Archive for September 14th, 2008

My Grandmother, Not In Possession of Wheels and a Red Exterior, Never Had The Opportunity To Become a Bus

I don’t know how anyone can seriously say that if they had grown up in Belfast, I would 100 per cent have been in the IRA, as the famous actress of whom I had never heard, Rose McGowan, apparently said recently. Not because the IRA was bad, but because it doesn’t make much sense.

It depends on a sort of logic of reincarnation, a leap of imagination similar to believing that in a former life you were a a wise Pharaoh, or a water rat. In reality, if I had grown up in Belfast in the 1970s, I wouldn’t have been I at all, but someone else with a totally different set of experiences and perspectives. And who knows what getting fed in Lord Hamill’s regularly did to one’s view of life?

It points toward a deeper problem with empathy. The temptation is always to imagine yourself as fundamentally decent, and assume that this fundamental decency could be easily transposed to any other conditions. I don’t think it works like that.

Even if this fundamental decency could be guaranteed to be magically preserved in the transition from life on the Malone Road in 2008 to, say, life in a WWII concentration camp, lots of people who thought of themselves as fundamentally decent -and may even have been nice, considerate people toward family and friends- have ended up carrying out the most heinous of acts, not because of some sort of mental aberration, but because they were just obeying some sort of wider imperative, or because they really thought at the time they were doing something fundamentally decent thing. Like giving orders to troops to flatten villages and massacre the natives.

Rather than aligning themselves with people whom they perceive as heroes, if sometimes misguided ones, life would be more interesting if people consciously identified with universally acknowledged villains instead. What would be really interesting would be if you had a movie star who said of his latest film in which he played a Nazi something like, ‘Yes, if I had grown up in Nazi Germany, I would have totally been a Nazi supporter, 100%, because I’m fundamentally insecure about myself, I’m rather suggestive, am fascinated by cults, and my heart would have bled for the cause of the master race.’

OK, so it’s unlikely.

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September 2008