Another good op-ed. Disaffected smart folks are a constituency, too.
It made me think, and not merely rearrange my prejudices.
BODY COUNTS AND HEAD COUNTS
Friday, September 14, 2001
PHIL BRONSTEIN, THE executive editor of The Chronicle, sent out a
memo Wednesday about emotions. He mentioned that journalists tend to
bury their emotions while covering a tragedy, and said this was not a
good thing for either the journalist or the journalism. He said that
if people were feeling overwhelmed, there was a number to call, a
place to go.
What interested me about the memo was that it did not track very well
with my own emotions. I was not feeling overwhelmed or teary; neither
was I feeling stoical or brave. I was mostly feeling confused, which
is an emotion of the head rather than the heart.
Of course, I lost no loved ones in the tragedy. I have no close
friends who lost loved ones. I am saddened by the tragedy and
heartened by the acts of heroism great and small, but in a
generalized way. I do not feel less secure than I did three days ago,
perhaps because I never feel secure.
My early life did not have a lot of security in it. I expect the
worst in all situations. Every sunrise is a miracle. Every failure to
meet violence with more violence is a surprise. Blessed are the
peacemakers, because there are not a lot of them and usually they get
blamed for everything.
And I am a child of the media. I was alone a lot as a child, through
no fault of my overworked single mother, and my companions were radio
and television and books. I learned, for my own sanity, to
distinguish between the real world and the media world and to treat
them with different levels of seriousness.
I saw the World Trade Center collapse. I saw the White House blow up.
Both of those events were on a television screen. I understand that
one was "real" and one was "just a movie," but I have learned to
distrust those distinctions. I have been lied to by presidents and
press secretaries and financial experts, but Kevin Kline has always
told me the truth. Is a lie about the real world better than the
truth about an unreal world?
I don't know the answer to that question. I know better than to stake
my heart on either one. My wife, my children, my parents, my friends
-- that is the world in my heart. Everything else is knowledge,
speculation, entertainment, art. They go to my brain first, and my
brain is a suspicious gatekeeper.
I distrust facile mourning. I consider it an artifact of
manipulation. It is unexamined and disproportionate. On April 30,
1991, 139,000 people were killed by a cyclone in Bangladesh. They
were mothers and fathers and children; they were heroes and fools and
poets and thieves. I recall no candlelight vigils -- indeed, I do not
recall the event at all. I had to look it up.
I imagine the president sent a pro forma letter of regret. I imagine
that he did not spend a minute thinking about those people. If human
loss is the yardstick by which we measure our pain, we should have
the date burned into our brains. It's in the previous paragraph; can
you recall it without looking back?
IAM FRUGAL with my grief because grief can be manipulated. I am
seeing the president do it now. This is a cowardly act, he has said
again and again, although "cowardly" is exactly the wrong adjective
to describe the hijackers. They were brave. It would be good to
understand what made them brave. Self- sacrifice is always
interesting, since it runs so contrary to our most basic instincts.
"Cowardly" would be a good word to describe our waging of the war in
Kosovo, or our current bombing runs in Iraq. I am a patriotic
American, besotted with the Constitution, but I do not think our
foreign policy is wise or just.
We should retain our privacy now, I think; work on a human scale;
remember that a politician is most dangerous when he is announcing
that something is "beyond politics."
It is best to hide your heart, because the world is full of thieves.
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