Could the world BE more fucked up?
The one about Gaza and Guns.
The answer to the title question is, of course, yes.
But I’ve sat down a number of times over the last week to write a Substack and each time crashed into the stumbling block that the things on my mind — on everybody’s minds — are depressing, deeply contentious, and apparently insoluble. But maybe the insoluble problems are the ones that most need engaging with, in the limited sense of encouraging people to talk about them, to either seek solutions through that discourse or at least come to better understand our own positions and biases.
Dunno. But, if for no better reason than to get them out of my own brain, here’s a few thoughts — as an invitation for comments and responses. Let’s talk.
Israel and Gaza
Fucking hell. I mean, Jesus fucking Christ.
I’ve spent my career imagining bad and sometimes horrific events and situations, but I can’t get within a thousand miles of conceiving of the reality of the experiences being undergone in these countries right now, and by those living elsewhere who have family and friends there. Those people are the real story, and it keeps getting worse and worse and worse.
But on a meta level it’s also been dismal and infuriating to watch the responses of people living far less dreadful lives in far more privileged parts of the world, to behold a desperate need to virtue-signal combined with an inability or unwillingness to hold two ideas in their heads at the same time.
My heart aches for my Jewish friends and for the people of Israel: after generations of historically vile abuse and a disturbing rise in open anti-Semitism across the world, it is entirely understandable for Jewish people to wish this present suffering to be centered in coverage of these events, and to want the culprits erased from the earth.
My heart also aches for the parents of five-year-old Palestinian kids getting blown to pieces when they can hardly be blamed for the psychopaths running a beleaguered country that last had elections seventeen years ago.
Yes, the events Hamas orchestrated are an absolute, undeniable and unforgivable atrocity, and remaining hostages must be retrieved, and redress sought. But also yes, the way in which the IDF is choosing to exact revenge upon a civilian population with its own struggles and deprivations has rapidly become an atrocity too. If we view Hamas’ deeds as acts or war rather than “mere” terrorism, then surely we need to ask questions about how much culpability is accrued by a people who have never had a chance to vote them out.
On Friday the IDF blew an ambulance to pieces. It might well be that Hamas uses such vehicles for covert movement — but not all the at least 15 people who died and fifty who are injured were Hamas. And the IDF knew that would be the case. But on the other hand, nothing that Hamas did on October 7th is forgivable. There are vicious people on both sides, bad men enacting implacable hatreds. Meanwhile Netanyahu clings into power and the top circle of Hamas have by all accounts made themselves very, very rich indeed.
As I write this, closing on ten thousand people have died in Gaza, with more than thirty thousand injured in a country whose infrastructure has been destroyed. Suggesting that the Israeli forces might want to dial it down a tad and maybe stop killing so many bystanders and kids is not anti-Semitism. It’s not even essentially pro-Palestinian.
It’s simply pro-human. Pro-innocent. Because they’re always the people who die.
But what seems — at least to me — like a reasonable centrist position is too wishy-washy for some, including a depressing number of professional shouters on the left. We’re seeing the liberal mindset increasingly divided, with everybody accusing everybody else of wrong-think or anti-this or that-phobia, little of which increasingly shrill and vicious performative stridency is any help to the people actually suffering.
If you’re tearing down posters for lost or kidnapped Israelis, or harassing Jewish students, or in any way attacking Jewish people, anywhere, then you’re a fucking asshole. If you’re claiming that mourning Palestinian civilians are faking their dead or their suffering — you’re also a fucking asshole. Meanwhile Netanyahu covers up unforgivable incompetence through war-porn, and Hamas leaders like the gut-churningly vile Ghazi Hamad threaten further violence from a safe location: both free to keep popping up on television to angrily wave their cocks at the world, both creating pain that will live for generations and inspire more atrocities… yet neither personally destined to be found dead under a pile of blood-drenched rubble.
Who does all this serve? Who gains advantage from dividing the people who conventionally try to care about other people, splitting us into bitter factions? Rulers like Putin, of course — whose sticky little fingers are all over this event, via Iran. Just as the American government deserves censure for its incompetent backstage maneuverings two decades ago that helped put Hamas in power, and the Brits also need a serious slapping for helping screw up the Middle East in the first place.
