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Tue Dec 18, 2012, 12:47 PM

A Raid on the Unspeakable

Last edited Tue Dec 18, 2012, 02:21 PM - Edit history (1)

“One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. I do not doubt it all, and that is precisely why I find it disturbing.

“If all the Nazis had been psychotics, as some of their leaders probably were, their appalling cruelty would have been in some sense easier to understand. It is much worse to consider this calm, "well-balanced," unperturbed official conscientiously going about his desk work, his administrative job which happened to be the supervision of mass murder. He was thoughtful, orderly, unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system, for law and order. He was obedient, loyal, a faithful officer of a great state. He served his government very well. He was not bothered much by guilt. I have not heard that he developed any psychosomatic illnesses. Apparently he slept well. He had a good appetite ….

“Torture is nothing new, is it? We ought to be able to rationalize a little brainwashing, and genocide, and find a place for nuclear war, or at least for napalm bombs, in our moral theology. Certainly some of us are doing our best along those lines already. There are hopes! Even Christians can shake off their sentimental prejudices about charity, and become sane like Eichmann. They can even cling to a certain set of Christian formulas, and fit them into a Totalist Ideology. Let them talk about justice, charity, love, and the rest. These words have not stopped some sane men from acting very sanely and cleverly in the past.... No, Eichmann was sane. The generals and fighters on both sides, in World War II, the ones who carried out the total destruction of entire cities, these were the sane ones. Those who have invented and developed atomic bombs, thermonuclear bombs, missiles; who have planned the strategy of the next war; who have evaluated the various possibilities of using bacterial and chemical agents: these are not the crazy people, they are the sane people. The ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can he considered expendable in a nuclear war, I presume they do all right with the Rorschach ink blots too. On the other hand, you will probably find that the pacifists and the ban-the-bomb people are, quite seriously, just as we read in Time, a little crazy. I am beginning to realize that ‘sanity’ is no longer a value or an end in itself. The ‘sanity’ of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur. If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival. But if he is sane, too sane ... perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally ‘sane.’”
-- Thomas Merton; Raids on the Unspeakable


The brutal mass-murder of 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adult females last Friday was a stark example of what Merton called the “Unspeakable.” In recent years, a former student of Merton, James W. Douglas, has authored books on President John F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi’s experiences in challenging the Unspeakable. I have found myself reading from these and three other related books, trying to make sense of this terrible incident.

Merton’s definition of the Unspeakable includes: “One of the awful facts of our age is the evidence that (the world) stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable. It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of politics and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss. It is the void out of which Eichmann drew the punctilious exactitude of his obedience.”

Douglass’s first book, on JFK, notes that President Kennedy would reach the higher level of consciousness required to recognize the Unspeakable, during the Cuban Missile Crises. The haunting thought of millions of little school children potentially being killed in a nuclear war fueled the rapid change in his level of understanding. Douglas provides amazingly detailed documentation of how, as the result of the missile crises, Kennedy evolved from a “hawk” (though a relatively thoughtful, careful one) to a Peace Maker.

Gandhi’s journey was one in which after years of meditation and prayer, along with his non-violent revolutionary struggle, he reached enlightenment. It’s fair to say that to have a true manner to measure a man or woman, you must have a basic understanding of their level of understanding. This is true not only of a President Kennedy or a Gandhi: we can see evidence of this phenomenon right here, on the many threads about the school shootings.

********* ********** ********** ********** **********

We all view “the world -- and hence, this violent tragedy -- through our own prism; it is a lens that develops by both our life’s experiences, and equally importantly, our interpretation of them. It was heartbreaking, for example, to watch an itty-bitty boy being asked by a reporter about what he was thinking during the tense minutes inside the school? The child was silent for a moment, then said, “Whoa!” This makes an important point -- that identifying a person’s level of understanding is not a value judgment. Indeed, that boy’s brief statement was as profound as any reporting done by any journalist.

Thus, the many different ideas and opinions found on this forum, each attempting to identify the root cause -- or what is to blame -- for the school killings. Too many guns. Not enough people packing iron. Violent video games. Mental illness. In the media, we see others: Hollywood. Taking prayer out of school. And on and on, with each one expressing the person’s understanding, and coming through their individual prism.

The third book is Erich Fromm’s “The Sane Society.” Although it was published in 1955, I think that it can not only be applied to today’s world, but is actually more important now than it was at any time in the past half-century. Fromm details how conditions in the post-WW2 industrial society was resulting in increasing levels of social dysfunction: addiction, depression, anomie, and violence ranging from suicide to murder.

