Laddie Boy, and bullying for no reason

There was a popular dog food, when I was a kid, called Laddie Boy.   For all I know it’s still around, I’m seldom in that aisle in the supermarket these days.  I think our brilliant dog Patches may have eaten Laddie Boy.  I recall the stink of it when the can was opened — in later years on an electric can opener that sounded like George Harrison’s electric guitar on Revolution (White Album version).  

I had a classmate, for a couple of years, named Fred Ladner.  I liked Fred, we stood at the back of the sized place line in fourth or fifth grade and he was always pleasant.   One day, for reasons– or more likely simple, brutish reflexes — I can’t recall, I menaced Fred in the school yard.   I remember how he recoiled, confused and hurt and I recall the vitriol with which I called him “Laddie Boy” as I glared at his sudden fear.  I may have grabbed his shirt, but I don’t think I even did that.  He didn’t make a move to get away, just stared at me wide-eyed, his sense of my senseless betrayal clear in his wet, scared eyes.   I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know what, if anything, may have precipitated it.   What I remember was his fear and confusion, and that I was the direct cause of it.  

I don’t remember any other incident of myself being a bully in childhood.   I sometimes expressed a bit of malevolence here and there, as any boy sometimes does, like after a friend’s mother drove him and his sister into a concrete stanchion and the guy wore a maroon wool hat, a la Mike Naismith of the Monkees (not sure what color Mike’s wool hat was) all day long in school.  One day somebody snatched the kid’s hat off and we saw that it covered a white circle shaved into the dark curly hair of his head, where he had been probed, or stitched or whatever.   He was very unhappy to be exposed this way and I was in the circle of boys, his friends and classmates, who sadistically kept the hat away from him in a game we used to call Saluji, for some reason.  He desperately tried to get the hat back, only to see it flicked away at the last second by the mercilessly grinning little boy he rushed.

It was a momentary thing, and this kid was probably my best friend at the time, something I quickly forgot about.   I had no recollection of it until, to my surprise, I learned that he was still very bitter about it more than fifty years later, when he brought it up one day with great feeling.  

It is easy enough for me to see these behaviors, and if there were two instances I can recall there were surely more, as me acting out what I experienced at home.  Where my sister was sly, passive aggressive, darkly, sadistically funny, I fought back directly whenever our parents took a verbal swing at me.  My father was, I can see now, often tormented by demons that caused him to act contrary to the way he taught my sister and me to behave, contrary to his ideals and highest beliefs.  He bullied my sister and me, often goaded by my mother’s demand, after a long day at work, as he was trying to rest up a bit before going to his second job,  that he do something about the two disobedient, disrespectful little pricks she had been dealing with all day.

We are aggressive and sometimes irrationally hostile, we smart apes, and, in crowds, we are capable of doing things that are the stuff of nightmares.   We have always been this way.   We don’t always know why we are screaming and pumping our fists into the air as someone we hate is being publicly tortured to death.   It’s a homo sapiens thing.   You don’t see cats and dogs doing this kind of thing.   Pigs raised for slaughter in Auschwitz-like conditions don’t act this way.   Only humans form lynch mobs, send armed men into villages to rape and burn, build vast state-of-the-art machines to kill as many as possible in the shortest amount of time.

As I state the obvious I’m also thinking about what makes a reliable narrator.  Is somebody trying to get to the bottom of his or her pain a reliable narrator?   For example, I wrote hundreds of pages, posted here, in a first draft trying to get to my father’s point of view as he was inflicting terrible damage on his children.  This process caused me to swing wildly at times, in an attempt to vividly describe the damage and also understand it from a bully’s point of view.  

Although he generally bullied us, is that really what my father was at his essence?   Surely there were many other things at work in his nature, more salient features that those who knew him would see him as before “bully”.   Describing my father’s angry glare as “psychotic,” for example, was a wild swing and a clear miss.   In the second draft, should I live long enough to produce it, these missteps will be corrected as I convince the reader, and, more importantly, the publisher, that I knew what I was doing all along when I stumbled through the first draft.   (Tip of the yarmulke to Neil Gaiman who hipped me to this in his Mahster-clahss youTube ad).

I don’t think it requires a Sigmund Freud to convince anyone that the indigestible traumas of our childhoods live on in us many years later.   The pain we can’t understand or process has nowhere to go except various, mostly unconscious, survival strategies: a rigorous daily exercise regime, sarcasm, constant busy-ness, “recreational” drug use, etc.   We make vows to do better, as I have with my attempt to apply an “if I can’t help, I don’t hurt” ahimsa-based approach to my own life.   Knowing that I am as capable as the next little Hitler of cruelty to my fellow creatures, I try to be aware of my hurtful actions as I keep my own interactions with violent or provocative assholes at a minimum.   A neutral straight face shown to a vicious person one encounters by chance, I’ve learned, is usually better than a sneer, a comment, a middle finger raised.  As is getting away from them as smartly as possible.

