Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bin Laden's Death and Vonnegut the Prophet

It's been really interesting to see the global community, and especially my Facebook and Twitter friends, processing the meaning of Bin Laden's death.

The responses can generally be grouped into 3 categories (because Cicero said so...tricolon anyone?):

  1. Unbridled enthusiasm, fueled by the "I bleed Red White and Blue" sentiment of true patriots. 
  2. Gratitude that a truly evil person is no longer alive, that "justice" has been done, but not overly enthusiastic because terrorism still exists and nothing can take away the pain of the many victims of Bin Laden's terrorism. 
  3. Those whose moral or religious worldviews suggest that violence leads to more violence, and that we should pray for our enemies, and thus cannot support celebrating his death. 
I don't think any response is necessarily more "right" than another. Are you going to tell a family member of a 9/11 victim not to celebrate, but pray for the thousands of members of Al Qaeda still alive? I'm sure some religious figures might, but I wouldn't. That's just insensitive. That's a form of violence. 

Are you going to tell a pacifist or someone with intensely worldview-forming religious beliefs that they should be celebrating in the streets and quit with their unpatriotic whining? You might, but it won't change their mind, and they'll probably judge you for it. 

How about telling the middle-of-the-roaders to pick a side and get off the fence (it's probably really uncomfortable sitting there anyway). Maybe, but I think there's a certain attractive wisdom in the "golden mean," here as always. 

Those in the middle know that one less breathing (which is synonymous with hateful, murderous, ignorant, life-hating, death-worshipping) terrorist (of any nationality, ethnicity, or religious or ideological persuasion) is overall a good thing for the world. They may celebrate, but they're not happy about the fact that this is the kind of world in which we are put into situations in which we have to decide whether or not it is right to celebrate someone's death. They know that "justice" in this world is an offensive farce. They're not ready to let blind Justice put one terrorist's death on one side of the scales and the thousands of dead (and the millions of lives impacted by their deaths) on the other and see if they balance out -- because they know they don't, they won't, and they never will. 

This is why Kurt Vonnegut was a "prophet," in whatever sense you care to take that term. Why use prophet, a term that is loaded with sacred and religious meaning, to describe a self-professed "humanist" (as if that was antithetical to religious values)? A prophet is someone with more insight than the rest of us on the way things really are, and actually has the guts to communicate that insight. Vonnegut called a spade a spade. 

"Dwayne's bad chemicals made him take a loaded thirty-eight caliber revolver from under his pillow and stick it in his mouth. This was a tool whose only purpose was to make holes in human beings." 
 Kurt Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions)

As a prophet, he unflinchingly exposed the rock-bottom absurdity and hypocrisy inherent in the human condition. I wonder how he would respond to such news as we have been obsessed over lately. I can only hope I would have the grace and sense of decency to have half of his love of humanity, as terribly messed-up 
as we all clearly are. 

God help us all. 


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