Charleston, South Carolina has existed in my mind as an ideal city for a couple years now. I've been thinking about places to live in my retirement, old age and dotage and the place comes up often. In fact, I was just discussing the subject this weekend with my sister's family from Rhode Island. Myself, I need woods and water, good food and good folks. I prefer no state taxes and a mix of urban density, local color and proximity to wilderness. My wife wants no snow, no rednecks & no boredom. Her requirements are much more difficult than mine. Unfortunately they land us in New Mexico and perhaps Eastern Washington. We may end up in New Zealand, after all.
My good friend BB has extolled the beauties of the island plantations down Charleston way, and I've checked out the real estate. I've often imagined our families enjoying the place together with dogs, golf and fishing. Delicious. But yesterday morning he tweeted out some alarm. He said it felt like being kicked in the chest. So I googled the headline and found nine shot to death.
I've already decided that there's nothing good to come of this awful news, but I am rather stunned at the rapidity with which the discussion around it has polarized itself into competing narratives of culpability. We all should know by now that it has become common practice in Obama's America to exploit tragedy for political 'teachable moments', but the extent to which this has gone finds me deeply troubled. It is as if respect for common sense and dignity has fallen completely out of social currency and every soul must go an extra mile to extract a moral toll from the public. We have, at last, destroyed the moment of silence. And I suppose that includes me simply by writing this.
So then if I must admonish, and I don't feel that I must, yet I fulfill the expectation, let me admonish towards common sense and dignity. If you cannot place a flower on the grave of the dead, then don't pepper your speech with their names. One homily will suffice, and that is the choice of the families of the dead. Heaven forbid they start the talk show circuit.
Here is a crime for which there is ample precedent for punishment. I am unabashed in my support for the death penalty although I am skeptical that many states are worthy of its responsibility. South Carolina, I don't know. Let justice be done.
I am not impressed with the grandstanding of identity, history, cultural significance or all of the other attributes shouting for recognition, attached to the tragedy as they are by the media mob. I wonder if some folks actually lack the sensitivity to be moved unless the race and religion of victims and perpetrators are lavished with attention. Should we have to know what happened 150 years ago in the church? No we should not. People are binding their conspiratorial worldviews to the actions of a maniac and spreading their suspicions upon totems of their fetishes. The Confederate battle flag did not cause this murder. The NRA didn't sanction it. The African Methodist Episcopal Church didn't have it coming to them. Unarmed Christians didn't deserve it. The City of Charleston did not create an environment conducive to it. Their police officers did not conspire to leave the suspect alive, contrary to normal behavior. The reporting of the media by not including the word 'terrorism' is not significant. I would like to think of myself, and so I counsel myself to be a sober judge of events. A sober judge is, after all and in the end, the sort of human being we human beings are most likely to face and heed in the aftermath of tragedy and pursuit of justice.
It's about time for me to drop the mic, or gavel as it were, and observe my own respectful silence. Before I do, tipping my hat to Walter Sobchak, I'll hand it to a man who speaks for the ages.
"Men are qualified for liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,—in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety and understanding is above their vanity and presumption — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."
Edmund Burke. “Letter to a Member of the National Assembly,” 1791.
The Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, vol. 4, pp. 51–52 (1899).