Perspective (Updated)

As in, the complete loss of same.

I wonder if there will be a report of the details of how and when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev relieves himself in his cell.  We’re now interested in the mother, who may or may not have discussed “jihad” with her obviously troubled older son before the Boston Marathon mayhem.  Soon we can justify routinely listening in to conversations between sons and mothers because such conversations might lead to bombing or shooting in the name of some fanatical cause or other, which then leads to the all-important “terrorism” appellation.

This is probably the simplest of category errors.  There are troubled people.  Dysfunctional families.  Mental illness.  We don’t deal with any of this very well, and so occasionally it blows up on us, literally.  Then when it does, we obsess about it, and saturate ourselves with our category error to make absolutely sure that we make the error, that no hint of introspection or thoughtfulness intrudes that might shift our focus.

This is about “terrorism”, we tell ourselves, over and over and over and over, so much in fact that it’s time for someone to admit it:  it must not be about terrorism or we wouldn’t be trying so hard to convince ourselves.

Or, if it is about terrorism, it’s not the way we think it is.  It’s not about the acts, or the terrorists; it’s still about us.  Fred Reed has it pegged, I think:

From the point of view of cost and benefit, terrorism is a brilliantly effective form of warfare, especially against heavily armed countries of the First World. The reasons are several. First, terrorism offers no target to the basically World War Two militaries of advanced countries. If five Saudis, two Pakis, a Russian and a disaffected American blow up a building in Chicago, against whom does the US seek revenge? Is it against Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, none of whose governments had anything to do with the attack?

Second, the return on investment is phenomenal. For example, the attack on New York cost perhaps several hundred thousand dollars. Yet it drew the US into multiple drawn-out, losing wars costing hundreds of billions of dollars, and transformed America from a reasonably free country into a rapidly deepening Orwellian gloom. A tiny input, a stunningly large effect. If terrorism were a hedge fund, it would be the hottest buy on the planet.

It is truly slick. The terrorists don’t do serious damage to the attacked country. (The casualties in New York, unusually large for a terror attack, if folded into the year’s traffic casualties would hardly have been noticed.) They stimulate the victim society to damage itself. TSA, Homeland Security, militarized police, warrantless searches in train stations, ever-tightening electronic surveillance of citizens, neutering of the Constitution and the abrogation of civil rights: bin Laden didn’t do these things. He couldn’t possibly have done them. He stimulated us to do them to ourselves. Genius.

Read the whole thing.

We need to get a grip on ourselves.  There might be a lot to say about what happened in Boston two weeks ago, but if it’s not about terrorism – and it isn’t – then there is little reason for general interest beyond our usual macabre, and thankfully fleeting fascination with plane crashes or bus accidents.  The most likely and well supported narrative here is not very sexy at all:  broken and dysfunctional family; strong-willed and capable but very troubled young man determined to do something – and if it hadn’t been motivated by “jihad” it would have been motivated by something else; and a 19 year old stoner who, probably due to immaturity and the difficulty of resisting strong-willed psychopaths who are often revered given certain relationship parameters – like for instance that it’s an older brother with seven years on you that has become a father-substitute due to the actual father’s lengthy absence.

It’s not a narrative that provides an outlet for much anger and frustration; it’s not a narrative that sells a lot of news copy.  The only virtue it has is that it’s probably much closer to the truth of the situation, at least to people who haven’t completely lost perspective.

Update:  Finally, the press turns its megaphonic attention elsewhere.  Another well worn narrative, but it’s a relief at this point.

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