Saturday, July 16, 2016

A man on a motorcycle

I was unusually happy that day which was surprising as I cannot describe my days at university as the most fulfilling time of my life, though I cannot recall why - perhaps real happiness does not require it. I was on my way to college, standing at a crossroads with traffic lights in central London, radiating my well being. Suddenly, as the lights changed, a motorcyclist, directly opposite, drove straight at me, onto the pavement, and only quick reaction on my part saved me from collision. As he passed, his foot shot out as if to hit me and he shouted something whose exact meaning, I could not make out but whose underlying sense I recall vividly.

So remarkably unusual was this event, and so shocking, that when I recall it, I momentarily think I must have dreamt it, a rare nightmare. But no it is anchored in memory and surfaced today, unsurprisingly, as I read of the terrible events in Nice.

The underlying sense of the motorcyclist's shout was that he could not bear a vision of happiness. It was laying bare an existentialist angst that was both deep and even if glimpsed only momentarily, memorably shocking, such that I have never forgotten it. It plays itself out now in my memory, sending icicles of recognition piercing through me.

The perpetrator of Nice, whatever ideological clothing his act may come to be wrapped with, strikes me as a thoroughly self-tortured human being who I can imagine doing exactly what he did without any ideological wrapping (though it may have lowered the threshold of the act's likelihood by providing a justification).

Like many perpetrators of shootings in the US, this was a person who wanted to affirm themselves through an act of violence, who wanted to be heard by disrupting the given, the normal, the ordinary, the happy. That he may have been a fertile ground for a project of radicalisation is a truism but that fertile ground is not wholly inspired by radicalisation as such. We live in societies that for significant groups, there is only felt exclusion (for multiple and complex reasons) and whose response to exclusion is potential violence, more attention on these reasons, rather than abstract wars on 'terror' might yield more fruitful results.

More attention as a society on the roots of empathy and their disruption would probably yield more fruit than any number of security initiatives that address symptoms whilst failing to secure. The research and practice of what these initiatives might look like is extensive, detailed and proven but because they are long term, systemic and preventative, they tend to be overlooked. One of my favourite is here: http://www.rootsofempathy.org (and no I do not think it insane to place questions of childhood development on the table when discussing terrorism quite the opposite in fact).

I often thought about my motorcyclist and hope that he came to a better, calmer place, better able to bear the ordinary happiness of others and to share in it.

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