If every hateful or passive aggressive comment on every form of social media resulted in the instant death of its recipient we would rapidly be living on a very quiet planet. You could hear the crickets again at night singing to the corpses in the field, phones grasped in stone cold hands. WTF?! glowing on the screen. The interstates would crack and sprout dandelions. All that would be left of the world would be the impoverished and forgotten. The forgotten poor would climb lavish walls and swim in the shimmering pools of the formerly privileged rulers or the world. They would drink hundred dollar bottles of wine through pink plastic straws.
I would make it about the length of time that it takes me to respond to an email asking if I could use the recommended clipart stolen offline for design purposes.
“No…and also I hate you. Snarky comment.”
Send. Cough. Cough…
A famous Goya etching states “The sleep of reason produces monsters”. Perhaps I also desire monstrosity when I presume that my fears are reasonable. In the wake of fear nonsense looks like a good solution. A clear vision of a perceived enemy is most likely a vision that is clouded by some abstract idea of self preservation. I might not make outlandish statements concerning the building of outrageously expensive walls, but I certainly want a measure of distance between myself and specific groups of people.
This is how I have ended up trying to build an intellectual divide between myself and my Wyoming background. While I am more than willing to claim the beauty and the isolation of that distant place I have an intense desire to out-read the less educated members of that particular state as if the reading divides me from them…it’s another wall. I’m not them. They are not me. It’s beautiful. It’s home. It is an embrace and a disavowal simultaneously. It’s also a severe reduction of humanity that favors my outrageous ego while poisoning my life.
Despite having grown up in Wyoming I grew up with some unique distinctions. I was given books by my mother who loved reading. We went to the library on a weekly basis. At no point did my father tell me that reading was an activity for weak men. In fact some of my earliest memories are those of my father reading The Hobbit to both me and my sister. No uncle ever came over, looked at a drawing I made and called me something hurtful. I’m guessing that things were quite a bit different for other men who had to work with their hands every day. The other men whose fathers were kept awake at night by the fear that the lives of their sons depended solely on their capacity for sweat-soaked back-breaking hard labor. Despite the best intentions of their families the other Wyoming men received different lies than I did and built different stereotypes to preserve their egos. I’m guessing that some would call me a weak man for the same reasons that I would call them violent men. They might punch me for making that observation, but they might also stop to tow my car out of a ditch in a snowstorm. I run into problematic interpretations when I insist on preserving my ego rather than struggling through the complications of living with and around other human beings. How can someone be both good and bad, both sinner and saint?
While I like to believe that education produces mercy I have observed the exact opposite. Unbelievably well-educated people sit at stupidly expensive reclaimed wood furniture discussing their vitriolic perceptions of “the others”. The walls that they build are the invisible divisions of neighborhoods. The problem with invisible walls is that they are invisible to both those who craft them and those who cannot understand the abstraction of an invisible wall. They are built into education and define relationships.
I’ve loaded and unloaded bails of damp hay into the back of pickup trucks and it’s brutally hard work, but my livelihood doesn’t depend on my capacity for that kind of labor. The back of my hands are not whipped by wind and red with weather exposure. The field that I chose to go into is not currently disappearing in the way that manual labor jobs are. I live in less fear, so I react less out of fear. It’s a luxury. If you take all of my money and leave me staring at an abyss who knows who I might have the capability of blaming for my hardship? What if I had a son facing a life of bad weather? How do you watch the black clouds gather and do nothing? Who quietly accepts hardship? A way of seeing depends on a vantage point.
The psychoanalyst Alfred Alder states, “So many people are convinced that their ambition, which might more appropriately be called vanity, is a valuable characteristic because they do not understand that this character trait constantly dissatisfies a human being, and robs him of his rest and sleep.”
An identity that is based only on geography and labor, be it intellectual or manual is a stunted understanding of both the self and others. It is an identity that demands that entire swathes of humanity be properly divided into camps and divided again until we are the only singular deserving being on the planet. Us and people that agree with us.
What I really want is for the whole world to be a big fucking mirror of my most flattering side and I chop, chisel and hack away all of the corners that don’t flatter me. I refine. I read and repost articles to reaffirm all of the things that I agree with. I cater all of my reading to cause me the least amount of intellectual discomfort. One day I will be completely safe wth four wooden walls, a handful of nails, and six feet of earth. My life of vanquishing real people with cardboard perceptions will be complete. What a horribly lonely victory.
I don’t have illusions of kumbaya campfires, because self awareness really hurts. Everyone grows up drinking a certain brand of poison and occasionally we have the good sense to recognize our own tendency to spew that poison into conflicts. Want proof? Get married. Most of our efforts to fix other people work a bit like dumping gasoline and throwing dry hay at a raging fire in the effort to put it out. The marriage statistics prove that we mostly love poorly and briefly. These are people we promised to love till death.
I keep waiting for the dents and holes to accumulate in the walls that I have built so that real human beings can get through the gaps instead of just ideas about what human beings are like. The hardest thing to do is to get out a jackhammer and punch another hole into the wall of my absolute certainty. It’s brutally hard labor. I adored certainty in my youth, but I’m not sure that self-preservation should be placed so high on my priority list if I want to live a life with real people. It seems like exclusive and isolated self-preservation might come at a more unsettling cost.
I’m not saying that systems are not broken in really disturbing ways. They are and the way in which we scream about their brokenness has become our new reality. I am simply suggesting that an aspect of mercy might be that it rests somewhere outside of the need for either absolute control or complete understanding.