I have to admit something: Paris happened and I barely felt a thing.
I guess I’ve got no more tears to shed; not when I know more victims will soon be made, not when the same sad story has been repeated into the absurd.
That Friday night there was indeed frustration, but it was old. There was anger, but it was exhausted. And whatever feelings of scorn I could muster were not directed at who you’d think.
The actual terrorists, those misguided and demented fools who ended their lives and the lives of others, I hold them responsible in only the most basic of ways. My deeper blame, lately, is reserved for everyone else.
I’m getting old enough that I can now count ways of thinking and states of mind in chunks of years, nearly decades. My latest and hopefully longest lasting position is that there are two ways to look at any of the societal or cultural problems we face: 1) that every issue, when reduced down far enough, is made up of people, of individuals 2) that in the end it is only time and education and progress that can affect real positive change.
Look at this way. There is a race going on.
It is an eternal contest, going on every minute of every day. Over time it has taken on many forms. Good versus Evil, Light versus Dark. The Almighty and the Devil sitting at a chess board. A cosmic tug of war between Order and Chaos.
Time passed and new names were given to the conflict. Religion versus Religion. Race versus Race. We believed ourselves advanced and became more intricate in the naming of the opponents: Socialism versus Capitalism. Liberal versus Conservative. Nature versus Industry.
But the names don’t matter. It is really just a race against ourselves.
On one side is the relentless advance of the world: Everything that goes on in the world around us. It is a mix of good and bad, the inevitable result of billions of individuals living together. All the ugliness and horrible injustice. All the beauty and tiny acts of kindness. Huge and unstoppable. The world spins on, with or without us, day after day, and there is nothing we can do about it.
On the other side is our slow progress forward: The snail-like pace of evolution. The gradual opening of eyes and tearing down of walls. It is everything we do to move ourselves forward and keep up with this cold, hard world spinning on all around us.
Take a look at this race from above. On one side the beat goes on and bad things happen and it seems there is nothing we can do about it. On the other side is the slow movement toward something better, the refusal to accept things the way they are, the hope that tomorrow things may be different despite the signs telling us otherwise.
One spirals ahead at high speeds, propelled by our fear and ignorance, swallowing everything in its path. The other crawls forward, fed by education and kindness and enlightenment, trying its best to keep up.
Lately this perspective colors everything. And once you start looking at things this way you begin to see who the real culprits are, and cannot stop seeing them.
I am not any more saddened by Paris than I was by the recent Beirut attack, or the 147 Kenyan students massacred by militants earlier this year, or the endless mass shootings in the US, or the slow melting death from environmental degradation. The world has proven itself a place readily able to deliver us sadness.
If anything, events like Paris evoke in me less of a reaction because these sorts of tragedies become flashpoints that crystalize and highlight the most frustrating parts of our bigger problem.
The minute I heard the news from Paris I saw the future unfold before me. There would be horror and outrage. News agencies reporting live on the Terror in France. Leaders making somber statements. Minutes of silence. Cute social media support.
And nothing changing.
Politicians using the event to positions themselves left or right. Talking heads on cable news trying to score points for their party. Liberals forced to talk tough. Conservatives continuing to talk crazy. Muslim commentators reminding that not all Muslims are terrorists. Discussions and debate about increased security and the best military response and being at war with terror.
And nothing changing.
If what I proposed earlier is true, if meaningful change and solutions to our problems can only come through a mix of time and education and progress— then refusing to do your part in pushing us in that direction lays on you a not so indirect form of responsibility for the continued ugliness around us.
When your new mortal enemy of the day (ISIS) is a bastard child created during your last disastrous military intervention in the region (see Iraq invasion after 9/11); and when your solution to this problem you helped spawn is to do more of the exact same unsuccessful thing you just finished doing, all because you refuse to reconsider your personal or political ideology, knowing full well or refusing to see that this self-imposed myopia will surely create conditions for more terror and suffering —well, then, I think we can say with decent confidence that you are partly to blame for what happened in Paris and for what will surely happen somewhere else sometime soon.
And this sharing of indirect blame is not saved only for the governments I’m so obviously calling out. Portions of guilt are owned by so many of us. And this is where things can get touchy, but I don’t care. The dead deserve more than more of the same, and those who are destined to perish next time merit a chance at a different future.
Yet this can only happen by daring to do things differently. Because to continue doing the same things when you know it will only lead to more horror is akin to giving it your tacit approval.
So let’s speak plainly. I don’t blame an uneducated and amoral lost soul for acting like an uneducated and amoral lost soul. There have been poor, angry young men convinced of the honor in horror since time immemorial. They are not new. To focus our blame on them when we helped create these conditions is like blaming a child for spilling a drink you left out on the table, like resenting your wife for not trusting you after you’ve cheated. To not see our part in this is the delusional defensive reaction of the weak and selfish.
And so I blame you.
Phony tough-talker. Relishing the opportunity those innocent dead in France have now provided you to point your finger. Refusing to educate yourself. Choosing to be dishonest about the fear in your own life and instead directing it at some Other…
Conservative or Liberal or religious ideologue. So wholly defining yourself by your side or dogma that asking tough questions or reconsidering even painfully obvious points is not a possibility…
Well-meaning Muslim. Refusing to look in the mirror. Choosing defensiveness over the hard work of pushing forward a culture by asking difficult questions. Are we too steeped in the ancient past? Too extreme in religious fervor? Do certain parts need to secularize and reform into the 21st century?
When something terrible continues to happen, over and over, all of us are to blame. By allowing news outlets to turn these seminal events into cheap sensationalism, by believing that changing your profile pic equals action, by not resisting old ways of thinking nor doing whatever you can to open eyes, by not demanding better of your country or culture.
Causality. Consequence. Selfishness.
These are the things I saw when Paris cried. These are the things I see every time the world delivers us something terrible. All of our misery made of people, by people. Reduce it down far enough and you will find us sitting there, blood on our hands and dumb looks on our faces.