My brother and an evangelical friend visited for a few days this week. I did pretty well, for the most part. The hardest thing was the laughter.
When the friend joked about “a friend of a friend of a friend suggesting that someone maybe had a drink, maybe with Dianne Feinstein, and then fell asleep and couldn’t remember anything after that...,” he thought it was pretty hilarious. He, of course, did not drink at all, so there's that. But the blind obeisance to the robber barons in DC who want complete control over his virtuous life (i.e., his voting life)? Unthinking allegiance to a Brett Kavanaugh? That was easy, since God has chosen these wealthy white boys to be in charge. The Lord moves in mysterious ways. Even through Russian cyberhacks and lecherous drunks.
So at one point I couldn’t help it, I blurted out “I miss the old Republicans, the true, intelligent fiscal conservatives who provided proper check & balance to spend-happy Democrats.” Such a boring remark, I’ve said it before. Anyway, at lunch under the Marítimo umbrellas in the perfect October weather of the Largo Cidade de Vitória in Cascais, the reply came quickly: “I miss the old Democrats, the JFK and LBJ Democrats.” Uh...really? Has anything changed since then? True, JFK and LBJ existed before Reagan Republicans created the myth of the Straw Man Democrats, but I don’t know any actual Democrats who do not still adhere to actual JFK-ideals.
So this logic professor was in a conundrum. If you create a Straw Man position (and I’ve taught the 27 core informal logical fallacies for decades, so I should be fairly familiar with this one), do you get to lament the imagined disappearance of the original source-position which has never ceased to exist? When the position you despise is the cynically invented Straw Man invention held by exactly no one?
I don’t know. Particularly since I am the intended target of the Straw Man vitriol. I represent the illusory tribe of nymphomaniac baby-killers and horny butt-fuckers to them. Not having engaged in either activity, I’m not even a good foil for them, but that’s not the point. (Cis-gender queerbodies like myself might be less adventurous than they are, for all I know.) To them, I might have seen a human embryo as less deserving of life than its own life-conduit mother at some particular time, and I might have consented to anal sex in some form from somebody, but nonetheless for them the point is that my circle of friends most likely includes those who have done one or both of these two things, or at least does not exclude those who might have done one or both of these two things. Why they are interested only in these two things and do not care about wars, famines, the tortured, the poor, the homeless, the ill, the elderly, economic depressions, hurricanes and tsunamis, I don't know. Perhaps all these afflictions are simply punitive acts of God on a disobedient populace? And how exactly is this attitude Christlike? I know, I’m just not judgmental enough, as my daughter says. I annoyingly admit to not knowing potentially relevant circumstances. Such an incorrigible Socratic I am, stuck in the paradox that I know that I do not know. How very unChristian of me.
So the missing-the-old-Democratics remark led to my experiencing the familiar physiological choke-hold. I must hold ridiculous Straw Man positions that can be "knocked over with a feather" compared to the opposing rock-solid chauvinist colonial arguments. Straw must be jammed down my throat to shut me up! (Years before learning logical labels I awoke from a nightmare that my belly contained a dead turtle and a bunch of straw. Hmm.)
But am I doing the same thing to them? Do I fight back with the same dirty logic when confronted with displays of hierarchical cultures? Wasn’t my intent to simply suggest the presence of a false dichotomy, to calmly point to a Buddhist Middle Way, the lovely path beckoning there between the well-worn grooves of pointless contemporary debate, and then to mutually enjoy a harmonious breath of fresh air?
Well, yes and no. I don't think I'm doing the same thing. Because when my family took me from Portugal to the US in 1964, my father and brother began a search & destroy mission on anything I happened to say that was the least bit contrary to something they said. I say contrary, not contradictory, because logically these two are very different. If you say A, my responding with anything from B to Z can be contrary. There is only one contradictory response, however, and that would be Not-A. Except that’s not what I would say. Over the years I would interject a bit of an L, or maybe the souciance of a Q, or even the jenesaisquois of an S. A little conversation-tweaking for good flavor. But their response was to come at me guns loaded with snappy comebacks to Not-A, oblivious to the fact that I had said no such thing. They never even heard my carefully crafted L, or Q, or S.
