Thursday, March 20, 2008

In Memoriam Isaac J. Meyers

"Quis desiderio sit pudor, aut modus
Tam cari capitis?"
What shame can there be, or measure, in lamenting one so dear?--Horace, Ode, i. 24, I.]

Today is the Jewish festival of Purim, a time for rejoicing – a time, indeed, when we are commanded to rejoice – a celebration of Jewish survival. But it is difficult to rejoice this year. Because on Monday my friend Isaac Meyers was hit by a truck, and he did not survive.

Isaac was a man of the most exacting standards, of clear moral and critical vision. He would not enjoy having a fuss made over him (which is not to say that he would be unhappy to be instrumental in a fuss being made.) And so I’m a bit hesitant about broadcasting these thoughts into the ether. Surely grief should be private; and what can one say in this situation that’s worthy of Isaac himself, or that can comprehend his loss? But friends and human beings like Isaac shouldn’t go unlamented; and lamentation is a public act of honouring the dead, as well as an expression of personal grief. I just hope that he would forgive me this emotional exhibitionism (I tend to think he would. He’d probably mock it, and probably rightly; but he’d ultimately forgive it. I hope.).

It also seems fitting to revive this blog, however briefly, to note and deplore Isaac’s passing. For Isaac is the one who first got me into the blogging. Our venture, called YDN Box Watch, was characteristic of Isaac. It was created not for publicity, or even for public consumption, but as a venture among friends – one which was deliberately unpublicised. And so I don’t think anyone but we the contributors ever read it. Yet at the same time, while the blog was ventured into light-heartedly, Isaac – and the other contributors (our friends Alison Hornstein and Andrew Koss) – took our discussions seriously. Political, and therefore moral, matters were at issue; questions of right and wrong, of incisive or (more often) sloppy thinking, of truth and falsehood and evasion of even confronting questions of truth and falsehood, were at stake; and even if these happened to be raised in the opinion pages of a student newspaper, and even if the debates about them were not known outside a small (4 people!) circle of recent alumni – well, that was beside the point.

Few people I have known have combined passionate moralism, intellectualism and aestheticism as Isaac did. This is to say that he was committed at once to goodness, truth, and beauty. Few have managed, in the process, to be so truly good, truthful and beautiful themselves. And few have managed to simultaneously avoid the sanctimony of the moralist, the emotional coolness of the intellectual and scholar, and the moral frivolousness of the aesthete. But Isaac did.

Our blogging venture was truly a venture – there was an element of risk in it. Isaac and I were acutely aware of this. He undertook this risk humorously, even boisterously; I undertook it dubiously. For Isaac and I realised that we disagreed pretty strongly on a lot of things; that about some of these things we were rather touchy, and so that there was a potential we’d get on one another’s nerves in expressing our views – and that, when it came to that, we would probably be unable to resist expressing our views robustly. Isaac, as I’ve said, did not seem uncomfortable or anxious about this possibility. I’m sorry to say that I was more hesitant; and I fear that this hesitancy may have reflected a less great trust in our friendship, and in both his and my capacity for tolerance and magnanimity, than Isaac had. In his case, this lack of trust was unfounded, and thinking about it now is painful. Even when he held and expressed views I deplored, he did so in a more truly liberal spirit than many of the liberals. I’m sorry that political (or religious, or cultural) disagreements – or rather, my own anxiety about such disagreements creating conflict – occasionally prevented us from being as close as we might have been. I’m glad that I was able to overcome these unfounded worries often enough to nevertheless benefit from Isaac’s incomparable wit, and learning, and sense of fun, and friendship.

Isaac and I met, if I remember correctly (I probably don’t, but this might be true nonetheless) when he was a junior and I a sophomore. So he was part of my life for 8 years. Over that time he grew a great deal; and yet he didn’t seem to change much. The same basic qualities were always there; but they seemed to unfold in ever-new, ever-surprising directions, to embrace more and more. Somehow – a piece of good fortune I now wish I’d appreciated and exploited more than I did – we kept winding up in the same places: Yale, Oxford, Harvard. Wherever he went, Isaac made friends – with all sorts of different people – and created communities of friends around himself. One remembers the barbeques, the birthday parties, the movie screenings, the performances of his incomparable, ukele-driven, Jewish power-pop act The Rothschilds.

