Last Sunday night people poured into the streets to celebrate the killing of Osama Bin Laden. What kind of joy was this? Which aspects of human nature - primitive, social, or reasonable - were satisfied?
Watching videos of NYC, Washington DC, and colleges across the country it looked like victory celebrations that might follow a sporting event or election. People seem overjoyed to be "back in the game". Bin Laden's death seems to have offered a salve for feelings of weakness and vulnerability that began after 9/11. It offers a relief from fear, a shared sense of solidarity, a renewed hope in justice, and the delight of retribution.
The philosopher Baruch Spinoza believed that joy signals movement toward our best functioning. If you accept his assumption (which I do), then you must wonder "How does Bin laden's death move us toward our best selves? "
Ever since Bin Laden attacked the Twin Towers with impunity, Americans have felt more frightened, angry, and despondent. Our government's ability to hunt and kill Bin Laden has turned the tables in many people's minds, shifting us from loser (since 9/11) to winner overnight. This murder seems to have restored a sense of national pride, however momentarily, and satisfied our need for justice. Now we feel like we are back on top and there seems more room for hope.
Yet this was a murder, no matter how necessary, meaningful, or symbolic. My colleague Robin Cohen, Ph.D. wrote an interesting piece about Bin Laden's death, sharing her thoughts and feelings as they oscillated back and forth from satisfaction to horror.
For me I wonder, is this be real joy? Using Spinoza's definition, I ask "are we more uplifted, hopeful, or free?" Do we feel stronger and more righteous, more confidant knowing that we have eliminated a globally destructive man from this world? Does this knowledge help us function better?
If this is joy, what kind is it: Primitive, Social or Reasonable?
- Justice was served
- With a destructive man like Bin Laden dead, you now feel safer
- Your government seems more competent and powerful
- Your wish for retribution and vengefulness has been satisfied
What other sources of joy have you felt around this momentous event? Are you comfortable with how you feel, or does it make you uneasy to be glad someone has been murdered? Do you often feel joy when a right has been wronged?
To me this is Primitive joy: we feel physically safer and we have won this round. Bin Laden's death shows how one event can stir intense emotions by symbolizing so much more. This successful mission has provoked many mixed emotions for many people.
Are there certain emotions around this event that you have paid attention to, and others which you have you overlooked? Is this a common for you, to pay attention to certain of your motives while ignoring others? Going one step further, do you know why you paid more attention to some of your feelings than others?