Haunted by Violence, Mean-Spiritedness, and a Feral, Monstrous Mood
WASHINGTON — Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I loved putting up twinkling bats and watching midnight monster-chiller-horror movies.
Not this year.
The world is too scary. Politics is too creepy. Horror is too real.
When I was a child, on Oct. 31, my older brother would put on a vinyl LP of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” that he had carefully cleaned. The eerie music was used by Walt Disney in the segment of his animated masterpiece “Fantasia” about the surreal celebration of evil during the night of the witches’ Sabbath.
Chernabog, the lord of evil and death, wrapped in a dark cape, stands atop a jagged peak, summoning ghosts, witches and vampires to swirl out of the mountain and pay homage. I was so relieved when, at dawn, church bells rang and drove them off. But now the bad spirits are lurking all around us. They will not be driven off.
America seems haunted by random violence and casual cruelty every day. In New York, subway riders getting pushed onto the tracks and innocent bystanders being shot. Officials across the country facing kidnapping plots, armed visits to their homes, assaults and death threats. No place seems safe, from parks to schools to the supposedly impregnable, guarded Capitol and homes of the wealthy and well known.
In process theology “moods” are real and palpable. They are as real as physical objects in space; as real as tables and chairs, mountains and rivers. We can perceive them in others and in ourselves. They can accrue to cultures as well as individuals. The philosopher Whitehead calls them subjective forms.
Monstrous ferality is a collective subjective form very much alive in America today. It is seductive in that you can feed on it, like a vampire feeds on blood. It is accompanied by a sense of “rightness” and, more specifically, “righteous indignation.” Its primary promulgators are right wing politicians, conservative media, and conspiracy theorists. Perhaps you can think of a politician or two who seems to be a lightening rod for it.
The only real option to this ferality is love, although love can seem soft and ineffective. Still, ferality breeds ferality. If the cycle is to be broken we must become stronger than the ferality, not because we hate more ferociously, but because we love more deeply. Because we are unafraid of whatever nights on bald mountain befall us.
What does this love look like? It is not free of anger, but it is free of mean-spiritedness and partisanship. It refuses to celebrate the defeat of others. It refuses to take sides in this way. It is stronger than that, more open and relational.