It is hard enough to do justice to a single news item in 650 words. Today I am going to tackle two. Both are current, both important but apparently unrelated. Nevertheless, I see a connection. More than that, I see them both as a kind of public Rorschach test.
The Rorschach or inkblot test asks a subject what he sees in a series of inkblots and uses the person's answers to explore his psyche. It's a standard technique used by psychologists to pry open the inner workings of the human mind.
Here are two emotionally charged topics that have been in the news recently: the death of Osama bin Laden and the nation's unresolved struggle with illegal immigration.
Reaction to bin Laden's death has covered a full spectrum of emotions from unmitigated joy and celebration, to cautious concern, to a reluctant, even embarrassed sadness. The emotional response to illegal aliens also runs deep. From some, the plight of undocumented aliens elicits sympathy; from others, hostility and anger. What is the connection, and why do I call it a Rorschach test?
One connection is territorial. Defending one's domain is basic to most vertebrates. Birds, fish, mammals, they will all fight for territory. They bond with their own and repel invaders. Bin Laden wanted non-Muslims off Arab land. Americans are protective of their culture, their communities and their jobs.
Add to territoriality the fear and hostility many people experience when confronted with "the other," those who are different than themselves, make it a political issue, and you have the have perfect formula for anger and violence.
Bin Laden was a religious extremist. He didn't so much hate Americans as he hated their influence over his own and other Muslim nations.
Americans exhibit their own brand of nationalism. Americans don't hate Mexicans. They just resent what appears to be an influx of individuals with different values, different language and a different appearance.
Why do I see this as a Rorschach test? Because the way an individual responds to the death of a terrorist or the ongoing problem posed by unwanted aliens says a lot about who that person is.
From the day bin Laden's death was announced there were those who cheered and those who said it is wrong to celebrate a death, even the death of an enemy. This is not a simple case of good over evil. Bin Laden was a religious man, and many still look upon him as a hero.
If he was evil, and his actions certainly were, it was because bin Laden was a fanatic and twisted his religion to suit his own warped mentality. But to blame Islam and celebrate the violent end of a sick individual is in itself a form of evil.
America's attitude toward immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants, touches on many of the same emotions. It involves nationalism and fear of "the other." It involves territory. It involves sacred values: Are we still a nation that welcomes the immigrant — "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free" — or are we a nation that puts a strict interpretation of the law above all else — "What is it about illegal you don't understand?"
And immigration involves religion. If we are a Christian nation as many claim, we are supposed to welcome the stranger. (Matthew 25:35), and many churches have taken up the cause of the undocumented. But many who profess Christianity have supported draconian laws that break up families and punish the innocent.
Perhaps all political issues are Rorschach tests. How we see them and how we respond to them tell us a lot about ourselves. Do we see threats, or do we see opportunities? Do we celebrate death or celebrate life? If we're Christians, do we pray for our enemies. Do we ask "What would Jesus do, or do we rationalize our own insecurities?
Joan King is a Sautee resident whose columns appear biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.