Here Be Monsters

I seem to be talking and thinking about monsters a lot these days. In part, that’s because I joined Twitter. Rather, I should say I began using Twitter, since I created an account long ago, but never used it for anything other than following Duotrope posts. Now I’m following N.K. Jemisin, Anne Leckie, Tor Books, Annalee Flower, Brandon Sanderson, Robert J. Crane, and a host of others. I tried to post something every day, but sheesh! Talk about a time suck…

My main reason for becoming more active on Twitter was to “get my name out there” in the writing/publishing world. And I’m sure that will happen over time. But for the moment, Twitter’s most prevalent offering (mostly through Jemisin’s and Leckie’s tweets and retweets) is a wider awareness of awful things happening in the U.S. of A, as well as the world. I’ve mentioned in recent blog posts that I often tune out news because it’s so damn depressing, and also that ignoring the monster doesn’t make it go away.

So I’ve been looking askance at the beast, reading reports about: the Surabaya attacks where a single family—including young children—carried out suicide bombings at three different churches; the mass, random stabbings in Paris on May 12; the Burundi killings where 26 people were killed and 7 wounded. Even where countries with long-standing hostilities strive toward peaceful negotiations aimed at ending their confrontation, like Pakistan and India, it takes only a handful of dedicated, opposed individuals to disrupt the whole process.

It isn’t just Twitter that’s heightened my awareness of human atrocities. In researching background for my short story “Upshot” (which is still awaiting Mayan translation for certain words and phrases), I learned about the Guatemalan civil war in the mid- to late-20th Century, how soldiers and guerillas leveled whole villages, packed the people (including women and children) into churches and then burned the building to the ground, raped and pillaged and plundered with zero accountability. Research for another story I’ve mentioned here before (“That Shining Moment,” which is still in the creation process) showed me how many countries still use a firing squad as a means of capital punishment and how frequently, even in countries where the death penalty has been “abolished,” firing squads still eliminate enemies of the state in executions that take place “off the books.” When I first began researching for “Shining Moment,” my readings sickened me, gave me nightmares, especially what I learned about the Rwandan genocide (blogged about here).

I get that tensions can begin over understandable disagreements. It’s part of human nature to differ on things. Where the arguments lose me is when the issues are allowed to grow into an integral part of the nations or cultures that spawned the conflict in the first place. Such prolonged hatred often becomes embedded in a social fabric and remains a threat to peace long after the initiating offense or disagreement has been lost to history. The problem is that if the parties want peace, someone has to be willing to make the first gesture, but we have been taught that to do this is to show weakness. For combatants in long-standing hostilities, showing weakness is tantamount to submission, an invitation for others to prey on their exposed underbellies. (Can you say “Northern Ireland”?)

I know these conflicts are oftentimes multilayered and complex. But it seems to me that some, at least, boil down to a sentiment which dictates that the different “Other”—whether that manifests in religion, ethnic group, nationality, political party or what have you—must be eradicated. But these examples are only part of the world-wide symptom I’m talking about here. More insidious tactics of people in this mindset don’t involve murder. At the other end of the spectrum, people with this outlook feel compelled to discredit and minimize their “opponents” any way they can. The recent spate in the U.S. of calling the police on black people doing normal things (like patronizing a Starbucks, or staying at an Air B&B, or power-napping in between studies in a university common room) is born of this same mentality.

International hostilities, as I’ve explained, bewilder me. I read about them, try to understand, and eventually turn away because there is so little I can do about such a large-scale problem. My anger is reserved for persons or groups who foster hate against others simply because they are different. Any person or group of persons who carry out a suicide bombing or a terrorist shooting, anyone who would deprive another individual or group of their dignity because of their religion or sexuality or skin color, anyone who foments this sort of hatred by their words and actions, these are the people who wind up on my black list.

I don’t care what nationality or religion or race or gender or sexual orientation a person claims. I try to accept people as human beings regardless of the packaging or point of origin. I may not be a soldier in the struggle to end international conflict; still, if my daily life placed me into a situation where an act of hostility took place right in front of me, I don’t think I could remain silent. Peace-loving as I am, if I was ever to be moved to fight either literally or metaphorically, it would be to stand between a perpetrator of hate speech or actions and their intended target and say, “No. Not this time. I will speak out.”

Perhaps if more people would do this simple thing, we would not be in such dire straits as a species.