People always seem surprised in moments like this. Always shocked.
But they have no right to be. After all, the road goes where the road goes. If you travel southbound U.S. 1 long enough, you are not surprised to end up in Key West. If you stay on northbound Interstate 5 long enough, you are not surprised to end up in Canada.
And if you denigrate, demonize and dehumanize long enough, you ought not be surprised to end up in bloodshed.
That is arguably the signature lesson of human history, but somehow, the teaching never takes. Each succeeding generation always seems doomed — or perhaps the better word is determined — to relearn the lesson for itself, each time paying the horrific price of doing so.
On Friday, the cost of tuition went up by 50 lives, congregants murdered in attacks on two mosques in New Zealand, a small and peaceful nation in the South Pacific. Before a gun-wielding 28-year-old white supremacist livestreamed himself in the act of massacring Muslims, it had been nearly 30 years since New Zealanders had seen such carnage.
But the road goes where the road goes. Meaning that this butchery is the predictable result of rising international intolerance, of singling out this group or that and declaring that these people are the source of our misery, the monster in the dark, that they are not like us, do not share our humanity and are undeserving of our compassion.
In this country, it is a message that has often been brayed loudly from beneath pointy white hoods. But it is arguably more dangerous and certainly more insidious, when it puts on power ties or red lipstick and speaks in tones of reason from a press room podium, a pulpit or a television studio.
That allows people who are uncomfortable with admitting intolerance, even to themselves, to pretend the message is not what the message is and that the messengers simply speak maverick truths in a politically correct world. Worse, that veneer of respectability and reason also bamboozles thoughtful people who simply value divergent voices into inviting to the debate table those whose only interest lies in kicking it over.
Like the bigots Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson. And the bigot President Donald Trump, who was, not incidentally, praised by the New Zealand shooter in a manifesto as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
“The president is not a white supremacist,” claimed Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney Sunday on Fox. White supremacists obviously disagree.
Of course, preserving the facade of innocence — both before the world and one’s own mirror — is a big part of the game. Yet, the road goes where the road goes. Between 1938 and 1945, you may recall, it went to the mass murder of 11 million human beings — homosexuals, Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, socialists and, most infamously, Jews.
We think of the Holocaust as a unique crime, and it is. But its uniqueness lies mainly in the massive, industrialized scale of the killing. Otherwise, it is little different from what happened in New Zealand, each the predictable result of denigration, demonization and dehumanization that exile some of us from the rest of us in the circle of shared humanity.
And it doesn’t matter how much innocence you protest, or what sort of tie or lipstick you dress your intolerance in. The road goes where the road goes.
Thankfully, each of us also has the option of taking other roads to better places. Consider the last words of Haji Daoud Nabi, an Afghan refugee who was the first victim of the massacre. He is reported to have greeted the shooter at the worship house door.
“Hello, brother,” he said.