Saturday, April 20, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: On the relative power of losers

15 minutes are up
Well, folks, I can't write about anything else, seemingly. Even the weather conspired to drown as much baseball as possible today, the NBA hasn't started the playoffs, and the NFL actually had its schedule announced this week to a relative lack of analysis. We've just ended the week where two losers ended the national discourse for, well, everything else. A fertilizer plant exploded in Texas and all meaningful gun reform died, North Korea might still have nukes, and the world more or less stopped because, allegedly, two twinkies decided to set bombs to maim at the end of a well-attended road race.

I'd like to point out here, and elaborate upon, Patton Oswalt's point from earlier this week as to how these situations show how good outnumbers evil, and that now is not the time for despair, but reassurance. He's right, of course, but the more stunning thing is how little it took, really, to set all of this in motion. Two diseased men, no real expertise, no overarching organization or criminal mastermind or guy with mad science. They weren't even all that bright, or wealthy, or competent. Hell, they didn't even make the cops struggle by leaving the area, or finding some remote area for their Suicide By Cop. (Yes, yes, the second one was taken alive, and good for that.) This wasn't 40 guys with box cutters, ideology and flight training; this was a couple of bozos who did unfathomable amounts of damage despite themselves.

When I grew up, I'd watch crap TV where villains with super powers concocted elaborate schemes to greatly impact the world, and such schemes were always foiled. Little did I think that in the real world, such schemes would pay off, and the bad guys would look like no more than flunkies.

Never in the course of human history has the power of the individual been greater, and never in the course of human history has it been easier for people with wildly opposed political and religious beliefs to get enraged by the other. The Internet and technology, in moments like this, feel like power tools left in a crib; I do not know if we really should be trusted with them, and wonder, on some dark level, if all of the good that's been done from these things are just part of a greater Faustian bargain. At least when Oppenheimer and crew unlocked the power of the atom, it was hard and secret and required rare ingredients. The Boston clowns used kitchen supplies.

So our only hope, at a time of increasing secularization (which means you can't just threaten people with hellfire to get them to behave) and easy cultural frictions, is to be nicer to each other while also being more wary. To exercise our freedoms with eyes open, rather than dancing in the sunshine like carefree children. To endure long-run episodes of fear and more fear, trapped in our homes like hostages, while applauding the public servants who have to go clean up the mess.

It's not the world that most of us grew up in, or the world that any of us dreamed of. But there's no other world to live in, and it won't get better by hiding from it.


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