A Moment of Silence for Boston

We can thwart the terrorists by shutting off our screens.

David Sirota

Removing ourselves from catastrophe's maddening din can remind us of what it is to be alive—and perhaps better, help us remember those we have lost. (Nicholas A. Tonelli / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons)

Can you hear your­self think? Can you man­age more than bursts of con­fu­sion and anger? Can you feel your own human­i­ty any­more? I’ll admit it — I’ve had trou­ble this week, too. After an explo­sion like the one in Boston, it is indeed hard to hear one’s own inter­nal mono­logue, much less med­i­tate on such hor­rif­ic events. Pol­lut­ing that sacred qui­et of the mind is both the haunt­ing boom of the bombs them­selves and even worse, the noisy coda that we’ve become so accus­tomed to.

With the attack occurring on the day our taxes are due, they should remind a tax-hostile country of the value of public investment—in this case, in first responders who miraculously limited the casualties. They should also generate a sense of sympathy for those in places like Iraq and Syria who face terrorism-related carnage every day.

Sen­so­ry over­load, of course, is the deaf­en­ing effect of the Cat­a­stro­phe After­math — one of the last uni­fy­ing and con­sis­tent rit­u­als in our atom­ized nation. Yes, regard­less of whether the tragedy is a school shoot­ing or a ter­ror­ist attack, the epi­logues of these now-con­stant mass casu­al­ty events have become prepack­aged pro­duc­tions that seem less like real­i­ty than script­ed tele­vi­sion dramas.

You know how it goes. Cable out­lets blare break­ing news chy­rons. Twit­ter explodes with dec­la­ra­tions that we are all from (insert city name) today.” Web­sites post videos of vis­cera and oth­er dis­as­ter porn. Pun­dits wild­ly spec­u­late about per­pe­tra­tors. The pres­i­dent promis­es jus­tice. Law enforce­ment press con­fer­ences review body counts. Munic­i­pal offi­cials insist the com­mu­ni­ty will stand unit­ed.” Funer­als com­mence. A media icon says some­thing out­ra­geous. Oth­er media car­ni­val bark­ers then react to the bom­bast. Ulti­mate­ly, the whole episode becomes anoth­er excuse to lim­it civ­il lib­er­ties and is for­got­ten by all but those per­son­al­ly affected.

In sub­mit­ting to this auto­mat­ed for­mu­la, a screen-addict­ed nation has cre­at­ed a dis­tract­ing defense mech­a­nism — one that fur­ther dehu­man­izes events, which are already, by def­i­n­i­tion, an assault on our human­i­ty. In the process, we make it more dif­fi­cult to muster the soul’s abil­i­ty — and, per­haps, desire — for gen­uine reflection.

At this point in a col­umn pub­lished dur­ing the offi­cial Cat­a­stro­phe After­math, a writer is sup­posed to author­i­ta­tive­ly offer solu­tions. But I have none. And you know what? That’s OK because it is entire­ly human to lack answers right now. All I can offer up are thoughts that should­n’t be drowned out by the noise.

One is about con­text. The images from Boston are not mere­ly of may­hem and hero­ism. With the attack occur­ring on the day our tax­es are due, they should remind a tax-hos­tile coun­try of the val­ue of pub­lic invest­ment — in this case, in first respon­ders who mirac­u­lous­ly lim­it­ed the casu­al­ties. They should also gen­er­ate a sense of sym­pa­thy for those in places like Iraq and Syr­ia who face ter­ror­ism-relat­ed car­nage every day.

Anoth­er thought is about fear. At one lev­el, it is appro­pri­ate. With our coun­try’s wars increas­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of ret­ribu­tive blow­back, with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty rec­og­niz­ing the threat of domes­tic anti-gov­ern­ment ter­ror­ism, and with a heav­i­ly armed soci­ety not address­ing its men­tal health cri­sis, we should (unfor­tu­nate­ly) expect peri­od­ic mas­sacres. But at anoth­er lev­el, fear should­n’t con­sume us — after all, ter­ror­ism is still on the decline worldwide.

Still anoth­er thought is about peo­ple. The Boston bomber reminds us of the cliché that peo­ple suck. But the many who ran toward the blast to save lives remind us that most peo­ple do not suck.

One final thought: I arrived at these not-so-pro­found rev­e­la­tions only when I shut off the screen and opt­ed for intro­spec­tion instead of the false com­fort of flash­ing pix­els. I did this because, as secu­ri­ty expert Bruce Schneier, sug­gests, ter­ror­ism is a crime against the mind” — and there­fore one way to com­bat it is to immerse the mind in a bit of silence. Doing so denies the ter­ror­ists their desired glo­ry, allows for the con­sid­er­a­tion of unan­swer­able ques­tions and, thus, lets one remem­ber what it means to be tru­ly alive.

That may be the best — if not the only — way to hon­or the dead and find mean­ing in such a sense­less atrocity.

David Siro­ta is an award­win­ning inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and an In These Times senior edi­tor. He served as speech writer for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 cam­paign. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @davidsirota.
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