Humans are not strictly rational beings. Human Nature 101, people will kill, march to certain death, commit unimaginable atrocities, for seemingly insane causes, or for no rationale they can articulate. In America millions of us routinely vote against our interests, in nakedly profit-driven elections now decided by the unlimited “speech” of legally created “persons” who exist only in the minds of unappealable activist judges. We vote for imperfect candidates who serve these interests, in the states where we’re still allowed to vote, our ability to vote less a given now than a few years ago, when the Supreme Court deemed the Voting Rights Act unnecessary in our colorblind, post-racist, er, post-racial democracy. Yeah, we all know, n-words can’t take an f-wording joke, particularly about American history. I’m not laughing either, and I’m technically a white man.
As fucked up as human beings so often are, there is a quality called integrity that many of us admire. The dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” The synonyms include — honesty, probity, rectitude, honor, good character, principle(s), ethics, morals, righteousness, morality, virtue, decency, fairness, scrupulousness, sincerity, truthfulness, trustworthiness.
It’s plain to see that the definition of integrity will vary based on your beliefs about the nature of decency, fairness, morality. There are often arguments, in democracy, about what is moral, honorable, right. These debates, in our smash-mouth culture, are often conducted by adamant partisans (many of dubious intellect) on a maddeningly reductionist level: abortion is always murder, a sin despised by God; abortion is a mother’s difficult decision and her absolute right to choose, at any time and for any reason, even the day before birth.
“You got a glass of water, Elie? Even for a blahg that virtually nobody reads, this post is a little bit dry, no? A tad academic, might we dare suggest? A wee bit pedantic, preacher?” says a pile of bones, interrupting. “Seriously, Elie, don’t mind me, I’m just here wearing the coxcomb, so to speak, to break the spell.”
“Let’s get down to it, man. You’re thinking hard about something that is stuck like a jagged fiber between your molars. Play it out, motherfucker, work the damned dental floss. This piece is called ‘Process’, explain the process. Show us, don’t perfessor us.”
Fair enough. There is little enough we control in our lives. I’ve been in two discussions recently with people who doubt there is such a thing as “free will”. Let us suppose that free will is like the “free market”, a tiny speck of truth in the ocean of bullshit it claims is all fact, all freedom. There is little enough we have control of here in a world of chaos often run by the most ruthless psychopaths among us. We have our reputations, which are built on the goodwill of people who… never mind.
On the most elemental level, in our personal lives, all we really have is how we act in the world, how we are with the people we encounter. Each of us almost without exception have hurtful things we do, morally neutral things, and helpful things. If we are great, we also have the healing things that we do. There is no greater work, I think, than calming a distraught kid, listening with empathy, helping someone recover from trauma. There is plenty of trauma in our troubled world.
“Like this excruciating fucking post, for example. What the fuck, really, Elie, can you make your goddamned point while some of them are still alive?” said the pile of bones.
Your friend Eichmann cited Kant’s Categorical Imperative during his trial for crimes against humanity in Jerusalem. Hannah Arendt gave the otherwise dull defendant a gold star for stating it more or less correctly: to act in such a way that your actions could be universally practiced and the world would be better for it. Kant’s imperative is related to Hillel’s famous formulation of the Golden Rule: what is hateful to you, do not unto another. Now all this is quaint stuff in our modern world, our commodified, monetized world where the exact worth of an individual;s life can be reckoned down to the nickel by calculating their “net worth.”
“Elie, I’m fucking begging you,” said the skeleton.
No good deed goes unpunished. The sassy devil of this cliche is in the waggish details. Say you take the high road with an old friend, somebody who we will stipulate can be difficult, prone to tirelessly trying to prove himself right, no matter how many contortions are involved, a man in deep trouble, at any rate. He is unaware of the effect his actions have on those around him, seems to have little insight into how provocative he can be, is locked in a constant zero-sum war for survival. In this war he has shown that he will do whatever he has to do to survive, even things most of us would shrink from. That is what people often do in war.
“So why take the notoriously thankless high road? Why not just take your leave of him if he’s such a toxic person?”
I don’t have a good explanation, except that I am trying to redeem a friendship we once had, for the sake of learning a better way than just shoving these types off the back of my yacht and leaving them bobbing in my wake.
“Nothing better than a good shove and bobbing in the wake job, it seems to me, if the person has been loudly demanding it for some time.”
