HOT STOVE ON THE BACK BURNER
HOT STOVE ON THE BACK BURNER
What I am about to write is neither an excuse nor a justification. I am not even sure it rises to the level of a cop-out. Rather, it is an admission of ignorance, indifference, and potentially insensitivity.
Last Friday afternoon I posted a blog entitled Free Agents of (Loose) Change. When I posted this, Paris was literally in flames.
I, in no way, meant to post something as meaningless (in the grand scheme) as the goings-on of the baseball off-season when world events were unfolding in real time. And I have no excuse for doing so.
A little backstory:
I started thinking about writing that blog post on the eve of Game 6 of the ALCS (three weeks before I posted it). It took me about five days from the time I sat down to start researching/writing to the moment I hit the “publish” button. Unfortunately, in the hours leading up to that fateful click, the world changed (again). I just wasn’t attuned to it. And again, I have no excuse.
Throughout the day on Friday, one of my colleagues was constantly providing updates on the carnage in and around Paris. And for reasons that I still cannot comprehend, the import of the moment never resonated with me. Now, this is as much a statement of my callousness as it is about the society in which we now live; and how those two concepts overlap.
We are faced with so many mass tragedies, on a daily and weekly basis, they have – unfortunately and unfathomly – just become noise. Imagine that, hundreds people die, and we (read: I) cannot be bothered to walk into the other room to see the latest on CNN. What have we become? Where do we go from here?
My father-in-law is from Israel, and he always talks about growing up there and his repeated trips back. My father, too, has made many trips to Israel. And, as much as I want to visit the “homeland”, I admit that I am just plain frightened. I hear about buses exploding on major thoroughfares and bombs going off in farmers’ markets, and I think to myself, “how/why can you expose yourself to that random danger?” And when I raise this issue with Israelis or people who go there often, their response is always the same: you don’t think about it. Whether or not they have become numb to their surroundings, or they have simply grown accustomed to what happens all too often, they just don’t live in fear.
I imagine this anaesthetization does not happen overnight. Rather, it is a slow acclimation process. Much like the lobster who first enjoys a warm bath, only to notice it getting a bit warmer, then feeling intense heat, and soon it’s too late.
Where on the continuum are we today? I wanted to provide a listing of every terrorist (or terrorist-type) events this year, but there are WAY too many to count (someone counted them for 2014: 13,463, or roughly one every 40 minutes). So, while everyone changes their Facebook profile picture and ends their Tweets with #StandWithParis, let’s just take a look at the first three weeks of this month and incidents in which three or more people were killed:
- November 1st: 12 dead in Mogadishu, Somalia. A car bomb went off outside a hotel, which allowed the terrorists to enter the hotel firing their weapons and throwing grenades.
- November 4th: 3 dead when a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside a police officers’ club in Arish, Egypt.
- November 5th: A suicide bombing in Arsal, Lebanon killed 5.
- November 7th: Multiple bombs were set off in Baghdad, killing 12.
- November 9th: Boko Haram killed 3 with a suicide bomb in Chad.
- November 9th: A 14-year old girl detonated herself, killing 4 bystanders in Fotokol, Cameroon.
- November 12th: A suicide bomber detonated a bike loaded with explosives and when onlookers gathered, another suicide bomber detonated himself, killing 43 and wounding 240 more in Beirut.
- November 13th: Baghdad was hit again, this time a suicide bomber killed 19 and left 33 wounded.
- November 13th: As we all know, 129 people died, and another 352 were injured in multiple attacks in Paris.
- November 20th: This morning 21 people (and counting) were killed when terrorists attacked a hotel hosting various diplomats in Mali.
How many of the above had you heard about? If any were on your radar, did you stop or even slow down upon hearing the news? Does there need to be a certain body count to get our attention? I think we took a moment to pause when 9 people died in a church in Charleston, SC, right? We definitely mourned when 20 children (and 6 adults) were killed at Sandy Hook in 2014. Did Mali, a week after Paris, even get a cursory look at the CNN Alert on your iPhone?
Does the atrocity have to (a) be so huge (100+ dead?) that we can’t help but notice or (b) happen at a sacrosanct location (a church, a school, but most definitely not in a mosque) that we think “but for the grace of G-d”? or (c) happen so close to home that you begin to fear for your own safety? If it isn’t any of the above, we are like the lobster; it is getting a bit warm in here, but nothing we can’t handle.
I don’t know the answer, but I am starting to feel the heat and wondering if there is any way out of the pot. Maybe that is why sports ratings are so high. Maybe that is why Star Wars is already sold out for the first two weeks of showings (a month in advance). Maybe that is why nearly 35% of U.S. adults (more than 78M people) are obese. The world around us is going to hell in hand basket, and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.
According to Linda Tropp, a professor of Social Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, “when we experience feelings of insecurity, we try hard to re-establish a sense of security . . . we crave a sense of normalcy . . . we want to get back to our routine and remember other things beyond this tragic event . . .”
Maybe that is the answer – we put our head in the sand as a defensive mechanism, not because we are unfeeling or callous or indifferent, but because we simply cannot deal with the fear.
And things only stand to get worse. In this week’s Time, former CIA Director Michael Morell states: “ISIS poses a major threat to the U.S. and to U.S. interests abroad and that threat is growing every day . . . we have not faced an adversary like it before.” Quick, get me a box of donuts, a box of popcorn, and a box score; I don’t like this news.
So what do we do? Who do we look to? There is a very good chance that a carnival barker (Martin O’Malley’s words, not mine) will become the Republican nominee to become the leader of the free world (and, if he wins, will initiate a national database to register all Muslims living in the U.S.), and the most qualified candidate in more than a quarter century is being pushed to the limits by an avowed Socialist, who, when asked about ISIS, said it was not as large a threat as global warming (it is now that I am seriously thinking about building a bunker).
We live in a world where lucks plays a larger role in our personal and collective safety than all of our intelligence services combined. Where a renegade and vigilante group calling itself Anonymous poses the single greatest threat to the single greatest threat to a peaceful world. (In case you missed it, Anonymous declared cyberwar on ISIS, promising to inflict the utmost damage to an organization that utilizes social media to recruit and spread their end of days gospel. As of earlier this week, they claimed to have shut down 5,500 ISIS-related Twitter accounts.) Why isn’t Anonymous on the CIA payroll?
The result of all of this is that knuckleheads like me look the other way for fear that what I will see if I turn around will be too painful, ugly, disheartening, plain ol’ scary, to bear. And then I write silly essays about how many millions of dollars grown men will get paid to play a kid’s game. And I did that last Friday totally unaware that France was suffering its own Pearl Harbor. And for that, I am sorry.
Some might say: “If you don’t write, the terrorists win.” True enough, but maybe just a bit of discretion, a day or two to let emotions simmer and allow people to get their bearings, isn’t too much to ask before minimizing the events of the day with triviality and frivolity.
Just like everyone on social media, I stand with Paris. But, more importantly, I stand with the rest of my fellow humans who – based solely on the sheer volume of horrible events – no longer have the ability to truly appreciate and mourn these moments. We may never have another 9/11; but if we do, you can be sure it certainly won’t feel the same.
In the coming days and weeks, when the smoke has literally settled, I will again write (and mean) . . .