Still, most of us get to understand so little about what makes us act the way we do. Of course, we’re all masters of justifying it, to ourselves and anyone who might be offended by it.   I realized a few weeks ago, to my great surprise [1], that after writing everything I could think of about my father, in the course of a daily practice over two years, that I am now able to clearly see things from my father’s point of view.   I imagined his voice, informed by the regrets he had while dying and the lifetime of progress he made in the last few days of his life, expressing what he wished we could have talked about when he was alive.  

Talking to his skeleton regularly explained things to me I could never understand before.   I don’t pretend to understand exactly how this happened, but imaging the conversations I know he wished we’d had revealed things I never had a conscious clue about.   I finally understood this perplexing character, in a way I cannot presently understand the little boy who suddenly turned on his friend Laddie Boy and made his eyes grow wide in betrayal and fear.    Very much like my father’s eyes when, one day during a verbal beating he was dishing out, I stood, a skinny fifteen year old, with such violence that the old man in his chair was suddenly afraid.  

 

 

[1]   As I learned, to my great surprise, one day during law school while I was transcribing words of a legal decision into a paper I was writing, that I wasn’t looking at the keys as I typed.  I was amazed to realize that I’d taught myself to touch type, completely unconsciously, simply by typing countless pages during my dreamy creative writing days and as a rat-like law student. 

On an IV of your favorite pleasure drug

I was thinking about the one percent again after hearing John Oliver cite experts for the proposition that 2% of vulnerable victims of Coronavirus, COVID19,  die of the disease.   A 2% death rate is not as bad as the 3.4% I heard just days ago, you have to like your odds of survival, but, still, you’re talking about millions of dead, potentially.   Even at a 1% death rate poor management of the crisis would, in ordinary times, be a death sentence to a political leader who grossly bungles the serious duty under the pressure of actual emergency events.   

Luckily for those in power, the vast majority of Americans, deadened by years of increasingly painful political malice and legislative deadlock, regard politics, even now, as a grim spectator sport they can keep track of on their phones.  They are desperate not to find themselves living in a dictatorship, they are merely realistic about their options for having any actual say in actually avoiding it.  They have no clue how to organize, how to militate, how to demand concessions from power by the sheer force of mass mobilization, power yielding nothing without a powerful demand [1].

The reasons authoritarians always rely on police power for social control is that when enough people are pushed to the point of desperation, anger builds. Dictators harness this anger and release it as police rage on fellow citizens.   Works for the ruling few, if not for the teeming masses.

The essential skill everyone of us needs to figure out is how to organize with fellow citizens, how to gather our forces and discuss the best way forward, speaking to the powerful in a clear, strong voice.    The only change worth fighting for is change worth fighting for, to state the obvious yet never stated.   Is it worth fighting for a legal end to involuntary servitude that will go into effect one hundred years in the future?   I think 1% would buy that idea.

Speaking of one percent, here’s a fun one.  Put one billion in your calculator. Assume the least sophisticated billionaire in history, on a full-time IV of his favorite pleasure drug, has his money in a series of FDIC insured bank accounts making 1% interest.  Tap those numbers in and you will see what even this drugged out idiot earns in simple interest in one year:  $10,000,000.   Almost a million a month, not bad for a complete dope!   Of course, at 5% the annual earning would be $50,000,000, a significant sum by any reckoning,  and at 10% a hefty and very livable $100,000,000 a year in interest, but, of course, those are just numbers.  No reason to get excited.

 

[1]  Frederick Douglass, genius and good twitter friend of @donaldjturnip

 

 

Mary and DonaldRump and DadTrump siblings

How To Avoid The Second Civil War

In a nation that has long been an innovator in the inter-related arts of public relations, advertising and propaganda, most of us get our news in a highly mediated, skillfully filtered form that caters, increasingly, to our own personal prejudices.    It seems impossible to find a reasonable consensus at this historically perilous moment.   At least 45% of the country sees Abuse of Power and unprecedented blanket obstruction of all investigations as not impeachable.

Many now believe that there are facts and there are equally valid alternative facts, in this threatening pre-civil war funhouse we are all living in at the moment [1].  We are living in a historically perilous time, like Kansas 1860, or Berlin 1932, with the unsettling overlay of the foreseeable end of a habitable planet ticking loudly in the foreground.   If we are to spare ourselves another actual bloody civil war, followed by mass extinction, we need to be very smart going forward.

We consumer-citizens rely largely on commercial mass media, run by profit-driven corporations with deeply intrenched interests– largely increasing profits — for most of our information about our limited political choices.   Noncommercial news sources like Democracy Now! and the Intercept, outlets that cover the struggles of activists against institutional injustice unreported elsewhere, (and never to my knowledge successfully sued by anyone over a false report), are unknown to most Americans and the news they report is easily dismissed by low information voters and pundits on the right and center as … choose your favorite word for the ranting of liberty-hating, unAmerican losers.

