Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Against an excess of positivity

Dear Hannah,

There's nothing more obvious than that Westerners are obsessed with serial killers, but there are many things more disturbing.  We all know why people watch deranged people doing deranged things, and it has something to do with our being a little deranged ourselves.  It also has lots to do with our being very safe.  Few of us can be terrified by aliens and ghosts after childhood, and wars and riots are beyond the general experience; but serial killers are real, and they strike unsuspecting people in unsuspected places.  An obsession with serial killers flows from public innocence; not our licentiousness.  The stories about the kidnapped middle-class bombshell reflect our fear of everything going wrong in the middle of its rightness.  The stories may pollute our souls, but only because the most of us are busy doing every thing but raping people and killing serially.

What we have to worry about isn't that people are sharing stories of people murdering people, but that people are sharing videos of people helping other people.  And the reason is very simple.  Anyone who's bored enough to watch serial killers may be accused* of indolence and tastelessness, but he expresses a craving for action; and it's an action that most usually results in justice.  In the end he may only be a hero in hibernation, looking for the shock of sin and the ecstasy of retribution.  But the person who craves positivity is starving for the little Christian kindnesses that everybody needs but many of us are missing.  The solution to our missing goodness isn't to share stories about other people being kind; it's to be kind to other people ourselves.  If we find ourselves watching horrible things, it may only be because we've never had a chance to stop them.  If we find ourselves watching only beautiful acts, it may only be because we've never had the decency to do them.

For a parallel reason, I've never agreed with people who stop watching the news because it makes them angry.  The whole point of watching the news is to make you angry.  And the reason the news is supposed to make you angry is because you want to learn about the horrible things that happen to other people so that you can keep them from happening to you and your family.

Those of us who pretend that we'll be happy by not hearing unhappy things will be unhappy by experiencing unhappy things.  Our ability to feel the sufferings of others on an emotional level keeps us from feeling the sufferings of others on a physical level.  The man who wants emotional security will never have physical security.  In the world of news, the man who shuns what's bad will only get what's worse.

The news may be negative -- and may it always continue to be predominantly negative.  May our manliest men always walk around with grudges to settle and good causes to war about.  May they be wary of crooks and zealots, fearful of politicians and wild-eyed utopians, aware of ulterior motives and suspicious of snake-oil salesmen.  May they fear that everything good can be lost and everything bad can prevail -- because many great people have lost everything, and lots of villains have been responsible for taking it.

The men who complain about a politics of fear are the same men who give you a reason to fear politics.  Life -- real life -- is a constant struggle against the possibility of suffering and an imminent death.  Whoever says otherwise is swindling either you or himself.  Never fear the news when the news is always fearful.  Always fear the news when the news is always cheerful.  

Your father,

*And I stress, accused.  I know plenty of wonderful people who watch too many murder mysteries, your mother included.

1 comment:

  1. As usual, dead on. My wife also watches and reads murder mysteries. I think part to try to guess the killer first but also because we LOVE seeing the good guys win. I watch little TV but what I do watch has good people who sometimes slip but ultimately triumph. NCIS and Blue Bloods have heroes who have seen the ugly and fight to defeat it.

    Keep telling her the truth and teach her how to fail. Its the best way to learn how to succeed!