Confronting the Dark Side in Portland

It’s just too stark—the contrast revealed in the tragedy on the commuter train outside Portland, Oregon a week ago jumps out at you.   The images say so much: On the one hand we have Jeremy Christian a scowling, angry, self-styled nihilist, spewing his message of hate, wrapped in the American flag, a blind nationalist xenophobe, someone who is clearly unbalanced, hoping for a chance to cut someone down, shouting out death threats even in a court of law…

…and then there are those brave souls who confronted this darkness: first a student/poet, second an ex-soldier-father-of-four, and finally, Taliesin Myrdden Namkai-Meche, a young man just out of college, full of life, beloved by all his friends and family, beaming with bonhomie and good-will-toward-men, who as he lay dying in the care of a stranger managed to say, “Tell everyone on this train I love them.”

And who can forget his mother,  Asha Deliverance, who at the vigil for the victims urged us to say no to hate, to “give it up for love.” As a Muslim girl in a headscarf approached her afterwards she reached out and….well, one picture is worth a thousand words.

Forget the photo of Iwo Jima, the Moon Landing, or the Fall of Saigon–this picture beats them all.  It’s a moment of transcendence, a glimpse of our higher selves. It’s the Pieta for our century, and like Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, we feel the mother’s grief at the child lost, a good life destroyed by the Dark Side, but amidst that pain the triumph over death through love.

Nihilism versus Lovingkindness. Is there really a choice about the way forward to a better world?

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Free Speech Rallies and Death in Portland

 

More senseless killings, this time in Portland Oregon.  A mentally-disturbed man was verbally abusing two Muslim teen-aged girls on a train and ended up killing two men trying to intervene.   The killer had a troubled past, to say the least, and most recently came to police attention for his angry rants at a Free Speech Rally. In case you’ve missed them, these rallies are being held around the country by the alt-right following the dust-up on college campuses over uninviting conservative speakers, and in case you missed that, these were right-wing individuals whose views are unpalatable to some students on the left.  When there were complaints and protests about these speakers, their bookings were cancelled. “What happened to Freedom of Speech?” the conservatives ask, with good reason.

The Free Speech Rallies have been steeped in anger as the alt-right organizers and masked Anti-Fascist protesters on the left taunt each other and generally act like they would like nothing better than to get physical. The police have kept them apart mostly, but a lot of the people are young, and, as in the 60s, they are a volatile group.   It doesn’t take much for one person to do something stupid and the next thing you know “dying for a fight” is literally where we are.  Rallies can be powerful, transcendent moments, part of the Sacrament of the Group, but in the wrong hands they become the antithesis: angry mobs out of control, with the energy of the group reinforcing unthinking acts of violence.  Here’s a description from someone who was at the Boston rally—there was no violence there, but depressing doesn’t begin to cover it.

And now the promise of real violence has been met. Two good men are dead and one wounded because a guy with a tricky grip on reality was stirred up by all the acrimony in the air. He took his rant into a train and pointed it at these poor girls.  How many of us would have the courage to stand up to him as these men did?

With a president who seems indifferent to the unrest he’s already caused and the mayhem that is waiting in the wings, don’t expect any improvement in the rhetoric from the leadership anytime soon, no Lincolnian appeals to our better angels.  But in the name of sanity, folks, please, calm down!  Don’t waste your time taunting people you don’t agree with. Talk to them if you feel you must– the chances of changing anyone’s mind may be slim–but it’s more likely to happen in a respectful atmosphere than in a super-charged anger zone.   What good does it do to toss around words like Fascist or carry an insulting placard? It’s just more fuel for the overheated atmosphere we live in.   Save your energy and organize for the next election, whatever side you’re on.  Let each side have their rallies, and if you must, quietly protest ideas you find reprehensible, but when you mock, jeer, or threaten the other side, especially to their face, it does nothing to advance whatever cause you’re fighting for.  It’s undignified and unworthy.