Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reflections on a Shooting Spree

"But on the whole, the life of Ivan Ilich now flowed the way he felt his life should flow -- easily, pleasantly, respectably." The Death of Ivan Ilich, Leo Tolstoy

In this portrait of a stolid Russian magistrate, Tolstoy tried to show the way we brick ourselves off from human feelings as a way of advancement, the way middle class life tends to anesthetize the pain until we are numb, all in the name of comfort. Ilich was a success, but it was at the cost of any meaningful relationships, including with his family. Of course he lived in a time and a country that was very different from ours, but was it? We pride ourselves for our meritocratic ways and our freedoms, but the aim, still, is to insulate ourselves from suffering, to escape the hoi polloi, to live in walled-off compounds of luxury and security, to insure ourselves and our families against calamity, to innoculate ourselves from disease and catastrophe, and to vote into power leaders strong enough to protect us from the enemy hordes, the other that wants to take it away, that rages at the gate. In short, we want our cake and eat it too. We want to be strong, free, comfortable, and yet we want to live in solidarity with the promise of Emma Lazarus. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. We want to be rich and we want to be popular. Somehow we straddle the fence, offering the world the two-faced specter of our political shufflings, here George, there Barack, not sure ourselves what country we live in. Is it red, blue, something in between? It takes faith, sometimes a lunatic faith to keep faith with the old red, white and blue, and there is pain, the pain that is expressed in the lunatic, murderous shooting rampage of an Army doctor that reminds me of a character in a tragic Russian novel.

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