Next is Fromm’s “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.” This 1973 classic examines the personality traits which are related to cruelty and extreme violence. While there are descriptions from the past, for example, of psychopaths/sociopaths in pre-industrial revolution times, both the frequency and the technological advances that allow for larger violent outbursts in today’s culture are part of the Unspeakable.

The other book is James Carroll’s 2006, “House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power.” The author provides a fascinating history of how good and sincere men entered the Pentagon with a goal of making it a more efficient machine for advancing democracy around the globe. (Obviously, not all of those who entered were good or sincere.) Without exception, those good people found their plans frustrated. Not only was the Pentagon an entity, but it exerted control over these people’s thinking.

********** ********** ********** **********

When I saw President Obama speak last night, I found myself thinking that he recognized the brutal killings -- especially of the little children (although each adult certainly used to be such children) -- as the Unspeakable. I am aware of the very real possibility that this is just me, seeing events through my prism. But his words, and their delivery, were different than at other times.

Perhaps he, too, has grown in office, and like President Kennedy, has learned from the enormity of understanding the reality of life-versus-death for children. This is not an intellectual ability: both Barack Obama and John Kennedy were intellectually gifted men long before really confronting the Unspeakable. (Likewise, Robert Kennedy’s journey from 1963 to ‘68 was not intellectual; more, his came as a direct result from his late brother’s.)

President Obama is 100% correct that no one law can solve the problems that create the type of violent crime suffered last week. He is correct in saying that this does not excuse us from trying our best. That must include evaluating, and changing, some gun laws. It will mean expanding the health care system to include affordable, available mental health services. And that requires the recognition that people with mental illness live a legitimate life experiences, worthy of respect and dignity. A society that treats human beings with mental illnesses cruelly is morally ill.

A society that puts “tea party activists” carrying dangerous weapons at political events on television, and gives coverage to people who question Obama’s birth certificate, and reports on hate-mongers wanting to separate from the United States because a brown-skinned man is president, suffers from as high a level of paranoia as does any sick individual. It can comes as no surprise, really, when this cocktail of hatred and paranoia results in violence.

A community that cares for all of its children will not sit by when children in the next town suffer. President Obama must recognize that, just as we love our children, people in other nations around the globe love their children, as much as we love ours. And so we must change our approach to foreign policy, especially to conflict resolution.

I’ve read where people dismiss the idea that American foreign policy has any connection to a domestic incident such as this. Those of us who lived through the 1960s know better. We remember four little girls dying when hateful, paranoid people dynamited their church. We remember that Martin Luther King, Jr., became the greatest American prophet when he connected civil rights and Vietnam -- something that Malcolm X had done before King.

There are numerous examples of “common folks” who have recognized and struggled against the Unspeakable. Like the more famous ones, they see -- and understand -- the connections between all of the various individual factors that most of us view through our limited prisms. And they all say the same thing: the change we need will not be delivered by a leader, or a law, or any other single thing. The change we need is found in all of us doing our part, to the best of our ability. And the best of our ability requires that we rise above hatred and fear.

Peace,
H2O Man

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Arrow 42 replies Author Time Post
Reply A Raid on the Unspeakable (Original post)
H2O Man Dec 2012 OP
tk2kewl Dec 2012 #1
H2O Man Dec 2012 #2
spanone Dec 2012 #3
H2O Man Dec 2012 #5
OneGrassRoot Dec 2012 #4
H2O Man Dec 2012 #6
Solly Mack Dec 2012 #7
H2O Man Dec 2012 #10
Cleita Dec 2012 #8
H2O Man Dec 2012 #11
Fumesucker Dec 2012 #21
H2O Man Dec 2012 #24
Lifelong Protester Dec 2012 #9
H2O Man Dec 2012 #12
leftyladyfrommo Dec 2012 #32
DreamGypsy Dec 2012 #13
H2O Man Dec 2012 #15
malaise Dec 2012 #14
H2O Man Dec 2012 #16
Voice for Peace Dec 2012 #17
H2O Man Dec 2012 #20
zeemike Dec 2012 #18
H2O Man Dec 2012 #22
Voice for Peace Dec 2012 #27
mainstreetonce Dec 2012 #19
H2O Man Dec 2012 #23
ReRe Dec 2012 #25
H2O Man Dec 2012 #26
MissMarple Dec 2012 #28
H2O Man Dec 2012 #38
Octafish Dec 2012 #29
H2O Man Dec 2012 #39
Me. Dec 2012 #30
H2O Man Dec 2012 #40
Me. Dec 2012 #42
Hekate Dec 2012 #31
H2O Man Dec 2012 #41
LongTomH Dec 2012 #33
voteearlyvoteoften Dec 2012 #34
coeur_de_lion Dec 2012 #36
coeur_de_lion Dec 2012 #35
TreasonousBastard Dec 2012 #37

Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:03 PM

1. I hope you are right about the President

and I hope he begins the same kind of transformative journey JFK did in efforts to achieve peace and change how the U.S. engages the world. I hope he earns his peace prize and lives a long life where he can continue that work after leaving office.

