Not feeling quite as jaunty today as I like to be when writing here. Typically, I have a sunshiny spirit and a smile for anyone. However, a few things are bothering me. Before I break them all out, here’s a throwback to the first disclaimer I posted a year ago.
The following post contains view points on politics, mild allusions to religion, and personal parenting methods that you may not agree with. If you are sensitive to these things or become inflamed as the post goes on, I would recommend you stop reading. I would also say, bluntly, that should you continue to read, get upset, and then approach me about it later, you have set yourself up for complete failure. Ain’t nobody got time for that. This is not a debate.
So there. I do what I want.
Today, I watched the new Wonder Woman with my kids, despite some of the violent content and war themes. To speak plainly, these kids have understood for quite some time that violence exists in the world (as does evil) because, otherwise, their father would not have a job. Further, their prospective step-father had a very successful career in the Army, both with airborne infantry and Apaches. I don’t let them play violent video games or watch much of any violence on tv/ in movies (we actually don’t spend much time in front of screens unless it’s the weekend) because I don’t want them to be entirely desensitized to it. Violence and death are not games or objectives. But they do exist, are occasionally necessary, and should be treated with the utmost respect.
I had them watch this particular film for a number of reasons. The first is that, while it does tackle the difficult concepts of war, the violence is largely cinematic with almost no gore. The point gets made without brain matter. Secondly, it’s important for my daughters to see that women can and should be strong for the right reasons. Defending the good of many, acting forcefully out of love, and maintaining a clean heart with a sense of duty are tasks any good woman may be called upon to conduct. Physical strength may be a required tool for exercising ethical strength, but as a last resort (one would hope).
Actually, my son needs to see and respect female strength, too, so he can choose his life partner wisely.
Anyway. The third and fourth reasons go hand in hand, and they are the most important themes of discussion- not just here in my home, but generally as a society.
Evil people are often hard to distinguish, the worst of which will be hard to recognize and don’t wear “bad guy” uniforms. They use rhetoric powerfully, manipulate human emotions and the human experience, and have no remorse. Their hearts are filled with selfishness and pride, which makes them extremely task driven according to agenda.
Additionally, evil will always seek its way, despite the efforts of laws and civic obstacles. What thwarts evil, and always has, is the loving actions and cooperation of those who are brave enough to live their life despite the knowledge that this exists, and true to their intended purpose on this earth.
My kids are very observant. I know we all believe our children to be brilliant, scholastic/athletic wonders, “special.” But my kids truly are unique in the things they see and express quite concisely. (As an aside, I’m glad they have the confidence to speak so plainly without embarrassment, and I hope they hold on to that. I wish I could do it as well as they do.) Not long ago, on the way to Mass, they noticed that the flag was at half-mast. “Oh, no,” Lucas said. “More soldiers have died.” He assumed this because we’ve often talked about holidays or events that might require the flag to wave a little lower. He’s sensitive to it.
I felt that it was necessary to explain to them that the flag was lowered due to the shooting in Las Vegas. Carefully, I told them that a man who had hate, pain, and sin in his heart had a very sick soul. He picked a place high above a crowd of innocent people, and he shot many of them. There were many courageous people who tried to save as many as they could- some of whom died, but most of them did not- and there were many doctors and nurses in nearby hospitals who cared for the wounded and dying.
“Is that man dead, Mommy?”
“Which one, son?”
“The man who shot those people.”
“Yes. He is. The police found him, and because he was a danger to those around him, they killed him.”
“That’s what he gets, then. He should not have hurt people who weren’t doing anything to him.”
“That’s why we have policemen and soldiers, right, Mommy?” Maddie asked me.
“Yes, baby. That’s also why it’s very important to learn how to defend yourself and the people around you who may not know to defend themselves. There’s no way to know when someone has a sinful heart- they won’t often look sick on the outside. But their actions will reflect that their soul is sick.”
“We have to be brave, right, Mommy? I would protect those people,” Charlie said.
And that was the end of that discussion.
We have had several discussions like this, although I won’t let them watch the news. To hide my children from the very real fact that evil and hate exists is to do them a disservice, so I choose important topical stories and explain them appropriately. I also think they need to understand that confronting evil is something that is done, should be done, and may also come at a price. Acts of unwarranted violence are against the law and against the Catholic religion they have been raised with, but will and do happen, regardless.
