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When Violence Hits Home


When I signed into my e-mail account early this morning, for the second time in a month, I received news of horrible violence inflicted upon a person just one degree of separation from me.

Yesterday, a friend’s adult son was apparently murdered – shot at point-blank range – while renovating an art gallery in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

This news comes a month after another acquaintance – a musician in a band led by a longtime, close friend – was apparently beaten to within inches and minutes of his life – literally having his brains beaten in – by what police still are assuming was a random act of violence, also in Brooklyn.

While I didn’t know my friend’s son, my friend is a poet and a musician who spreads love and warmth wherever he goes, through his artistry and his personal charisma. I have to assume that his son, Taj, whom he spoke of but whom I never met, was of a similar disposition.

I know Tim, the drummer who is making a miraculous recovery (at one point, doctors put his chances of survival – and a grim one at that, predicting a lifetime of paralysis which he already has proven wrong – at 30 percent), slightly – enough to give him a warm greeting whenever I saw him, chat a bit, and enough to know that he is a gentle, kind, and generous soul who is genetically incapable of inflicting harm, or even hurt, on another human being.

Amid the national conversation of random, targeted, or “senseless” violence – is there any other kind? – spurred by the Tucson shootings, I am just overwhelmed today at how primitive a species we still are, how we haven’t evolved hardly at all beyond animals of prey, how in spite of our systems of belief, philosophy, and religion that inveigh upon us with lessons and teachings to do no harm, to do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, or to categorize imperatively (take your pick), we haven’t learned nuthin’.

Whether it’s the politically or ideologically fueled rage of terrorists, the insane ravings of an unbalanced nihilist, the seething resentment of a grudge-fueled loner, or the opportunistic spasm of a lone wolf, when it comes down to it, the ability of a human to look another in the eye and be comfortable inflicting heinous pain, injury, or death upon him is simply staggering. It always was – indeed, it begins at the very beginning, when brother slays brother east of Eden -- and it always will be.

It clearly has little or nothing to do with a “culture of violence” – the cheap and easy availability of weapons of small or mass destruction are just a symptom, not a cause, of this malady – or a society that has become “inured” to such things through the proliferation of violent images in the media.

I just recently visited the British Museum in London, where the history of medieval Europe was basically spelled out in artifacts of battle and war – knives, swords, spears, protective headgear, body armor, shields. These folks prayed to a god who preached the turning of the other cheek and then went out and stuck sharp pieces of metal into their brothers and cousins, without Glenn Beck and Quentin Tarantino to egg them on or inspire them.

Living with the reality of cruelty and barbarism hidden in the souls – do they really have souls? – of our neighbors and fellow men is one of the most difficult tasks with which we are faced. Most of us can go through everyday life without having to think about this. Occasionally, as in the case of Tucson, we can have a national discussion about the sociopolitical or psychological causes and effects of violence, but it really misses a fundamental point, and it’s really just fodder for a news cycle that will fizzle out as soon as some other story – a natural or environmental disaster; a change of government; a celebrity scandal – replaces it at the top of Google News.

The truth is violence goes much deeper than we admit or talk about. I know other people whose lives have been ineradicably altered by it. Another musician friend had his head bashed in two decades ago while pumping gas into his car at a filling station, and while he recovered, his life has never been the same due to a sequence of events that random, heinous action put into play. My sister’s high school sweetheart was one of the unfortunates sleeping in the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 when Hezbollah blew them and him to smithereens. My grandmother’s entire family – mother, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – were systematically slaughtered, either burned alive in a locked synagogue, shot, or slowly starved to death in concentration camps, by Germans in the 1940s, simply because they were Jewish. Somehow, this millinery family (as in, they made hats) were seen as a vital threat to the future of Western civilization, deemed subhuman, and annihilated. (I wear fine hats in their honor and in their memory.)
And you may not realize it, but chances are at least half the women you know – friends, relatives, loved ones – have been victims of sexual assault or abuse at some point in their lives. Few ever talk about this, but it’s pretty safe to assume that it’s happened. It’s seemingly just part of the human condition.

I don’t know what to make of this all. Seemingly our moral and ethical systems have failed us, whether they be the prohibition of murder in the Ten Commandments passed down from God to Moses, the Golden Rule preached by Rabbis Hillel and Jesus, the Hindu/yogic concept of ahimsa (nonviolence), the Kantian categorical imperative, or the lessons of Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

I do know that this world is full of violence – the most heinous, vicious, hateful disrespect for life of all kinds – and that as much as we can, we need to recognize this, and do everything we can, every day, to practice its opposite. It may be futile; it certainly seems like violence is with us to stay, that individuals and groups of people will always be beaten, raped, abused, and murdered. It appears to be the human condition, as much as death, and it’s tragic.

And on this morning when I received the news of my friend’s son being gunned down, all I can do is feel for him, for the pain of a father who lost a son to man’s basest instinct. I won’t call it inhuman, because it seems, unfortunately, all too human. But I will cry about it, and I will reach out and love everyone I know – my family, my friends, my colleagues, and you, dear reader.

This is a very poignant article. Your perspective is shared by many and I choose to believe that ultimately by expressing and sharing a vision of "love", humanity will indeed evolve to become "humane". We have nurtured this culture of violence and we can nurture it to be otherwise. We have facilitated the evolution of dogs from beast to pets, why not our own species?

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