Old friends rage at each other over perceived political dogmatism, blindness, defeatism, stupidity, idiotic idealism, long friendships sometimes ending in bitter inter-partisan disagreement over how to get to the end result both may desire.   Rage is effortless on social media, where trolls reign, delighting in provocation.   

We are sharply drawn into inimical opposing camps, every one of us powerless except as part of a larger block.  As far as political action, we are largely constrained by the design of the two party system, the only game in town, and forced to vote for whichever candidate is chosen for us by a National Committee.  We try to choose the less hateful of the two and hope for the best, a sorry version of actual democratic participation.  

Both major parties run on corporate dollars and the dark money of our super-wealthy, many of them the privileged inheritors of vast fortunes.  Our Supreme Court is staffed by at least five hardcore corporate rights judges who believe that corporations are “persons” entitled to all the freedoms the rest of us enjoy, including the freedom to all the speech their vast money can buy.  Our highest court holds that corporations are citizens just like the rest of us, only with infinitely more power and influence than any thousand of us regular people working together can hope to exert. [2]   The individual, unless very wealthy (see several billionaires currently vying for the presidency) is almost utterly powerless in our democracy.  Except for our freedom to speak, to reason, and to organize.

(brace for a slightly disjointed next paragraph, citizens)

If you are the victim of an illegal practice committed against you by a corporation, join the club, it’s a gigantic one.   Millions of us are fucked by corporations on a daily, hourly basis — they are not in business to make sure consumers are not being fucked, they are in business for the bottom line– maximizing profit, by any means that is not specifically illegal and enforceable against them.  The Supreme Court itself clarified that the sole legal imperative of the American corporation is maximizing profits for shareholders.   If a corporation violates the law, the consumer must find the precise law it violated and then find a legal remedy.  No specific illegal act under law and/or pertinent regulations found, no remedy, stay screwed, asshole.

I was recently victimized by the corporate “person” that provides my health insurance under Obamacare.  On January 22, when I called to pay my premiums through June, I was told Healthfirst could not accept my payment and that my ACA health insurance for 2020 had been terminated.   A supervisor, Daiya by name, confirmed that this had been done “pursuant to the guidelines” for my failure to pay during a once-a-year ten-day “grace period”.   She told me the corporation had no obligation to inform customers in advance of the severe and irreversible consequence of failing to pay within this one-time “grace period”.  She initiated what she said was the only available appeal, an internal one within the company, and called two days later to pleasantly let me know that Healthfirst had not restored my insurance.

Working hard and having a great piece of good luck, I managed to find the only appeal process that could remedy this particular illegal act (at the NYS Department of Financial Services, naturally– here’s the LINK).   Two business days after my on-line complaint I had a call back from Healthfirst, apologizing for its “mistake” and accepting payment of my premiums through June.

Two weeks later, after my letters to the CEO of the corporation and the Attorney General’s office, I had a call from a “Resolution Supervisor” telling me “billing” had asked her to call me.  She assured me that my insurance had never been cancelled.  I was not reassured and questioned this long-suffering, apologetic woman at length.   She told me she’d try to send me the records of my dozen recent calls with Healthfirst, but had to first run it all by another office.

To my surprise, I learned there is an office at Healthfirst called “Regulatory”.  They were reviewing whether I was entitled to call records of my own calls to the private corporation.  I wrote an angry second letter to the CEO, cc’d it to the Attorney General.  I mailed it, then emailed it to her.   The next day I had a call from Healthfirst — I’d be receiving a written apology from Daiya, the confidently “mistaken” supervisor.  I’d get copies of my phone records with dates, times, person I spoke to, the substance of each call.

I am a perversely insistent motherfucker living in a corporately run nation where we non-corporate persons have  very few protections of any kind from routine predatory practices by largely unaccountable entities.   While I was helpless prey I managed to luck onto to a mechanism to almost immediately reverse an extremely stressful interruption of my ongoing medical treatments.   I was fortunate to find someone in an agency, a sympathetic woman who listened carefully, who told me how to get an emailed copy of the sections of the laws that Healthfirst apparently violated in putting me into that upsetting situation.   

I was surprised to learn today that the corporation is giving me everything I asked for without forcing me to bring a lawsuit against them.  I will soon be able to look over the law itself and see which specific sections and subsections were violated in my non-terminal termination.  I am positive than I am the lucky one in a thousand, or ten thousand, maybe a million,  getting almost immediate relief from intolerable, illegal mistreatment by a health care provider, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

I am have a certain skill set, I’m diligent and, in this case, my illegally terminated health coverage was saved only by a miraculously fast resolution process that is well-hidden from the average consumer.   We live in a country where the powerful are free to oppress the rest of us, often without consequences to themselves, the burden being heavily upon those fucked to figure out how to unfuck ourselves (not easy, I can tell you for sure).   The laws that exist are co-written by expert lobbyists providing careful loopholes and provisions (like the now ubiquitous “arbitration clause” in every contract — thanks to now-Justice John Roberts, a genius of corporate law) that protect their fantastically powerful clients against things like class actions.

