All across America televisions clicked off Friday night with a satisfying press of the remote control.
"That was a good show."
Disaster on Monday, plot complications throughout the week (and two lovely red herrings - the explosion in West, Texas, and the ricin laced letters), resolution by Friday. Neat and tidy. Perfect, if you think about it. The folks plotting the stories on CSI or (if it were still on) '24' were likely quite jealous. Nice tension, good plot resolution, a few unexpected twists and turns. All in all, a good show.
"I wonder what is on next."
Hopefully, the American legal system at its best - you know, where we actually presume innocence and prove guilt, with iron-clad, verifiable evidence.
"Kind of dull, Ken. Nobody will watch. We want drama, fireworks, maybe a little bit of torture (bring back Jack Bauer!) to make sure that the bad guys spill all their secrets (even the little bit of ethical queasiness adds relish to the entire procedings)."
Right, because doing things the right way is not particularly exciting. We gather evidence, we patiently wade through the vital details of the case, we show the rest of the world that we can play by the rules that we actually established. Of course, it wouldn't be a bad thing to show everyone in the US that we will play by the rules that we actually established. That would be an excellent start to the next chapter of this story.
"Next chapter? Can't we just go straight to the public execution of this punk?"
No. No, we cannot. In fact, that would be about the worst thing that we could do. I still think that executing our prisoners is a cheap way out - and doesn't do a bit to deter criminals from acting horrifically. But I suppose that is a provocative discussion for another day. Remind me, and I will revisit that important topic in some detail.
One of the important next chapters, besides the 'justice' part, is our examination of our own participation in this endlessly depressing tale of violence and monstrous behavior.
"What about the bombers, Ken - you going all wobbly on us regarding their actions?"
No - not at all, we wouldn't be having this conversation if they had had one whit of compassion, empathy, or sense. You don't solve your problems, no matter how monumental, with violence. I will never exuse violence. I don't care what you use to hurt innocent people - either bombs or guns (the weapons of choice of as of late), or knives or fists - you use violence you are in the wrong. Period. I want the full weight of the justice system to do what it is supposed to do, in the way it supposed to do it - the justice system needs to present their iron-clad case against those who do us harm. Those who do us harm, and are convicted of their crimes, must pay the consequences.
I am most concerned about our responses.
"We stand with Boston. We support all of those who suffered. We hurt for their losses. We...what were you talking about?"
Yep, just exactly what I thought. Nearly forgotten already. While the images flash before our eyes, we care. Once the images flicker off the idiot box we can't quite sustain our interest, or our empathy. The 'people' of Boston will recede, one more group of folks who suffered at the hands of some ghastly crime, but who will be forgotten. Even more problematic, we will forget why we were so revved up in the first place. We certainly won't entertain the important questions about why this happened.
We will sink back down into our apathetic stupor.
"What can you possibly expect us to do about madmen? Do you somehow expect us to give up even more liberty for safety? Didn't Benajamin Franklin say something rather pithy about that?"
You are missing the point.
"Ugh, is this yet another of your treacly notions about the way in which our society doesn't work the way you want it to work?
Yep. The problem is that we can never sustain our interest for long. We can't maintain our connection with those who directly suffered. We certainly aren't interested in delving into why people do monstrous things (well, at least we are not interested in real reasons - we simply want know who to turn into the villain of this latest story). Our attention span is simply too short. No matter the tragedy, we really don't care to remember or to try to figure out how to deal with the root issues. We want to be shocked - and then move on, usually safe in the realization that we will never have to worry about such tragedies because 'we' don't live where 'those' kinds of things happen.
Each time we move on without learning from these events, or without learning to develop some long term empathy, we simply accept that something like this will happen again.
"Well, we are a free nation, and this is the price we pay for freedom."
I don't buy it. Not for a minute. We have to accept that these things will happen? That our society cannot acutally do anything about these horrors? No wonder we succeeding in teaching each successive generation to be inured to such tragedies. We are telling them that it is okay not to care, not to be interested, because our response to the question of sin, evil, and suffering, is that it is simply the price to pay for living in the kind of political landscape in which we live. How can we accept that as a legitimate answer? What kind of society accepts tragedy? What kind of society simply shrugs and says that we can't actually 'do' anything about what ails us?
We have to dig into why these things happen. We have to start proposing actual answers to our problem. I think it starts with making certain that we do not lose our focus.
We have to stop...ooh, look a kitty!
No. Not this time. We cannot afford to turn out attention away from the problems that plague our world. We have to try to figure a way out of the cycle of violence. We have to train people to continue to care for others even when they are no longer on the television screen.
I know that Gandhi said that in the end love always wins out, but we have allowed ourselves to be drugged by the blissful potentiality of the phrase. His point wasn't that we should passively wait for good to win out, but that we need to vigorously struggle for the good. We need to show those that use violence that we will not stand by passively, acting only when it is time to be shocked, or to mourn. We have to take the initiative.
The show might be over, but now our time to act begins.