Reading DoctorDi’s blog post today on the terror attacks in Mumbai, I was thinking about our general incomprehension in the face of such extreme violence. (Incidentally, congrats to Di on being long-listed by Veruna in Aus for her novel. I know she’s busy with the rewrites so doesn’t get to leave many comments around the blogosphere, but you should read her stuff.)
Perhaps it’s too early for analysis of the attacks and I’m reluctant to even go there. What’s my interest in this? Why should I sound off on other peoples’ tragedies? But I also think that there’s something to be learned here. Regular readers may know that I’ve been preoccupied for a while with empathy and violence. How violence results from a total lack of empathy. In simple form: Anger – Empathy = Violence.
With high levels of violence in South Africa, it’s not hard to find examples. One of the dominant stories in Cape Town in the past few months has been that of a senior policeman, Marius van der Westhuizen, who gunned down his three children as a way of punishing his wife. Yesterday I read how the forensic psychiatrist described his actions as possibly the most severe example of narcissistic rage that her team had seen in the past few months.
Violence feeds the ego, as Adam Phillips reminds us. And our commercial culture is only too ready to feed our egos with gratuitous violence in the form of violent movies, news images, computer games and hate speech. Di was asking what the perpetrators of the Mumbai violence might want from this horror. And as I read her incomprehension which matched my own yesterday, I started thinking about the need for publicity and self-importance of the perpetrators which links in with the needs of the commercial media to generate media consumption. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to reflect on the rise of the 24-hour news channels in the wake of the Gulf Wars. And then to remember how 9/11 had us glued to CNN and Sky and BBC (or whatever your channel was) for days on end in absolute horror.
So what do the perpetrators want? Reports suggest a surge of hatred and hostility between India and Pakistan for a start. The cooling of ill-feeling between the two countries is clearly not good for the terrorism business. I’m sure other analysts will reflect on a general hatred for Western values which links up with narcissistic injuries of wounded and excluded identities. But I’ll leave it there for today. I know this is rather depressing talk for a Friday. This is supposed to be the silly season after all. One of our wonderfully talented cartoon strips in SA is “Madam and Eve”. The best exchanges occur between Granny Anderson and the cute black girl (whose name escapes me). Granny Anderson, a diminutive gin-and-tonic-swilling expat from England, is usually goaded into locking the cute black girl (CBG) out of the house for disturbing her afternoon nap with funny and pertinent questions. “Now?” asks the CBG. “How about now?” “Now?” She’s wearing a false nose and glasses and is asking Granny Anderson if teh silly season has started yet. Well, it’s clearly not today. But my online Xmas shopping started yesterday. Books and CDs. *purr*