What was done to me, personally, can be multiplied by a hundred, or a thousand, or tens of thousands, just in New York City, where I live.  The woman at the NYC office I spoke to today (NYSDFS) told me they get HUNDREDS of health insurance complaints every day, many similar to mine.   

Do we have vast institutional problems in our country, including opaque laws that allow gigantic unaccountable private profit-driven institutions to do business largely unrestrained by effective laws?   You betcha.    Are many of our government officials, the people we trust to protect our interests, incompetent, lazy, corrupt, complacent or otherwise of little use?   You betcha.   Is the Republican Party, supported by vast funds from our wealthiest and most greedy, going to address this oppression of the many by the few?  Not likely.  (Picture me holding a fortune-telling 8-ball when I ask these questions)   Is the Democratic Party, supported by vast funds from our wealthiest and arguably slightly less greedy, going to address institutional injustice?   Perhaps over the next hundred years, if history is any guide.  If there are still two political parties by then.   If the earth itself is still a habitable place for human life.

We, people of good faith who are living through these viciously partisan times, when even old friends savagely attack each other like angry rats in a failed lab experiment, must find a way forward.    We must talk to each other as reasonably as we can, allow ourselves to hear and consider reasonable arguments. 

We need to meet likeminded strangers, and strategize and organize for effective influence and representation in our Republic. 

We need to act in concert to put pressure on, and keep pressure on, elected officials and the political parties that choose them.    How we do that is a great challenge in our atomized social media surveillance state.   I embrace that challenge as my only alternative to crippling hopelessness, though I have no immediate way forward to report.

I leave you with these wonderful, wise words from historian Howard Zinn, delivered while accepting a prize, toward the end of his life, for his groundbreaking A People’s History of the United States :

I wanted, in writing this book, to awaken a consciousness in my readers, of class conflict, of racial injustice, of sexual inequality and of national arrogance, and I also wanted to bring into light the hidden resistance of the People against the power of the establishment.   

I thought that to omit these acts of resistance, to omit these victories, however limited, by the people of the United States, was to create the idea that power rests only with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth.  I wanted to point out that people who seem to have no power — working people, people of color, women– once they organize and protest and create national movements, they have a power that no government can suppress.

I don’t want to invent victories for people’s movements, but to think that history writing must simply recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat. 

And if history is to be creative, if it’s to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I think, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win.

I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in the solid centuries of warfare.

(you can watch Zinn deliver these short remarks HERE, highly recommended)

 

 

[1]  fact or alternative fact?   From CNN:

The Department of Justice has dropped its criminal investigation into former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe without bringing charges.

Back to me (channeling an alternative fact citer): a president pursuing “groundless” two year DOJ criminal investigations into his personal enemies is not an abuse of power, and even if it was, fuck off you partisan haters!   See Article Two!   It’s the only one you need to read!

[2]  The great Bill Moyers had the best reply to the legal fiction of “corporate personhood.”   He said “I’ll believe that corporations are people when the State of Texas puts one of them to death.”

What to do if your ACA health insurance is illegally terminated

If your insurance company terminates your insurance, claiming you missed a once a year ten-day “grace period”  for payment, go to this site and make an immediate on-line consumer complaint.   The complaint at this agency restored my illegally terminated health care in two business days.   The New York State Department of Financial Services (yeah, I know) now, finally, does the consumer protections functions of the abolished (in 2011) Department of Insurance.  The NYSDFS does what the Attorney General cannot do.  (I know…)

Here are the numbers of two offices in New York City that were enormously helpful while I was trying to have the illegal decision terminating my insurance overturned:

For immediate support, and solid advice during this illegal termination, contact the New York City Human Resources Administration, Department of Health, Public Engagement Unit (212-331-6266  M-Th  9am-8pm  Fri til 6:30).   Alexa at this office urged me to file the NYS Department of Financial Services’s on-line consumer complaint form.  She also assured me, 100%, that the unappealable corporate decision to terminate my insurance without notice would be reversed, which it was.  Bless her.

In addition to excellent and knowledgable support they will direct you to New York City’s new  program, NYC Care.  It  provides an extensive safety net for low-income individuals who lose access to affordable health care.   This wonderful pilot program can save a lot of lives, because it provides for low cost doctor visits long before a too late, ER diagnosis of a fatal stage of a once treatable disease.  This compassionate, life-saving program should be well-known by all New Yorkers and well-publicized until it is.   