But for me the memories that come most immediately to mind – and now they pour forth, and are painful as I realize how wonderful and how few they were, and that their number will now never be increased – were those moments when it was just the two of us. Many of these took place in Oxford – his visit to my room, in the course of which he got lost in the building in which I lived (I thought I had given him good instructions to find it; and they were good instructions – if you already were familiar with the building, and so knew exactly what they meant. Isaac pointed out what I had come to overlook – that the building in which I lived was like a warren; and for the rest of the year I couldn’t help but see my surroundings as, indeed, warren-like); our lunch in a dingy cafe on St Giles in which Isaac typically restricted himself to junk food (his devotion to abiding by Jewish dietary laws throughout his time in the UK permanently damaged his teeth and gums), and talked inquiringly and mockingly and lovingly about various people we knew. And then there was the time when, in the course of flying from his beloved Bulgaria (even in countries, Isaac’s tastes were unusual, but – once explained by him – perfectly sensible) back to the US, what should have been a brief stopover at Heathrow was prolonged by a terrorism scare. And so Isaac unexpectedly found himself returning to Oxford a year after completing his studies there, and I found myself unexpectedly hosting him, and feeding him on an improvised and inadequate meal of crackers and nutella (at least, I think that was it. The shops were closed, and neither of us had much money), and staying up into the wee hours watching videos (courtesy of Youtube) of the Go-Gos and Oingo-Boingo (advocated by Isaac) and Klaus Nomi (my contribution) and the Go-Betweens (a shared favourite; I correctly guessed Isaac’s favourite line from ‘Head Full of Steam’. Now, I suppose, I’ll always think of Isaac when listening to the Go-Betweens, or Magnetic Fields, or any of the other bands we avidly discussed). Other particularly vivid memories come from rare meetings in New York – at an upper-West Side (I think) diner, or at his parents’ apartment, or at the Jewish Theological Seminary when he was working there.

This last, of course, invokes Isaac’s heart-and-soul-and-mind devotion to Judaism and the Jewish people, to the full richness of Jewish tradition, the warmth of Jewish community, the comedy of poignancy of Jewish life. This was inseparable from all that he did and was; but his involvement – no, the word is inadequate; participation comes closer, though it is still imperfect – in the Jewish community was not a facet of Isaac’s life that featured heavily in my relationship with him, and so I do not feel qualified to write about it: save to say, now, too few the Shabbat dinners I spent with him, too few the conversations about ancient Hebrew translation and modern Hebrew poetry; and why did I never take him up on his invitations to Wednesday night dinner at Harvard Hillel? Suffice to say: Isaac lived the life of a Jew, with joy and scrupulousness and an all-giving generosity to his community.

He was on his way to be part of a shiva minyan – to allow others to say prayers for their dead – when he was killed. A tragic irony, which is truly heartbreaking. So much goodness – and this was its reward.

The obituary notices have been coming out, and they all make mention of Isaac’s brilliance, and his quirkiness. This is of course correct; and it is what most people noticed about Isaac. But it is also something that many of us came to take rather for granted. What, looking back, impresses me more is his loyalty, his delight in people, his mixture of unfailing poise with a sense of humour – and a delight in the ridiculous and incongruous – which was somehow at once boisterous and refined, and of relish of life with an exacting self-discipline and purity.

It is especially cruel that someone who got so much out of life, and put so much into it, should have life taken from him so suddenly, and senselessly, and early.

The last time I saw him, for more than a moment in passing, was at his birthday. There was so much that should have been ahead of him.

Isaac’s death is a source of stabbing regret, as well as desolating grief, for many people. Regret for our loss, and his: for all the joy that he might have had and given others, for all the things he might have done, and for the black hole that has been created in the lives of all those around him. As more than one person has remarked to me, it’s like a light has gone out. There’s an area of our lives – for some, an encompassing area, at the centre of their hearts – that has been plunged in blackness.

