On Boston: The Inevitability of Vulnerability




From ISE board member and outstanding singer/songwriter Ben Grosscup:

Boston Tragedy Reveals Inevitability of Vulnerability
By Ben Grosscup

Public acts of inexplicable and horrific violence such as what we saw in Boston on Monday reveal basic vulnerabilities that are painful but necessary to face.

My whole family converged in Boston to cheer on my father and my two brothers who entered the Marathon. We are all well. My brothers and I heard the 2 explosions from a few blocks away, not knowing what they were until many minutes later.

My sorrow is for the suffering of the people who died, their loved ones, and the hundreds who suffered painful and debilitating injuries. My greatest fear from the day was seeing the fear on other people’s faces. Fear is a natural human emotion without any inherent political content. For the many ones of us who responded emotionally to what we heard and saw with fear, the proper response is one of compassion and sympathy.

Still, the immediate aftermath of this tragedy is the most important time to remember that the results are disastrous when a population participates in a response to perceived political threats based on fear. We have seen this starkly since September 11, 2001: when people are fearful, they are more easily persuaded to support policies that curtail rights and exacerbate war.

I believe that a necessary step in a people freeing itself from the manipulations of those in power who would enlist public support for such policies is to acknowledge that human vulnerability to violence is inevitable and universal. Our leaders are not giving us that message, however.

On Tuesday, the President of the United States said of the bombings, “We will get to the bottom of this and we will find out who did this and find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice”. The president’s certainty was contradicted, however, by the obvious possibility that the criminals might not be found and brought to justice.

The idea that we can be so sure that the authorities will apprehend the criminals suggests “we” as an American culture believe we are invulnerable. Even if Americans do not believe that every minute of every day can be absolutely safe and secure, Americans remain deeply invested in the idea that any offenses against “us” will ultimately face justice. I think this belief is based upon a sense shared by many Americans that the political dominance of the United States should somehow protect us from external harm.

The people across the globe who live under the daily threats of U.S. drone strikes, bombs, and military occupations, however, cannot be so certain that justice will be served for them. They live on the other side of a world marked by fundamental imbalances of power — a world in which the deaths of brown people, especially Muslims and Arabs, are not treated with an equal sense of outrage and remorse as the deaths of members of racially and nationally dominant groups.

Ours is a world where many Pakistanis, Afghanis, and Yemenis have come to know all too well that the U.S. military can use drones to kill anyone – including children – and nobody will face any consequences for having killed them. This is a world where Muslim men with no incriminating evidence found against them can languish indefinitely at Guantanamo with no right of habeus corpus.

This so-called “War on Terrorism” has vastly expanded institutions of surveillance, detention, and war-making, but it has not increased the safety in the everyday lives of Americans.

The horrific Boston bombings provide an opportunity to remember our common vulnerability to violence. In remembering this, all we have to lose is the illusion of security – the notion that by giving sufficient cooperation with policing authorities we can ultimately become safe. What we have to gain is a sense of solidarity and common cause with billions of people across the globe whose everyday lives are made insecure by military and police violence, domestic violence, economic and racial injustice, environmental degradation, and politically-motivated murder.

Being able to see our own vulnerability in the context of a world of people who have already lost any illusions of invulnerability that they may have once had deepens our grounding in mourning the horror we witnessed.

But there’s a step beyond self-awareness of vulnerability, and it is much harder. In facing the violence that mars our world, we must expect from one another that people act from a place of courage. By courage, I mean that we must realize that human life is marked by inherent vulnerabilities that we cannot avoid, but that despite this, we are obligated to do what is right even when doing so subjects ourselves to even greater vulnerability. The people who ran toward the bomb blasts to help the wounded exemplify this courage. Also courageous are the many others who face violence every day and demand of themselves and of others that the response be one that furthers the cause of peace and non-violence.

Ben Grosscup represents precinct 9 in Amherst, MA Town Meeting.