Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Perplexed About the Cycle of Life and Death

Author's note- I wrote this piece last week and held off publishing for a variety of reasons, incompleteness being the main one. I'm not happy with the piece as it swerves markedly from where I normally like to write but I'll throw it out here knowing full well its not complete and likely never will be. The piece is a bit rough as it was written rather hurriedly and ignored profoundly for a week or so. Something I wrote to basically organize my own thoughts around some very real human tragedies that occurred in the recent past.

I was checking the news today and was somewhat distraught at several of the headlines I saw. I'll ask the reader to bear with me as I'm going to detour from my favorite topic of the outdoors into some murkier things in current events I can't help but write about. I'm not seeking to pass judgement on any of these things or start yet another blogosphere debate. I'll leave comments on but I'm not really looking for any and I'll delete inflammatory ones just because they'll serve no purpose in the greater scheme. I'm merely asking questions, primarily for myself and the running commentary in my head about the conundrums of the human condition. Thoughtful and introspective comments are, of course, welcome.

In fact, reading some of the headlines it was pretty easy to self analyze why I like the outdoors, nature and animals so much- they are pretty simple to figure out as compared to humans and they don't leave you guessing about motivations, or beliefs, or politics. A bear or wolf kills to eat. A cow moose will kill to defend her young. Hypothermia will kill you just because it does.

Of course the first example is the Maj. Hasan of recent events in Texas. I have no idea why this man decided that shooting up a military base was a good idea and I'll admit I can't conceive of the idea of jihad as it's foreign to both my Western culture and my spiritual beliefs. Wrapping my head around the notion that slaughtering the unarmed (even a future combatant) is somehow going to further your spiritual cause simply doesn't compute with me. While I'm sure the case is going to be a prolonged circus as the military brass step all over themselves to keep from calling this man a jihadi or Islamic terrorist when the average third grader has already figured it out- I'm not sure of how we'll deal with the ramifications of that fact. I can't help but think how I wished the DA police officer who shot him would have aimed a bit higher (she is completely excused as her performance under fire was exceptional to say the least- this is no criticism of her) and ended his life right then and there. Bled out on the floor with a smoking gun in his hand, no arguments, no appeal, and no politics as well as achieving his obvious end goal. Now we as a community have to decide how to deal with this guy (still alive likely to his surprise as well as ours) without inflaming the populace against his religious brethren in the service(whom he is likely an aberration to) and society at large; and still somehow serve justice within the bounds of the law. If he's declared a jihadi then his trial will likely become even more complicated than simple murder (is there even such a thing?) as it begs the question- "Is he a traitor? An enemy combatant? A terrorist?" Just what the hell do we do with this guy now? And how do we do it while retaining our own humanity in the process?

The other headline was the execution of John Allen Muhammad for the 2002 sniper attacks in the DC area. The author Jack White wrote a very good piece in The Root about why this case is so conflicting to death penalty opponents (here) and he is raising to front the enigma common among all of us- how to exact vengeance and not destroy yourself in the process. How can you want someone dead so much and not really want society to have to kill them? There is no easy answer to that question. While I've long been a critic of the death penalty and how its carried out in the U.S. - John Allen Muhammad defines the very person for whom most people want to execute. I also can't help but think how much more convenient for him to have been gunned down in the street by the populace he sought to terrorize. America would have been delighted to have seen him shot by police or even private citizenry- no ambivalence, no sideshow gyrations, no doubt of guilt- splattered in the trunk of the car he'd modified as a sniper's hide with his weapon beside him- closure. It seems somewhat gratuitous to see him put to death in such a manner as lethal injection a full seven years after the attacks. Is that going to give us closure? Even seven years later his motivations are still unclear, more so and perhaps even to himself at this point. A million questions left unanswered and a continuing moral quandary over the right of the state to kill someone collectively. No one would have been dismayed had one of his intended victims (or a brave person defending those he sought to kill) shot him stone dead in the act, but years later on a gurney with a cocktail of lethal drugs? That seems an unlikely and particularly sterile end for a man who had so much senseless blood shed by his hands, not that I'm advocating a more violent end, particularly after the fact by the better part of a decade.

The last headline was a confusing interview a'la confession by Scott Roeder from prison awaiting trial for the murder of Dr. George Tiller. In the interview Mr. Roeder defends his actions by stating he was defending the unborn "by any means necessary" which apparently included gunning the Kansas abortion provider down during a church service. The fact the nation's largest provider of late term abortions attended a church service is somewhat surprising (no judgement here-just surprising given most churches' stance on abortion in general) and that a man whose mantra was "Choose Life" chose instead to fire a pistol into the chest of another man is also surprising. Apparently the Kansas prosecutor's office is the only participant in this case not wanting to kill somebody- whether the unborn, or the abortionist, or the extremes of people who support both sides- because they are not seeking the death penalty. Also surprising. Several folks have expressed a quick death at the hands of a police officer would spare us all the public spectacle of a politically and morally motivated murderer's trial that the defendant himself seems intent on using as a bully pulpit. It would also spare us the discomfort of the big questions it raises as well.

So today I feel I've been treated to a parade of human depravity and moral compasses that seem to be wildly spinning out of control. A society caught in a moral whiteout and stumbling with its arms outstretched looking for anything solid to hold onto. The larger questions of our humanity make us squirm and make some of us choose the ideological "low road" and a savagery that would shock.Some take an ideological high road and excuse any behavior however aberrant in the name of political correctness or a desire not to offend. Some of us would like to avoid the questions altogether.

Whether John Allen Muhammed deserved to die or will the military court execute Maj. Hasan or even if Scott Roeder should die for his misdeeds will be the grist mill of the news for weeks to come. A part of me would like to see these men- assassins all for political ends, not folks involved in crimes of passion or some other more pedestrian crime- meet their maker sooner rather than later but a part of me recoils from the thought of an execution. Something done in the heat of the moment in defense likely morally acceptable, but not a calculated decision to take one more life when it will not spare another. Part me also feels there is value to locking people like these into cages so deep that Monday's daylight arrives on Friday- so that we can look at them and know that evil can and does exist in the flesh. Much like the headline makers of three decades past- the Mansons and like of the world if you will- now reduced to pathetic maniacs and a lesson for us all to tread lightly in this world.

One of the few things I remained convinced of is that monsters really do walk among us and I really do need to get back to the outdoors where the cycle of life and death makes at least some kind of sense and it has its place in the great scheme of things, not the senseless depravity we've seen in spades this week.


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Interesting thoughts and as well written as ever.

I like the way you published before you'd reached a conclusion. These are questions that linger in my mind too. I think it's more important that we keep looking at the lenses of our motivations, prejudices and preferences instead of just habitually looking through them.


Phillip Loughlin said...

I don't think this is a line of thought that can be "concluded"... which makes it all the more valid to bring it up and put it in writing.

Something to ruminate on, even down here where we still have the better part of 11 hours of daylight right now.

Keep at it!

Hubert Hubert said...

A fine and thoughtful post, this. Many thanks, Hodgeman.