If the State of the World Makes You Want to Scream, You’re Not Alone

There are times when I want to scream out: “F*** this entire indifferent, hypocritical and violent world!”

My desire to scream is a result of deep outrage, sickness and anger. I tarry with the suffering I try to bear witness to. To bear witness is to carry the truth, the burden, of a truth. Sometimes, the weight of certain truths can feel so heavy that I feel powerless and unable to do anything. The social injustices are too widespread, too large, too difficult, and too complex to be addressed with any meaningful results. We must confront the reality of these social evils, and be prepared for the ways in which they are perpetuated, especially when we are indifferent.

As scholar of theology Elisabeth T. Vasko writes, “We are not very good at sitting with pain. We tend to engage in a politics of distraction, to shy away from making the really hard decisions (after all, isn’t there an app for that?).” It is hard to sit with pain, to tarry with what is really being asked of us by those who suffer.

How in the heck do we continue to live with such terrible realities such as the lynchings of Black bodies and the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor’s killing, and the death 3 year-old? Alan Kurdi, the murder of innocent Palestinian children and Black transgender woman, the massacre of civilians, Yemen, and the inhumane treatment for those imprisoned

These things are important to me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to write about them. This is due to the relative privilege I have because I can write. Writing is a form for protest, a way to speak truth to injustices. The aporia, or internal contradiction, is still quite jarring.

Perhaps the privilege of writing should be taken away in the face of such suffering. Think of it this way: Abraham Joshua Heschel was being asked by a journalist about his protest against the Vietnam War. Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, relates that her father said he was there because he could not pray. It is hard to imagine the confused expression on the face the journalist who sought clarification.

“Whenever I open the prayerbook, I see before me images of children burning from napalm,” Heschel replied.

This is what it means not to be there for the suffering of others. It means to hear their cries and listen to their lament.

Martin Luther King Jr. was correct when he said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are all bound together by an inextricable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Capturing the entwinement of our human existence, Judith Butler writes, “It is not as if an ‘I’ exists independently over here and then simply loses a ‘you’ over there, especially if the attachment to ‘you’ is part of what composes who ‘I’ am.”

One must be willing to see the world from this perspective. Perhaps “the more” doesn’t have a grammar yet to express it, perhaps We are still too attached to how weBe concerned about TheyEven if the feeling of concern is genuine, Learn more about them. There is distance, after all, in the relation of “feeling concern for or about.”

Perhaps our safety is to be completely removed from those who are suffering. We will need to think critically, though, about how the process of abandoning our safety — who does it, when and where — can be distributed in ways that doesn’t require more from those who are always already in situations of structural violence.

I also want to bring attention to those moments of feeling concern where one might come to the difficult realization regarding the extent to which one’s kindness, concern and sympathy can obfuscate the degree of one’s own complicity.

For example, I said to my partner as she and I watched images on the news, “We get to watch the news of these horrible images coming out of Ukraine in our home as over 4 million Ukrainians are forced to leave their homes.” We imagined what it would be like for the two of us, along with our youngest sons, to flee our house, seeing it blown-up, torn to bits, and our precious memories of home overshadowed by the violence of war, military invasion, totalitarian chaos.

Yet, looking at those images, as writer and philosopher Susan Sontag powerfully reminds us, “is one more mystification of our real relations to power.” Sontag continues, “So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering. Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence.”

Many people in this country and around the globe, I would argue, fail to see (or willfully ignore) this connection and thus fail to question their complicity. Sontag wants us to see not just how our wealth is linked to “the destitution of others,” but how what we do and don’t do within our own situation of relative privilege is “linked to their suffering.” Being aware of this keeps me honest, angry and haunted.

The desire to scream can be a sign that I haven’t become screaming. NumConcerning those who suffer.

Daily, I agonize (and must do so) over my own children’s lives when faced with the hard reality that over 100 children have been killed and more wounded since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But you see, it isn’t just about myChildren; it is about All Children and the precious lives they have are not considered precious or grievous.

According to reports, around 1,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine. These numbers will undoubtedly rise as more rubble is removed. We are still learning about the horror. As trauma holds the body and mind captive, more personal horrors are likely to ensue. Reports of Russian soldiers are out. raping Ukrainian women and then murderingThese are them. At such moments as these, the words pour out of me: “F*** this entire indifferent, hypocritical and violent world.”

I was disturbed by the news that Vladimir Putin had placed Russian nuclear forces on high alert. I couldn’t sleep at night because I thought about the possibility that nuclear weapons would be dropped on the Ukrainian people or over U.S. cities. And we mustn’t forget about those bombs that would be dropped over Russian cities which would instantly kill tens of thousands of innocent people.

