I don’t even know why I’m writing this, because it won’t change anybody’s mind and will doubtless piss some people off. I'm sure what I'm about to say is ill-informed, superficial and naive.
But for me, one of the most depressing things about the recent events in Paris is this — nothing will change as a result. Nobody’s listening. Everybody is merely using it as evidence that they were correct in their entrenched positions. The event might as well just not have happened.
All those people died for nothing.
The xenophobes and gun nuts use such atrocities as proof that they’re justified in hating difference, and to demand the right to own things that kill people. Most feel this merely as an instinctual stirring in their anxious guts — others, like the Republican candidates, and appalling egomaniac sociopaths like Ann Coulter, consciously use it promote their pre-existing agendas. This is what terrorists crave — to stoke the fires of inhumanity, to validate haters of all nations, creeds and colours. To increase their power, as, for a brief, horrific moment, the utter cowardice enshrined in murdering innocents and then blowing yourself up — rather than at least having the balls to take the justice that should follow — increased the specious power of the psychopaths.
The anti-religion crowd will use it to bolster their belief that all religions are evil. They are not. Religions and myth are priceless, irreplaceable sets of cultural and historically-informed metaphor for understanding the human condition on both personal and societal levels. No other interpretive tool comes to close to their sophistication, to the depth that comes from having been road-tested over centuries or millennia — certainly not reductionist science, which doesn’t care and doesn’t have the tools to address these issues, and not sociology nor psychology either.
For the record, I don’t believe in a “God”. Neither did Nietzsche, but when he famously declared that weary ghost to be dead, what he actually meant was that such metaphors lose their edge and die when rigidified into structures of social control. They become pinned to our histories like butterflies, dead but still-bright remnants ripe for mis-use by the damaged and self-obsessed — whether they claim to be Muslim, Christian or anything else. Ranting against religion is missing the point by a country mile. Religion is not the problem. People are.
And the majority of humankind, the league of powerless, empathetic sane people? We wring our hands and ask why we can’t all just be nice, and we temporarily change our avatars, and engage in pointless social media skirmishes with assholes, and then go and cook something for dinner.
We are shaken, depressed, deeply moved… but life goes on.
The blood soaking into the streets of one of the world’s most glorious cities, blood shed by members of one of the bravest, most admirable nations on the planet, was not spilt because of Islam, or irreconcilable differences between east and west, or a hundred other easy sound bites. It was lost because nobody ever fucking listens to anyone else, nobody ever raises their heads above the comforting parapet of their own scripts and beliefs and trapping histories, and so nothing ever changes.
The truth is that blood was sprayed across the walls of Paris — and please let's not forget the deaths in Beirut, they're just as real — because some people love it when that happens. That’s the bottom line. They love it. They always have. They always will.
So what do we do?
We reject, repudiate and turn our backs.
Otherwise it’s as if we’re living in an infinite, terrible moment of singularity, in which there are no real events, and nothing that happens ever alters the future. If we want to move forward, to actually change the world, we have to change ourselves first — or better still, choose to consciously celebrate and promote what’s already there. We have to listen to our own quiet voices, the voices that tell us to look after old pets, and to care about the homeless, and be open to other ways of living and loving, and that certain things are right, and others are wrong — and ignore the lunatic howls of the vicious ones that prowl though our societies, whether hiding in alleyways with guns, or talking poisonous bullshit in bars or across Twitter or on television.
None of this will ever get solved, and anyone who claims otherwise is a liar or naive. This is the way we are, and so this is the kind of thing that will always happen.
But there are other kinds of thing that will always happen, too. The people who will open their doors to the dispossessed and ill-treated, who immediately organise relief, who risk their lives to save others. That’s us, too. The one thing that’s truly cheered me over the last few days were the photographs of Parisians bloody-mindedly sitting outside bistros in the cold, the night after the attacks, drinking their beers and smoking their cigarettes and flipping the bird at the bad guys, whatever hole they’ve gone back to lurking in.
That’s what will work in the long run. It’s the only thing that will work, and help us prevail. It comes down to The League of Empathetic Sane People, digging in, keeping on keeping on, living a great big FUCK YOU to the ones whose lustmord will always bring fresh horror into our lives. In every generation they’ll find a new way and a new excuse to kill a bunch of us. So what? There’s a lot more of us, and in the end we’ll win — if we carry on carrying on.
There is only one true and eternal conflict in the history of humankind: the endless war between the Empathetic Sane People and the other ones. We have to take greater pride in being ourselves, whatever colour we are, whatever religion — or lack of it — we profess. We need to yet more steadfastly ignore everyone who tries to shove us down the dark roads.
We have to reach out to those who seem different and take their hands and find out… yes, they’re different — isn’t that fucking great? And we have to every day, and in every way, turn our backs on the people who wish us to feel otherwise, deny them an audience, carry on our lives as if they don’t exist. Turn them into ghosts, banging their spectral fists against the windows, powerless to join the rest of us outside, looking after each other, living our lives in the sun.
Otherwise, Paris never happened.