Saturday, December 15, 2012

Brutal Corrective

An alternative title might be Cosmic Corrective—but that might be misunderstood as an Act of God, our most exalted and injurious conceptualization for the random. I’ve dealt with mass killings before both here and on LaMarotte, on LaMarotte again this morning (link), showing counts over the span of a century; they paint a trend.

For a student of the life of cultures and the death of civilizations, events like the Newtown, Connecticut massacre have the character of markers. I’ve written extensively here about collectives; culture is their youth and adulthood, civilization their aging and decline. I noted with interest that media coverage of the event was immediate and extensive—and that the presence of international media was prominent enough to be remarked upon and reported. The problem is now global.

The brutally corrective character of such events is that they remind us of something we’ve come to neglect: our impotence and helplessness—especially over against the collective, in the face of actions that arise from the fracturing of culture. Media coverage today and for quite a long time to come—until it fades only to erupt again when the next mayhem strikes—will be about why and how it could have happened, also, marginally, about “what to do.” Many things immediately come to mind, of course. Will laws be enacted? The safe bet is, No. But the sheer and increasingly densifying recurrence of such events will act as a corrective for many, many people—and as these numbers rise, the culture, sure enough will undergo a change. When chaos spreads and strikes the individual out of the blue like a random lightning bolt, we lose faith in our collective perfection and begin to look for a new orientation—in the vertical direction. Will mass killings eventually diminish? The cultural time-scale is very long—but yes; killings of this kind probably will as a new culture takes hold of us. In the best of cultural times, however, mass killing are still present and still practiced—but only at the most refractory and stupid level of humanity, by the tips of our collectives, by our kings and by our states.  

Concerning that Act of God, above, it is, unfortunately of very long standing. There is that phrase by the German poet Friedrich von Logau (1640):

Gottes Mühlen mahlen langsam, mahlen aber trefflich klein.
Ob aus Langmut Er sich säumet, bringt mit Schärf’ Er alles ein.

Longfellow translated von Logau’s Sinngedichte in part. His rendition:

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.

Longfellow lived in the nineteenth century. And folk sayings echo this. How many thought, in Newtown and elsewhere yesterday: “There but for the grace of God…” But our brutal corrective suggests that we best leave God out of it. His grace was as much there for those killed, and their relatives, as for those who escaped physical termination—which, ultimately, awaits us all.

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