As for me, there’s this regret, and something of this grief. But there’s another regret, which is inspired by the recognition of that grief. I regret not having made better use of the time I was blessed with knowing Isaac – for not having spent more time with him, discussed more things with him (why, oh why, I now wonder, didn’t I send him that email about whether he had heard of The Wedding Present, and if he wanted me to burn a CD of an album of theirs? Why didn’t I ask him if he’d read Cold Comfort Farm, or about what poets he’d been reading recently and could recommend, or if he knew anything – as he probably did – about translations of Tacitus into various languages?), sought his advice more often on all the matters that he might have spoken incisively about (which is to say, most matters). But I also regret that, while he always meant a great deal to me, while I enjoyed our meetings and thought of him fondly, it is only now that I am actually aware of how much he meant – of how important to me he was, of how I loved him – all along.

As it is, now we are left with memories – painful and joyful, inadequate but undying and enriching. I think of the timbre of his voice, his expression, his manner of speech; I remember what he said, and try to imagine what he might have said about various things. And I find myself smiling, even as the tears run down my cheeks. But then the tears come heavier; and, for the moment, I cannot smile, and I cannot write, anymore.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

If anyone should happen to visit this blog for some reason, and despite it having been 'on hiatus' for the better part of a year, they may be interested to know that some friends of mine and I are in the process of setting up a new group blog, Theoretically Political (which I'll link to here once it's up and running). I won't be posting on it with any frequency -- since I'm now in the midst of trying to finish up one doctorate while also pursuing another (the short explanation for this peculiar state of affairs is ... I am insane) -- but I should be weighing in from time to time. The blog will focus mainly on areas concerning which my co-bloggers (all of whom are fellow grad students in the Department of Government at Harvard) and I are fairly competent -- largely political theory, with some other areas of politics, philosophy, and history also covered or explored -- and the posts will hopefully be fairly substantial and thoughtful, rather than the random jottings on whatever has caught my eye that have tended to show up here. But I can make no promises.
I also now have a webpage through Harvard (currently my primary institutional home), which should contain info (updated as necessary) on my current academic work.
As for Sitting on a Fence -- it's been fun (well, generally), but I think that I'm through with this particular part of my life. I initially stopped, so I thought, temporarilly, to try to finish up my Oxford thesis (which I still have yet to finish). But I have since realised that, at present, my academic work is important to me -- and that I can't devote the care both to it, and to a blog, that I think necessary for either to be satisfactory. And I've also come to be somewhat disatisfied with my own blogging. All of this may seem very odd to say, as I embark on a new blog; but, by focussing more on issues relevant to my academic work, rather than venting the personal reactions of a moment, I hope to produce something I'm more satisfied with (and, by blogging as part of a group, I also hope to be able to post less, without the blog dying of neglect).
In the meantime, Sitting on a Fence will sit here in the blogic ether; I've thought of taking it down altogether, but have decided to let it stay -- even the bits of it that I now regret or am embarrassed by, I've no wish to hide or deny; and perhaps the archives will still be of interest to someone. Thanks, everyone who's stopped by, for reading.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

