caro thinks

Should We Laugh, 2001/09/13:22:38

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The current state of my mind defies the capabilities of my nifty software. I don't even know where to begin with organizing it, so I am doing the best I can to organize it but I realize my best isn't very good right now. I'm so sick of news but I can't stop listening to it. At first I was waiting to hear news of the next attack. Then I was waiting for news of recovered victims. Then I found that my mind was literally waffling between belief and disbelief, and the only thing that kept it real was the television. I have my own personal experience with allowing memories to thin and become distant, and it is a recipe for misery. So as painful as it is to look at it now, I have to do so, or suffer the consequences in the indefinitely prolonged future. The tv is still on, as I write this, to prevent unreality from setting in. These are the scattered thoughts I've been thinking.

Gun Control

It is important at a moment like this to be sober, rational, and ruthlessly realistic. Calls for gun control arise out of every crisis.

I too believe that gun control is indicated. Every citizen should be in control of at least one working gun and should be well-trained and certified in its careful, controlled use. The terms of play have changed. Our own technology of peaceful productivity has been used as weaponry of mass destruction. It is wrong to disarm the citizens at a time like this. It would be wrong to not do everything possible to arm and train them. The hope of gun control is that unarmed criminals won't be as tempted or as able to harm people. The hope is that they won't have the nerve, or if they do, they won't be able to get as many people as they could with a small knife.

This is no longer the case. The precedent has been set. The hidden terrorists made these attacks all in the same hour because they knew it would tip their hand to us. We can never be so naive again. No hijacking now can be classified as transportation, political statement, or hostage kidnapping. A hijacking is now a bomb. We now have to assume that a knife or a gun held to one passenger's head is a threat to take out enormous numbers of citizens on the ground as well as the passengers on the plane. As such, our attitude has to change. We can't just sit there and hope that we don't get shot or stabbed if only we cooperate.

The good news is that the intended bomb has to be flown to its target or into the ground in order to explode. That means that the other passengers and flight attendants and pilots on the plane have time to shoot criminals while the hijacking is in progress. It doesn't matter if the hijacker also has a small bomb with which he can take out the plane if his plan fails. Shoot him and explode his bomb, and the plane goes down. Don't shoot him, and the plane goes down but hits a populated target. Take your pick.

When policymakers respond to shootings by disarming citizens, they simply make them sitting ducks to be picked off at will. We're hearing from every official and every expert that there's no way to stop every terrorist from getting on a plane. I absolutely believe that this is the case. That's why every single person who gets on a plane should be armed. It's going to be a lot harder for terrorist organizations to fill up the entire passenger manifesto, the support crew, and the cockpit, than to simply put 4 or 5 criminals on a plane. There's going to be somebody on that plane who doesn't want it to go down on her fellow citizens and who will at least put up a fight. By disarming our citizens, we make sure that there isn't a single person who could fight back.

And I don't think we should relax at this point, assuming that the airlines or the federal government's takeover of airlines will save us. Guerilla warfare is nothing if not creative and hard to predict, and we need to be ready for anything now. I'd be willing to bet that they only had a limited number of trained pilots and, knowing that using some would make us very wary, used all of them (except the ones who missed their cancelled flights on Tuesday and tried to get on planes today). Now, I think we can expect to encounter them everywhere. The planes may just have been a show. They may not even realize, given the way their minds work, how peaceful and naive we can be; they may not realize that we'll just sit around, thinking of ways to further disarm our citizens rather than thinking of ways to empower them. To buy a gun is to take your head out of the sand. Don't be stupid. Get training and practice. Take your kids to the shooting range and let them feel the horrible power of a gun so that they won't think it's a toy. But don't just sit there and imagine that they're done with us and all you have to do is pretend the threat isn't real.

People with guns are more dangerous than people without guns. That's the whole point. We need guns. Lots and lots of guns.

My Mind

I'm watching my own mind in wonder. When Farsam called me at 8:30PST Tuesday morning, after 10 seconds of disbelief, I knew that what he was saying was true. I cried in front of the television all day, knowing that it was true. Yesterday there were a few hours of relief when I went out on a job and thought almost nothing about it. And today suddenly, as I thought about the kinds of things that had been lost, I no longer believed it. And I watched my own mind and tried to understand what it was doing.