The flood of frightening realities that came to mind included the blinding flashes light of a nuke explosion, the burning of skin, severe bloody diarrhea and the death of tens if not thousands of people at once. myChildren, and Your children — those who are innocent and just want to live. This includes possible radioactive fallout and the possibility of being harmed. devastation of our planet’s ecosystems.

After hearing about the news of the high alert, I didn’t get the sense that anything had changed. People continued to go about their day as if there was no threat to the world. I’m not saying that there should have been mass panic, but what the hell? I’m not an alarmist, but rather I am someone who, as Rabbi Heschel says, “feels fiercely.” He also says that “what we need is restlessness, a constant awareness of the monstrosity of injustice.” Well, I’m restless when I think about the monstrosity of nuclear annihilation.

Around our “dinner table,” which is certainly a perk of class privilege, I could tell that my sons had a sense of fear that was repressed and covered over by lightly joking about “WWIII.”

How can children talk about such a global nightmare if they don’t know how to face it? I am outraged by the fact that we exist within a world where such destructive weapons exist, where a small miscalculation — because of ideological differences, mistrust, hatred, the breaching of “sacred” geopolitical boundaries and manufactured airspaces — could mean the end of us all.

In this context, nuclear war games are absurd. How do you estimate the risk of losing millions of people and saving others? Zero-sum scenarios in a nuclear war are meaningless. We all lose. We’re talking mutually assured destruction. Even if some people survive, we all lose.

Remember that Donald Trump, when asked directly in 2016, refused the offer of nuclear weapons. Who thinks and speaks like this? Those who dream of total mastery.

According to Julietta Singh, mastery “also turns inward to become a form of self-maiming, one that involves the denial of the master’s own dependency on other bodies.” That is partly the trick and yet the tragedy of mastery — to deny one’s own sense of being interdependent. In this way, one is “untouchable,” living a life filled with pretentiousness and self-deception, where one believes in their historical destiny, their inherent “genius,” to lead the world into a “new age,” one where dissenters are murdered, where truths are lies and lies are truths, and where those most loyal must be prepared to sacrifice their friends, their families and their ethical compasses for a mess of pottage. We’ve seen this before where the obdurate desire for maintaining mastery has led to forms of enslavement, colonial domination and the death of millions.

As we are now 100 seconds to midnight, where “midnight” is that moment where humanity ends as we know it because of some catastrophic moment due to a nuclear war or a devasting climate event, the danger of that form of mastery should give us pause. It takes only 100 seconds.

It is times like these that I look after my sons with more love. I allow my lungs to breathe. I keep my eyes open to the trees and non-human animals around me. I feel an immediate outrage, and sometimes despair, during these moments. The images come back and I can’t get them out of my mind. The skin peels off, and there are tens of thousands of people dying in a matter of seconds. The air is filled with the smells of dying and burned flesh.

I can see the terrible nuclear winter caused the the firestorms that would block the sunlight. I can hear the voices in my head and feel the heaviness and gloominess of the darkness. I picture myself witnessing the burning flesh of others. This is science fiction, right? Read the words of witnesses within Nagasaki, Japan, after “we” dropped a weapon of mass destruction:

On the morning of August 9, 1945, there were no air raid alarms. We had been hiding in the bomb shelter at the local airport for several days. But, one by one, people started heading home. My siblings and myself played in front of the bomb shelter entry, waiting for our grandfather to pick us up.

The sky suddenly turned bright white at 11:02 a.m. My siblings, and I, were knocked off of our feet and violently slammed back in the bomb shelter. We didn’t realize what had happened.

We sat there confused, shell-shocked, and confused as burn victims from severe injuries came rushing into the bomb shelter. Their skin was ripped from their bodies and faces, and was hung on the ground in ribbons. Their hair was only a few centimeters below the scalp. Many victims collapsed at the bomb shelter entrance and formed a mass of contorted bodies. The heat and stench was unbearable.

What have we learned from this terrible horror? For some (many?For some (many?), there seems no limit to their tolerance of existential devastation and unethical ineptitude. After Putin invaded Ukraine (yet another time), my anger at the cowardice and ineptitude of totalitarians was reactivated with a fierceness. I detest bullies and their subordinates. As Putin’s “special military operation” was revealed as a military invasion, and war was being waged, Trump loyalist Sean Hannity suggested that Putin should be assassinated. Hannity asks, what should we do to aspiring authoritarians inside the U.S. One senses the contradiction and problematic slippery slope implications of Hannity’s reasoning.