At the moment (as for the last few months) I've been trying very hard to do what I'm supposed to be doing, namely, write a thesis on Isaiah Berlin. This has led to a self-imposed no-blogging policy. However, lately I've been coming across little tidbits that have made it hard to resist the resurgent urge to blog. One was a review Berlin did of Norman Cohn's book, which distracted me for a bit and led to the post below. Now , reading a review Berlin did of Adlai Stevenson's book A Call to Greatness, I again find myself moved to make a probably invalid and certainly objectionable historical analogy to current events.
Stevenson, of course, was the embodiment of mid-century American liberalism and the embodiment of the intellectual politician -- the man attacks on whom made 'egghead' a part of popular speech (he wasn't actually that much of an intellectual, but he was more intellectually curious than most politicians, and his speeches were really good; and he had a big, bald head. Ergo, in the world of American politics, he was considered an intellectual). Unfortunately, then as now, Americans apparently didn't care to elect intellectuals, so he didn't fare too well. But he did inspire devotion from liberal intellectuals; and in the wake of McCarthyism held out hopes for a more moderate (though still genuine) anti-Communism combined with a humane domestic policy (civil rights, civil liberties, that sort of stuff). Call to Greatness, as summarised by Berlin, seems to me to offer advice that is wise and applicable to the 'war on terror', and criticism that is as telling applied to the Bush administration as to the foreign policy of the fierceley anti-Communist John Foster Dulles. I've therefore pasted the (un-edited) passage of my thesis dealing with Berlin and Stevenson below; I apologise for taking this short-cut to blogging, but I really should be devoting all my writing energies to the thesis. (Speaking of which ... why am I writing this?) I think I've represented Stevenson's and Berlin's views, and something of the context from which they emerged, pretty faithfully, though it's possible that some of my own view of my own world has shaped my account. So enjoy what may well be a mixture of presentist history and the analogical fallacy at their worst!:
Stevenson’s stance was that of a moderate, rather than a hard-liner. In Berlin’s account, he warned that the Western world ‘must prepare for a long endurance test’, which would require patience and moderation, and an acceptance of ‘neutralism’ as, at any rate, better than Communism (Stevenson, and by implication Berlin, thus urged a more temperate attitude to non-anti-Communist liberals, as opposed to the fierce, either/or outlook of Koestler and Burnham). Stevenson cautioned against a militant, bellicose, bullying stance, since this would (in Stevenson’s words, quoted by Berlin) ‘win few hearts’.
Speaking through Stevenson, Berlin wrote that the chief danger facing America was ‘impatience, arrogance … belief in quick solutions’, and the ‘fatal tendency to believe in "absolutes of right or wrong, black or white," leading to the exploitation of the public appetite for simple solutions and prompt and inexpensive results’. Stevenson pled for the same virtues that Berlin advocated in public life - ‘sympathy, modesty and the temperate use of power’ – and warned against quick panaceas and total solutions for problems which may be the by-products of a passing historical period, more likely to disappear with it than to be solved, and will duly be replaced by other problems which no one can yet foresee.’ This was precisely the position of pluralistic political wisdom that Berlin would directly champion late in his life.
Berlin praised Stevenson (and Kennan) for criticising ‘the sermons at present emanating from’ the Republican Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (whom Berlin called ‘a kind of [Woodrow] Wilson in reverse’) as ‘a menace which … terrify America's allies and work in the interests of her enemies.’ Berlin wrote as a liberal anti-Communist, fond of and sympathetic to America, who had to contend with anti-American sentiments which were widespread in British and European society. Suspicion and disapproval of the U.S., based both on the plight of black Americans and the scourge of McCarthyism, was not only exploited by the pro-Communist Left; it also affected liberals who had no sympathy for Communism, who looked to the U.S. to stand for liberal values and found it betraying those values in its domestic policies, as well as among conservatives who were jealous of American power, and contemptuous of American ideological earnestness and self-righteousness.

