Indeed, They Did Grow Up Absurd

Indeed, They Did Grow Up Absurd

The theater of the absurd is now being enacted on the public scene. Letters recently sent to a number of corporations which were subsequently bombed stated that the bomb throwers were full of loving care for mankind and therefore felt justified in destroying the offices of death-dealing corporations. They seem to think of themselves as angels of death whose innocence is vouchsaved by their loving intentions. These Jesuits of the bomb seem untouched by reflection on the relations between means and ends. Since they are convinced of the purity of their motives, they apparently feel that everything they do should be judged in the light of these motives rather than in terms of the consequences for others. Theirs is in effect a kind of magical politics. As John Dewey wrote long ago, “The principle of magic is found whenever it is hoped to get results without intelligent control of means; and also when it is supposed that means can exist and yet remain inert and inoperative.”

In their desperate assaults against “the system” in general, these loving avengers seem to have the utmost contempt for human beings in particular. Like all executioners, they care not for their victims. While protesting against a “dehumanized system” they eagerly refer to its representatives as “pigs” and “vermin,” thus dehumanizing them in their turn. Pigs are to be slaughtered and vermin must be exterminated, and so these modern terrorists can apparently bomb and maim with a perfectly good conscience. Imprisoned in a moral universe of total negation, these young men attempt with bombs and revolvers to evoke values they do not really possess.

They are desperate, and it would be foolish to deny that much of their desperation must be laid at the doors of a political situation that has been created by at least two administrations. Washington has shown its contempt for the young, and generally for all those who do not belong to the mindless middle of the electorate. In a very real sense, these terrorist acts are symptoms of the devolution of the democratic process in recent years. Similarly, the mass media and other purveyors of the pornography of violence have surely had a part in creating an atmosphere that is conducive to benign tolerance for the most outrageous acts of terror. In Cold Blood as well as Bonnie and Clyde helped define the latest twist of the Zeitgeist. But it would be wrong to exonerate the terrorists for what they do by pointing to the failings of the system which has engendered them. We must treat them as accountable and responsible for their actions. Granted that much of what is currently happening on the American scene is ultimately rooted in the failings of a society that led many of its young to grow up absurd, we owe it to them to treat them as responsible actors.


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