From Sandy Hook to Boston: America's love affair with Extremism must come to an end.

    Stories. They've been around for a long time, and sometimes they help us figure out trends and events that seem mysterious.

    In the days after Sandy Hook, I thought a lot about the story of the Pied Piper, in which citizens thought they had found a permanent solution to their rat problem, only to discover that the price of that solution was...their kids. (Uh-oh, it turns out that preparing our children for some sort of theoretical disaster by teaching them to ride and shoot and hate America might have its drawbacks.)

    Now, thinking of two 19-year olds (so impossibly, foolishly young) whose lives have been effectively sacrificed on twin altars of extreme thinking, I keep coming around to the last scene of Romeo and Juliet, with the two kids  from families who had a lot in common but chose to hate each other, laid out on funeral biers and the prince (a dull guy but you know, he was right) trying to connect the dots for them.

    And this, I think, represents the conversation we now need to have in America. Adam Lanza and Dzokhar Tsarnaev represent two sides of the same useless coin. It's gone on long enough. The group of voters that we refer to as "the right," whether they're religious fundamentalists or libertarian preppers, need to understand that they need to get out of the business of being anybody's hero or anyone's villain. And we need to get people from other countries out of the business of hating America.

    This can only be done by taking a closer look at our history and priorities. The idea that "America" represents extreme anything needs to go away. "America" is successful only because it's a place so middle-of-the-road that people can have good, boring, successful lives. Not extreme ones.

    For those of us who use the bible, I think a useful passage is the "hope, faith and love" lesson from the Apostle Paul, which talks about immature people seeing through a glass darkly and adults seeing things in the light of day. People interpret that passage to mean that eventually, there will be some kind of big revelation and then, well, something.

    But right now I'm seeing it differently. Doesn't it make more sense that in the light of day, we'd notice that the lawn needs to get mowed and our kids aren't eating enough vegetables????? There is a kind of romance to extremist thinking, but I don't think that's what's great about America. So in the hope/faith/love triumvirate, hope has an ugly step sibling in the form of extreme ambition, loosely represented by the thinking of Ayn Rand and the Libertarians. Faith--well, we all know how effectively religious feeling can be transformed into something terrible. As the Apostle points out, love is what we're going to need to go with here.

    Welcome to Amiddleka, land of the pretty much free and more or less brave, and by golly, we'll fight for that--but only if we have to.


    Obviously this little treatise is not fleshed out and is riddled with cliche. But overall, what do Dagbloggers think about the idea that these two events provide the opportunity for a grand re-think of our ideological conversation?


    I think it's safe to say I believe there is a need a for a grand re-think of our ideological conversation, or more specifically a grand re-think about how we think about ideologies. The two events to which you refer, taken together, can provide enough fodder for this. 

    But as I wrote about in There is no Evil, confronting these less-than-pleasant examples of the potential expressions of human nature means confronting something about ourselves we might not want to see.

    The forces that pull us from the center toward the (radical) extremes never cease.  It isn't about getting the middle and then riding out the rest of our remaining time in safety and comfort.  

    And there are times when being vanilla isn't what is called for.  How does one respond when the Brown Shirts come knocking on the door?  How does one respond to any kind of (perceived) oppression, state-sponsored or not?


    Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker (mainly an art culture critic & essayist) is thinking along similar lines as you, Trope and Maiello, but takes it in a different direction:

    [....] The toxic combination of round-the-clock cable television—does anyone now recall the killer of Gianni Versace, who claimed exactly the same kind of attention then as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did today?—and an already exaggerated sense of the risk of terrorism turned a horrible story of maiming and death and cruelty into a national epic of fear. What terrorists want is to terrify people; Americans always oblige.

    Experts tell us the meaning of what they haven’t seen; poets and novelists tell us the meaning of what they haven’t seen, either, but have somehow managed to fully imagine. Maybe the literature of terrorism, from Conrad to Updike (and let us not forget Tolstoy, fascinated by the Chechens), can now throw a little light on how apparently likable kids become cold-hearted killers. Acts of imagination are different from acts of projection: one kind terrifies; the other clarifies.

    This is an interesting article which brings up a host of threads. 

    One comment resonates as being very succinct in its insight:

    And we already had a glimpse of how this might be a tragedy of assimilation and its discontents.

    Although I would say that the process of assimilation is something to consider regardless of whether one is physically shifting from one geographical region or not.


    But all of our experience suggests that it is not “fundamentalism” alone but an aching tension between modernity and a false picture of a purer fundamentalist past that makes terrorists

    Although I would say that claiming all of our experience suggests  this is being a little extreme, or should I say radical ;).

    His claim, however, [emphasis mine] brings up a problem in addressing stories that capture "national" attention:

    The decision to shut down Boston, though doubtless made in good faith and from honest anxiety, seemed like an undue surrender to the power of the terrorist act—as did, indeed, the readiness to turn over the entire attention of the nation to a violent, scary, tragic, lurid but, in the larger scheme of things, ultimately small threat to the public peace.

    In the way it is worded, it would seem to say that attention of the entity known as the nation is dictated as if it were an a singular, autonomous entity.  If the entire (or close to 98% of the) attention of the entire (or close to 98% of the) nation was turned toward it, it was because the story resonated and captured the imagination of a vast number of  those individuals who make up that nation.

    The readiness, if is true to say it existed, was an outcome of many different and diverse experiences for many different and diverse individuals.  Sometimes when a large group of people act in a similar fashion, it is easy to think that it is done in an unthinking, sheep-like fashion.  Mob mentality and all that.

    While the actual threat in terms of the general problem of terrorism may be small (or not), the dynamics of this story may illustrate other issues and problems that are not small.

    One thing your comments reminded me of is how surprised I was during following the story early on that there was immediate headline coverage at many international sources you would not expect, like Al Jazeera, a Serbian news source, and, pushing other major news off their home pages.

    Since then, I have seen more than one commentator ruminate along the lines of "if it happens in America, it's more striking than in say, Iraq, because if America can't offer a secure daily life, who can?"

    BUT--and this is coming from someone who knows the syndrome well, being quite phobic of competitive sports--that's forgetting this happened to be an attack on a major international marathon! One of the most famous international marathons! To many around the world who are into this sort of cultural exchange as providing benefits along the lines of "can't we all get along?", initially this looked like an attack on international goodwill! So the massive attention wasn't really just about America uber alles.

    The moment of silence at the London Marathon on Sunday:

    from  New York Times' "Festive and Defiant, London Runs a Marathon for Boston" by John F. Burns

    From what I have seen, track and field is huge in Europe. It is likely that there were more Europeans watching live than Americans.

    yeah, they even make wildly popular movies about it where like one guy runs for the glory of God and another guy runs to overcome prejudice wink

    More grist for the arugment that this story is an international phenomenon, not Amerocentric:

    Source: Juan Cole

    Hmm, in the sense that this is the message we were supposed to figure out after Sept 11 but didn't, because, Iraq?

    Extreme thinking by whom? I'm interested in people's take on the Moms of these 19 year olds.

    Nancy stockpiled guns and ammo in her million dollar house. She was the first victim.

    There are also reports the bomber's Mom aided in their Islamic radicalization.

    Were they both 'controlling' Moms?

    The position of Mom is so important that it's almost impossible not to be controlling.....

    I was thinking more of extreme thinking within the larger community--but you could certainly figure that having oddball, paranoid moms who didn't make great decisions did not do these boys any favors.

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