This is the most horrible thing I have ever personally experienced. It is too much to believe, because it is too much to grasp. I can't stand seeing all that grief and then feeling it myself, but I have to do it. I can't help it. Every face I see makes me cry. I've got a cold today, and I tried to lie down and rest with the tv on, and it didn't work, because I had to look and listen and cry. The reason that I am watching tv all day is that I need to experience every bit of what they are showing me and telling me, in order to integrate it all, in order to know that it really, really, really happened. The World Trade Center is gone, downtown New York is utterly different, the entire world is different. I finally had to turn off the television when the final straw was laid: the crying crowd of Brits waving American flags in front of Buckingham Palace as the Star Spangled Banner ended sending up a loud cheer It was just too much context. I couldn't take any more context.

Washing dishes to do something normal, I remembered the events in the way that I remember fiction. Standing there at the sink the reality of it dwindled more and more until I was pretty sure it hadn't happened. I think my mind was literally trying to make it unreal.

The News

Still fighting my little piece of the war in my own ways. I naturally assess and critique, so onward I press with that. I get my television broadcasts out of the air, not through a cable, and I live in a canyon by the ocean, an airport, and several military installations, so I only receive cbs and abc. I've had the television on almost as many hours as I've been awake since the World Trade Center went down.

I've been watching Peter Jennings all day today. I watched him all day yesterday. He is amazing. You can see his face getting paler. He is so tired, he has so much to coordinate, and he just keeps talking and doing it so well. He trips over himself occasionally, and gropes for words as the day wears on. He cries repeatedly as he reports on footage he hasn't seen yet. He's in New York City. He's obviously nervous about all the planes being in the sky tonight, as you can tell by the kinds of questions he's asking and how he's reacting to the answers.

I'm amazed at how real he is. He feels like a part of my family. It forces a comparison to the new breed of news reporters who have all adopted this bizarre, inauthentic, annoying, sing-songy, lilting inflection. They are slaves to The Pregnant Pause. It's as though they don't understand what they are saying, but they have come to believe that as long as they pause pregnantly and emPHAsize WORDS....inaverY STRANGE WAY, the STOry.... Will be.... SENsational. Compare Peter Jennings, who I don't usually get to see because I never watch the early evening news. Notice how, just as he's done for as long as I can remember, he talks like a real human being, permitting the story to speak for itself, no need for manufactured sensationalistic inflection, pausing only accidentally because his voice has given out either from exhaustion or from unexpected welling up of emotion. This is the difference between a great anchor person, and a Whatever anchor person.

I am also very happy with the way he is conducting interviews, for the most part. I think it is his own genuine nervousness that makes him persist with dead-end questions that his interlocutor is obviously not at liberty to answers; but he does this only rarely. Again, compare the new breed of news reporters, who seem to think that "hard-hitting" reporting consists of badgering the interlocutor with questions that any idiot can see would compromise national security. The comparison is quite striking when the camera turns from Jennings's face for a few minutes and trains on a press conference. The press confrerences today have apparently been populated by the country's most inexperienced reporters. I'm not a secretive person by nature nor by principle, I'm not trained in espionage, and I'm not exactly news-savvy. But even I can tell that the questions they are asking cannot be answered. I'm confident that the interlocutors won't answer questions that compromise my security, but I'm frustrated and annoyed because the reporters could be asking questions that the interlocutors are at liberty to answer. Instead, they are wasting everyone's precious time and patience with idiotic questions like "Where exactly are you planning to look for Bin Laden?" As though Bin Laden doesn't have a television.

Because of his style and his well-constructed questions, Jennings tends to elicit fewer of the canned, often irrelevant, this-is-what-they-taught-me-in-training, FAQ answers. I think Conny Chung's interview with Gary Condit was largely a waste because she kept repeating questions that Condit was clearly not going to answer, either to avoid incriminating himself or to avoid jeopardizing the investigation. What they don't seem to notice is that the harder they badger, the more tightly the interlocutors clam up, flipping through their mental FAQ to find likely, though increasingly irrelevant, answers.


