It was the photograph, really. There is always a defining moment when an awful situation reaches its apex. In this case, it was the image of the grieving Syrian father and his 9-month-old twins. He holds the eternally sleeping, dead from poisonous gas babies for the cameras, for the world to see, as if to say “See? See what our world has come to?”
And we did see. In one crystal clear, revolting moment, we were spun once again into a darkened dystopia. It is a reality seen in harrowing fiction like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” where our humanity is reduced to pushing around a shopping cart in a barren world, trying desperately to pull scraps of food and hope from the embers.
This image similarly jolted our fragile president into bravado action. In an ego-driven move, he summoned his military to drop 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield. We all respond in different ways to tragedy, and to the feeling of losing control over our environment.
In the fight of love versus hate, hate seems to be winning. Even the reactions against hatred are filled with their own venom. Those who are more balanced or at least the reasonable among us may feel profound sadness and a tremendous sense of loss, of our humanity and our innocence. There may be tears, or anxiety that wakes us up in the middle of the night, as we grapple in the dark, trying to find our way back to the familiar and comfortable, in search of stable ground. In this state of mind, we are likely to yearn for reconciliation, to open our hearts and our borders to those whose lives are in turmoil, to begin a dialogue of healing.
However, for those on more tenuous emotional footing, a serious jolting of equilibrium is a direct challenge to the ego, and they must regain control, even if it is illusory, by any means possible. They can’t be seen as being weak. Ergo, a massive bomb attack. It was a violent reaction to violence, a knee-jerk reaction, with no thoughtful consultation and in blatant constitutional violation.
Whether it was warranted is beside the point. Pushing back violently against violence always has a way of ratcheting up the tension and inflaming passions. Before you know it, unless cooler heads prevail (which they almost never do, if one is to look at world history), the anger, hatred and fear whips itself up into a war.
The way in which humanity reacts to blind horror is what defines us as a civilization.
The dream I was awakened with that night was as convoluted and disturbing as world events. I was in my parents’ home, and a man had come to perform a procedure on my stereo, to remove music or files that They saw as being in violation of one of Their Laws. He had gone into my bedroom and was going to replace a strange part that contained all my sentimental memories with one that had been predetermined by the government as acceptable.
The “part” was a long strip of plastic that somehow contained these new instructions, and he proceeded to do this while I watched in horror.
I had left the room and came back, only to find him lying comfortably on my bed with my blanket pulled up around him, enjoying the music as he was slowly wiping it all permanently from my life. I flew into a rage, ripping the blankets and sheets from under him and racing to the washing machine to clean them. I was frantic and inconsolable as I tried to operate the equipment. I wanted to get rid of all the filth and the contamination, restore my sense of peace and go back to a time when all was right in my world.
If only it were so easy. You can’t wash away — or bomb away — bloodlust, hate, misguided passions or a perverse world view. Only rational thought and kind, measured actions are a lasting therapy for a diseased planet. It takes nothing less than a paradigm shift in our approach.