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Response to tk2kewl (Reply #1)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:06 PM

2. Right.

I'm confident that President Obama will remain a significant and influential citizen when he leaves office. And I am convinced that he could do great things.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:07 PM

3. k&r...

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Response to spanone (Reply #3)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:10 PM

5. Thanks!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:10 PM

4. Thank you, H2O Man...

Eloquent, as always, and much appreciated.



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Response to OneGrassRoot (Reply #4)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:11 PM

6. Thank you.

Especially for the picture/quote! I love it.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:14 PM

7. K&R

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Response to Solly Mack (Reply #7)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:47 PM

10. Thanks!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:15 PM

8. In recent history another person who fits this profile is our former

SOS Condeleeza Rice. She seemed perfectly capable of compartmentalizing her life between approving wars of invasion, playing the piano and shopping for shoes when thousands of people were drowning during hurricane Katrina. Yet, it seems she is perfectly sane. I couldn't say the same for Bush or Cheney who definitely seem to have some kind of screws loose.

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Response to Cleita (Reply #8)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:51 PM

11. For a brief moment,

I wondered if you were going to say that Condi Rice opposed the Unspeakable. Yikes! I checked, because I thought "there's no way Friend Cleita is gonna praise Rice." Then I saw that you correctly placed her in the group of sane participants.

Thanks!

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Response to Cleita (Reply #8)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 03:44 PM

21. Not to mention Madeline Albright

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Response to Fumesucker (Reply #21)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 04:25 PM

24. Robert McNamara.

There is a huge list.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:27 PM

9. Thank you for this post

I appreciated reading about this concept, and hope to find these books to seek out a better understanding.

As a kid who hid in a bomb shelter during part of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I relate to President Kennedy's changing attitudes. I remember that time vividly.

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Response to Lifelong Protester (Reply #9)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 01:54 PM

12. In school, we had

two drills: one where we hid under our desks, and one where we lined up in the hallway. As if either would have provided meaningful protection.

At home, we didn't have a bomb shelter. Our house was built into the side of a mountain, and our basement was the identified "safe place."

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Response to Lifelong Protester (Reply #9)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 06:50 PM

32. We didn't have a drill that day.

I remember going to school that morning wondering if I would ever come home again or if the world as we knew it would be gone - and me with it. We lived with that fear for years. I had nightmares of bombs dropping from the sky. I was probably 13.

I just read the Gandhi book. It was interesting so I went to the library and ordered every Ganhi book I could find. He knew he would be killed. And the man who killed him was someone he knew well.

If we all stand up to the Unspeakable in our lives we could push it back. It will never be gone. We need to be vigilant always.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 02:19 PM

13. Erich Fromm is the author of The Sane Society and ....

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.

Good post! Thanks.

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Response to DreamGypsy (Reply #13)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 02:22 PM

15. Yikes! I should

be much more careful, when typing in the early morning hours!

Thanks!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 02:21 PM

14. Thank you for a very thoughtful post

as usual

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Response to malaise (Reply #14)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 02:22 PM

16. Thank you!

(as always!)

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 02:55 PM

17. thanks H2O Man

I wholeheartedly agree.

And I've been thinking about our President, and the
children of the wars in the Middle East.

I do not doubt he is thinking of them too.
He is a humanist, and a pragmatist. He is a man
with conscience, and compassion. I do not doubt
he is thinking deeply about all of this.

I'm quite sure Obama does not think American
children are any more important than children
in other lands. And that if we don't get it right for
all of them, nothing else will matter.

I am hopeful. I'm grateful he is the man in the job
right now and that more like him will follow.

In politics right now I don't care so much about
good ideas as integrity.

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Response to Voice for Peace (Reply #17)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 03:41 PM

20. Very good!

Thank you.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 03:06 PM

18. It always seems to boil down to a change in the heart of man.

And society the way it is today seems to cause a hardening of the heart....I guess it is good for business or something.
Well we know it is, the basis of most advertising is fear.
But yes....we have a long way to go to get back to where we need to be...I hope the young will live to see it.

