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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Is the right reaction sometimes the wrong reaction?

Saudi judge refuses to annul marriage of girl, 8

A Saudi judge recently refused to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man -- a union apparently arranged by the girl's father to settle his debts -- a lawyer in the case told CNN.

This is the kind of news that elicits from me an immediate, visceral rage reaction. A second later, I'm raging about the American government and it's righteous indignation over the Taliban's refusal to permit the education of girls, while we play footsie with a wealthy oil nation that treats the institution of marriage as the most primitive form of slavery.

And of course, I'm right.

But it's possible to be wrong in being right. Right now, it's about five minutes after all that raging and ranting is done, and I'm feeling guilty. Because I know that sexism is my biggest button, and all my own righteous indignation is triggered when that button gets pushed. 

At the same time on, I find reports that a giant coal sludge spill just inundated a town in Tennessee; Zimbabwe is about to try a human rights activist for trying to overthrow Mugabe; Hamas is firing rockets at Israel again; a seemingly innocent financier committed suicide because he'd lost so much money with Madoff; the military has taken over in Guinea, one of the poorest countries in the world, following the death of the president; the Pope took a jab at gay marriage; and the Congo continues to be ravaged by violence so brutal and unending that 5 million people have died since 1998.

But that news about the little girl handed to a middle-aged man to pay off a debt -- the twisted feeling in my gut is reserved for that story.  Why is that? My initial response is that it's an identification thing -- that could be me. But I know that's not true. I don't actually identify with an 8-year-old Saudi girl any more than I identify with a Zimbabwean peace activist or a French financier. I have a daughter about the same age, but the thought of her fleeing a raging battle or drinking water poisoned by coal ash is just as upsetting. 

So then why?

I think the simple, plain truth is that, early in life, we each pick a cause to cling to; something that we hug close and hold dear all our lives; something that we reserve our moral outrage for. Whether the thing that twists our gut is the defiance of god's law, the rape of the environment, the scourge of poverty, the abuse of domesticated animals -- each of us has something that, at some early point in our lives, spoke to us in a way that left a permanent imprint on our brains, and forever after, THAT is the thing that draws a visceral response.

Is that a bad thing? I suspect it is, in the sense that it reflects how unreasoning we really are and how little we can be relied upon to assess need, risk, and the magnitude of tragedy with any semblance of balance and perspective. And then of course there are those of us who embrace the wrong outrages, who nurture venom toward the crime of being too dark, too irreligious, or too (insert random characteristic here). Maybe that's what evil is -- a  misdirected urge we all share. And maybe if we didn't feel that way -- if we didn't elevate one evil above all others in that place in our brains where we store up our anger and our indignation -- maybe we'd actually be better off.

Or maybe we wouldn't give a shit about anything anymore. I really don't know.


Fishguy said...


Perhaps in a perfect world, we'd each be able to apportion our personal outrage to news and other negative stimuli according to some bio- psycho-metric logorhythmic scale- -then again in a perfect world' these things wouldn't happen.

I think some of what you are pondring is the result of evolutionary mechanisms tied into self preservation.

Imagine if you explerienced the same level of vitriol and bile for each of the incidents and phenomina that you enumerate- how long could you survive? What would be your outlet? (You'd have to write a new Lou Reed song every five minutes)

I think that as long as some of us humans behave in bestial ways, the rest of us have to each bear only as big a portion of the available rage as we can handle in response.

Then we can/should form organizations,and commitees, network them into political parties-with planks & platforms, and make the world a better place.

Unfortunately, most of is can't be bothered- we're too busy with what we see as "survival".


Tamar said...

But maybe we can be more than the sum of the knee-jerk emotional reactions we evolved with? And then maybe we could be more effective by prioritizing appropriately, converging on key issues, and achieving an efficiency of scale, instead of working separately and in parallel? Or...not. Sometimes I start to sound like one of those absurd ST:TNG morality plays. "You see, Wesley, we were once greedy and selfish, but that was before the Federation..."

Fishguy said...

Yes, our emotions operate on pure logic now, except for every seven years when we swim upstream to spawn, and if we see our shadows, know we will have a shorter winter.

(Amazing how quickly the tone can be lowered-
... innut?).

I just got outraged listening to NPR.

Seems that there's a guy in jail on child pornography charges, stemming from images he posted somewhere of cartoon figures Bart and Lisa Simpson having sex and (here's the REALLY sinister part) he also has a collection of Japanese anime & manga--heavy on drawings of kids in disturbing and sexually graphic situations.

So I've seen stuff like this, I find it dark and disturbing, and I don't "get it" but its no more disturbing than Clive Barker, or Aleister Crowley (I don't "get" either of them either).

But these are comic books, and We're not talking about someone who showed this shit to kids... We're just talking about having drawings in one's posession

I can't believe they are going after comix again- I thought that shit went out in the '50's.

I was shouting at the radio.

Then I thought "WWMSD?" ("What would Mr Spock do?") and the answer revealed itself to me: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

I'm not sure what one has to do with the other, but hey, an answer is an answer.