NYC Care has a helpline at 646-NYC-CARE (692-2273).  The program is only active in the Bronx, so far, but if you go to any public hospital (Bellvue, Harlem Hospital, Jacobi, Lincoln, Montefiore and others)  you can enroll, at the Financial Planning or Business Office of that hospital, in the low-cost, pay-as-you-go “Options Program”.   

 

Hereditary Trait — war between siblings?

Years ago I had a terrible fight with my sister.   A few days later I was visiting my father’s first cousin Eli, a rough character as capable of tenderness as he was of socking somebody with one of his hard fists.  The old man thoughtfully listened to my description of the fight.  He paused to take it all in, then gave me his advice.

“Look, she’s your sister, I hear what you’re saying about the fight but don’t let the bad feelings linger.   You have to swallow your pride, tell her you’re sorry you two fought, you don’t have to apologize for starting the fight or not starting it, you’re just sorry about the whole thing.   Tell her you want to make up, put it behind you, tell her you love her and you feel terrible and you want it to be over.  Don’t let your pride stand in the way of making up with her.  Do it sooner rather than later when it might be too late.”

I told him it was good advice, and that I appreciated it, but that I was still too hurt and angry to make that move, and then, taking a page from my mother’s book, I told Eli it was a little ironic coming from him, a man who hadn’t spoken to his own sister in over thirty years.   This got the same reaction my mother’s challenging comments always got from Eli.  His face immediately turned magenta and he leaned forward menacingly, ready to attack.

“My sister is a completely different story!   There is no comparison between my sister and your sister!   My sister is a complete bitch!” he yelled in a cry of pain and anger, as acutely stung by the painful falling out they’d had decades earlier as if the unforgivable offense had just happened.

Fast forward three decades.  I get a call from Eli’s daughter.  She and her sister are visiting the cemetery where their parents and mine are buried.  She asked if I’d like to meet them, it’s been too long since we’ve seen each other.   I took the train up to Peekskill and we drove over to the cemetery.   It is a Jewish tradition to take a small stone and place it on the gravestone of the dead person we are visiting.     We gathered our stones and walked among the graves.

At their parents’ grave we put our stones on Eli’s side of the large headstone and then, as I put a stone on their mother Helen’s side, I said “she was a sweet lady.” That was my memory of her — long-suffering, hospitable, kind smile.  I was a boy when Helen died young, but I remember her pretty well.  Neither of her daughters said anything when I said their mother had been a sweet lady.

Afterwards, over lunch, they told a couple of stories involving their mother, as though to set the record straight, letting me know that their mother, in her way, had been as problematic as their emotional, sometimes violently opinionated father.

If your father is tyrannical, as the beloved Eli also was, and your mother always goes along with the tyranny… well, an ally of your enemy is also your enemy.  I know this well from my own childhood.  Helen always seemed sweet to me, she’d smile warmly and bring us good things to eat.   She was quiet and kept herself busy being the perfect hostess during our visits, she laughed easily.  She died of cancer when I was about 11 or 12.   Why wouldn’t a boy remember her as a sweet person?   Particularly if his own parents often attacked him, sometimes quite savagely.

We can think of these childhood observations without attaching value judgments to them, somehow, but it’s not easy, or even always a great idea, I think.   Value judgments are our assessment of what’s the right way to act and what not to do.   Even the doltish Nazi Adolf Eichmann, the subject of Hannah Arendt’s brilliant book on his trial in Israel, was able to accurately summarize Immanuel Kant’s view on this, the Categorical Imperative.   When pressed by the judges at his trial he defined it: to act in such a way that you could will your actions to be universal principles.   Would the world be better or worse if everyone acted like I am acting now?

I think of this as another statement of Hillel’s famous summary of morality: what is hateful to you, don’t do to somebody else.   Loving your neighbor as yourself is a difficult golden rule to follow.   Phrasing it the way Hillel did cuts through difficult theory to practical practice.   It’s a simple matter to know what you hate, you hate it instantly, always, it’s like a chemical reaction.  

You can do something hateful to you to somebody else, if you don’t expect that person to treat you any differently in return, but what kind of world would it be?  If everyone treated everyone in this hateful manner we’d have a state of constant war, each against all.  If we all stopped ourselves from doing things to others that we hate done to us, that would be a huge step toward solving problems before the oceans rise to drown all of us not turned into desperate climate refugee/cannibals determined to not to die by water.

But back to my original thought about whether we inherit certain idiosyncrasies regarding siblings (begging, of course, the equally valid question of whether we learn them as children).   Eli didn’t talk to his sister for the last 30 or 40 years of their long lives. He lived to be almost 90, his sister to 103.  I believe their final dispute was related to sharing their father’s modest inheritance, more than 40 years before Eli’s death.    Eli’s daughters have a younger brother I haven’t seen or heard from in years.  When I asked his sisters about him they said he was fine.  I got the feeling that they haven’t talked to him for a long time.