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Response to zeemike (Reply #18)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 03:45 PM

22. Right.

I'm not anti-gun per say, but I recognize that the NRA is nothing more than the lobby for the weapons industry. And that by purposefully increasing the levels of hatred, fear, and paranoia, the weapons industry -- which is a part of the military industrial complex -- increases sales around the globe. And that includes the sale of military weapontry to the most angry and hateful people in the US.

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Response to zeemike (Reply #18)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 05:33 PM

27. Agree, but not so much to change the heart

as for people simply to recognize and feel their own heart.
Let it become soft again.

There's the bounty. Kindness, wisdom, courage, compassion,
strength, all come from that place inside of us.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 03:24 PM

19. This is just incredible

From the time I first got to know president Obama ,all I could think about is this is a man who deep inside has the right stuff. This is a man who can face a moment of crisis like Kennedy did and lead the country through it.

Last week we faced the unspeakable and we have a leader who will evolve to be even stronger and do what is right.

Thank you for the great article.

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Response to mainstreetonce (Reply #19)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 03:47 PM

23. Thanks.

Those authors always make me think. And I try to bring part of their message, or at least my interpretation of it, here to DU, in hopes that it makes others think, too.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 04:27 PM

25. Thank you so much, H2o Man

I have risen above the fear, but am having trouble with the hatred end of your last words. I hate "unspeakable" evil. I cannot walk away from this kind of "unspeakable" evil happening all around us. If evil gets in my face or bullies someone along Main Street, I explode. Verbally. I cannot let evil stand. I am not able to conquer my hate of the "unspeakable". I somehow think that if one lets unspeakable evil stand, that the silence will allow it to propagate, to spread, to grow. I hope that the books you referenced above can help me sort things out. I have added them to my New Year's Resolution list.

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Response to ReRe (Reply #25)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 04:41 PM

26. Very good!

Thank you for your response. It means a lot to me.

In my youth, I was a violent person. The vast majority of my outward expressions of violence took place in the boxing ring. I was good enough to be covered in boxing magazines by the time I was 13. Looking back from this vantage point of old age, I recognize that, as a child who existed in violent circumstances, it was probably better that I channeled it in the ring.

There were other violent episodes, too. I came from a poor family, and being the youngest of five, my school clothes were generally rather shabby hand-me-downs. I didn't get picked on a lot, for two reasons: first, I could fight; and second, my oldest brother was a professional fighter, who loved street fights. From him, I learned to stand up to those who bullied others; this, of course, risks using any excuse for fighting.

Now days, I spend a significant amount of time out at my pond, reading, praying, and meditating. I can pray for my "enemies," and for other terrible people. That comes easy. But I do have to sometimes focus on self-discipline in public: old and pathetic as I am, it is at times tempting to physically confront bullies, etc. Likewise, more frequently, in the arena of town and city board meetings, I find that it can be hard for me to hold my tongue, and not speak harshly to people I find annoying.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 05:54 PM

28. +1

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Response to MissMarple (Reply #28)

Wed Dec 19, 2012, 09:11 AM

38. Thanks!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 05:54 PM

29. Only Love can defeat the Unspeakable.

The great DUer Opihimoimoi wanted to host a global luau for peace, justice and reason. All would be invited. All who could not attend would watch on television.

Let us launch, officially, on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. Let that be the last day of the War Party.

Douglass and Carroll pegged the Situation. Democrat, Republican, independent, other, non-political or whatever: People have a choice: They can either stand to do something to stop gun violence or they can sit and allow things to continue as they are.

Outstanding post, in every way, H2O Man.

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Response to Octafish (Reply #29)

Wed Dec 19, 2012, 11:50 AM

39. Douglass writes:

"The Unspeakable is not unique to the United States, nor to the assassinations of the '60s. ... It exists in the shadow of all government and corporate power, but reaches a special depth of murderous deceit in a democracy with nuclear weapons. "

As you know, one of the projects that I've been working on is the effort to prevent hydrofracking. It amazes me that there are people -- both in government and corporations (which are one in the same these days) who are so ethically/morally disconnected from profit margins, that they are willing to poison large segments of population .....including little school children ..... and, indeed, wave flags and claim patriotism in their diseased television commercials for "natural" gas.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 06:32 PM

30. Brilliant Piece

And chilling. As I read I thought of an example you later referenced, the tea party. Those who were given permission to vent spleens full of hatred and venom. They are the legacy of Cheney and his neo-cons as well as Unspeakables like Bachmann, the Club for Growth and Mitt Romney. As to the last we saw quite clearly the boundaries he was willing to cross to ascend to the presidency. But he’s not alone, the so called Masters Of The Universe are legion.