Ok, is it just me, or does this tune sound familiar?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Perhaps it's just that I've missed it, but where's the blog post discussing the relevance of Norman Cohn's masterpiece* of historical-sociological analysis, The Pursuit of the Millenium, and the current problem of Islamicist terrorism and the war thereon?
Cohn's book focusses on outbreaks of violence in Medieval Europe that were inspired by (Christian) millenarian heresies. Side-stepping the possibly obvious comparison of our born-again millenarian-in-chief to these rebels, I think it's interesting to apply some of the insights Cohn derives from his study to Islamicist militants -- both the really nasty ones who have declared a terrorist war on the West (and in some cases on their fellow Muslims), and the milder ones who are merely dedicated to imposing theocratic rule in their own areas of the world.
The first objection to this, of course, is that these people speak in the name of a particular interpretation of Islam, whereas Cohn is writing about Christian Europe. True. But remember that Islam and Christianity do share some common roots; and Cohn traces the ideas of his subjects back not only to the early Christians, but to Jewish and Arabic legends.
There are, it seems to me, a number of places where Cohn's analysis interestingly resembles modern trends. One is his identification of the myth of the usurpation of authority by the devil disguised as true rulers, and the need to extirpate this treasonous masquerade – a blend of manichaenism, conspiracy theory, and millenarianism. Linked to this is a characteristic pattern of millenial movements, whereby charismatic leaders call on their followers to separate themselves out from a corrupt world and rebel against it, to return to a sacred past, an ideal of pure belief and pure living, which the traitors, the corruptors, the servants of the devil, seek to destroy.
Doesn't this sound like the sort of thing one finds among certain radical imams and leaders of terrorist cells? Isn't there some resemblence between, say, John of Leyden, and Osama bin Laden?
Well, whether there is or not is of course debatable; but it seems to me there's an argument for the comparison, and that thinking about modern Islamicist radicalism might be helped by this analogy, imperfect as it is.
(Some might take hope from the comparison: after all, if Christianity was able to survive and outgrow [at least in part] such things, might not Islam do the same? Possibly; but this seems to presuppose a view of history that I find somewhat dubious, which holds that all cultures and religions ultimately follow the same course of [progressive] development, albeit at different times. I think it more plausible to think that all religious traditions, all cultures, civilisations, nations, etc., contain within them the capacity for growth towards greater decency and sophistication and justice, and decline into barbarism and unreason, and that at different times one or another of these tendencies becomes dominant -- and that what trend becomes dominant, and what course the culture or whatever takes, depends on the actions of its members, as well as outside forces)
Ok, but what can we learn from Cohn's analysis of medieval millenialism, as opposed to his description of it?
Well, Isaiah Berlin (who, this blog being what it is, had to come into this at some point) picked up on Cohn's suggestion that it was not poverty, misery, humiliation, which caused the religious revivalism, fanaticism, millenialism, and violent revolt that Cohn examined. Rather, it was the experience of dramatic change, which produced dislocation which in turn led to alienation. In those areas where there were outbreaks of millenarian revolt, people had lived in poverty and under oppression for some time; it was when there was an upset in the equilibrium of traditional forms of life, thought, and feeling, which created confusion and a sense of superfluity and dizzying uncertainty, that millenarian faiths, and their violent consequences, emerged.
I don't know if this is necessarily true for all outbreaks of religious fanaticism and violence inspired by it (I'm not even sure if it's true of the phenomena Cohn looked at, though he does make a pretty strong case). But it's worth consideration in trying to understand why Islamicist terrorism has recently emerged as a major force, and how we might address it; it adds something, I think, to the usual alternative explanations, which seem to generally come down to 'they hate us for our freedom' (i.e. they're bad, oppressive people who dislike our good values because of their bad ones), or 'they've been driven to this by poverty/humiliation/oppression/corruption in their own countries' (i.e. it's our fault for dominating the world unjustly and treating other peoples badly, or letting them be treated badly by their rulers). I'm not denying that there's truth in both of these arguments; but I think that they are clearly one-sided, and even put together, don't quite offer a full and satisfactory explanation. And it seems to me that Cohn's analysis points to a line of thought that is helpful here.
It's also just a really interesting work of history. So give it a look.

