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I don’t want this responsibility*


Causes and effects.
Some of the terrible things that are happening in the world
are long-term effects of things that happened decades, or centuries, ago.
The way in which an act of terrorism against innocents in New York City
is tied, configurally, historically, to events of 1649, 1953, or 1876
can’t be reduced to comfortable moral categories, or individual ethical choices.
We are more and less than morality, and more and less than history. Try too hard
to be more when you should be less, or less when you should be more, you fail.
We fail ourselves.  There’s no more accountability to be gained
torturing a seventeen year-old Afghan kid for a hodgepodge of sketchy information
and telling ourselves that’s okay because of 9.11.01
than there is from saying it’s okay to fly a plane into a building full of bankers, custodians, and tourists
because of western imperialism or colonialism or corrupt, secular, consumer culture.
It’s only when we use history to forgive rather than attack,
understand rather than condemn, that something good will happen.
We have to look across that river of hate and ignorance, to the other side
and look into and behind the eyes of our “enemies” there and here,
and say “I am contextualized.  I am historicized.  I am a product.  And so are you.
We can get our autonomy back, but only if we know this, only if we know who we are,
how we’ve been constructed, how even our personal complicity has been constructed.”
Because to forgive across history, well, that is something.
That is an act of authentic moral rebellion.  That’s what we need.

“…individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their own powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes toward a great avenger and liberator who someday will come and accomplish his mission.” ~Leon Trotsky

“I wish your revolt well, my friend,” said Bakhtin, “but beware that you don’t end up merely repeating the same old story. The state abhors only one thing in the end, and that’s the sound of laughter. Violence it can understand.”  ~Terry Eagleton

*Title is taken from “Responsibility” by mxpx

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.