I saw this reaction later repeated by Soviet party members to Russian dissidents, by angry powerful men to upstart female scholars, by holy robed militants to unsuspecting infidels, by livid white oppressors to anyone black or brown who happened to cross their paths. Same shit. Except sometimes it was disastrous and tragic and sometimes it was fatal. Sometimes you lost your job and sometimes you lost your life. Sometimes you got sent to the state psychiatric prison and sometimes straight to death row. Sometimes you got your hand chopped off and sometimes your whole head. In all cases you needed to be penalized for taking up the wrong space at the wrong time if you happened to wander into their mad geopolitical zone.
I see this reaction horrifically heightened now in the US since the 2016 election. People unable to see the difference between repeatedly causing outright pain to others and living among them with compassion. People who cannot see this cannot see me. Overturning the rights of nonexistent nymphomaniac baby-killers trumps the denial of health care to millions of poor and brutalized mothers and their children (since men have nothing to do with pregnancy). They see how close the lecherous oligarchs are to delivering this false gem in the name of totalitarian crowd control. They see them bringing about Armageddon by escalating the chaos in Jerusalem. They do not see the Faustian bargain, the false prophet, that brought them to this dangerous place.
I’m discouraged in general about my ability to communicate with English-speaking people these days. If I misunderstand even the Anglo expats here, how will the UN ever get on? How can the EU ever work things out, with or without Brexit insanity? Yes, I'm generalizing...but I pissed off the board of the local international nonprofit this week by suggesting that next year we ought to consider the Portuguese expectation of thanking volunteers on the day of their extraordinary service, rather than two months later at a formal appreciation dinner. Major faux pas. How could I not have known? I’m eleven years old again, fucking up in New England junior high school. Cultural sensitivity is not here revered. One if by sea.
I know, I forget. I forget when the goal is not to cooperate in harmony but to fight for dominance. I forget and I stupidly expect people to play nice. Meanwhile they’re baring their teeth for battle, slowly restricting my breathing until I give up gasping for air and beg for mercy. I can't breathe. You've got me in a Staten Island choke-hold. So when will I learn? Lucy is NOT going to keep the football in place! Not this time, not ever! Why can’t I remember that?
Lately I’ve been searching for a way to understand what is different about the combative cultures, the ones where you must crouch submissively so your attacker can stand tall. Here's my neck, asshole. It’s not just Nordic vs. Latin, or English-speaking vs. Non-English-speaking cultures. It’s not just Male vs. Female, Right vs. Left, and certainly not just Evangelical vs. Atheist. It’s also not just North vs. South or even West vs. East. I'm beginning to think it's just simply vertical vs. horizontal. I see cultures laid out laterally as opposed to hierarchically. Systems based on the latter are bully-cultures. They focus on power. Individual identity is primary. Collective and ecological reality is ignored, the fact that our reliance on one another is not only inborn but indispensable for the continuation of the species. Bully-cultures encourage pushing people off the jungle gym so you can get up to the top rung as quickly as possible to swing your feet and smirk your selfie smile.
The problem with this picture is that it generates the same kind of paradox as the idea of intolerance. I used to ask my classes, "can you be completely tolerant if you are intolerant of intolerance?" Similarly, can you believe in equally valuable cultures laterally stretched out across the surface of the planet, when some of those cultures consider themselves hierarchically superior to the others?
It's unlikely that anyone on the other side of the English divides and channels would ever read this, in any case. But I remain hopelessly with Charlie Brown, thinking Lucy will see fit to hold the damn football next time. She's got to come around soon, right? Next time. Next time she'll see the light. Right?
12 OCTOBER 2018
[Why the collage of dancers on antique bits of fabric? Today they symbolized to me a collective and choreographed harmony as far away as possible from the Lucies and bullies and their loaded footballs.]