You see, the thing about evil is that it has no regard for anything of true worth or value. What villain was ever overcome with guilt when confronted for breaking laws, causing property damage, kidnapping the love interest of a hero, etc.? Likewise, what perpetrator of a hate crime, rape, assault, human trafficking, genocide, etc., was ever embarrassed by his or her hate? Not. One. Their souls are so sick, their minds so dark, that no light or image of peace can low crawl its way through to HQ. Religiously, we would say that they have abandoned God, shut Him out. They have heard the song of Satan and his empty promises, and they have decided to dance to his tune. It’s a tragedy that plays out in every story of spiritual warfare wherein a soul chooses to forfeit its opportunity for salvation.
Troubled by this recent example out west, I sat with my father and talked about it, at length. It certainly appears that these kinds of things are on the rise, that we, as a nation, are embarrassing ourselves. But, ever the font of historical knowledge and perspectives, he made several valid points. When it comes to the conversation about gun laws, violence and mass murders committed with firearms, and the supposed success of nations who have banned personal use or are otherwise heavily regulated, my father gifted me with a wealth of recent news articles where other events with similar casualty rates were perpetrated with knives, vehicles, homemade bombs, gas, and a variety of poisons. In countries where firearms are hard to come by, assault and murder rates are still comparable via knives and clubs. Beyond that, some violence is subtle. The coercion of certain races into places akin to what we would call “reservations,” forced intermarriage to water down ethnicities, restrictions on family size, government funding or encouragement to euthanize the handicapped or elderly, ongoing enslavement.
From the beginning of time, man has classified itself in one way or another that makes some other group “less,” “wrong,” or distastefully “different.” The Romans enslaved all kinds of different nations in their hay day, turning locals into slaves, soldiers, or entertainment for the advancement of their civilization. The Chinese and several African nations warred amongst slightly different subsects of themselves for land ownership and ruling. When European nations arrived in Africa- both for its resources and expansion- the first slaves sold to white nations were done so by other Africans seeking alliances and in turn were brought back to Europe or the Americas for labor. The Spaniards were the first to wipe out Native American tribes because their gold was much more necessary for the growth and expansion of Spain in conquests long before Puritans arrived here. Australia started out as a prison colony for British criminals, reducing Aborigine tribes in ways similar- or worse- than the manner in which we have reduced Native American tribes throughout American history since colonization. God help us, in the last century, Axis Powers gassed or worked-to-death millions of Jews, Catholics, and homosexuals from within their own nations. They killed their own damn people!
As we cannot forget or seem to move beyond, there was the Civil War (which was also about industrialism, in case no one remembered to discuss the economical contributors to North-South strained relations) and a necessary Civil Rights Movement. In South Africa- originally a Dutch settlement, but later revolutionized into a British, industrialized colony before gaining its independence- during similar time frames, there was the Apartheid. Remember Nelson Mandela? As Americans, we have a tendency to look to Europe and its handiwork (past and present) as this beacon of tolerance and progress. But Mandela was still “in detention” into the early nineties. Spain, currently, is on the brink of civil war, which has not managed to make it onto any of our news stations unless you watch BBC news.
And this is an issue that has surfaced less-than-uniquely in modern-day America- this specificity in the media. My father made a good point that this country seems to be on edge, and much of that can be contributed to the twenty-four-hour access to “news” or talking points from “experts” who had some experience in some “related” field at some point. We are inundated with stories even on Facebook that are “suggested for you” about heinous crimes done to children, bodies discovered in rivers. Following the Vegas shooting, the same unofficial “evidence” was presented in a constant loop for hours. Pundits blaming anything and anyone they could to promote their political party, which is more or less part of a political machine we couldn’t seem to stop when the last election put up two of the most ludicrous candidates available. This is what we seem to do- look for a place to assign blame when horrible things happen. To isolate the incident as if it is something completely unlike anything anywhere else in the world.
“Gun violence is an American problem.”
“Mass murder is an American problem.”
“Racial violence/hate crimes are an American problem.”