I'd like to make this public statement that I am personally offended by all the prayers and calls to prayer. What I would like to know is what the lord has to say about those buildings full of people exploding upon the people who were trying to save them. The lord was not watching on Tuesday; if she was, she was a terrorist that day. Wake up. Or at least, keep your fairytales to yourselves. I'm watching films of people throwing themselves out of 80-storey windows over and over through blinding tears, and I have to listen to you going on rational national television and praying to the god that let it happen? Please. Pray to those firemen and construction workers and volunteers and blood donors. They are the ones that are helping you. At least you're not calling the perpetrators godless people, like you usually do. I'm just horrified that you don't see the simliarity. That's just my opinion, I could be damned, and will be, if the god you are praying to has anything to say about it.

Other people's minds.

I went to work with a middle eastern client yesterday, and the first thing she talked about was the horror of this week. The next thing she talked about was the horror of the accusations. Last night I talked to a Pakistani friend in New Jersey, who I don't feel comfortable naming because there are so many complete idiots out there. His immigrant parents, both doctors, had already put in 48 hours straight at the crime scene. The fact that people are still being beaten up and threatened on account of their race is unfathomable to me. It makes me feel as though I would have been better off if I'd been raised in some ignorant rural town with no education and no television, because then I might not ever have learned to use my mind. That would mercifully spare me the pain of having to look out at my fellow human beings and see them behaving in a way that I consider impossible.

Let's just stop and think about the magnitude of this stupidity for a moment. It's 2001. There are idiots using contemporary scientific technology to try to rally other idiots to target people on the basis of how they look. Here! In a country full of thorough-breds of every ancestry, and mutts of every imaginable mix.

It's insane. It's primitive. It's so animal. And it is terrorism. The problem with terrorism is that it targets innocent people of a hated group. If the 20 people who were having a dispute all got together for a chain fight, no one would call it terrorism; it would be their private little fight, their business.

I think the human mind, on the whole, is no where near ready for what the few human minds have created and sustain. Most people are not in any sense using their free will. They allow themselves to remain at the mercy of their animal chemistry in every way, from sheer laziness to sex to terrorist attacks on people who happen to be brown.

Should We Laugh?

Yesterday I went to Gayle's house to see how she was doing. She's from NYC, and worked at the hospital near the World Trade Center. Her son is a paramedic, safe, and working. We talked about the events for a while. Then, we talked about some apartment-related trivia, and started making jokes. We laughed, and I felt strange. Was that OK, to laugh?

That self-questioning was only a momentary lapse. It's good to laugh. For one thing, it's a little bit of relief from the relentless sorrow, and our brains need that to stay healthy. But I think it does something else, too. If we pause in this frame of mind, not doing anything or even just doing things in this depressed state, we can't really integrate the events in to the rest of our lives. I was especially aware of this integrating factor today, when I looked out at the garden. The sunlight, callously oblivious to all the suffering, was bright and glorious in the blue sky. My garden, packed with flowers of every shape and color and leaves of every shade of green, was lit up so beautifully that it seemed almost like an affront to all that is decent. But my usual habit, when I look at my garden, must be that I smile and laugh a little, because today that is exactly what I did, even though there were still tears in my eyes from the latest glance at the television. I don't know how we learn that it isn't right to be glad when things are so bad. Maybe in my case it's not so mysterious, since my mother very pointedly taught us that we should suffer as much as humanly possible especially if she was pissed about something. But many of us learn it, and so I felt a little guilty, to smile and laugh at the sudden sight of the frilly light pink fuchsia flowers sproinging around in the sun. It's one of the things that the terrorists are counting on, that I will not be able to raise my own spirits, if not out of direct grief then out of guilt. But I'm smarter than that, and smarter than my mother and not nearly as insane. And I said NO to that particular little conspiracy against me. It is right for me to laugh whenever I can, to find joy wherever I can. I think that's what everyone should do, now more than ever. There was a woman on the news this morning, appalled that just a few blocks from ground zero people were shopping and driving around. I can understand why the sight is incongruent. I find it incongruent, and I don't even live where she lives. But she's wrong to think that we shouldn't go about our normal lives. If we didn't, then the tragedy would never be fully real to us. It would be just This Thing that was on the news while we were taking a break from our lives, dissipating to nothing when we finally did resume normal life. That would be the worst possible thing for all of us.
in progress
Integration of these unreal events into my real life. My strong inclination is to shut down completely. I have no idea how long this will take.
I've been recommending Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror all month, because I think that Objectivists tend to be foolishly unaware of their own emotions as well as those of others. As of this date, I consider it required reading, for understanding oneself and others, now more than ever.
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