Yesterday I sat in a taxi and listened to an obviously conservative radio commentator bloviate about Isil (the so-called Islamic State) and liberals. It was maddening, but I try to understand what goes on in the conservative mind, so I listened. I won't try to recreate this guy's arguments here, they were the Obama-hating and Clinton-fearing rhetoric one often hears from the right. And that's not the focus of this post, at any rate.
I could listen and remind myself over rising blood pressure that he had a right to his opinions and a right to speak them. But I demanded the taxi driver turn the radio off when the commentator began a graphic description of how Isil is murdering, beheading, and torturing people.
I am a self-avowed wimp, emotionally ill-equipped to watch or hear about violence. My reaction to it is to run from the room or turn off the TV or radio. I avoid violent books, movies and TV shows. I was ready to jump out of the cab yesterday had the driver not been kind enough to switch the radio off.
One of the reasons I so strictly avoid violent culture is because I fear becoming inured to it. And here is the irony of my aversion to violence: There is present in me a prurient, ugly fascination with it that I cannot deny and which feels shameful. Something in human nature glories in violence, especially for revenge. I choose not to give that thing space in my life even as I admit it has its attraction. While I begged the driver to turn off the radio, I listened to the details I did not want to hear.
Because of my reaction's aversion/fascination component, I fear if I allow myself to tamp down my somewhat extreme reaction violence will lose its impact on my heart and psyche. And I fear if that happens I'll be no different, at heart if not in scope, from the worst perpetrators of violence all over the world.
I fear our willingness to allow and condone with our purchases movies, books and television shows filled with sex crimes and shootings and torture and gory murder serves in some way to justify all violence. And is difficult to face because of the aversion/fascination phenomenon I find in myself. Until we can be honest about that, understand and confront its implications in our lives and how they manifest in our culture, how are we to condemn violence at other levels?
I do not excuse Isil. Nor do I excuse myself.