No, my friends. It’s a people problem. It’s a heart problem. And the more often it’s put in front of our faces, the more sensitive, overwhelmed, and fearful we become.
The manner in which it is put in front of us, as decided by the generic identifier “the media,” is unarguably skewed for political purpose to push agendas. Goebbels, for the Nazis, was a media and propaganda genius, often studied in film history classes. How else do you think so many Germans had no idea of the atrocities and war crimes being committed in their nation’s name? How else could they have excused it, other than brainwashing to believe they were “the good guys”? Look at our own news articles from the 20th century, prior to Vietnam. In fact, if you have watched the recent PBS series on Vietnam, you will hear voice recordings and interviews wherein non-patriotic American journalism was “strongly opposed.” You’ll also see how Ho Chi Minh masterfully wielded posters and village banners to suggest that Vietcong victories were actually victories for the unification and peace of Vietnam, winning thousands of disillusioned defectors from the bumbling South Vietnamese army of locals.
In reaction to censorship, Vietnam was one of the first eras wherein reporting of military losses and questionable strategies was widely accepted and encouraged. Regardless of whether or not we should have been involved in Vietnam, this journalism is openly referred to as a tool used by detractors to gain steam for demonstrations against the war and contemporary leadership. Now, I’m not here to argue against freedom of the press or freedom of speech- I’m simply pointing out that the press has always been a vehicle for political agenda, and Vietnam began the era of open government criticism (as opposed to blind patriotism) where divisive topics are concerned.
So now we can horrify and anger ourselves at all hours, seeking out the news source that best reflects our personal feelings and political leanings. Just study the diction used in the stories meant to incite angst as opposed to the diction in general economic reporting or sports (save the NFL) reporting. The play on human emotions is extraordinary…and completely intentional.
What is the core word in “terrorism?”
That’s right, folks. Terror- a very strong feeling of fear; an act that is committed by a person, group, or government in order to frighten people and achieve a political goal.
Let’s put our thinking caps on for just a minute. We’re often referring to acts of terror or terrorist attacks. Why aren’t we calling them something else? Because, dear friends, on the base level, these actions are meant to terrify us. To subdue us. To make us so concerned that we will look to any larger entity to protect us and make it stop. As if acts of cruelty and violence weren’t horrible enough, we can now relive them over and over while news pundits tell us what we should think about them based on unconfirmed or misrepresented evidence, bolstered by their “experts.” Repetition is key- if we see these images, hear these stories, time after time, accompanied by the same rhetoric and psychological spotlight, it’s not too far-fetched to assert that there’s some conditioned responses that will follow.
Surely, Islamic extremist groups that are butchering people around the world are terrorists, in that their actions are meant to frighten and influence. White supremacist groups burning churches are terrorists for the same reason. The militant sect of Black Lives Matter assassinating police officers in their cruisers are terrorists. The guy that shot over 200 people in Vegas was probably a terrorist. But I would also say that the actions of these groups is escalated by the repeated exposure of the media for specific purposes, which is just more terrorism. Don’t you think?
That was rhetorical. Don’t answer, actually.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phrase, “Divide and conquer.” Think about it. When the United States is actually acting in unity, what is the effect? We didn’t wait on the government to respond to this season’s natural disasters. Private citizens with their own property flocked to the parts of this country to help our countrymen who were affected. An unbiased, unstoppable force unleashed itself on our coasts and now through California’s wine country, and for just a moment, America truly was great again. We cried out for our people on every platform, and we are still coming to their aid, regardless of what heads of state are or are not doing (although I have it one good authority that they’re doing more than what’s being discussed).
Think back to 9/11, before the conspiracy theories. Think about every Olympics we compete in (we don’t even understand half the sports, but if the US is represented, we’re gonna cheer them the hell on to victory). There are so many instances of Americans being exactly what it is that has always set us apart from the European cradle we were born into. Damned if we’re not the most persistent, occasionally impetuous, resilient, strong-willed people on this earth. And when we’re winning, we are so proud of that.
But when we are not unified, when we are divided, look at how foolish we become. Slaughtering our own people. Humans into whose faces we have never gazed. Generalizing, stereotyping, labeling. African American. Latin American. Asian American. LGBT(insert all the other letters that apply, because I’ve lost track) American. So many sects, now spawning their own extremist groups, acting a complete fool for air time.
