I was profoundly affected by the events in Paris. I’m not sure why, perhaps because of my respect and admiration for French culture, or perhaps because it was so easy for me to imagine myself in the victims’ places, simply going about my daily life when the unspeakable unfolded around me. Yet I am ashamed to admit that I noticed a headline about a bombing in Beirut just one day before the Paris attacks and did not blink an eye. I am surely not alone in this, and the differing press coverage each incident has received – both IS bombings targeting civilians living their normal lives – tells us much about how we are naturally inclined to think and to speak. We are unfortunately wired for tribalism (there is a vast amount of psychological literature on this, an interested reader might begin with Joshua Greene and Jonathan Haidt for some general accounts), and far too many of us have become inured to violence in the Middle East. How tragic this callousness is.

To try and make sense of what is so unmanageable, so incomprehensible in the terms with which I view the world, I wrote. Not much, just a couple of pages to try and see if I could face the hurt we feel and the desperation and ideological blindness that contributed to what drove the attackers to do what they did. Nothing could ever justify their acts, but we must look within to see the culpability we have in a world where nothing is clean, nothing is cut and dry, and no tax-paying adult is uninvolved (even if by legal force). We must come to terms with the things our countries do and withdraw or increase our support for what we deem appropriate, for that which will lessen the ill and strengthen the good. My thoughts, when I could form them on paper, didn’t take away my core angst but they did help me understand it. My response to the world is to write, and many of you certainly share that.

This is the point at which writing becomes art, when it is a meaningful interaction with the world we inhabit. If we think of the greats that have preceded us, Proust, Rilke, Yeats, Joyce, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Fitzgerald (to name but a few), we find that their works dwell on what it is to be a human in their time and place, exploring the universal and timeless beneath the surface of details. Books like The Da Vinci Code may be page-turners but what do they really tell us about the human heart, the human condition? (This criticism may apply to the thriller genre in general, though there must be exceptions.) I suggest we use this art we’re gifted with, to whatever degree, to explore and build on that great theme of the human being and not simply wank our lives away with pulp. We all need so much more than that now. We do this as a tribute to all victims of senseless violence, perverted ideas of justice, and misused power everywhere, as a tribute to all of us.

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  1. Paul j Rogers
    Posted November 21, 2015 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    By chance I watched Adam Curtis’ excellent Bitter Lake (2015) and The Power of Nightmares (2004) the week before the Paris attacks (I won’t say ‘latest attacks’ as the hotel in Mali happened yesterday). I took many things away from those two films – not least the interconnected and highly complex history that has led to where we find ourselves today. The premise of Bitter Lake is how politicians and the media have reduced modern life to the simplistic narrative of good versus evil. I remind myself of that fact when anger pulses at the thought of innocent civilians being gunned down by ignorant fanatics. It doesn’t negate the revulsion I feel in any way, and neither should it. Rather it serves as a check against irrational tribalism, a reminder that the lens we view the world through is often highly distorted.

  2. Andrew Oberg
    Posted November 22, 2015 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Yes it is, and I agree with your highlighting the need to recognize that. Simple sells, easy answers get you elected, and more of the same enriches your friends and backers. Of course, simple and easy punishes the infidel other and gets you riches in heaven as well. And all the while everyone here, there, and everywhere suffers for the manipulation and abuse.

    I hadn’t heard of either Bitter Lake or The Power of Nightmares, thanks.

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