As terrible and jarring as the events at the Boston Marathon may have been, it is important to ponder one salient reality.
Unfortunately–and this must NOT be taken to diminish the seriousness or sadness of the attack–Monday’s event was far from unique. Things exactly like it happen all the time, practically every week somewhere in the world. This is all the more reason why the proper response is not to divide, but instead to unite. Not just as a country, but as a species. We have to figure out why our species can’t stop this kind of thing from happening, and the answer lies not with one country or demographic but at the heart of the salient elements of the human condition. Residents of other cities and countries, whose weddings and playgrounds and offices and nightclubs and buses have been bombed more times than they can count (including, yes, by our drones and missiles), have expressed sympathy and solidarity with those directly affected by the Boston Marathon incident; this is the path to our species’ salvation and progression, not calls to target any population or to turn someone’s country into a parking lot.
Many of you who have read and appreciated First Cause have registered that it’s largely an appeal to empathy, and an argument for the general sameness of the human species in terms of potential, bandwidth and essential nature. Many of you have already pointed out that it begins with events reminiscent of the terrible events in Boston, including the subsequent disturbing responses. I wrote First Cause because I was not only distressed by the human inclination to respond to this kind of event in the same way over and over again, but hopeful that human beings were capable of moving beyond determinism, reductiveness and mindless scapegoating. My book was far from the first, and will be far from the last, attempt to use fiction to inspire thought about the human condition and the ways we can all come together and advance. And fiction can only help to a point–because similar to the classic line that “everyone’s got a plan until they git hit,” the truest object lessons and opportunities often come in the form of real-life events that inspire horror, wonder and everything in between.
One of the saddest things about the human condition is that it so often seems to take a terrible event to move us forward–and yet we so often seem to take the wrong lessons from terrible events. The past few days have shown plenty of examples of how the wrong lessons might be learned: calls for war, calls for ethnic profiling, calls for Orwellian surveillance, calls for things even more preposterous than the above. But the past few days have also shown glimpses of the opposite: solidarity among regional and national rivals, people organizing to allow marathoners finish their race, people organizing to help the affected, people mobilizing to ponder the larger picture that got us here, people running into the blast site to help the injured. Whatever the cause of the explosions at the Boston Marathon–whether the source is domestic or international, an organization or a single person, a demented madperson or a focused person of malicious intellect–the fact is, an incredibly wide range of people, groups and institutions could have plausibly done this, and this returns me to the point that we are all far more similar than different. “An explorer from another galaxy would find us all very much alike,” someone once said; someone else once said that “security is mostly a superstition.” No amount of panic, scapegoating or surveillance will make us completely secure in the face of uncertainty, but taking every opportunity to move forward and become more empathetic is the surest path to making sure fewer of these types of events happen in the future. I sincerely hope that this particular horrible event is one of the ones that helps us move forward instead of regress.
We humans are all in this together, and the human condition is, as the saying goes, the only show in town. Let’s not let our worst aspects hold us back.