An Insurrection Against Ourselves
Yesterday, twenty children under the age of ten died for absolutely no reason.
And then, in the next sixty seconds, about twenty more died.
And by the end of the day, over 18,000 children around the world had died for absolutely no reason, a number that has remained constant for decades. A small fraction of those deaths took place in Connecticut, here in America, for one ten minute period where the average number of senseless deaths around this world was slightly, almost imperceptibly raised.
Every miserable instance that we witness these true depths of depravity, we are compelled, if only for one moment, to confront the fact that we live in a nation, a world, a universe where the lives of the most innocent among us can be destroyed en masse by someone who neither lacks nor possesses any quality absent from the hearts of every human being – a clarity that is never easily adapted to.
And so we pretend that the man, the woman, the universe itself, cold and indifferent and unfathomably there, is not us, apart from us. The essence of cruelty, of hate and fear and the desire to destroy, those Platonic forms of brutality and meanness that hide in the dustier parts of our souls, the baleful tendencies our comfort and stability prevent from manifesting – we bury the murderer and rapist, the cheat and the liar, the scared and bitter heart that beats in our meaty, rotten chest. The man who does not restrain that which is found in each of us, who murders and destroys, we make a “psychopath,” a “bad apple,” a specter of evil and malevolence that we can confine to the “other,” never needing to confront the fact that he, like us, is nothing but a piece of blood and foam, drifting in a universe that seems to, on the whole, favor his way of thinking than that of the Enlightened One.
But this is an illusion, and it is one that placates and perpetuates the ineffectual self-affirmation that our culture delights in when faced with tragedy. The truth, the shitty, tragic truth, is that those children died as we will die, terrified and helpless, murdered by a man who nurtured in himself that which cannot be denied in us – all in a world where death and weariness is the only guarantee, where a gnawing sense of not enough is the flavor of our lives. The most pernicious myth of all is that which hopes against reason that the essence of existence is separate from this cycle of birth and death, spread wide by years of sorrow – the lie that brutality and anguish are anything less than the most primal expression of what it means to be alive. If we are to ever find a way out from under the weight of our own hearts, we must come to realize that the most base evils of our species, from genocide and patriarchal oppression to ecological devastation and psychological alienation, are not extraordinary acts performed by subhuman monsters but instead the logical conclusion of the vices that reside in us all, and that only through consciously fighting against the meanness inside can we come to anything that resembles a life worth living. If we fail to admit that every act of kindness is a rebellion against our darker nature, every decent thing the antithesis of that which we are given, we are already dead.
For the last 200,000 years, mankind has raped and murdered, abused and destroyed and exercised with glee the most hideous forms of oppression and violence. From South Africa, where a woman is more likely to be raped than be literate, to Azerbaijan, where slaves are traded around the globe for about $80 per human life, to Latah County, where too goddamn many men are hollowing themselves out with methamphetamine, where too goddamn many women are being beaten by their good Christian husbands, where too goddamn many human beings are as alone and afraid and sad as I am – everywhere, there is no ounce of kindness and gentle compassion that we don’t have to wrest from the sticky, fat hands of this universe.
Each one of us is a heap of meat and skin and synovial fluid, filled with fear and hate and all too human cruelty. Look at yourself, look at all the evil that is inside you, and never forget that, unless you resolve to pull it out with your own two hands, it will stay there until the day your disgusting, dying body returns to the disgusting, dying earth. If we do nothing, if we expect this broken, empty universe to do anything but drive us towards collapse and spite and greyness and death, then we have abdicated our responsibility. If we expect anything decent, anything beautiful, to be born from anything but our own efforts, our own stubborn refusal to accept the brutality that the universe prescribes, then we will never stop seeing what we saw yesterday. And if, when faced with twenty dead children lying face-down in a bloody elementary school, we clasp our hands and pray, despairing and hoping instead of gritting our teeth and extending a defiant, hopeless middle finger towards the universe, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.