Although I often ascribe this family harshness to the brutal pruning of our family tree back in 1942 and 1943, and the centuries-long culture of persecution my surviving family comes from, I suspect these estrangements between siblings happen in many cultures.  I just read a book about sibling strife by psychologist Jeanne Safer,  Cain’s Legacy.  She states her credo at the start of the book:   “Cain’s Legacy reflects my passionate conviction that it is essential not to gloss over the dark side of life.”   She states my credo as well.  

I have to peer into the darkness until I can see the fucking thing, I can’t stop myself, nor do I want to.   I need to understand what is there.  If it can be fixed, let’s fix it.  If it provides a lesson, let’s take the lesson from it.  If it is too monstrous to survive in the light, we’re better off leaving it there in the dark and both walking away from it.  To pretend it’s not there does not seem to be a life-affirming option.

The common peace-seeking instinct is to move toward the anodyne, the inoffensive, compromise version of conflict that blames nobody.  An explanation that lets everybody off the hook, you dig.  This is the purportedly non-controversial version of sometimes unbearable things we often hear from those who urge us that both sides always have an equal right to their opinion and that we should not judge.  We always judge, it’s part of our nature.  It’s how we survived as a species, as individuals.   It’s what we’ve learned to do from the experience of our lives, to the extent we ever really learn anything.

My father’s brother was younger, sickly as a boy and mom’s favorite.  Where my father was literally whipped in the face by mom, from the time he could stand, his brother was coddled.   Neither one emerged from their childhood without deep emotional scars, although my father’s problems are easier for me to understand now than my uncle’s.  My uncle, to his credit, spent years in psychoanalysis.  His son, my first cousin, would scoff to read the reference to his father’s long exercise in denial, dressed in a suit, lying on a shrink’s couch week after week, gaining so little insight. What did he learn?  When the mood struck, he remained tyrannical in his rage until the end. My father, for his part, had a lifelong scorn for people so weak they needed to whine to a shrink about the demons all of us must battle in our lives.

My uncle, much smaller than my father, often cringed around his brother, like a younger brother who’d often been sucker punched by his older, bigger, stronger antagonist.  One of the few stories my father ever told us about his brutal childhood of grinding poverty was the time he stuffed his little brother’s mouth full of raw chopped meat.   He told us the story more than once, chuckling each time he did.   The brothers had a strained relationship throughout their lives.  One time my father stayed at his brother’s overnight and I asked him over the phone how my uncle was doing.  I wrote his immortal reply on the page I was doodling on:  “let’s just say he remains unchanged.”

Yet, check this out– when my father was dying, he kept asking for his brother.   I picked my uncle up at the airport and the two brothers clung to each other morning to night for the last couple of days of my father’s life.   It was incredibly poignant to my sister and me.  After my father died his brother sat with his dead body (along with my brother-in-law) until members of the Chevre Kadisha (the Jewish burial society) claimed the body to watch over it and prepare it for the funeral.

My paternal grandmother, a savage little woman who died before I was born, used to yell at her sons when she saw them at each other’s throats.   “Seenas Cheenum!” she would shout — baseless enmity!   No reason on earth for these boys, growing up in extreme poverty, one beaten, the other coddled,  to be at each other like that!  I can imagine my grandmother grabbing my father roughly, pulling him away from her beloved younger son.   This kind of thing is detailed in the Old Testament where sibling treachery abetted by mothers and deadly fights between brothers are reported multiple times.  

This tendency for eternal ruthless war between siblings appears to wind up in the blood.  A combination of nature and nurture,  I suppose.  It is seemingly replicated down the generations.   Without insight into it, we remain prisoners of strong feelings we cannot understand or get past.  We pick up a rock and slay, sometimes.  

This unreasoning, murderous side of us lurks in our wounded hearts– there are circumstances that will bring out this rage.  The challenge is never to pick up a rock and slay, or maybe, to learn, without a doubt, that the wisest thing to do is to remove yourself from a situation so emotionally fraught that, under pressure, it will inevitably yield to the impulse to pick up the rock.   

Opaqueness vs. transparency

Life is complicated.  People stay in horrible situations until they are destroyed, even when they know they are being destroyed.  Solid information is often available to help them make better choices, but … it’s complicated.   Some facts are just plain painful, and who wants that?  No reason to obsess over the image of frogs in steadily warming water, realizing too late that they are already partially parboiled.   

“How long do we have to get out of this before it’s too late?” asks a dying frog of another profusely sweating frog who is holding a thermometer and wearing a watch. 

“How the fuck should I know?” says the other doomed frog.  “I’m fucking dying here and you want to ask me stupid, hypothetical questions?  Asshole!”

One thought, if realized before they were goners, would be to check the temperature on the thermometer and use the watch to find out how fast the heat is rising.   190 degrees Fahrenheit is dangerously close to the 212 needed to make frog soup.   It’s 194 now, boys.   195.  There are certain objective facts here, fellows, verifiable information we can… oh, shit, 197.

