Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bin Laden's death and logical empathy

As the entire world now knows, Osama Bin Laden, leader of terrorist organization Al-Qaeda and the man responsible for the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, was killed by the American military. While I recognize that the world is a much better place without Bin Laden in it, I can't bring myself to celebrate his death, or even say that the news had any significant impact other than "One less bad person in the world, which is good."
To reiterate, it is good for the collective consciousness of the world that Osama Bin Laden is no longer among us. And his death was the only way that was going to happen. My own feelings about the death penalty aside, it was just not possible that an egomaniac like Bin Laden, the leader of a violent cult of fanatics, would be taken alive, particularly not by his sworn enemy, the "decadent west." But I could not join the celebrations outside the White House, in person or in spirit, and not just because I find rejoicing in an execution grotesque.
Long ago, I made peace with the fact that I am just not like the majority of the world. Much of this, though not all, is due to having Asperger's Syndrome. One of the traits of this condition is an impaired sense of empathy. All my life, it has been difficult for me to see things from someone else's point of view, although in the last few years, I have tried, and I think I'm getting better at recognizing that the feelings of others can be impacted by things I do or say that I may think are insignificant. But it took a lot of hard work, and it still requires a distinct effort.
On an Asperger's message board, someone posted that he has acquired what he calls "logical empathy," a term that I think describes my feelings quite well. I can recognize that something like the events of 9/11 were a tragedy, and that it shouldn't have happened, but it is still difficult for me to be personally outraged by any of it, or to feel any personal joy that the person responsible is now dead. I see Bin Laden's death as a benefit not because he attacked my country, but because he personified prejudice and fanaticism, two traits I find highly offensive, and expressed these traits through senseless violence. But even this offense is intellectual rather than personal. Asperger's generates a tunnel vision, something that has caused significant problems in several areas of my life, and part of my journey has been concentrated on widening the scope of my mind to extend beyond things that only directly affect me.
It has always been difficult for me to identify as part of a group. I have always just been me. I think this is why it was so hard for me to join the sense of fear and outrage on 9/11. Because my country of origin was not an important part of who I was. It's not easy to explain. I know I'm American, and whenever anyone asks what country I'm from, that's what I tell them. But I guess I just have no sense of the national American identity. When terrorists attacked America, I did not have the sense of empathy and national identity to feel personally attacked, and now that the perpetrator of those attacks is dead, I still can't feel personally relieved or happy. However, while I still find the celebration of death distasteful, I won't stop other Americans who do feel the national identity from acknowledging that a destructive presence is now gone. And, for the most part, the joy has been a solemn one, not counting a few who took the reveling too far. In a way, I envy them. To be able to step outside of themselves and come together, to feel that sense of community and national pride. As for me, all I can offer is a distant, purely logical empathy, a simple recognition that a dark era has passed. It isn't much, but I'm afraid it's all I have.

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