The past decades have produced a wealth of video footage on horrific violence against human beings. To name a few: amputations in Rwanda, stoning in Afghanistan, and during the past year heads were rolling like it was France 1794. Last week’s pictures of the slaughter in Paris fit neatly in this rich tradition of brutality.
When exposed to such cruelty I usually go through three phases.
The first phase is 'Fear and Undo'. My instant reaction is: “Stop those imbeciles, someone!?”, which is silly as it has already occurred. Basically I try to undo the act.
This reaction is swiftly followed by variations on how to stop the attackers, fed by a growing feeling of disgust. This is the point at which phase two sets in: 'Hatred and Revenge'. It evolves into a wish to do unto them as they do unto someone else; indeed, a primitive idea of revenge. Important to mention is that I always clearly see someone else do the dirty work. Also, gradually realising that the acts are part of a bigger problem (religion is never far away), the target of revenge broadens. For example, during a coffee machine jamboree with some colleagues shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack I heard myself suggesting a counter attack. The attack would be operationalised through establishing a terrorist cell (“Maria for Belgium/Holland”, headquartered in Banneux) seeking to protect Christian values by means of massive crucifixions of Islamic leaders.
Phase three, 'Sense making', kicks in when finally you’ve seen reason to some extent and try to rationally analyse what happened. This phase is often particularly unfruitful. 'Misanthropy' would be a better label. It is characterised by reflections on the human race, dotted with terms such as ‘evil-natured’, ‘hopeless’ and ‘inevitable’.
But not this time! I won’t let misanthropy settle already at the start of 2015. So my late new year’s resolution is to go the ‘Ostrich way’: shielding yourself from ugly things. Hence, since January 7th I’ve been reading only the culture supplement of my newspaper, getting to know just what’s been created instead of what’s been destroyed.
Thomas Thijssens, lecturer at SBE