I’m at war with myself.

I’ve always believed that to be a stupid saying. It, to me, implied a rampant uncertainty within one’s mind, and was used typically in cases where, really, the speaker knows which of the sides of internal conflict is the ‘right’ one by their ethics, morals, or intellect (or some combination thereof). I was a cop-out phrase employed to reinforce – to oneself or others – that the situation was one of gravity, and imply that the decision was being heavily weighed, as if the time spent agonizing over it somehow justified the end result, whatever it was. It was a means of maintaining a internal integrity when making the ‘wrong’ choice.

My war is a relatively new one to me, having emerged over about the last year through conversations with people that gradually changed my mind about some things in ways that, in some ways, directly violate my instinctual reaction. Stories they’ve told on a number of topics, arguments made for and against certain attitudes, simple interactions with numerous perspectives, each unique (and, more importantly, different from mine) that opened my mind in a great number of ways. These things weren’t so simple as to tie directly into the subject at hand; more often than not, it wasn’t until later that I’d see how pieces fit into the grander puzzle emerging from them. A week ago, and prior to then, the war was growing, but it was cold.

Then, more and more things in the news started to unfold. It began, probably, with the talk of US (or UN) action in Syria. This, on a broad scale, was a conversation on justice; I’m not going to get into politics here, so I won’t say whether I believe the motives and the conversation were the same, but the talk focused on an attack and the use of force to enact justice for it. I have no answer to the situation in Syria, nor meaningful things to say on what’s unfolded relating to it, but this started the machine churning in my mind.

Then, I encountered the story of the self-named ‘Diana the Huntress’ in Mexico. Taking her moniker from the Roman goddess of hunting, the moon, and childbirth, a woman was claiming credit online for a series of murders there, complete with enough detail in her description to lead police to accept her claim. The men she killed – two, I think, as of the time I read it – were city bus drivers who had, according to ‘Diana’, been involved or complicit in sexual assaults on women. She called herself an “instrument of revenge for women”, claiming vengeance on the men for their crimes. As I red this, and processed it and how I felt about it, the internal struggle began.

In my gut, I supported ‘Diana’. The men she killed, if guilty of the crimes she claimed (which, frankly, given other news out of Mexico seems likely), I believed that they deserved to die. It was a just punishment for what they had done, and the world was a better place without them in it. On another level, though, I disagreed that ‘Diana’ had any right to be the arbiter of that. Again, I don’t have a better answer; the justice system in Mexico, and many other places, is one full of corruption, and it’s very unlikely that these men would have been caught, detained, prosecuted, and convicted, much less sentenced to die. The reality of the situation is that society feels a true, deserved need for another, swifter, and more reliable mechanism of justice; ‘Diana’ fulfilled that role, but did so while committing her own horrendous, if morally justified, crimes; whatever these men had done, they, too, had people who cared about them, people unaware of their darker inclinations, people who do not deserve to suffer for crimes they did not commit or, in many cases (I suspect) have any knowledge of.

Then, Ariel Castro – a man who had, after many years of unspeakably evil actions,  been caught, detained, prosecuted, and convicted, was found dead in his prison cell by apparent suicide. Here, the opposite effect rippled through me, and I found another facet of my war. Here was an example of “the system” getting it right, and then seeing the justice administered taken away in an act of cowardice and desperation. Here, I felt Castro had taken the easy road out; a lifetime of suffering he had earned weighed down on him, and he found a means of escape. He would not suffer over years like Michelle Knight, Georgina DeJesus and Amanda Berry had suffered because of him, and this – despite the fair dispensation of justice and the bettering of a world in which Ariel Castro did not live, despite the burden lifted from the shoulders of taxpayers who would have been handed the bill for the living-space and food of this monster – was an unfair end to his revolting saga. My very core wanted him to feel every single second of fear, pain, hopelessness, and misery that he had inflicted on his victims; I wanted him to experience the agony he had dispensed with flesh-searing clarity.

And yet, as I thought about that, I felt my stomach turn. Philosophical examinations of the term aside, this was a human being, and I could not truly take joy in imagining his enduring the things that I felt – and feel – he deserved to. I would not have felt uplifted to read reports of his abuse at the hands of fellow prisoners, nor guards, nor anyone else who could deliver it. It sickened me, in a way, that there was this part of me clinging to the schadenfreude of seeing this monstrous, vile criminal be subjected to horrors like the ones for which he deserved them. I could not bring myself to picture it, though my mind raced with vague concepts and flashes of scenes skipping back and forth across the echoing resonance of my internal monologue.

I still don’t have an answers for any of these situations; I don’t have any idea how any of them could go better (or, really, worse) than they have; perhaps I’m tricking myself into a pedestal of moral superiority, but I hold no ill will nor thoughts to those who rejoice in the deaths of the abusers in Ciudad Juarez, nor those who revel in thoughts of Ariel Castro suffering in misery for years. I do not feel that I am any better, or any worse, than anyone who claims solidarity with either of the factions fighting within me. I simply cannot, in good conscience, accept that I should encourage pain upon those who inflict pain, yet I also am unable to abandon the morality that leads me to feel that they deserve it; it seems hypocritical to me, within myself, to claim that I am in any way capable of deciding that any man, any monster, deserves a judgment that I conjure up.

I’m not done with this war. I’m likely not done writing about it. However, at this point, I find myself in a stalemate; while I could almost certainly fill a volume simply musing on various examples, or different interpretations, of the conflict I’m lodged into, I’d be spinning gears. And so, for now, I’m leaving this where it is. I’m sharing it in the hopes that, somehow, I can relieve the pressure of it building in my head, or I can spark new conversations, or I can reach some kind of further stage in the evolution of my thought process simply by putting the words down and taking more time to consider them myself.

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