitude, here; just pointing out that even during horrible tragedies here Stateside, it’s absolutely imperative that we keep our wits about us and our perspective intact.
|downtown Boston, rush hour during lockdown (photo by Andrew Tangel)|
Keeping our perspective intact also means acknowledging that most of the people who died in that Texas explosion were volunteer firefighters and other first responders. It means remembering, as so many have pointed out, that the first instinct of a lot of people in Boston when the bombs exploded was to rush toward the danger, to help others. It means remembering that many people, including marathon runners, gave blood in the aftermath of the blasts, or found some other way to try to make a positive contribution, to help other people. In a larger sense, it means remembering everyone who protested or protests America’s bloody adventures abroad, or who joins the Peace Corps.
There’s a yawning vortex of lunacy surrounding recent events, though.
Just the other day, I posted my thoughts about Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist and popular radio personality who is quite convinced that the United States government is somehow pulling the strings in Boston.
(To some extent, some alarming strings are being pulled or not pulled in Boston and elsewhere: as a Judd Legum of ThinkProgress put it , “Things we’ll do to keep people safe: Lock down an entire city for hours. Things we won’t do: a five minute background check before you buy a gun.”)
I knew already that Jones’ winged internet monkeys are an unhinged bunch, and that Jones’ following borders on a cult of personality, much Ron Paul people do. I did not know the extent of it, however. Shortly after the suspects in the Boston bombings were identified, a bunch of Guy-Fawkes-avatared friends of friends started randomly cropping up on the Facebook comment feeds of a libertarian friend of mine. To a one, they were not only convinced that the whole thing was a hoax – they were, perhaps more astonishingly, convinced of the earth-shaking power of Jones’ soapbox rantings.
As one said:
Alex Jones is saying it looks like they had a bunch of patsy's [sic] ready to go. Then when Alex started predicting what they were going to do, they had to back track and regroup. They had Saudis in one group, and a redneck type with the same type of back pack ready to go.
This guy, in other words, was not only convinced that Alex Jones had figured the whole thing out, but that the elaborate, sinister government conspiracy was panicked into corrective action by his truth-telling.
Say what you want about the security state, about the Boston lockdown, about the TSA or the FBI or the drone program. I myself think that the state in general is about as trustworthy as a starving alligator turned loose in a daycare center. But when you accept into your worldview the possibility that a man who is, objectively speaking, a moron and a lunatic...
...has somehow not only sussed out the hidden machinations of the powers that be, but is in fact scaring the dickens out of those supposedly omnipotent powers, you have seriously lost your ability to think rationally along the way.
Once upon a time, I was discussing the great situationist essay The Revolutionary Pleasure of Thinking For Oneself with someone I greatly respect. That person compared ideology -- all and any ideology -- to a telescope or a lens that one uses to view the world. "The problem is," he said, "that some ideologies are like trying to look through a kaleidoscope instead of a lens."
When blood and thunder rain panic on us, when the world is revealed as the black and frightening justiceless place that it sometimes is, it's easy to retreat into the void, to succumb to the sick siren song of the vortex, to look through a kaleidoscope rather than a lens, to see sinister invisible hands where the much more terrifying truth is that there is nothing there that makes any sense at all.
Here's hoping that it passes, like a fever, or a bad dream.