Medieval play, courtesy of wikipedia.
It is in the nature of human beings to create narratives or stories and interpret the world in terms of them. The kind of stories we tell ourselves shape how we see and respond to the world.
In his book Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, Dr. James Gilligan refers to three kinds of stories that people use to interpret life's painful events: pathos, tragedy, and morality plan (today's equivalent might be good guy/bad guy action movie).
Pathos refers to
those natural disasters or "acts of Nature'--sometimes called "acts of God"--over which we have not human agency or control. When faced with the great malignancies of fate, our only range of choice may be the manner in which we respond. Are we tempted to despair? Can we mobilize the courage to go on? What are the limits of our strength to endure the unendurable? It is in the effort we each make to find our own answers to such painful questions that we still read such ancient sources as the Book of Job, which deals with the undeniable fact that life is inherently inescapably, unfair. Job teaches that it is not only futile to expect life to be just or fair, it is absurd and meaningless even to think about it that way. The rain falls on the just and unjust alike; bad things--terrible things--happen to good people. The language and lessons of pathos have their place in our lives.
Morality plays, by contrast, do involve human agency but look at the issue in terms of guilt and innocence, or bad guys versus good guys. In modern terms, this would be the action movie mode of interpretation, which seems to be the norm at the Bush administration. In the real world, it's usually messier than that.
He argues that violence is best seen in terms of tragedy. Tragedy as a literary genre is ultimately about violence and the result of violence are ultimately tragic. Individual violent acts are often part of a chain or spiral of events that can extend back far into the past and affect the future. More on this tomorrow.
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