What the Crocodile Eats
The crocodile is a hungry fellow, no doubt, a beast of a predator, and in the painting above, emblematic, even symbolic of another living thing, something perhaps like it but also a stranger.
The artist has depicted human violence as a kind of crocodile, feeding on itself as a way of sustaining itself, as a way of surviving.
Of course, any actual crocodile does not know any better: violence describes and prescribes who he is and how he behaves in the world.
The obvious point being: human beings are not crocodiles.
Still—we have been known to dismember and swallow journalists, explosively sneak up on political opponents like a hidden package, and absolutely devour a multitude of religious civilians.
If we were to follow the bread crumbs of bone saws, bombs, and bullets, I imagine what we might eventually find is that many of us have been feeding the crocodile spoonfuls of words and large bowls of rhetoric.
In your defense, and in mine, we might say: Come on, there is a clear line of separation between mere words and behaviors gone violent.
There is a line to distinguish words laced with anger or dripping with embittered grievance from all the violent dysfunction and social harm.
There is a line to delineate incendiary or triggering rhetoric from a real moment of violent cruelty or weeks/months/years of violent brutality.
There is a line to discern language that demeans or demonizes from the violence causing anguish, suffering, and pain.
But what if our “clear” line of separation is murky, or so excruciatingly thin that it becomes constantly blurred and periodically erased?
Consider the dismembered journalist.
His bodily remains will never be found; dissolved, as it turns out.
But didn’t we already find his remains within our words?
For instance, in particular, that devious phrase—”enemy of the people”—employed (carelessly? willfully? insecurely?) to caricature the media, to chip away at its place in free societies, a phrase especially used by leaders whose authority cannot abide a little disagreement or dissent.
Consider the explosive packages.
It was only a matter of time until the FBI found the primary suspect’s trail.
But weren’t we always going to find a hot lead within our words?
For instance, in particular, all of our inflamed political rhetoric and civic discourse—surely it originates below the surface, deep within an inferno of desire, and mostly only for this little power or that small conquest.
Consider the community of religious civilians who are minorities.
As we found out soon enough, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter brandished some rather serious weaponry.
But isn’t it entirely unsurprising to find a serious connection to our words?
For instance, in particular, this language of hate and division that revels in tribalism—it refuses to include others, it offers no vision of mending or healing, and it wrings its hands when name-calling morphs into sticks and stones.
Violence is indeed a vicious crocodile, the kind that gorges itself, perpetuates itself, on our words.
All the while, ironically, it makes us eat our own bloody words.
If only we could stop feeding the beast.