Friday, July 15, 2005

THE VOICE[S] OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHERS IN THE CONVERSATION OF CYBERSPACE: When I was an undergraduate, among the classes I took (Yale being the benighted, unphilosophical place that it is) were a very interesting, even exciting, seminar on Leo Strauss, Michael Oakeshott, and Isaiah Berlin (which, given the last names of its subjects, I took to thinking of as the SOB seminar). I've recently discovered that, as it happens, not only did Strauss, Oakeshott, and Berlin have talks they gave recorded (this is not so surprising, given that all lived at a time when sound-recording was widespread and readily available -- unlike, say, Kant or Hume or Marx -- that Oakeshott and Berlin were well-known speakers who were called upon by the BBC during its zenith as a provider of culture and wisdom to the masses, and that Strauss ... well, Strauss had a cult following, so to speak, that recorded him); not only do all three have websites devoted to them; but those websites include extracts from those recordings. So, you can listen to a very little bit of Strauss here, a bit more of Oakeshott here and here (with info on the talk from which the excerpts come here, and a whole lot of Berlin here (or here, if you have a slower connection; there's also a video clip of Berlin, delivering a talk over BBC radio in 1959, here).
On a personal level, it's interesting to note that the quantity of the recordings of each thinker seems roughly commensurate with the degree to which I'm in sympathy with each (though not necessarily about the particular things that they're saying). I also think that Berlin has the most appealing voice of the lot -- not surprisingly -- though, once one's gotten used to his voice, Oakeshott's delivery has it's undeniable appeal.
Anyway, none of these clips throws any light, so far as I can tell, on the thought of any of these figures -- though they do, in some cases, perhaps explain something of each thinker's appeal and influence in his own lifetime. And, for political theory geeks, they're fun.
Now, if only I could find some recordings of Hannah Arendt and Raymond Aron and Judith Shklar ...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

MORE ON LONDON: I've shot my own bolt, so happily have no more to say on my own part. But there are a few links worth looking at:
This captures the spirit of defiance which I tried to indicate below. Crude, yes; but it does capture what I think the general reaction of the British to the recent terror attacks has been and will be. And thank god for that.
This also mentions defiance, but paints a fuller picture of London immediately following the attacks. If the mood in London has been like that of Oxford, it would seem to be accurate (only in Oxford there hasn't been any change at all, just business very much as usual). It's interesting to note that some of what's described -- the increased niceness and concern for others -- sounds very much like the transformation of NYC after 9/11, even while other facts and impressions reported seem quintessentially British.
This, from Crooked Timber, nicely states my own emotional reactions to the pieces described; I'm glad I don't have to try to. (My less emotional, more intellectual, reaction is that we probably should face the fact that, while it would be monstrous to blame London or the British Muslim community for events that have been deeply harmful to both, the rise of militancy and support for terrorism in some, I like to think marginal, segments of the British Muslim community is a problem; and that, where you have a large Islamic population, you'll probably have terrorists taking advantage of that population to hide out among them. The damage that the terrorists do to their fellow Muslims, as well as the grotesque mockery they make of Islam, are among the crimes for which they, and they alone, should be abominated).
One problem I have with the whole London-as-hotbed-of-Islamicist-terrorists theme is the danger of an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-Asian backlash in Britain, which there have already been some signs of (reported here, and here) although I hope and trust that such outrages come from a small, marginal group of people. On the other hand, there have been some sympathetic and balanced report on the early impact of these events on the British Muslim community (see this, and, from the NYT, this very sympathetic article.)
Attacks on Muslims, and tout court criticisms of the Muslim community, are unjust, and usually bigoted and stupid. They also are profoundly dangerous, not just to the victims of such attacks and targets of such criticisms, but to attempts to fight terror. The Muslim community in Britain has a difficult task ahead of it: identifying , condemning, and weeding-out the cells of hatred that attack it from within, as cancer cells attack a body. It's ability to do so will be profoundly damaged if it is subject to racist attacks from without; it's ability to teach its children tolerance and immunise them against the lure of separatist hatred will be severely hurt if those children feel themselves to be bearing a brunt of hatred and injustice. It is natural, when one feels oneself attacked, to lash back. There is a danger that some in Britain will do so against Muslims, and that some Muslims will then do so against their fellow Britons -- and so it will go on. Never have tolerance, mutual respect, and civic solidarity been more needful. Britain has had a proud tradition of exhibiting all of these values in the past; and I think it will continue to do so. And I hope I'm right about that.

