I am viewing the events in Boston through old-fashioned glasses because this helps me to pick out what is good. When I go to the comboxes on news reports and social media I find either sentimentality (“I stand with Boston”) or polemics (“I hope they’re tea baggers” transmuting into “I’m glad they were Muslims”).
What I see through my old-fashioned glasses is first of all a sensational crime — murder at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day — and then a whole city (and really, because of the Internet, virtually the entire world) rising up in abhorrence, straining and focusing to find and expel these killers. Plato in the Laws says that murderers should be punished by simply allowing citizens to beat and pummel them at will — that primordial reaction of man as created that Jehovah had to check deliberately, even, in the case of Cain — and in effect this is what a city and a world wished to do. And I say that that reflex response to murder, the basis of what Aquinas calls the virtue of vengeance, is simply good (“there is a special inclination of nature to remove harm,” etc. etc. — see ST IIaIIae, 108, 2).
Then I look with fascination and interest at detective and police work, and the FBI swooping down — lots of serious guys — and a manhunt that mobilizes and even shuts down an entire city. “He is armed and dangerous. His plan is to kill.” The streets are emptied and the cops canvass a neighborhood door-to-door. A citizen thinks to check whether someone is hiding in his backyard boat. There is a standoff, and they actually catch one of the murderers. This is cool and it is good.
Through my old-fashioned glasses the technology is something literally to wonder over. I’ve seen the display in the Boston Museum of Science of how digital technology was invented, only a few years ago. This brilliantly simple but at first crude technology has since been so perfected that, not through any special provision but just as a matter of course, because of what is ordinarily done, we (yes, “we,” a common good in this case) had dozens of accurate images of the perpetrators, broadcast instantaneously over TV and the Internet. The infrared detector that the helicopter hovering over the backyard boat used to sense that the murderer was still moving inside is, I suspect, just a glimpse of the amazing technology that the guys on the side of the law used in the manhunt. So this is good also.
Yes, I’d want to make a point about the Marathon Bombers just like everyone else. I’m sure I’m even more of a moralizer than the next guy. I’d like to say that . . . if only we could rise up in anger against any of the daily murders in Boston or Chicago or D.C. Or that sentimentality really kills us, because it’s so arbitrary that, by sentimentality, we “feel united with that tough and resilient city of Boston” but that it’s also because of sentimentality that the abortionist doctor in Philadelphia or any other abortionist doctor, and abortion, gets a completely free pass.
But I don’t want to say any of that, at least, I don’t want to say it especially in response to what happened in Boston, instrumentalizing it. The sentimentality is at least right for its not instrumentalizing anything. I rather wish to respond to evil in this case by a resolution of good. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” — these words of St. Francis echo in my thoughts, maybe under the inspiration of that clear (for me) counterforce of good, the new pope. And so: I will aim to avoid enmity and bitterness, especially in word. I’ll forgive those I need to forgive. I’ll smile more and show more gratitude. I’ll strive to be more patient. I’ll try to use my time for helping others, especially the poor, and doing more that is constructively good. I will; I will it — that’s after all what’s up to me, and for now at least that’s enough for me. An old-fashioned response, maybe, to something seen in an old-fashioned way.
— Michael Pakaluk is professor of philosophy and chairman of the philosophy department at Ave Maria University.