That said, I have hope. Many clear voices spoke out this week and people are listening, throwing back the garbage rhetoric into the faces of the people who spout it. There is also hope coming from another direction. As we know, especially from this last election, the GOP is diminishing, even their money doesn’t seem capable of saving them. And the membership of the MRA is steadily declining.

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Response to Me. (Reply #30)

Wed Dec 19, 2012, 01:31 PM

40. Thanks. It is no

coincidence that this muppet Grover Norquest is one of the heads of the NRA. He and his ilk are purposely feeding the paranoid, delusional thinking of thousands of unstable "tea partiers." They do so purposefully.

There is a movement that is pressuring the republican prostitutes in DC to reject Grover et al. He will, of course, offer this as proof positive of their betrayal, and the rabid right wing will believe him.

We need to harness as much non-violent, pro-active force as possible in the coming days.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #40)

Wed Dec 19, 2012, 01:48 PM

42. As To The Muppet

Though not in the holiday spirit, I am looking forward to him throwing another of his little tantrums and hope for a Rovian meltdown. I have also enjoyed hearing those that know describe the NRA as a paper tiger and mock them for their 1% success rate in getting their candidates elected. What GN obviously doesn't understand is that every dog has their day and he's had his.

I would also question whether we are being fair to muppets.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 06:40 PM

31. KnR to read A Raid on the Unspeakable in full later

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Response to Hekate (Reply #31)

Wed Dec 19, 2012, 01:31 PM

41. Thanks.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 06:54 PM

33. K&R I want to read this again later!

You've said some very profound things that I need to ponder. Thank You!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 07:03 PM

34. Your essays are like gifts

Thank you and be warm and safe with your family for the winter solstice and holidays.
Peace be with you. vevo

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Response to voteearlyvoteoften (Reply #34)

Wed Dec 19, 2012, 06:59 AM

36. My sentiments exactly n/t

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Dec 18, 2012, 11:03 PM

35. I would like to be able to say something profound or meaningful about this tragedy

But all I can do is cry. About the loss of life and the loss of innocence.

I think Obama is on it . . . I think some legislation will be passed that hopefully prevents more Sandy Hooks.

But even then all I will want to do is cry about it.

I think this incident is absolutely the worst thing to ever happen in my lifetime.

I can't turn on the news without crying.

It's so awful. I can think of a dozen stories that made me cry like a baby.

The teachers who tried to protect the children and died curled up with them. The 6-7 yo kids who had to run past the body of their dead teacher to escape the building. Who sat in a man's driveway until he came home to give them juice and stuffed toys and call their parents. The grateful parents who came to pick them up, and the broken hearted parent who hoped her child was there but he wasn't.

The beautiful bright souls who were snuffed out because some crazy kid lost his mind and had to hurt people. The mother who thought it was okay to teach her mentally disturbed son to shoot automatic weapons . . .

What kind of hell has this country turned into. Unspeakable. Unspeakable. I don't sleep and I don't eat much this week. These are not my kids . . .. but in a way they are all of our kids.

Not going to ramble on anymore this just breaks my heart too much.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Wed Dec 19, 2012, 07:40 AM

37. I can't help but to go back to Hannah Ahrendt and...

her description of the "banality of evil."

She's been slammed over the years from many quarters, but her essential point that what we may consider "evil" can become the norm, and it's a fundamental human concept that we can become conditioned to it and see it as normal. Then, of course, we have to question if it is still evil if it becomes a norm. Which leads us into questions of the origins of ethics, justice, and all that. (Which, eventually, leads us into madness if we don't watch it.)

But, then there is that "unspeakable" which is so out of the norm that it demands attention. For the Nazis, who condemned millions to death without a qualm and conducted an aggressive war with more millions dead, murder for profit, revenge, or the other usual causes of murder was an outrage and relentlessly punished. Taking the jewelry of the victims of the death camps for the state was normal and accepted, but sticking a gold ring or two in your own pocket was punishable by death. Yeah, even the Nazis could have their own "unspeakables."

Here and now, we have a dull background of unspeakable deaths, but by starvation, neglect, terrible neighborhoods, low income, and the occasional murder... and who raises the alarms and call for action? One cluster of deaths by a presumed mad man and we finally notice, as well we should. But we still don't rise up against the daily carnage.

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