Back in Massachusetts

I left Austin, Texas on April 28, hitchhiking north up Eisenhower’s major socialist infrastructure project 35. I had to go to court (case dismissed!), I wanted to vote for Ed Markey in the Democratic primary for the Senate special election (he won!), and Ethan had recommended a vacation from the trip.

My fourth ride of the thumb-based transit, in Waco, turned into a plane flight to Boston, thanks to the amazing generosity of the Jensen family, and Damian in particular, who had frequent flyer miles he was eager to transfer to me. All I had to do, it seemed, was pay $5 in tax and a $75 short-notice booking fee to American Airlines. At the airport counter, however, the wonderful employees deemed the booking fee superfluous and the $5 tax (to pay for TSA, a part of the security state I’m pretty comfortable with) was all I needed to get to Boston via Dallas. It cost me half as much to get from Logan to Alewife (via Government Center) after the latest MBTA fare hike. The lovely and wonderful Jen recovered me there.

(The cumulus clouds from the little Waco-Dallas plane were incredible. More stunning sights are seldom seen. These are improvised water vapor castles several stories tall, defying gravity and so close to the plane… Why do people want children to mine diamonds when there are clouds?)

I arrived in Massachusetts feeling changed. Three point five months of a radically different lifestyle have armed me with a different lens through which to view my friends, my family, and our conversations. But the feeling of everything being different lasted about a day. Now we play cards and volleyball and charades-related games and we run and everything feels pretty much the same that this lifestyle always does, which is pretty close to amazing.

So have I grown? I feel a little less lazy, I think, but the real growth is pretty subtle. It’s an increased open-mindedness, evident in my decreased comfort with blanket condemnations of things I disagree with, like conservativism and moderatism. And there’s an increase in the importance I place on challenging the way we direct our attention when there are problems. Specifically, everyone here is talking about the marathon bombing. And the main response is anger at the perpetrators. This is certainly understandable, but it’s just not very productive, in my view.

“They’re bad people” implies that terrorism is genetically-based, or inevitable for some similar reason, and ignores the fact that all actions take place within a social context and a chain of causes and effects. The crazy thing is this: the Tsarnaev brothers very likely thought that they were doing the right thing when they blew up a bunch of people having a great time at one of the world’s great events. Is that fucked? Of course it is! But it is nonetheless the case, and it seems like the most productive thing we can do is to think about how we can change things so that people don’t come to the erroneous view that blowing people up is good. This isn’t to redirect blame on our society. Blame is a distraction. It’s irrelevant. Things happen and they have causes, so we should try to create contexts (that is, do things) that cause more good things and fewer bad things to happen.

I’m not arguing for any specific action here, although I think there are several ways we can create more social space for alternatives to the emergence of socially destructive ideologies like terrorism. Rather, I’m arguing for a different way of reacting to these events, based less on screaming for torture and obstructing burials and more on thinking about how we create a society where the equation of people’s genes + their environment is less likely to = mass murder. Othering the perpetrators, assigning them to the group of “evil people” to which we don’t belong, ignores the fact that, just like us, they are just the product of their genetics and the environment in which they have existed. More importantly, it does nothing to stop things like this from happening in the future. And isn’t reflexively casting the labels of “evil”, “undeserving of consideration”, and “other” on people who commit violent acts the same process that terrorists use to justify their hatred of and violence toward all things American because some Americans drop bombs on some innocent Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia?

Our friend Danielle in Tulsa says that anger is corrupted sadness. I think blame is a useless and corrupted distancing from the fundamental question of causation. We fix problems by changing the chain of causation that leads to them. So, I’ll end with the question I think we should be working hard to address. Some human beings, a lot like the rest of us, came to a place where they thought it was the right thing to do to kill a bunch of innocent people. Why?

– Adam