And the media will give it to them in spades. Over. And over. And over.
Until it becomes much bigger, messier, and divisive than it already was.
Until we cry out to the political machine to say something eloquently, make up some new statute, and then distract us with something else.
Now, this is not to say that, when these things happen, they should be swept under the rug. Absolutely not. As Americans, we should know what assholes are trying to diminish the country so that we can collectively not tolerate it. But if we, as humans, can instinctively identify a crisis of the human experience and rush to address it- as the previous examples have shown- without asking the government if it’s okay, why are we not drowning out these extremist groups with the same common sense? Why are we watching these news pundits manipulate our emotions until we look at each other with distrust? Why have we forgotten that the government is of the people, by the people. and for the people?
This country belongs to me, y’all. This government works for me. These bastards who are discriminating racially, sexually, religiously, etc., are my freaking problem.
Could someone please explain to me why we’re paying people millions of dollars to verbally assault our country? Because America clearly has a heart, and it is being manipulated, divided, and conquered right now by fear.
We can look at a mass murder and say, “That is clearly evil.” Because it is. But even more insidious are the big machines in the background. Like marionettes on strings, our hearts are being plucked about by these faces who are prettily made up, attached to very important-looking suits, jockeying about with friends who bear intimidating-sounding titles. Under the guise of just presenting the news, just funding a specialty group, just spreading awareness or support, we attach ourselves to lines through the air waves, all the while people whose faces we will never see (because, as we all know, the President can make an awful lot of noise, but can actually do very little without help), names we have never heard, are dancing us right along. We are so distracted by in-fighting and inflamed emotions that nothing is actually being done.
Has anyone noticed that? A lot of people are really upset, signing lots of petitions, staging lots of protests. But the elected officials and bigwigs in ivory towers who are supposed to represent those interest groups either do nothing or come up with something so extreme that it cannot and does not pass. From one passion to another, the American people are running suicide sprints, and we’re all emotionally exhausted and frayed around the edges. We feel overwhelmed, discouraged, disheartened, hopeless.
And afraid. We are afraid.
We are divided and afraid of one another.
We have been terrorized so much that we don’t even trust each other. We’re throwing all our hope and cooperation behind the big machine that we recognize as the parties to produce peace. What is this starting to sound like?
Now, given the length of this post already, I’ll save my feelings about law enforcement, the NFL, and the POTUS tweets for another time. What I want to wrap this up with is a discussion of Reason #4 behind why I had my children watch Wonder Woman today (I know that was aaaages ago, but that is where we started).
Evil will always exist in the world, both blatantly- as with the use of chemical warfare in the film or violence in today’s media- and in the shadows. What is put in front of our face to offend our senses is usually just the tip of a much larger iceberg trying to sink this country like a ship. Some of the recent occurrences here, perpetrated by our own people, are truly horrible tragedies and an indicator that we do have some ailing parts. However, fear is a much more sinister weapon than a firearm and much more widely used in myriad forms with a wide array of supporting tools. Confiscating or restricting firearms (or just producing more laws in general) placing them in government hands whose statutes could change due to votes within themselves much more quickly than one might think, will not stop an entity bent on evil. It never has, and only seeks to “solve” the obvious issue. One cannot legislate morality or ethics, which is why looking to the government is foolish to begin with.
Unless we take it back.
Which brings us to the point I most want my children to take from that movie and to bring back to the world around them. Bravery, true courage and fortitude, is feeling and acknowledging fear, but choosing to do the right thing anyway. It is shirking cowardice, refusing the pass the buck, and looking inward instead of outward for action that will orchestrate change. Each person has been given different gifts by which to exercise that quality, and when founded in love and integrity, that quality will not disappear.
Think critically, my children. Find the root, and dig away at it for however long it takes to upend the poisonous fruit, begotten of evil. If the branches block the light, cut away at those darknesses and acts of hate. Whether it be attempting real representation politically, helping groups agree to disagree or compromise or achieve a win-win, or going to literal war for those who cannot defend themselves, put fear where it belongs- behind you. While you may not live to see your goal come to fruition, while you may only impact your small corner of the world, while there may not be peace where you live- live, my children. And contribute.