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The Boston Marathon Bombing and the Limits of Human Empathy

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

We can grieve and mourn the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. However, the ritual of loss--and of beginning a righteous search (as opposed to a witch hunt where our Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters are abused and harassed, while the White Right and the American militia crowd is treated as de facto above suspicion) for those individual(s) who committed this crime--should not interfere with critical thinking, national introspection, or truth-telling.

Moreover, I would also suggest that this is precisely the time, when a people are surprised, hurt, and made to feel vulnerable, that difficult questions about justice and the human condition should be asked. Once the shock passes and a callus forms, it is easy to ignore foundational questions about our shared human existence and what ties us together.

Ultimately, when the illusion of perpetual safety and security has been shattered a bit--and when all Americans across the colorline have been made to feel  "vulnerable, unsafe, and insecure"--is precisely the time when a critical moment of self-reflection should take place.

A question. What are the limits of human empathy?  3 people were killed and many dozens injured and maimed by the Boston Marathon bombing on Monday. By comparison, many more people are killed by American drones and other weapons of war on a weekly, if not daily basis, across the Middle East and in other parts of the world.

The language of "war" and "terrorism" deems these people not human, but rather "targets" and "terrorists" to be "neutralized." The CIA and other organs of the United States government admit that their targeting procedures are imprecise, and that in killing one "terrorist" many more people who are guilty of nothing more than being nearby are also annihilated, broken apart, burned alive, and shattered.

The metrics are against the United States: her war machine is killing many more innocents than the "guilty," thus, ensuring blow back for years to come.

Speech is political. It reinforces certain types of realities and norms. Here, "those" people are deemed legitimate targets of violence and death. "Our" people are innocent and should be safe in their personhood and body at all times.

Is this calculus the necessary result of nationalism and "patriotism?" Why are the lives of those folks who just happen to live in other countries cheaper and less valuable than Americans?

Is the nation state built upon the fictive ties of those who live in geographic proximity to one another, or in the same imagined country or territory? By design, are our ties to other human beings, who by coincidence of birth live in other parts of the world, diminished and minimized?

I wonder how much better, or perhaps worse in some counter intuitive ways, our world would be if the American people could be as upset about the deaths from the bombing of the Boston Massacre, as those others which occur almost everyday, all over the world--many of which are either directly or indirectly done in supposed pursuit of "national defense" and/or the the United States' "national security."

Do we dare to dream?