In Extremis, De Profundis

I wanted to blog yesterday, but to be honest I spent the day feeling scraped out, hollow, raw. There was nothing in me worth sharing. Anything I might have written which didn’t express this reality would have been a lie, and it would have been a waste of the time of anyone who took the time to read it.

So I didn’t write anything. But today the hollowness has been replaced by a deep, gnawing anger. And that I can write about.

I am Caucasian. European. Irish all the way down. I don’t have any other ethnicities in my genetic makeup. This means I am freckly, pale, prone to sunburn, likely to be Vitamin D deficient, prone to depression and alcoholism, and a whole host of other drawbacks that come with being ‘pure-bred’. I can’t help this; I didn’t choose to be born to my parents, in my country, at the time I came into being.

Just like everyone else in history.

I have no right to claim any sort of kinship with any of the men and women who died on Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina. I have no intention of doing so. Their struggle, and the struggle of Black people in America on a daily basis, is not mine. But I am still a human being, and just because I have no part to play in their efforts doesn’t mean I am not allowed to feel compassion for those efforts, and to feel devastated and sick at what happened in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. And I do feel devastated and sick. I also feel hopeless. I feel afraid, though I know my fear must be of a different calibre to that felt by people of colour who face discrimination every day. My fear is more for the future of the human species as a whole, not for my personal survival. I’m aware there are people for whom fear about their personal survival is a daily challenge, and I wish so much that this wasn’t true.

That this atrocity happened in the same week as the tragic accident in Berkeley, California, which claimed the lives of six Irish students, is overwhelming. Such loss, and such destruction, and such sorrow, and it’s hard to see a way through.

Sometimes I wish there was a way to not feel things. Just sometimes, you know? A switch you could flick or a button you could push to cut yourself off for a while, like Data’s emotion chip in ‘Star Trek’. But if we could do that, would we have the courage to turn it back on again, and let the tide of emotion flood through us once more? Or would we take refuge in the coldness of disconnected self-interest, caring about nothing but what impacts us directly?

Well. I’m glad, in many ways, that I’ll never have the answer to that question, and I’m scared to think of all the people who seem to have that chip enabled all the time, the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ types who refuse to see or experience the interconnectedness of all humanity, and who have no compassion for anyone who isn’t exactly like them.

Why aren’t there easy answers to the questions of how we are supposed to interact with one another? Why do our basest instincts always come to the fore? Why do we allow greed and small-mindedness and bigotry to win out over simple, generous compassion? Why do we always live down to our lowest expectations of ourselves? Will we ever change – can we?

Jon Stewart says it better than I can. He says it better than most people can, I guess.

2 thoughts on “In Extremis, De Profundis

  1. Jan Hawke

    Looks like the video been taken down from YouTube – another symptom of how prejudice continues and thrives when tolerance is no longer considered a freedom we’re safe to express in any manner for fear of whatever stripe…
    I don’t want to get started on gun laws in the US, especially as it seems that freedom of speech is of far less value when people want to challenge or ask for change in ‘essential’ constitutional rights. What price life & liberty? Obviously it’s much more important to be able to afford a gun licence and bear arms!
    Absolutely repugnant and vile in every sense 😦

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      I’m sorry the video was taken down. Perhaps it’s my link; I’ll take a look at it again. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it had been taken down. It was powerful, and if you get a chance to look at it, I’d recommend it.
      I often don’t feel as if it’s my place to comment on the US and its stance on guns, but as a human being in the wake of an attack like this one, I will say this: I think the US’ stance on gun ownership is terrifying, short-sighted, stupid, selfish and utterly immoral. It makes no sense to me, because I haven’t grown up in or lived in America, and my viewpoint hasn’t been shaped by its history. But I do have to wonder why people are so unable to see any viewpoint but their own, to the point that they trample over others’ rights to life and peace simply in order to observe a Constitutional amendment that, no doubt, was *not* intended to be used the way it’s being used in America today. The level of delusion and excuse-making and rationalisation and deflection of blame is staggering. I can only hope it changes, someday.


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