Seldom, of course, is anything this simple, if simple any of this is. 

I think of the mother who told me her children had no idea how angry she was at the children’s father.   She had many good reasons to be angry as hell at the lying, thieving, death-threatening, fraud-committing, bullying bastard.  So angry, in fact, that she slept in her young son’s bed for several years after a particularly brutal betrayal by her husband.   

I urged her not to let her children stay in the dark about the many perfectly understandable reasons for her anger.  I told her the lack of reason would harm her children in ways she couldn’t imagine.  I offered to mediate an honest family discussion where these things could be placed on the table, a teachable moment for the kids about taking responsibility for one’s actions and the feelings.of those you love.   She declined, telling me that everything was fine, assuring me that the kids were none the wiser.   I told her not to delude herself, that the kids knew very well that she was furious at their father, though they had no clue why.

A couple of years before her young son finally kicked her out of his bed, saying “mom, this is weird…”, she told me I’d been right.   

“They know,” she told me finally, and recounted the conversation she overheard as she washed dishes and her children talked to another kid under the kitchen window.

“Our dad loves our mom, but our mom hates our dad,” she heard one of her observant young children say to their little neighbor.

My thought remained the same.   The kids have to know why you are angry at dad or else you are just an irrationally angry, grudge-holding person who finds it impossible to forgive things nobody has any idea even happened.   What effect does this untruthfulness have on your children’s forming understanding of the world, of intimate relationships?   Dad just shrugs, hugs and kisses the kids, pets them gently, says “hopefully one day your mom will realize how much I love her and love me back again and everything will be fine.  What can I do?  You want another ice cream cone?”

The kids will eat their ice cream with dad, laugh at his carefree shenanigans, thankful that they have at least one parent who is not a tense, joyless, implacably angry person.

I grew up in a home where certain things could never be discussed.  This included a variety of vexing things verified for me by my father on the last night of his life, after decades of his angry denial.   I know very well the effect this long zero sum battle against obstruction had on me.   To this day it sets me grimly against anyone who would be right at any price– these often escalate into battles to the death.    It cost me the ability to shrug philosophically when I am unfairly accused of something, in a conclusory way.   It haunted my working life, I can tell you for sure, my inability not to eventually tell an overbearing asshole boss to fuck the hell off.

There are things that actually happen in the world.  A bankruptcy, a death threat, an insurmountable gambling debt, unpaid loans, marital infidelity, provable fraud — these are things that either happened or didn’t happen.  There is little ambiguity about these kinds of events, some are even matters of public record (even if otherwise hidden).    If they happened, shameful though they may be to the party involved, they need to be discussed with the people directly affected by them.   Otherwise, life is a trial based on guesswork, without witnesses, evidence, any process of truth finding that allows the jurors to decide based on anything but prejudice.

In the name of love you will cripple those you love by making them live a lie they have no idea is anything but the truth, the whole truth and nothing but that arguably better than lying thing.

 

In God We Trust — YOU pay cash

The title above was one of my father’s throwaway lines, possibly taken from Lenny Bruce (and seen, in variations, on signs in stores with puckish proprietors).  I am thinking about trust today, don’t ask me why.    Trust is largely gone from public life in our ever-suspicious, tribal “fuck you”/ “NO, FUCK YOU!” culture.  Our public servants, for the most part, are untruthful or equivocating whenever they need to be, to protect their brand for integrity.   As a nation we’ve gone to war, more than once, based on outright lies that were known to be lies when the liars were repeatedly lying about why we needed to go to war.  Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s known knowns, if you know what I mean.   How do we trust people who lie whenever they feel the need to?  An interesting challenge.

I knew a woman married to a charming man who was a reflexive liar.   He would lie convincingly whenever he felt himself to be in a corner, and as a lifelong secret gambler who regularly lost big bets he needed to cover up, he found himself in a corner frequently.   As things got tighter for him, and his need to cover up some shameful excess grew, his lying became increasingly impassioned.  He would appear, at such times, achingly sincere, even admitting embarrassing things during these untruthful confessions.  

He was an excellent actor who was adept at gaining sympathy with a convincing, though false, story. The relief of getting out of very tight spots with these lies is probably what got him hooked on lying.  He was eventually caught in a few big lies involving undeniable credit card fraud, deliberate deception over large sums of “borrowed” money, outright embezzlement and so forth.  

He had some increasingly serious physical problems and, out of politeness, I once asked his wife how he was doing.   His wife said “how would I know?”  I never asked how he was doing after that.

