Monday, January 4, 2010

The Price of Mercy

mercy, terrorism, al queda, This child paid a price, but not for mercy.
mercy, terrorism, al queda,
If I had to do it all over again, I would study philosophy in college.I studied business because it was practical, but I loved philosophy. Which explains why you sometimes have to endure my ramblings on ethics and morality.

Anyway . . .

I'm sure you all know about Pants on Fire Guy (hereinafter "PoFG"), the would be terrorist who managed to set himself on fire on a flight into the US while damaging noone and nothing else. There was a great deal of hullabaloo about PoFG which I had two reactions to: (1) big deal, he set himself on fire, and (b) I'm sure I wouldn't feel that way were I on the plane.

PoFG doesn't really interest me per se. Violence is all the same, only its victims change. What I find distressing are the reactions of my fellow Americans to PoFG. He should not be tried in a court of law. We should shove him in a hole and leave him there. We should waterboard him. We should remove his eyes and arms and legs.

I'd ask when America lost its mercy, but we never had it, did we? We certainly weren't merciful to the natives. Witch trials were basically the sport of the day. We weren't merciful to those held as slaves. We dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese. We aren't even terribly merciful to our own citizens. Social Security and Medicare were fought just as hard as health care reform is today, and don't even get me started on "welfare queens".

You ever see those stupid bumper stickers that say "Freedom isn't Free"? (The price of freedom is responsibility, not dead soldiers, but that's another post.) Well, neither is mercy. Mercy is the act of extending a hand to the person who most wants to cut it off. Mercy is offering kindness to those we hate, generosity to those we feel least deserve it. Mercy is admitting that some higher ideals are more important than assuaging our rage or disgust in the short term. The price of mercy is high, and we are, it seems, unwilling to pay it.

Unfortunately, the price of rejecting mercy is equally high, if not higher. We are faced with suspicion and hatred in many places in the world, suspicion and hatred that is quite well deserved. Tell all the mothers of Iraq's dead children how much they should love us. Tell all the widows of Afghanistan just how wonderful we are. How easy do we make it for al Queda and the Taliban to recruit? Iraq is significantly less stable and more fundamentalist now than it was before. The Taliban holds far more of Afghanistan now than it did before.

I don't think what PoFG did was right. I think he deserves to be punished for endangering the lives of a plane full of people. I just think we need to discover mercy before it is too late. If we continue to pornify war, celebrate bombs and cheer for torture, we will pay a price that will be terribly high indeed.


  1. I was on the same flightpath as PoFG the day before - Delta flight between Amsterdam and Detroit and I was very nearly on the same flight too. My long legs demand that I always try and get a seat by the emergency door!

    I often think about how I would have reacted if I were on the same flight as him.

    But unless you're ever in that situation, it's pretty futile to speculate.

    But yeah, mercy. There should be more of it.

  2. PS. the Christmas Eve flight had seats by the emergency door - that's why I took that one.

  3. In case I never tell you later, thank you for your hard work and effort. I appreciate your words and share them with others.

  4. "The price of freedom is responsibility, not dead soldiers"

    That is a great quote.



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