Friday, July 08, 2005

LONDON: There is no need, at this point, to report on the four terrorist attacks in London yesterday morning.
I've been debating writing something throughout the day; I've written e-mails to friends, but still feel the desire to set thoughts down, to try to make sense of, at any rate, my own reactions, and those I've seen around me, and respond to events which have not affected me directly (thankfully), but have cast something of a shadow over life here.
The atmosphere in London seems to be well-captured by Ian McEwan; his account, which I highly recommend, rings true.
Here in Oxford things have been quiet -- indeed, unsettlingly quiet. There is, of course, very little one can say about something like this; and people have, at least in my experience, been saying little. It is as if this town of talkers has taken Wittgenstein's advice to heart. The interesting thing is that the quiet is not glum. People are going about their lives as if nothing had happened. The contrast to the atmosphere in New Haven and New Jersey after 9/11 is striking. This is partly due, of course, to the smaller scale of the attacks, which, horrible as they were, have left fewer dead, so that it's likely that fewer people here are worrying about friends and family in London than people around the US, and particularly in the greater New York area, were worrying about loved ones in NYC (the greater preponderance of mobiles, which make communication easier, may also have helped); and there have been no towers toppled, no engulfing clouds of smoke and debris.
Much of the calm, stolid reaction here has been attributed to the British character, the British virtues of stoicism, quiet endurance and good nature. There is probably a great deal of truth to this; and it's admirable. There may also be something to the argument that the whole ordeal has been less unfamiliar - to this city that has withstood the Blitz and IRA bombings - and, after New York, Bali, and Madrid, to say nothing of Afghanistan and the often daily atrocities in Iraq, less surprising, than was the attack on NYC. This, too, is true. But even taking these factors into account, Oxford today has often seemed shockingly unconcerned.
Then again, who can say what people are thinking? And what is there to say about all of this?
I've found myself more shaken by this than I'd have thought, or initially did think. Surprising -- and somewhat suspect -- waves of affection for London (a city I know, but not well, and like, but have never thought myself in love with) have been periodically washing over me. The strangest thing was the desire, shortly after hearing the news, to head into London -- not to gawk at the spectacle, which I don't think I could have borne. Why, then?
Part of the explanation, I suspect, is a failure to fully take aboard what had happened, which led to the insane hope that I would find London unchanged, quiet, functional -- a desire for reassurance, when reassurance did not in fact exist. All of this was deeply subconscious, and didn't occur to me until later. At the moment I felt the urge to go into London (it quickly passed), the main feelings were of affection, and indeed longing, for the city, and a sense of wanting to be with and in it; and of sheer cussedness, contrariness. The thought was not so much one of not letting the terrorists win -- the idea of 'winning' seemed too abstract at the moment -- but rather the feeling that I wasn't going to let the terror attacks and their perpetrators determine my life. No doubt there was an element of false heroics here; there was also simple, impotent anger. But I like to think that I've also managed to catch a bit of the general spirit here -- one of defiance, alongside all the shock and anxiety and grief.
So, what now? Speculation on the implications and ultimate impact of these events seems premature, and I don't feel particularly qualified to offer it. I hope that the attacks won't play into the hands of the nationalist, anti-Asian, anti-Muslim Right; nor that the Government will now enact further freedom-curbing anti-terrorist legislation. At the same time, one has to expect that life in London will be changed; that there will be more security measures, sporadic scares, that things will be slower, tenser, grimmer. All of this can be borne; and the British will, I'm sure, bear it well. There may be a political impact, though I doubt it. I tend to think that if those who committed these mass-murders hoped to terrify Britain, or alter her policies, or shake her resolve, they are as idiotic as they are evil. The British tend not to take kindly to such treatment; and when attacked, they tend to stand firm. Indeed, while no-one could welcome or gladly and cheerfully accept such horrors, they seem at their best in times of adversity, to welcome challenge and hardship. And London is a city that is used to destruction, and always rises again, sometimes grubbier, but usually stronger. London has survived fire, plague, the Blitz; I hope, and believe, that it will be standing, a vibrant, proud, free city, long after its latest attackers have receded into the darkness.
But all of this is very remote from present realities. For the time being, London has been attacked; London is wounded; and London carries on. And I'm sure that the thoughts and emotions, the sympathy and concern, of people around the world are with the inhabitants of London.

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