Comfortableness, Part 2

Comfortableness sinksWe’re at a point, culturally, where this is going to sound either priggish or puerile, but it’s worth saying straight up: It is well past time for love because, in the words of Maya Angelou, “Hate has caused a lot of problems in the world but it hasn’t solved one yet.” And that’s going to require us to get pretty uncomfortable – that is, if we want anything like the security our politicians promise will only come about by souping up our military and arming ourselves to the toenails.

We seem to get a lot of comfort from having the means to defend ourselves. Comfortableness is directly antithetical to action even in the face of homegrown American ignorance and bigotry. Trump and his kind will encourage you to believe that his drastic, racist and authoritarian policies are coming from a place of rational fear – which is, on one level about the desire for safety and security – but do not be fooled. This is about our staggering level of comfortableness that has nearly eclipsed not only our ability to be human, but our very desire to be human.

The ultimate problem with comfortableness, thus, is that it fundamentally misunderstands the nature of our world. We have been so materially comfortable for so long that we not only expect life to be comfortable, we actually think we can make it happen with the largest army, tightest borders, biggest personal arsenals, false divisions along racial, gender, religious and other lines. We think it’s safety we’re after, but it’s not. It’s a perpetuation of this historically (I’m talking geologic time here) unnatural comfortableness that has monetized the bloodshed and unfathomable misery of nearly every other form of life, human or non, since its inception. This is the other half of what David Foster Wallace was talking about in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, a review about the horrific comforts of luxury cruises, which first ran as Shipping Out in Harper’s Magazine in 1996. Wallace recoiled from the lull he felt in himself into not just complacency but infantile rage at suddenly being deprived of what most of the rest of the world would faint at once the cruise was over. The other side of this coin is the toll our personal comfortableness exacts from everyone and everything else.

That’s what this hideous “Anti-Muslim” crowd is really railing at. This is the result of conflating legitimate desires for safety with feeling comfortable. Racism, refugee refusal, doubling down on asserting personal rights at the expense of others’ lives and all the morally bankrupt excuses and defenses that attend them. All of this makes us less safe, but even if we were really seeking safety – like, say, the millions of Syrian refugees who are risking life, limb and intact-ness of family for asylum in many very comfortable countries – we are not going to bring it about with the most powerful (read: most efficient at mass killing) army, airtight borders and tumid nationalism. Our world is, at bottom, not a safe one. That sounds depressing – but what I don’t mean only is that it is a dangerous one. I mean, ultimately, that our world is fundamentally a mysterious one.

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