Well, I wont say no to that. But here’s the point I’ve been stumbling toward about my process. First I have to try to understand as much about the thing as I can, try to see the thing from as many sides as I can, extend the benefit of the doubt if a friend is involved. I do that by thinking and then writing here. I arrange things until they make sense. I arrive at conclusions that help shape my actions. In writing I see clearly…
“Unless you’re as deluded as your, eh, friend…”
… for example, that this chap has rage he is unaware of, pent up, waiting for an occasion to let some of it out. He appears to be largely unaware of this rage or its unconscious seepage. He is nervous, so that things that might not rile a less nervous person really drive him nuts. He reacts pungently. I have to map all these things out, to get a handle on how to best approach the problem.
“While exacerbating the problem by writing about it here where your angry, nervous, distracted friend can stumble on it and stoke his righteous anger at being once again betrayed. A laudable process, I have to say.”
Well, sure, he would know the anonymous allusion to, say, a person who keeps forgetting key agreements and so on, are about him. On the bright side, he’s too busy most of the time to read anything that’s not somehow related to his overwhelming professional life, so his stumbling on anything on my blahg is unlikely. In any case, I always write with an eye toward preserving the anonymity of the people I mention in my “work” here.
“Your ‘work’,” said the skeleton, silently opening his jaws in a pantomimed guffaw, “I love that. Thanks for tickling me with those quotation marks.”
Shut up. Here is my point. Someone can make you mad, give a meaningless apology that is dragged out of them (“implied apology” asshole, I’m already covered, you merciless dick), and then continue aggravating you in the very manner he’s already apologized for. That’s a person that needs to be extirpated from your world, no question. Is it better or worse if the motherfucker has no idea of their neurotic habit of making others angry? An irrelevant question, really.
My point: I wrestle with the right way to approach all this and then, after a hellishly combative several hour long attempt at reconciliation during which I manfully avoided physically assaulting my decisively unrepentant old friend, I get an email congratulating me on the test showing a trend toward remission of my kidney disease (which I’d bcc’d to everyone on the list) and saying he’s looking forward to our next get together.
“Your fault, Elie, why on earth did you bcc him the health news?”
Point taken, bone breath. I suppose in an ill-considered attempt to preserve relationships with his wife and kids. Eichmann again: Hannah Arendt notes that the three German-Jewish judges who decided the war criminal’s fate were unfailingly humane and respectful to Eichmann. Unaccustomed to this treatment, Eichmann took their attitude as sympathy and was cruelly disappointed when these men, who had treated him so decently, suddenly condemned him to death. Arendt watched the face of the man in the glass booth and saw this reaction for herself. He couldn’t believe it, they’d been so respectful, even kind, and now they were fucking hanging him?
“Look, if you’re comparing an old friend to Eichmann, I’d say the poor devil is already off the back of your yacht and bobbing, utterly betrayed, in the wake.”
My friend would never do what Eichmann did. I take your point, but let me finish. I am stuck musing over this, and because I cannot clear my mind of it, it floats up in conversation. I made the mistake of bringing it up yesterday. I myself don’t know a productive thing to say about this festering idiocy that remains so clearly oppressive to me. I’ve done everything I know how to try to make this person understand the peril our long friendship is in, I’ve been more patient  than I ever thought myself capable of being, in the face of mind-numbing obliviousness, denial and attack from my desperate old pal.
“Yer a fucking saint, Elie, no question now. Join a religion pronto, my boy, so you can be canonized.”
Good idea. Anyway, there is nothing anyone can say about this situation. I’ve got nothing.
“Outside of the last few thousand words of postmortem.”
Yeah, and I’m hoping this last bit of coughing will hack up whatever’s left of it. The point is, this process has made me see all the issues very clearly, anyway. If someone is unaware of their anger, and it causes them to provoke others, who then become angry, and they are bitter about the angry friend’s demand that they apologize for something they don’t even know they’ve done, no matter how clearly the facts point to it, and then they argue instead of being at all contrite… well, there you have it. So there’s not much that can be said. My experiment failed. Case closed. But still you feel compelled to rattle on about it. What is a friend supposed to say at this point?
“You’re empowering him to bother you,” a friend says, in an attempt to be helpful. The attempt was well-meant. The effect of the comment is to blame you for being unable to put the hideous conundrum out of your head.
“We’re back to free will now, Bozo. If you have free will, your friend is right. You’re giving this irredeemable neurotic the power to continue endlessly fucking with your mind. Be done with the slimy little bastard. Trust me, the clueless, enraged little fuck will look much, much better bobbing hopelessly in the wake of your yacht.”
 The Hebrew word for patience is more profound than our English word. In Hebrew they say “sovlahnoot” which means the ability to endure suffering. The Hebrew word for patience comes from the root “sevel” which means suffer. It takes no patience to endure something that does not make us suffer, true patience involves enduring something that is difficult to endure.