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 mythic 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. Perhaps the obvious point being: human beings are not crocodiles.
Still—we have been known to dismember and swallow journalists. We have been known to sneak up on political opponents, explosively, like a hidden package. We have been known to absolutely devour multitudes 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, now, 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 hordes of 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 the anguish, suffering, and pain.
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?
Inside that particularly 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 a lot of dissent—don’t we see the journalist’s flesh and blood?
His eyes. His ears. His lips.
Consider the explosive packages.
It was always-ever going to be only a matter of time until the FBI found the primary suspect’s trail. But weren’t we bound to find a hot lead underneath the gazillion hot-takes within our words?
Surely our inflamed political rhetoric and civic discourse originates somewhere below the surface, somewhere deep within an inferno of desire, and mostly—God help us—for this small-time power or that minor conquest.
Consider the community of religious civilians who are often 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?
Our language of hate, division, and exclusion revels in its tribalism—it piously refuses to include; it offers no vision of mending or healing; it wrings its dirty hands when name-calling morphs into sticks and stones.
Due to its self-awareness, maybe human violence is the most vicious crocodile of them all.
The kind that gorges itself, and perpetuates itself, on our words.
All the while—yes, ironically—the beast makes us eat our own words.
If only we could stop feeding it.