It Feels Good To Yell At People, Or Maybe To Bomb Them

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My teenaged daughters were teenaged – so, by definition, they were snide and thoughtless at times.  And every so often they’d make a mess in the living room and then mouth off to me.
And a few times, when they caught me in a bad mood, I went off on them.
I screamed that they were thoughtless, rude idiots, and yelled that they fucking had no right to snark to me when it was their mess, and that they should clean that shit up right the fuck now and then shut the hell up in the future.
I was pure with justification.
And when it was done, I’d go off into another room, and realize what I’d done, and talk myself down.  They were disrespectful, I’d tell myself.  They need to be taught a lesson about responsibility.  They can’t go around talking to people like that.
Then, I’d think: But you just went around talking to people like that.
And it was not satisfying at all, because it was so cathartic to finally unload on someone who deserved it – but this was not, ultimately, the lesson I wanted to teach my children.  So I went back in, teeth gritted, feeling like I was betraying some primal eye-for-an-eye principle, and said:
“Look. I’m sorry. You did something bad, and I’m not going to excuse that – but I unloaded on you in a way that was inappropriate, and I’m sorry, and I hope you can forgive me for that.”
Speaking those words were always difficult, and never felt nearly as good as just screaming.
But it taught them the right lessons.
And the lesson that taught me was that the right thing to do is rarely the same as the thing that feels good to do.   I’d rather eat a candy bar than a brussels sprout.  I’d rather not bring a mistake I made to my boss’s attention than feel like an idiot in front of the office. I’d rather yell at some jerk who cut me off in traffic rather than wondering, “Is she having as bad a day as I am?  Maybe she’s in a rush because someone she loves has been hurt.”
I think true maturity comes when you start doing the things that aren’t emotionally satisfying that, nevertheless, make for a kinder world.
And I think of the conservatives’ reactions to the Paris bombing, which is largely emotionally reactive.  As this Storify of Tweets points out, we have been bombing the shit out of our enemies under the Obama administration, we just haven’t done it with enough flags and machismo so they feel like Big Men about it.  Despite Rubio and Trump’s assurance that we’ll just bomb the terrorists out of existence, we’re never going to march triumphant onto the battlefield like we did in WWII and have Hitler conveniently shoot himself in his bunk.
Terrorism isn’t a leader exhorting people to action – it’s a thousand sins of the last generation’s foreign policies coming home to roost.  And fixing terrorism involves a mixture of violence and compassion – the left would have us believe we can all sing Kum-Bay-Yah and the terrorists will dissolve in healing light, the right would have us believe we can shoot them in the head until they’ll all be too afraid to strike.
Neither has proven to be true in the long run.
Fixing terrorism is like going back into my rooms to apologize to my daughters.  Yeah.  They were also at fault, but the best we can do is clean up our personal messes.  And it’s not satisfying, and it’s not pretty, and the ugly truth is that, like teenagers, you’re never going to “win” in the sense that you’ll have an obedient robot – every teen, no matter how good, still has a few lulus of days every parent has to grit their teeth through, and we’re never going to have a world where no terrorist attacks occur, either.
Winning against terrorism, if we can win, has to be defined by the uncomfortable and thoroughly unsatisfying metric of “minimizing terrorist attacks.”  Which involves the realpolitik of realizing that we work with imperfect tools and those attacks will happen on occasion no matter how hard we try – and also understanding that “flipping out and going with the emotionally satisfying response of crushing some random idiot into the dust to make a point,” as we did with Iraq, is just going to directly lead to the next generation of ISIS.
We need to be mature as a country.  I guess it feels good to feel powerful, maybe.  But in many ways, that power is yelling – more an illusion of power than actual control.
And had I never done the emotionally unsatisfying thing and apologized to my daughters, what I would have taught them was that it was okay to shit on someone if you had a position of power over them, and that the real crime wasn’t in yelling, it was at yelling at someone who could yell back.
Likewise, I wonder if, via our current policy, what we’re teaching the Middle East is that not that we’re not to be fucked with, but rather that you can justify any shitty behavior with enough firepower.  And if that’s the case, maybe we should reconsider the true lessons learned.

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