An associate sends a message to inform me my post stating my belief - that religion, that medical care, that marriage, that patriotism are each personal relationships that one develops – be it with a higher power, a professional, loved one, or a community – is ill informed and a contributing factor to the decline of civilization – in so many words.
A driver of a pickup truck maintains a distance of inches from my rear bumper. The driver is a person I cannot see through the tinted windows – I can only make out the Chevrolet logo close to my rear window (though as he (assuming a gender) sped closer I could make out the American flag whipping in the wind from the bed of the truck). I assume the driver has a problem with my car’s speed, which is at the speed limit and on cruise control.
Those are the most recent examples.
On another day the report of a terrorist attack was broadcast over the radio into a car whose driver accelerated toward a pedestrian – a woman in a hijab forced to dive into the grass. On many days a crowd on a corner in Waco held anti-abortion banners and yelled the act was ‘murder’ to the passing cars. They yelled to anyone who would listen and to those who did not want to listen. Banners said things like ‘protect the innocent’ to imply that any act on behalf of ‘the innocent’ must be the equivalent of self-defense. All with the passion that one’s salvation and everyone else’s salvation depends on it. About the time I noticed the Waco protesters (about 2 years ago) a man walked up to a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, in hunting gear and shooting a semi-automatic rifle – killing three and wounding nine – to 'protect the innocent.'
There are other times when the rage has no event to trigger it. A week ago , in a nearby town, a man angered by slow traffic in a construction zone drove off the highway slinging mud from an established dirt trail, toward the side road – where two drivers were forced to slam on the brakes has he ‘merged.’ A teacher, feeling the stress of low test scores and coming teacher evaluations in a nearby district, shouted at a peer who delayed taking roll in order to handle a ‘teachable moment’ between students arguing as they entered the room. Another student cursed when directed to turn off a cellphone, cursed again when given detention, and a third time when sent to the principal’s office.
Inside these tunnels of rage, it seems the faces around the angry person have no interior life. It is a solipsistic world. And in such a world, thoughts of violence become acceptable. This is not new. But in our closer proximity to each other it sounds an alarm bell because it is a precondition to the act.
Which seems to give urgency to the decision whether we soak ourselves in an ocean of returning (or even pre-emptive) meanness or we find a more deliberate way to realize the hurt and motivation staring back at us through a set of angry eyes that are familiar, that are us.
Else we become a circling Fury:
“disinherited, suffering, heavy with anger
. . . let loose on the land
the vindictive poison
dripping out of the heart upon the ground” (Aeschylus, The Eumenides)
The stakes for the choice grow when we realize that wise Athena will probably not descend from the sky to stop the cycle of rage returned for rage, to correct the course.
Orestes, Clytemnestra, Hamlet, Jax Teller, Lucious and Cookie Lyon keep creeping into the imagination as cautionary tales. However they are only cautionary tales when we have a background that prepares us for the reality that these are not lives to emulate. We hopefully read these cautions in public and discuss them.
In private the revenge tales can seem delicious and rage can seem empowering. It is however, a force that can be sent in any direction with no moral of its own. It can make the world seem like the one witnessed by Lady MacDuff where ‘to do harm/is often laudable, to do good sometime/accounted dangerous folly.’
We have to remind ourselves that the crime against Lady MacDuff meets with justice, the Furies find their place in the underworld, and our urge to react does nothing to create the world we want to live in. Reading gives our minds the space to heal, takes us from an existence of being controlled by a force beyond our control and connects us to each other in a way that removes the violence against ourselves as an option.