not in our stars, but in ourselves
Last night, there was a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas – a small town about twenty miles to the north of Waco. Hundreds of people were injured, and at least a dozen are dead. That number will likely increase. The authorities have been quick to deny any suspicion of the fire having been started deliberately, though of course they are still investigating, but the timing (and the proximity) are extremely troubling. The Waco siege ended in a bloodbath twenty years ago tomorrow. This week began with the senseless bombing of the Boston Marathon, proceeded on to ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and a senator, included another bomb threat at the federal courthouse in Boston, resulted in spectacular dysfunction in Congress when it came time to pass the gun control bill – and now this.
It’s all incredibly upsetting, and scary, to feel that the likelihood of your being in the wrong place at the wrong time is increasing every day. Other people around the world have to deal with that feeling all the time, of course, but we Americans are simply unused to it. As the “news” of the explosion in Texas came in last night, I felt sheer terror. I hope it was an accident. I really, really do. If it was otherwise, the implications are horrifying.
I found myself thinking of the admittedly not-as-good-as-its-predecessor Batman flick, The Dark Knight Rises (2012). (Hey, I was upset and scared, and it was nearly one in the morning. Give me a break.) And I am very likely an alarmist, and paranoid, and about half a step away from wearing a tinfoil hat, but I keep thinking of Bane. As much as I love the Joker, Bane is much scarier, in my opinion. He has acolytes willing to do anything for him. He has a meticulously laid out plan to ensure that “the fire rises.” He wants to decimate Gotham, make “the people” think he’s giving it back to them, but really raze it to the ground. He delights in raising and dashing hopes. The only thing he likes better than physical torture is psychological torture.
When the film came out, there was quite a bit of hullabaloo about Bane’s post-revolutionary Gotham and its parallels to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Within the film, there are several references to the French Revolution – including a comparison between Batman and Sydney Carton, of all people. But the clear predecessor was, at least as far as I’m concerned, the Russian Revolution. From a society with a huge disparity between the upper and lower classes to a mess of nothing but peasants; from culture to chaos; from promises of a new world order from a suspect revolutionary to the sad reality of no guarantee but death and hardship; from hope to despair; from a justice system with its share of flaws but with some sort of code, at least, to show trials (as Ninotchka says: “there are going to be fewer but better Russians”). Bane, like the Bolsheviks, succeeded in tearing down absolutely everything that had once stood tall. And then – darkness. Decades of darkness, in Russia, but at least a sort of Hollywood ending in Gotham.
Yes, I am an alarmist. All right. I’ll admit that. But do you think that the privileged in Russia, or in France, or in Germany, or in Egypt, ever suspected that their lovely and comfortable world would come crashing down all around them? Even as the fire rose outside, do you think they ever suspected it would singe them? I rather doubt it. Of course I’m in favor of a good rebellion, being a native of Massachusetts with ties right back to the Mayflower and ancestors who fought in the American Revolution, but I worry that the climate has turned deadly and unstable indeed. Very vaguely, I remember a lesson from one of my high school science classes about equilibrium states. It’s something to do with thermodynamics, so I’m even more out of my depth than usual here, but it’s the idea that a system is in a state of equilibrium if its conditions are such that it’s not likely to change all of a sudden – if the temperature and pressure are stable, etc. Every system has its happy little equilibrium state in which it can exist in stability and security. It seems to me that conditions are changing here in the U.S., so that our little system is straining at the boundaries of its equilibrium state. It seems to me that someone like Bane – or even someone less clever, less organized, less thoughtful – could come in and do a lot of damage. And I am, to be blunt, fucking terrified.