Faith, Certainty, Fear and Violence

I do realize that what little I’ve been writing lately has been on the self-centred side, in that it’s not really about anything that’s going on in the world, but rather whatever has been going on inside my brain. And yes, I’m extremely busy, but more than that, I just don’t know what to say about some of the big events these days. Thinking and speaking just feels so futile when it comes to Gaza. Everything seems both overwhelmingly complicated – and since I lack a PhD in Middle Eastern history, I feel unqualified to comment – and unbearably, horrifyingly simple in the unacceptability of this kind of violence.

Slightly closer to home, there’s recently been the Oscar Grant shooting, the violent hate-rape of a lesbian woman, and uncountable other acts of violence. Last week, Natalia asked the question:

Those among us who are least capable of defending themselves make for the most excellent targets. Is it because, deep down, we fear and loathe vulnerability in all of its forms? Do we just want to punish it, cull it, stomp it out? Are we disgusted by the people who trust us, who depend on us, in one way or another?

Honestly, I think so. There’s a lot to be said about the construction and dehumanization of the Other, but more and more, I’m convinced that the most terrifying thing about the Other is the threat that it could become the Self. Or rather, the possibility that the Self has those weaknesses. It’s not when we’re positively convinced of our superiority that these acts of hate play out on the most intimate and the grandest of scales, it’s when the mirror shows us our own vulnerability.

There’s an overwhelming tendency to conflate faith and certainty. But as Daisy said in comments to one of my recent posts, it’s when I’m most fragile in my life that I feel the need to cling to my own rightness, that I will get most aggressive about my opinions and forceful about my need to have you share them. I think most of us here understand that, politically and religiously, inability to tolerate dissent is a sign of uncertainty, and the more unstable the position, the greater the need to erase the signs of one’s wrongness. In some cases, it’s enough to petition to have references to evolution removed from textbooks; in others, we have to erase the human markers of the possibility that the European Enlightenment project of reason, progress and modernity was not just ill-advised, but flat-out wrong.

On a purely interpersonal level, I’m still being held back by serious trust issues, and I still have to ask myself “what if”. What if I’m wrong about someone? What if what they tell me isn’t true? What if they intend me harm? What if everything changes again? Realistically speaking, I just can’t know the answer to any of those questions. There’s no script. There’s no certainty. When I want that certainty and can’t get it, I am an anxious, angry, hostile, frustrating person. If I’m being completely honest, I’m consumed with fear, not of the what-ifs above, which are all about them, but of the what-if of my own vulnerability.

I can’t pretend to really understand violence and hate, and I’m not trying to oversimplify them. I’m bringing the very banal and all-too-common experience of insecurity and a well-earned inability to trust into a discussion that is ostensibly about deep-seated historical inequalities, long-standing anger among groups of people and horrifying acts of violence because this is the part that seems pathologically simple, to me. Not “simple” in the sense of believing that we can just say “get over it” and “can’t we all just get along” and everything will be figured out, but just…heartbreakingly the same, over and over again.

Speaking personally again, I think I’m at my best when I’m not afraid of uncertainty because I’m absolutely confident in my uncertainty. Weakness and vulnerability are right up in my face, so I don’t have to defend the possibility that they’ll emerge and be seen. In the real world, outside of the bounds of my cozy warm apartment in which the greatest threats to my security are my cat’s claws, I have no idea where to go with that. So I kind of just…don’t.

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