Not Prince Hamlet, Nor Meant to Be

All right, why did they do it? That’s the question people keep asking or rather answering. They did it because of rage, because of a sense of grievance, because of injustice, because all those people marched and no one listened, because of Fallujah, because of Afghanistan (but not because of Bosnia or Kosovo), because of exclusion and marginalization, because of the violence perpetrated on Muslims. But hey – maybe they didn’t. Maybe even apart from the fact that those are all contemptible ‘reasons’ – maybe they’re not reasons anyway. Maybe they’re only pseudo-reasons, like the ‘reasons’ people protest the G8 summit or the ‘reasons’ people toss a brick through Starbucks’ window and then run away. Maybe all that is bullshit and rationalization and above all camouflage.

Maybe the reasons were way more stupid and trivial and self-oriented than even the bogus reasons the Grievance-polishers have been trotting out. Maybe in fact rage at injustice doesn’t have a god damn thing to do with it except as window dressing. Maybe the real reasons are to do with wanting to make a mark, with fantasies about fame and glory and being Somebody. Maybe the whole thing is like that conversation in the back of the cab between Terry Malloy and his mobbed-up older brother in the expensive coat. ‘I coulda been somebody, I coulda had class.’

Maybe the guff about injustice and Grievance is merely an ingredient in a narrative of self in which the hero is a freedom fighter, a rebel, a guerilla warrior, another Che or Osama or Tupac. Maybe anything would have done – any ‘injustice,’ any ‘grievance’. Maybe it’s all just a combination of testosterone and a feeling of insignificance and stupid fantasizing. Maybe four guys just wanted to feel Special, and at this particular moment for those particular guys, the way to do that was to strike a blow for their ‘community.’ At another particular moment for another group of insignificant guys, the way to do that was to strike a blow for a different ‘community’ – by shooting Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and triggering The Great War. A few overexcited boys commit a murder, and tens of millions of people wind up dead.

Maybe there was a monstrous disproportion between the enormity of what they did and their own personal stature. Maybe all this handwaving about injustice is partly because we can’t stand the thought that it was all actually very petty and childish and narcissistic and stupid. Because what they actually did was so horrible, caused such wretched misery to so many people – we want to think there was something at least grand and significant – at least interesting – about the people who did it. A touch of Macbeth, a bit of Clytemnestra; a little tragic and operatic. But maybe there wasn’t. Maybe they were just about as grand and significant as some pimpled youth who gets drunk and drives a car at ninety miles an hour into another car, killing six people. Maybe they were just about as grand and significant as the non-entities who killed Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Rabin. Just four creeps who wanted to be a big deal, and had too little imagination to prevent them from going for it.

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