It’s a mystery to me how you can stay close to someone you can’t trust.   We may sometimes hear things we don’t like from our nearest and dearest, be annoyed once in a while by the tics of our closest friends, but what we don’t doubt is the sincerity of these friends.  When the truth is needed, we will have some version of it from those who care about us the most.  Importantly, they will try to provide hard truth with sympathy.   This is my assumption and it seems to be confirmed by my experience.   On the other hand, I’ve been disappointed in this belief too, and relationships end over a revealed lack of trust.  Regular lying is not the only deal-breaker in close relationships, but it can be a big one.

A deliberate lie, of course, is in a separate category from the more common unintentional falsehoods that stem from self-delusion, a deep belief in dubious shit.   One person’s fucking lie is another person’s honest self-deception, and much of self-delusion is easy to understand and fairly innocuous.  Until it feels under attack.   Self-delusion can become aggressive when it must defend itself against all objective argument, marshaling a stubborn determination to see only one side of the situation.   This is the category, I think, that much of the untruth we are regularly presented with falls into.    Not deliberate lies as much as strong opinion based on one-sided  information, prejudice, the easy reflex to fall back on what feels right, inconvenient facts aside.

Is someone lying or misguided when they dismiss the climate disruption warned of by climate scientists as communist bullshit?   In most cases, they are probably not lying.  They sincerely believe, in spite of ever more common killer storms, droughts, floods, wildfires and other observable evidence,  the alternative explanation they have been given by very smart public relations people working for the cynical leaders of the lucrative, if problematic, fossil fuel industry.   Is everyone who believes that cutting taxes on the richest corporations and families actually helps everyone in society lying?   Probably not, there are many reasons to believe a given proposition.   Is a politician knowingly lying to convince people to support a position always acting like a psychopath?   You can argue that it’s not.

I don’t want to veer into politics here in 2020.  I’ve spent too much time on the vexing details in the last few nightmarishly turbulent years.  We are regularly lied to by various leaders, it is a given in our commercial culture today.  I’m going to give one example of a lie told to me, directly, by Barack Obama, secret Muslim, illegitimate presidential candidate unqualified for the Ivy League schools he went to, a man I voted for twice.  While he was pushing Obamacare, at a time when I very much liked my doctor, I was reassured to hear him say that under his plan “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.”   Not necessarily.  In my case Obama scored a zero for truthfulness since I could not keep my doctor, his corporation did not participate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

On balance the ACA was a step forward for a nation that had, before the law was passed, an even larger segment of its population dying unnecessarily after too-late diagnoses in emergency rooms, dying in the final stages of curable diseases for lack of health insurance.  Millions more Americans are now covered, at affordable rates, and that’s a net gain for everybody previously unable to afford health care.   It’s a problematic program with a lot of fucked up aspects to it, the insane complexities of its billing system high among them (as well as the millions still uncovered by the ACA), but the program was an undeniable step forward from what existed before.  

Even people who hated Obama don’t want to see Obamacare abolished.  Nobody but health insurance executives and wealthy psychopaths not affected by the program are in favor of reinstating the brutal “pre-existing condition” loophole that served only to further enrich health insurance companies.  Personally, I now save thousands of dollars a year over the cost of my former privately purchased health insurance, and I’ve found good doctors who participate in the plan,  That said, the motherfucker did look me directly in the face and lie to me, with great sincerity.   A small lie in the service of a much greater good, I suppose.  No need to go into some of his more deadly lies and omissions that really fucking irked me.

There are, of course, different categories of lying.  Some are harmless enough, a need to constantly brag, to exaggerate one’s importance, for example.  This kind of lying is used to push away the torments of low self-esteem, and, you know– what the fuck?  You can take this sort of lying, what lawyers call “puffery”,  with a grain of salt most of the time.   Some lies are quite destructive, as we all have experienced.   Why do people believe the habitual tellers of these kind of self-serving, damaging untruths?   Love.

If you love the person telling the lie, not being upset by the lie goes down much easier.  The lie is much easier to see as understandable, justifiable.  He HAD to tell it that way, you see, looking at it from his point of view– he was sincerely ashamed about what actually happened, you can’t blame him.   Or, it doesn’t matter, the guy is so good to me about everything else that his occasional lies, even things like the rare but undeniably shocking surprise bankruptcy days before the closing on our new home, for example, are acceptable.

The downside I can’t find a way to overlook is the necessary complicity of those who accept the liar’s need to lie.  This requires supporting the liar’s right to lie without consequences, to lie yourself to cover the lies of the loved one.  It includes the forced complicity of everyone who knows the secret stories that must never be revealed. 

The lie of the loved one needs to stand, and so does the need to talk around it, to dance, to contort the conversation in such a way that the lie is no longer central to what you are talking about.   In a pinch, just get angry as hell when someone keeps harping on some relatively harmless untruth they are so relentless about exposing.  Smash-mouth offense is the best defense in such situations, especially when people keep bringing up ancient history.

For me, the challenge is to be truthful and fair, to the extent any of us can be, without being combative about it.   It is a challenge I am wrestling with in the clear, stinging light of 2020.