Magazine article U.S. Catholic

How the West Is Run; Do We Really Have "No Choice" but to Join in an Addictive Cycle of Violence?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

How the West Is Run; Do We Really Have "No Choice" but to Join in an Addictive Cycle of Violence?

Article excerpt

MAYBE I SHOULD BLAME IT ON THE WEATHER AND on the summer cold I had going into the long weekend. If it had been nicer out and I had been feeling well, my wife and I wouldn't have watched three suspect movies in three days. We would have found something more productive to do, like aerate our compost heap.

The shelves at Blockbuster were already thinned out, but they had a "Rent one, get one free" offer. I picked up two movies I'd never heard of. My wife said, "Get something with some suspense to it," so I selected Hunted, which promised suspense but delivered only choreographed gore. The other flick, Heaven's Prisoners, was based on a book by James Lee Burke, whose writing I enjoy, so I took it as the freebie. Neither would get a "thumbs up" from me. In fact, they both left me vaguely disturbed.

It was on the third day when we were sitting through the gorgeous but mindless Open Range at the local theater complex that I began to pick out a recurring pattern that was leaving me more irritable than my cold symptoms: In each film the heroes as well as everyone else were dead certain that the only way to respond to perceived threats was preemptive, go-it-alone violence.

The "heroes" were surprised when preemptive violence only aggravated the situation. And they were shocked--shocked, I tell you--when they returned from their gruesome attacks on others to find that the loved ones they had hoped to protect had been hurt or even killed after they were left behind. This led, of course, to retaliatory attacks, and so it went, in endless rounds of violence punctuated by wooden dialogue that might have been written by Oliver North or taken from a bullied 14-year-old boy's vengeful daydreams.

But even trite dialogue can be revealing, and it was while listening to Open Range director and star Kevin Costner mumbling incoherent platitudes that it all clicked for me. After mutual taunting and endless rounds of escalating violence, Costner comes to the brilliant realization that this might get really nasty. "But they leave us no choice," he says.

No choice? Having no choice is a troubling moral state. Having no choice but to take a harmful or immoral action is the very definition of addiction. Of sin. Addiction indulged never gets better. …

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