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Terrorism, Doerr, Paris, Drones


January 2015

--The Paris massacre that surfaces visceral questions about fundamentalism, pluralism, freedom of expression and of movement. What cultural scars is humanity meant to bear? Where will the search for impossible answers lead us, and how will we ever recover the shreds of empathy?


For Gene and me (who travel to Paris as often as we can), there is also the question of what we will find when we return. Reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See a few months ago, we imagined ourselves tracing Marie-Laure’s footsteps from her childhood home to the Natural History Museum and Jardin des Plantes in  the 5th Arrondisement, an area near where we often stay. And now, that itinerary seems too easy, too frivolous, made even more so if we should find our favorite city occupied, not by the Nazis as in Marie-Laure’s day, but by another fascist regime—and all the darkness we can see.


--NPR’s new radio show/podcast, Invisibilia, billed as a cross between This American Life and Radio Lab, born to explore “The invisible forces that shape human behavior.” That it does, and in a fresh and fascinating way. No doubt it will become as popular as the other two, and I, for one, am glad to do my part, and to share S. and Martin and Daniel with other enthusiasts. Still, I can’t help but wonder why there are so many of us seeking to understand (accept? Celebrate?) the quirks and contortions of human nature, while at the same time working to re-define them as social constructions. And if we should succeed, what then?


--In light of the investigation into an American drone attack that killed 50 innocent men, women and children in Syria (not the first of such tragedies), we must ask "Other than the method of delivery, what is the fundamental difference between a drone attack and a machine gun attack?" How many lives have ended as "collateral damage," and how many "terrorists" have been created because a brother, sister, daughter, son, mother, father or friend have been killed as an "inconsequence" to some "greater" political, cultural or religious need? Do the dead and their survivors truly make the distinctions we attempt to make? Are we capable of honestly addressing the unhappy similarities?


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