You read or view a satirical piece or a cartoon in a newspaper or a magazine. It offends you; you are enraged; your deepest sensibilities–personal, religious–have been ravaged and injured. Unable to assuage your feelings by acknowledging the abstract free speech rights of those who have so insulted you, and still caught up in a maelstrom of rage, you fantasize about doing terrible injury to them.
For some folks, matters end right here. Revenge remains at the level of fantasy; resentment smolders but then fades away, to be replaced by some other pressing concern. Perhaps a dull smart remains, one that occasionally flares up if a similar offense is committed in the future.
But some folks resolve to teach their offenders a lesson. Perhaps by causing them material damage, perhaps by doing them injury. And then, after being initially fueled by an inchoate rage, they act deliberately and cold-bloodedly to bring about these effects.
The gap between these two sensibilities can seem, varying upon your particular sympathies and inclinations, either very large or very small. Perhaps the former demographic can turn into the latter if injury and insult are repeated, or if social, economic, and personal circumstances change; perhaps the latter are so pathologically unsound in the intellectual and ethical dimensions that such mergers need not be feared.
I do not doubt that if a dedicated cartoonist or poison-pen wielder were to get to work, they could produce a cartoon or an essay that would eviscerate all I hold near and dear, for after all, at the fringes of humor lurk its darker precincts: humiliation and ridicule. Perhaps they could draw cruel, offensive, grotesque, hurtful, caricatures of my long-dead parents, perhaps of my beloved wife and daughter, perhaps they could write a long stand-up routine that took accurate aim at my many, many shortcomings and vulnerabilities and evoked howls of laughter from strangers who were not invested in my being protective of my sensibilities.
I wonder how I would react. I could, and would, rage and rage, and dream and fantasize about punching the crap out of the offenders, but I suspect ultimately, I would back down and slink away to smolder, hoping time and new experiences would assuage this shame. Perhaps, because I write myself, I would compose a long screed in response–trying to return fire with fire. I have often been insulted and abused in online exchanges and have sometimes retaliated, but these, if they undergo repeat iterations, very quickly tire me out and leave me feeling worse than when I started.
I wonder what, if anything, would make me seek out a violent solution to my crisis, a violent release to my angst. Perhaps if I was a psychopath or sociopath–poorly understood terms, I know–that found some dispassionate pleasure in the act of killing. Or perhaps, more plausibly, perhaps if I could be persuaded that it would bring about a larger, more dramatic, desired change–political or economic–elsewhere; perhaps if I could be persuaded that such an action would set wheels rolling that would bring me closer to some destination much more important than a relief station for anger. Perhaps then, I might consider such an option a little more seriously. Perhaps then, I might not rest content with mere figurative retaliation.
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