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A Simple Response to a Messed Up World

Updated on July 13, 2014

Sometimes You Just have to Feel Sad

I downloaded the Flipboard app on my Ipad recently and I have enjoyed using it to keep up on current events. A couple of days ago, I was looking at the major PRI stories, and it was difficult to determine which was the most depressing: the ongoing civil war in Syria, the inability of the Nigerian government to find hundreds of kidnapped girls, the continued progress of ISIS in Iraq, the tens of thousands of children who have fled Central America and are now detained in the United States, or violent conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip. And when it comes to depressing information, this is only the tip of the iceberg. In many parts of the world, things have been so bad for so long that the horrific suffering in these regions is no longer even a news story. It's just these regions' versions of normal.

My natural instinct in the face of this depressing news is to do one of two things. First, I am inclined to dig a bit deeper into the situation in one or more of these places and try to suggest some logical courses of action that might make things better. But I don't really feel like doing that right now. It just seems like an exercise in futility. Few people care (or would ever even know) what I think anyway, so anything I say - assuming I even have much to say - is unlikely to make any difference.

The second alternative, however, is what I often have done in the past. Instead of talking about the actual situations in the world, confront the various ways in which Americans politicize these situations. I am always amazed at how often politicians, pundits, and people on the internet manage to sum up what is happening in these complex situations with just a few words or phrases. Just one internet meme, apparently, can explain the recent success of ISIS or offer solutions to the wave of children entering the country illegally. Sometimes, I envy people who find these simplistic answers to be sufficient, although on some level, they must know that they are merely contributing to the daily spin game. They can't really believe that everything that is wrong in the world has been caused by Bush, Obama, Tea Partiers, Liberals, or whoever.

But with this little essay anyway, I don't even feel like making fun of political simpletons. Instead, I just find myself thinking about all of these horrible circumstances and feeling a combination of sadness and gratitude. On the one hand, I appreciate that I am not being bombed, tortured, threatened, kidnapped, or facing the prospect of starvation. On the other hand, I think about how pathetic it is to take some comfort in the suffering of others, and I try to imagine what it must be like to be in their shoes.

So if I am not going to make fun of simplistic, politically motivated explanations for the suffering of the world, I am going to (at least this once) offer up my own simplistic explanation for so much of what is wrong: there are a lot of human beings out there who really suck: religious extremists, terrorists, drug cartels, brutal dictators, and narrow-minded unimaginative bigots. Now I know that these people generally don't just appear out of a vacuum, and many of them were turned into disgusting human beings by disgusting circumstances. But when it is all said and done, an ass hole is still an ass hole, regardless of how that person got that way.

Unfortunately, these crappy excuses for human beings have a major advantage over those with at least a shred of decency. Ruthless people and/or individuals who don't mind dying are not held back by the fears, morals, and empathy that will cause most of us to restrain our behavior. They also have the advantage of being in the business of destroying things, which is a far easier task than building something constructive. It doesn't take that many people, after all, to mess stuff up. And if you don't really care who your bombs are killing, it is relatively easy to plant and drop bombs that kill lots of people.

So I guess that the only comfort I can take out of many of these global situations is that groups like ISIS, the Taliban, and Boko Haram can never be truly successful. Because they are inherently destructive groups that feed off of chaos, they would not know what to do if they ever had a chance to govern a place. It never takes long for these religious fanatics to alienate enough of the population into turning against them. So eventually, they will drift back to their natural role of instilling chaos, and in the end, decent, normal people have to go against their natures and violently confront the freak show. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to defeat people who do not follow rules of common decency. The trick, I guess, is to defeat the terrorists without becoming terrorists yourselves, which can be easier said than done.

So please forgive me for not having any answers or contributing to your side's spin game (assuming that you have a side). Every now and then, it's probably healthy for all of us to just feel sad. These are people out there who are suffering, not just some tools to use in a political game. The more that we feel genuine empathy for others and outrage toward those who do evil, and the less we allow ourselves to be manipulated by spin doctors, the better off we all will be.


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