Sep 27, 2014

Often, there is a metaphor to capture the essence of calamity.  For the attack on 9/11 and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed, the metaphor is the 'falling man': that anonymous business man falling from the North Tower at 9:41 a.m. on that September morning, stopped in a remarkable photograph by Richard Drew. And stopped also by Don DeLillo in his novel, Falling Man — "then he saw a shirt come down out of the sky. He walked and saw it fall, arms waving like nothing in this life."

Everyone and everything was falling then. Falling from and away. Symbolic landmarks,  institutions, policies, the illusion of being isolated from the rest of the world, all falling to smithereens. People falling to the cement but also to fear and anger, to mistrust, and at the same time unity, for a moment, but then inevitably perhaps, to faulty judgments, to war and ambiguity, to a hunger for clarity and security, never satisfied.  It was all summed in the zeitgeist horror of the falling man.

The revelation from the metaphor was a reminder that like the man jumping out of the building, forced by fire or blown out, we have no control of our fate, and to make matters much worse we may have lost the faith to help try to win it back.

Now, ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State — the very lack of an agreed-upon name is emblematic of confusion. The metaphor here is the beheading.  That's a zeitgiest horror. And if there is just one beheading, to match the falling man, it's not that of the two American journalists, or the British aid worker, or the French tour guide; no, for the moment it's the beheading of Colleen Hufford, 54, a worker at Vaughan Foods in a south Oklahoma City suburb.  She is nearly as anonymous as the falling man and her death is equally horrific. That she is a woman tops the horror.

And the revelation? It is that we have all lost our heads, and so survive by other means, by runaway emotion, by passing passions — and thoughtless rhetoric.  Which, of course, is true in America as well as Iraq and Syria.  In that sense we are cut off from our humanity, from ourselves, form reason, from evolution itself.  How can we argue for evolution when some of us are still feeling their way through the Dark Ages.

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