There are knee jerks that are almost impossible to resist. Those knee jerks, now amplified and encouraged by our own private on-line and mass media cheering sections, rule our world today, certainly our politics. Right is right and evil is evil and if you try to defend evil I will swat that shit away and wag my finger like Dikembe Motumbo under the basket, as your shot winds up in the third row. Don’t try that shit in my house!
When I hear somebody say that God told them to do something, and that thing is bombing a water filtration plant and hospital in a far away land (because the dictator of that land is a modern-day Hitler), causing children to die along with their elders, my knee jerks. That kid in Florida, Trayvon Martin, when the vigilante with the gun stopped him, whatever the guy with the gun may have said to him, why didn’t the black kid just say “yes, sir. I’m up from Miami, visiting my family, sir” and get to live another day? Knee jerk. When the president does what he’s on record as saying his predecessor was an idiot for considering…. boing, there goes the knee.
Flash the cards, there is no shortage of them. Abortion: murder of a human soul or a hard choice in a situation where an unwanted child will otherwise come into the world to live a life nobody would wish on it If you believe God said abortion is murder, that’s the end of the story, bub. It’s murder if the fetus was put in a thirteen year old’s womb by a rapist, or by the coercion of a sleazy, criminal relative. Murder if they held the girl down and took turns punching her and raping her. Murder because, every soul was created by God and the soul comes into being at the moment of conception, because God loves every soul.
True believers are hard to have a conversation with. There are no facts you can put forth that will allow them to see things from another perspective. I’m not singling out hypocritical Christians, doggedly defending the rights of fetuses while letting the little unwanted newborn fuckers fend for themselves. I am just using rigid religiosity to illustrate this larger point about belief that is impervious to discussion, nuance or context. We all believe what we believe and we justify those beliefs according to our ability to rationalize.
I am floundering today, as I try to make this vague yet obvious point clear. If we omit nuance and context in a discussion, we are just talking opinionated shit at each other. Nuance is the first casualty of absolute moral certainty, any sense of a larger context is killed at the same time. Not to say there aren’t principles worth fighting for– personal integrity is one, it seems to me, but even there, choosing your battles is very important. This black and white, red and blue, us and them world we live in is the divided, divisive hell it is for many reasons. High on the list is a massive failure to acknowledge nuance and context, particularly on the other side of our own beliefs, when talking about particular issues.
I was surprised to learn, as I was writing a long manuscript about my father’s life, trying to draw every lesson I could from his tragic example, that it is possible to identify with the feelings of a desperate, trapped woman who viciously takes it out on her baby. The feelings, I say, not the actions. It’s impossible to identify with the actions, I think. The actions are despicable, whipping a baby in the face, there’s no defending that. The feelings, odd to realize, are quite readily understandable. That’s some fucking nuance right there, dear reader. Let me try to make it as clear as I saw it that day.
A relative I never met, who was portrayed to me only as red-haired, tiny, very religious and with a terrible temper (also a great cook), turns out also to have whipped her infant son in the face, regularly. It was part of her daily routine, breaking this toddler’s spirit. I always assumed she was a psycho, which she most likely also was. But one day it dawned on me, how tortured this woman was when she began taking it out on her first-born son. It doesn’t excuse what she did in any way, but it sheds light. Light is the only antidote to darkness. It shows a path out of what she was trapped in, even if one didn’t exist for her in 1926 when she began her lifelong persecution of the boy she called “Sonny”.
The man she fell in love with was driven away by her brother and her sister-in-law. It was nothing personal for them, nothing against the young man who loved her. It was strictly practical. Her marriage would have meant the loss of their indentured servant and they weren’t ready to give up their live in maid. Years later she was forced into an arranged marriage with a man who seemed to be brain damaged. He’d been knocked in the head many times by his own angry step-mother and nobody will ever know if this deadpan man who died young was brain damaged or not. He couldn’t make a living. They lived in a filthy, teeming slum, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in 1922. Every day the woman woke up to this horror. Somehow she got pregnant. The baby girl died shortly after she was born.
At some point the heartbroken woman got pregnant again. This time the tiny woman gave birth to a gigantic son. We can imagine the pain of this childbirth. The baby looked exactly like the idiotic husband who had knocked her up. He looked at her with that same dopey expression. One day the woman snapped, whipped the baby in the face with the thick, heavy, burlap wrapped cord of her iron. It apparently felt good. Maybe the only thing in her life that did.
I’m not being a lawyer for this evil mother. We’d like to think a mother like this today would be in the hands of an excellent psychiatrist. That her child would be getting help recovering from his trauma. But what I’m digging for here is Nuance. Not that she’s in any way right to act in this vicious way, but in order to understand her pathology, on the way to hopefully making life better for all involved, we have to fully know the context of her actions.
I rattle on about this subject tediously often, I’m aware. We live in a world where every message we get, every bit of news, is curated, structured to support one polarized point of view or another. It is extremely rare to get the full story about anything, from anyone. I am always looking for a way to make the point about nuance and context that is not partisan. I do this animated by the Anne Frank-like faith that most humans, in their hearts, are not haters. That we are all basically good.
I believe this even as I hate any U.S. president who rains death on people who have no power to do anything but agonize and die, or if they manage to survive, fear and hate. Few problems have ever been solved by the application of massive deadly force, whether you call it “Freedom on the March” or by any other high-sounding name. It is of course business as usual,blowing shit up is a driving force of capitalist profit making.
I felt a surge of hatred when Bill Clinton sent missiles that blew up civilians, destroyed infrastructure they needed to survive. That same hatred surged through me when George W. Bush ignored millions of us marching in the frigid streets and launched “Shock and Awe”, later declaring victory and lynching Saddam after shooting his two hideous sons in the street like dogs. As for the massive civilian deaths? Killing civilians is now blandly called “collateral damage” nothing to get excited about, certainly no war crime, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Barack Obama’s extrajudicial murder of the radicalized American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenaged son Abdulrahim a week later– same deal, along with all the other deaths our recent president inflicted on unknown brown people on his secret kill list.
Can we have some fucking nuance, a little context so we can discuss these things intelligently instead of just using force to kill things like Terror, Evil, Haters of our Freedom? Our previous president told us we were looking forward, not backwards at the architects of our recent crimes under international law, you know, because we are, uh, taking the high road. To be totally honest, we tortured some folks, what are you going to do? Good folks doing some bad shit, with the best of intentions.
Make American Great Again. Hope and Change. Make America Great Again, again. The slogans change, a few of the proponents of government violence change with each administration, but the song remains the same. Fuck nuance, fuck context, it feels good when our leader bombs the shit out of some fuckers who might very well be evil. If nothing else, they really do appear to hate our freedom. Even pundits who usually seem to have a reasonable grasp of world affairs go momentarily gaga when the president blows some shit up with a huge show of force. It doesn’t seem possible to me that we are a nation of such stupid motherfuckers.
The evidence is not strong that we are not, but I am always digging for it.