And then there was Tucker Carlson (a junior partner of Trump’s white nationalist worldview) who made light of Putin’s intentions and despotic character by saying, among other things, that Putin never called him a racist, that he never threatened to get him fired for disagreeing with him or attempted to teach his children to embrace racial discrimination.

Carlson is unabashedly absurd and feeds the echo chamber of white reactionary grievances. He would have white Americans believe that I teach about white privilege, anti-Blackness, and the systemic racism structure of the U.S. I am to be feared and loathed more than a murderous dictator who silences (some for the good) his enemies.

Other right-wing conservatives who supported Trump lambasted Putin’s lies about “denazification.” Come on? Talk about the stench of mendacity. It is hypocritical to condemn Putin as a vicious totalitarian who lies about his people and to support Trump, the aspirant dictatorship of the Republican Party. Trump lied about voter fraud concerning the 2020 election and continues to lie about it. Trump made 30573 misleading and false claims during his four-year presidency.

Putin’s “denazification” justification is equivalent to Trump’s “Big Lie” and there are gullible followers who accept the lies of both men out of fear. And the lies of both have led to the death of human beings, though thus far, Putin’s lies have apparently taken a greater existential toll.

The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which was a direct attack on the legitimate exercise of democratic voting rights, was the manifestation of Trump’s lie and those who helped to perpetuate it. This lie led directly to white supremacist violence, disinformation, neofascist terror, and the tragic collapse of critical thinking. Unable to distinguish truth from lies, those (predominantly white) individuals attacked “our” fragile democracy with threats, violence, urine and feces. The attempted coup led to the death of five people and resulted in the injury of more than 140 police officers. And let’s not forget the pipe bombs that were found near the Capitol or those who came armed.

It is amazing to me that so many white people were furious because of a lie. Their fury and anger were based on vacuous claims. Storming the Capitol wasn’t a show of strength or courage; it was a show of fanaticism driven by a sense of white entitlement, and the fear that they, white people, will lose their “sacred” place of hegemony within the U.S. polity. All of this is also very troubling to me. These individuals are not only a threat to democracy but also a personal existential threat to my health.

It is easy to see that Trump, who may be the 47th President of the United States, is more than capable and willing to unleash so many divisivenesses, so many lies and to encourage white nationalist loyalty. We might find ourselves armed in this nation fighting, just like those in Ukrainian cities to secure our freedoms, rights, even though they are fragile for so many.

The distressing and frightening part of this is that I can imagine this without feeling delusional, without laughing — no tongue in cheek. These are the questions we might face one day: Do I arm myself against my neighbors because they are members of a political party? Do I give them to the thought police after I overheard them talking about systemic racism and critical race theory? Do I help ban (and perhaps burn) “dangerous” historical books on the reality of white supremacy? Do I call the department of heteronormative homeland security because someone said “gay”? Do I follow the orders of a pathological lieur and surrender my freedom and my conscience?

Is this dystopic, or perhaps apocalyptic sounds? Trump revels in his messianic grandeur if there is any doubt. After all, he has referred to himself as “the chosen one” and adopted the moniker “King of Israel.” We should keep in mind that Adolf Hitler was apparently a staunch “Christian.”This is, perhaps unsurprisingly (or maybe not), NotChristian theology, but an anti-theology made into a weapon for white supremacist hatred.

This article was written with the desire for screams. It’s a desire to lament. But it is not just about me; it can’t be. Vasko argues, “Through lamentation, voice is given to pain.” It is a foregrounding and rendering explicit “the anguish and passionate protest of those who have suffered injustice.”

The desire to scream can be a sign that I haven’t become screaming. NumConcerning those who suffer. As philosopher Alison Bailey writes, “Anesthesia is part of the master’s tool kit.” To forget, like political and historical anesthesia, helps to maintain the status quo, helps to “assure” us that there is nothing to see, nothing to witness, nothing to bear — no suffering and no injustice. As philosopher Alexis Shotwell reminds us, “Political forgetting names an epistemology — a way of knowing — and an ontology — a way of being.” Hence, my desire to scream is insurgent, an act of refusal, reminding me that there are new ways of knowing and new ways of being.

But the despair does not go away. Rabbi Heschel writes, “We have relinquished our role as educators. We surrender, we abandon, we forget.” I have not forgotten and will fight to my last breath not to forget. So, let’s scream together: F*** this entire indifferent, hypocritical and violent world!