It probably has not escaped anyone’s notice that I don’t usually write things in the face of terrible tragedies. With one or two exceptions, I usually don’t know what to say. I don’t know how other people survive in the world; I keep most of it at delicate, carefully-maintained distance. Any horror is capable of collapsing that distance, bespeaking not just itself but every horror, every agony in the unremitting misery of the world. I don’t have a good mechanism for feeling bad about only one thing at a time, I think. Somehow, in my imagination, every tragedy is chained together and to drag one loose is to pull all of them free.
When things like this happen I start to feel…”deliberate” I suppose is a word. Maybe this is a kind of vanity – in the face of external stresses I become introspective. Vanity is certainly something I am capable of. And maybe it’s a kind of cowardice – I look for, instead of some way to act, only the one way to act perfectly correctly, the opportune moment to do only the exact right thing. Sometimes the opportune moment never presents itself, and I do nothing, and so maybe this is a way of forgiving myself of the responsibility of action. Cowardice is certainly something I am capable of.
I don’t know.
A philosopher that I happen to like is Baruch Spinoza, and a quote that has felt especially pertinent to me lately is this one, from his Tractatus Politicus:
Peace is not mere absence of war, but is a virtue that springs from force of character.
I suppose I’m interested in what that means, what it means that peace is not the absence of violence, but is instead a resistance to violence. That war is not an active condition but a passive one – a state of entropy that emerges on its own when the hard work of peace is abandoned. That it’s peace that is the real work, the difficult work, the challenging work.
I don’t know the answer to this, either. I don’t know how to win this war, and I am suspicious of anyone who claims to know.
I do know that I want to do the right thing, and only the right thing, and I don’t know what that is or even what it looks like.
So. This is the letter I wrote to my congressmen. I encourage you to write to your congressmen, too.
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