If you, your family, friends or community have been attacked, it is entirely understandable to wish vengeance. That is the way of the heart. The rest of us maybe need to step back, take a breath, and forge a compassionate and educated middle ground. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are both abhorrent, and decrying them is not a zero-sum game. We must confront both. Non-combatants in the West need to pull our heads out of our asses, stop treating world affairs as a fun existential game for winning applause from pals in our own echo chamber, and do something to HELP.
None of this is simple. None of it will have a quick or easy solution — and so meanwhile we can and should choose to be on both sides at once, because they are the same side: the side of innocent people everywhere whose lives are destroyed by the gleeful abominations of greedy and power-crazed tyrants and sociopaths.
Anybody who has the misfortune to follow me on Twitter will know that I regularly kick off about the insane situation with guns in the United States. Unfortunately this subject is another to which everybody comes pre-loaded with unmovable positions baked in fury — and so it rapidly disintegrates into people screaming at each other.
The day after the mass shooting in Maine in which eighteen people died, I was invited onto Joe Walsh’s podcast to discuss the epidemic of mass shootings. Walsh is a former Tea Party Republican congressman (who also ran a short-lived primary campaign against Donald Trump in 2020). We crossed paths on Twitter in around 2015 and spent a while shouting at each other, usually about guns. Gradually this turned into a more productive relationship and we’ve now spent many hours in conversation on the phone. While the majority of our political positions remain diametrically opposed, we have found common ground in at least being willing to talk.
That’s what we did here. There’s no answers in this podcast, and no, I didn’t shout at Joe as loudly as I would have liked about assault rifles — or a ton of other things, America’s gun problem isn’t only about mass shooting incidents — because that would have made the endeavor futile.
You can get pointless shouting all over the Internet. It never solves anything.
The subject is massive, too, one of the reasons it’s so hard to find concrete steps toward progress: from issues over why some are so obsessed with Second Amendment rights (and the shift in emphasis toward “fighting tyranny” since LaPierre took over the NRA); and the history of the Constitution and particularly the anti-Federalist voices instrumental in the Bill of Rights; or whether the philosopher John Grey is on to something when he positions mass shootings not merely as a function of a mental health crisis but also an example of what he calls “anomic terrorism” — carnage inspired (as Martin Amis put it in an essay titled “Is Terrorism About Religion?” in The Wall Street Journal in 2008) “by alienation, the self-extending despair”.
We couldn’t hope to cover even a tenth of it in an hour — just as I can’t say everything that needs saying about the Middle East and would just get more wrong the harder I tried. And trust me, I know what the root problem is here. It’s America having too many fucking guns — along with the fact that though Maine happened only last week, America seems to have forgotten about it (along with Ukraine — remember that?)
But if you’re interested, the conversation is here:
Yes, it may seem trivializing, in the context of the other two subjects, to end on the death of an comedian. But, shit: it’s still sad.
Sad because he was a very talented actor — one of those few who could render a line funny simply by saying it; sad because FRIENDS was such a backbone of life for a long time; sad because just when it seemed like Perry might be getting to the other side of a lifetime of addiction, one quiet night the after-effects caught up with him and bang: heart attack in a hot tub.
Every death is real. Every death hurts people. Every death is sad.
Is Perry’s death as globally sad as those of Palestinian children or Israeli concert-goers? No. Is it as sad as the father and son who went out bowling one evening in Maine last week and now won’t go home ever again? Again, no. But it’s still sad.
We can’t do anything about Perry. We can, however, as individuals, try to stand in the way of violence. By doing whatever we can to understand and protect and support each other, and the victims of all nations and communities — whether it’s caused by terrorists, feral politicians, or the people who profit from the sale of guns.
There are two things that will be the end of our societies if we’re not careful: insufficient attention and resources paid to mental health; and being too caught up in our own bullshit to try to hold two apparently contradictory ideas in our heads at once — because it’s only from tolerating that dissonance that truth may eventually emerge.
This piece has been a huge downer and probably slightly wrong about everything, so here’s something nice (though I’ve just this moment realized a strangely specific and sad parallel between O’Riordan’s and Perry’s lives).
This is what I’ve been listening to over and over this week. There’s a bit of iffy pitching from Dolores right at the beginning (you can see her fiddling with the earpiece) but jeez: what an ebullient, joyful, crowd-owning performance.
There’s another spirited live version here.
And let’s not forget, in closing, that another of The Cranberries’ greatest songs was this (from the same Paris gig), a searing indictment of violence in all its forms:
What are you listening to right now? Distract me with something good.