Thursday, August 17, 2006


"Do you suffer what a French paleontologist called 'the distress that makes human wills founder daily under the crushing number of living things and stars'? For the world is as glorious as ever, and exalting, but for credibility's sake let's start with the bad news."
—Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

Just as I have never lived without the spectre of The Bomb, the child will never live without the spectre of The Terror. That hit close to home this morning, literally and figuratively, when someone attempted to bomb the Puyallup Municipal Courthouse. This building is in an area that the child and I frequent on our walks and wanderings. Two pipe bombs were thrown in through windows, but neither bomb detonated as expected. The Puyallup Police and Puyallup Fire are within blocks of the building so their response was quick. The bombs were also tossed into the courthouse close to midnight so there was little chance passersby being harmed. Still, the idea is unsettling, but it won't diminish my wanderings in the area. If anything, it has strengthened my resolve to be there as a way of defiance in the face of idiocy. Furthermore, as one with some anti-authoritarian tendencies, let it be known that I thank the police officers and firefighters who potentially risked their lives on the behalf of the citizenry of Puyallup.

Now to the meat of the problem... It seems that our nation has lost its mind again. Yes, a plot to detonate bombs on jetliners en route from London to the United States was stopped. Yes, security measures need to be tightened. Yes, we need to halt the activity of terrorists. But, no water bottles on domestic flights? No books on transatlantic flights between the United States and Britain? If there is a will then there is a way. It is only a matter of time before a new technology replaces the current methods of terrorism, be it liquids or gels or organic microbombs surgically concealed in the bodies of terrorists. Sin will have its say. We really are vile creatures in many aspects.

There are three slim volumes that were published shortly after the attacks of 9/11 that I have recently returned to in the wake of the London air scare, and are all the more personally relevant with the Puyallup scare. All three are published by Verso Books and complement one another. I recommend that you take the time to read all three of them, and do so in the order that it appears that Verso recommends them read: (1) The Spirit of Terrorism by Jean Baudrillard; (2) Ground Zero by Paul Virilio; and (3) Welcome to the Desert of the Real by Slavoj Žižek. Each book ponders the world that we, the Western world—and more specifically, the United States—have created, and why there are people that would want to attack that world.

Part of Žižek's argument is that we have helped to create the event [of violence] by dreaming it in advance. He has a point. Look at the summer blockbuster movies. They are filled with violence and death and destruction that mirrors the "real" world, and, in turn, is mirrored by the "real" world. The technology of these movies also helps to echo the use of same and similar technological advances in killing. Advances in optics, computers, digital tracking—just to name a few—have benefited both the Pentagon and Hollywood. We can dream things, do things, see things that we were not capable of even ten years ago. So, why do we dream of death? As Žižek himself states: "This is what psychoanalysis is about: to explain why in the midst of well-being, we are haunted by nightmarish visions of catastrophe" (Žižek 2002, 17). This is by no means the only question that Žižek is trying to pose, or answer, but it is really at the core of his questioning.

Virilio also attempts to understand the dream we have created and from which we cannot seem to awake. Perhaps the terrorists are trying to wake us up, but to what end? Virilio writes: "The tragic events in New York in September 2001 showed us the alarming situation of an overpowerful state suddenly brought up short against its own consciousness—or, rather, against its techno-scientific unconsciousness: in other words, against the Gnosticist faith on which it is founded" (Virilio 2002, 65). Lest you think it is only those on the left who think this way, you also need to read American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist who has not given up his conservative views, but has become disillusioned with the current Washington, DC regime and mindset. He argues, in the same spirit as Virilio, against the illusion we have created, as the true dream shakes, quivers, and threatens disillusion and disappearance. The Gnosticist faith that Virilio challenges is also the fundamentalist Christianity that Phillips challenges. Both are sure of their own righteousness, are sure of the sin of the rest of humanity, and are willing to escape what they view as the filth of this world. Which means that neither has to be concerned with the here-and-now world and all its attendant problems. Ultimately, who cares if the world goes up in nuclear flames or collapses at the hand of terrorists? The gnosticist gets to "move up" to the next level, the world of spirit; the fundamentalist gets whisked away by Jesus and taken to the realm of heaven. If only it were so simple. I, for one, do care what happens to the world. I just need to be more proactive in my concern.

Baudrillard also takes on the dream we have created—as well as the "real" world, which he sees as another illusion—something consistent in all of his work (and something that I don't quite entirely grasp, but I'm working on it). Like Virilio and Žižek, he also attempts to ask and answer questions about what motivates the terrorist by examining not only the terrorist but his or her target. Baudrillard states: "The terrorist hypothesis is that the system itself will commit suicide in response to the multiple challenges posed by deaths and suicides" (Baudrillard 2002, 17). Baudrillard is not alone in his thought, either. Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon explores the same line of thought in his book The Astonished Heart. He writes about the "angels" that guard institutions, and their role in protecting their assigned institution at all costs: "Only two things can destroy a corporate persona: revolution from the inside or catastrophe from the outside. You can't reform an angel; violence is the only solution" (Capon 1996, 80).

I am not sure that I completely agree with Capon, however. If violence includes sudden and drastic change then I can accept that violence is the only solution, and I do believe that he is speaking of more than physical violence. But, I am not sure that the "terrorist hypothesis" that Baudrillard examines is always going to be effective. In fact, I think that the opposite is more likely: it builds its own resistance.

I think that some of the resistance built is healthy. It is like an immune response to invasion of a virus. The next time the virus attacks, the body is more prepared to fight, and to know how to fight. We just need to hope that the resistance itself doesn't become cancerous and destroy the very thing that it is trying to save—the body. I am worried that the response of our nation is becoming cancerous; our own response may kill us before the terrorists do.

I do not pretend to have answers to the violence and terror and chaos and turmoil that swirls about us, partly because I do not understand it, partly because I cannot understand it. Like the authors listed above—Baudrillard, Virilio, Žižek, Phillips, and Capon—I am merely trying to make sense of the mess in which we find ourselves. I wish that I had answers for my own mental well-being. I wish I had answers for the child when she begins to ask some of the same questions that I ask.

I wish the violence would end and that we could all awake from the terror dreams. Until then, may your sleep, and mine, be relatively calm.

Peroni Nastro Azzuro by Birra Peroni Brewing Company
This is a great Italian lager, one of my favorites. Last night, it was the highlight of my meal. That is because we had a gift certificate to Olive Garden we needed to use. My meal of chicken giardino wasn't terrible, but it was mediocre. It was Olive Garden, after all.

Guinness Draught by St. James Gate Brewery
Tonight, was an old favorite. The wife made a chicken dish that was somewhat similar to what I had last night at Olive Garden. However, tonight's meal far outshined that of last night. Why wouldn't it? The wife is a good cook.

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