not in our stars, but in ourselves
It was another bad day today. There have been many bad days in many countries; maybe it’s imagination, but they seem to be ramping up in severity and frequency of late. The American press doesn’t often trouble to report much on the bad days in, shall we say, browner countries (i.e., Turkey); but it eagerly provides wall-to-wall coverage of terrorist attacks in Western Europe. And so, this morning at the gym, I saw the beginnings of today’s breathless reporting on what happened in Brussels.
The good thing about that breathless reporting is that, in a case like this, where dozens of people died and many more were injured, it suitably conveys the horror of the situation. I spent the rest of the morning with a panic attack brewing in my chest, and that’s about as appropriate a response as any. Can you imagine? You’re going about your daily, humdrum routine; looking at your phone while you go up the escalator; making dumb jokes on Twitter; skipping to find a song you like; thinking about how obnoxious your boss is; and then – boom. Maybe your last moments on earth were spent contemplating the most trivial minutiae possible, and then: lights out. I hope very few of us meet that end, or even come close, but it probably happened to quite a few of the victims in Brussels. It shakes me to my core to think about the visceral reality of such a violent ending.
Of course, the idiots started crawling out of the woodwork immediately. There was the expected stupidity and bellicosity from the GOP goons, and the double-talk from HRC. I listened to NPR while I ate my breakfast, rather than the classical station (my usual choice), and an interviewer posed the question to some “expert” or other: “Do you think this means that the West is losing its war against terror?” Now, I don’t want to besmirch any hosts of Morning Edition, but honestly. If this is a question from a respected host on the ostensibly respectable media outlet for people who’ve voluntarily read a book since high school, then I worry. “Terrorism” is not an abstraction. It is perpetrated by real human beings against other real human beings. To see it merely as numbers and ideology is to set oneself up for eternal failure: even if the U.S. (for example) manages to wipe out Enemy X, subscribing to Ideology Y, Enemy A and Ideology B will soon pop up in their place. Why are these real human beings joining a group like ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/whatever you call it? Why does the group, collectively, believe what it believes and commit the acts it commits? What events in recent or distant history led to these decisions, beliefs, acts? What, if anything, can “we” do to change what they’re doing – besides bomb the shit out of them? All of that takes thought and effort, however, so it will never fly in this political climate. Even my guy, Bernie Sanders, felt obligated in this beshitted election year to mention, in his statement on the attacks, the necessity of eliminating ISIS. Sanders understands, I think, the human element behind such horrendous acts – but he’s also figured out that no one in the media, the pundit class, or his cohort of fellow candidates, gives enough of a fuck to admit as much. And so: “destroy ISIS.” That, however, will just lead to all the proxy wars in which we and whoever else are embroiled spilling over into real wars with one another, and then it’s a Randy Newman song come to life.
It’s all pretty disheartening. It’s hard not to feel certain that we’re in, or that we’re soon to be in, World War III. Whether it’s already happening or it’s yet to begin, I think it’s clear that it’s going to get a lot worse, and soon.
So what is there to do? When the threat of hellfire and warfare and misery and damnation seems to be growing stronger every day – particularly if anyone except one Bernard Sanders wins – how do you carry on? I mean, I’m lucky. I live in a lovely apartment with my boyfriend, who’s kind and funny and supportive even when I’m a basketcase. I have a cushy job. I have a loving family. I have wonderful friends. If I focus only on my immediate sphere, it’s pretty good. And I’m trying to push myself out of my little comfort zone, too: working harder at the gym, reading Nabokov’s extensive translation/annotation of Eugene Onegin, very clumsily learning Russian (thanks to Duolingo and a very long time studying Russian Phrases For Dummies wherever I can find them online). It all helps to ease the storm brewing in my chest when I think about where we seem to be heading – but the storm is always there.
I’m a prophet of doom, I know. I worry that, within my lifetime, perhaps within the next couple of years, the world is going to plummet directly to hell. Whether it’s war, famine, plague, whatever, it will be bad. It will be soon – in relative terms, if nothing else – and it will be bad. Mad Max: Fury Road seems like an accurate enough indicator of what will happen, although that may be a little bit too hopeful. But anyway, it’s not here yet. We’d all better just try to make the most of it.