In politics and in war, there is a term describing consequences of actions that even at the outset were known to be problematic but at the time were deemed necessary, this is called “blowback.” Often these consequences take a violent form and almost invariably they foment the very kind of difficulty that the original action was attempting to stop. Stopping the Soviets in Afghanistan by arming and training the very rebels that moved on to attack us on 9/11 is only the most recent glaring example of American hubris though the invasion of Iraq and the continued violence there also springs to mind. Most recently however is the bombing of Gaza by Israel, in which the idea is promoted that massive devastation of an already impoverished people will actually encourage them to thrown off the “shackles” of Hamas and halt random rocket attacks. The repercussions will continue long past the final missile launch, long past the death of yet another child or mother, long past the posting of screaming tear-streaked faces. The complexities of geopolitics do not get solved by missiles and bombs, but by the changing of minds and souls and only that through a thorough understanding of just what is happening at levels of psychology often ignored or completely unacknowledged.
I recently sat and watched “The American,” the story of an assassin and gun-smith who wrestles with the fact of his monumental skill at delivering death and his fervent desire to have something, anything, in his life that is a positive or life-giving. The character, played with achingly amazing skill by George Clooney, can be taken as a commentary on the American foreign policy. As a country we are simply bar-none incredible at destroying things. I’ve heard it said that “if you must, absolutely must, have something blown up by the morning, send in the Marines.” From movies and social media creating a cult of the soldier, to a politics that eschews compromise of nearly any sort, we are a nation at love with our talent at ending things. And yet, like Clooney’s character, we stretch out at nearly anything that will give us a taste of life, however it may look. We hold on to religious ideologies of which have long since been trampled by the progress of science, denying the realities of global warming, evolution and an Earth that is far older than the mind can easily grasp, running for the shelves of self-help books, mindlessly enraptured by Oprah and the latest of her never-ending stream of quick fixes and turning to the most egregious of mystic platitudes based on flimsy evidence and pulling at the strings of our automatic, pre-rational impulses.
Now, before I get met with concern over this being a hyped-up criticism piece caught in its own morose spiral of horror-induced over-criticality, my result of all this is one of hope, not despair. “To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime.” (Erich Fromm) While the groping for something meaningful takes many absurd turns, that we still yearn for it says much about the strength of our species. We lament the atrocities in the world, but in the same breath we seek to find something to encourage hope.
Whatever may be said of the blowback associated with geo-political violence, and there’s plenty that has been and should be pointed out, the human condition is never completely held within only one frame. With every bomb dropped there are those calling for peace, with every death unnecessarily caused by fear there are more and more people disgusted with what we are doing to each other and willing to call for something different. The American nation may be at times ridiculously blind to the intricacies of the world in which it blunders around in, but the consequences of this ocular degeneracy are being felt by greater numbers and in starker ways. Whenever the world seems dark and hope but a lost dream, there is light to be found in every voice raised for peace and negotiation, rational analysis and responsible action.
We are not a nation with only one story, any more than we are a species with only one talent. “Just as love is an orientation which refers to all objects and is incompatible with the restriction to one object, so is reason a human faculty which must embrace the whole of the world with which man is confronted.” (Erich Fromm) We are more than any individual referential frame, more than any single story and together we are more than any single movement. The bombs will stop when we learn to embody this truth.
© David Teachout