I’m exhausted by the inescapable negativity, the sheer venom, that’s everywhere. I stay away from social media to avoid it. I hold my tongue to avoid invoking it. But nothing I do seems to shield me and I feel it wearing on me, scraping away any protective covering I may have had at birth.
Everyone has a reason why their rage is justified under the circumstances. Assessing them is an impossibly slippery slope. Black Americans have the slavery card, and generations – no, centuries – of systemic social and governmental policy that has sought to marginalize them, and worse. That’s fairly compelling as justifications go.
Others are less compelling and it’s hard to know where to start to call “bullshit.”
And then there are the Jews. Worldwide they have been exiled, concentration camped, bombed, kidnapped and slaughtered for millennia, not centuries. Tens of centuries. But when a thousand Jews get together to raise a ruckus they call it the Oscars.
Okay maybe that’s not funny or maybe it’s just too soon. But I feel compelled to observe that Jews relieve the tension of bigotry by being self-deprecating; Jews almost invented comedy, and likely perfected it. Black comedians, and there are a ton of talented ones, aim the lens outward and lean in, hard. I get it, it’s funny but it’s different-funny.
Somewhere on the continuum of rage and indignation, way over on one end, is the President of the United States. He lashes out at people a lot, publicly, and complains of unfair treatment while sitting in the Oval Office of the White House, the most powerful elected official on the planet Earth. Not very compelling.
I’m not inclined to feel sorry for him or give him a pass. Chris Rock (speaking of wickedly talented black comedians) did a great routine in which he observed, “That’s how life works. Sometimes the people with the most shit get to say the least shit. And the people with the least shit get to say the most shit. So if you want to say more shit, get rid of some of your shit!” (If you click the link, which I encourage you to do, know that – like most of Rock’s oeuvre – it’s NSFW and not appropriate for children. But it is magnificent, watch it.)
I’m thinking about all this because of a news story that I read in which the mayor of Seattle apparently told Donald Trump to, “go back to your bunker.” That was after Trump tweeted for her to, “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will.”
These are elected officials behaving like 5th graders in the schoolyard – and I say that with apologies to 5th graders. When did this become okay? You can’t govern through Twitter! That’s not the job anyone elected anyone else to do. Any moron can tweet, we don’t need officials for that. How do we have people in office, all the way up to the very tippy-top, who didn’t learn this? Doesn’t anyone feel stupid and soiled? Doesn’t anyone care that we, all of us, look like buffoons?
And why can’t anyone have an opinion that differs from mine? I grew up with people, like we all did, save for that kid in Jungle Book. I shared some things, some ideologies, with them, and other things we disagreed about. I don’t want to be polyanna about all this, but there was never an expectation that everyone in my life needed to agree with me about everything, or that someone who disagreed with me about something in particular was therefore wrong and unworthy to breathe the same air as me.
I don’t like beets; I hate them. I married a woman who LOVES beets. And she has done the unthinkable, which is to bear me beet-eating children. Yet despite this, we remain married. Do I denigrate her beet-love from time to time? Yes. But we coexist. We find common ground. It’s not that hard.
I am trying, hard, to keep my mind open to new viewpoints. I want to be challenged, I want to grow. My daughter is the single most powerful weapon in my arsenal: Whenever I fall back into old, static beliefs she makes sure I feel the merciless, brute force of her opposition. And despite her nuanced approach, I come back to considering new views and being open to dialogue. It’s a program of personal development to which I am committed.
But back to the negativity. I try and limit my exposure, to no avail. I try and stay open to conflicting views, but it’s hard; some days it’s actually damaging, I feel bruised.
And then today. Today I saw a headline that said, “Trans activists call JK Rowling essay ‘devastating.’” Et tu, Weasley? Et tu?
History’s best-selling author and Harry Potter creator, whose back-story contains poverty, domestic and sexual abuse and abandonment, has well-reasoned views on, and articulate questions about, the transgender movement. She wrote an essay on her website, which I read, that is every bit as thoughtful and reasonable as one would hope from an author who went from precisely zero to an estimated net worth of $60 million, according to Forbes. But the transgender community has gone complete Death-Eater on JoJo, and much of the Hollywood illuminati have followed suit, including most of the actors and actresses made famous by the Potter franchise.
Now here’s the thing: I read the piece. In it, Rowling doesn’t dismiss or condemn trans individuals. She cops to knowing and liking many transpeople. But she has concerns and questions about the rapidly accelerating movement and the age at which boys and girls are being empowered to abandon their biological gender assignment.
Doesn’t matter, I’m not arguing her point (and couldn’t if I wanted to – she’s freaking JK Rowling). I have at least one relative who’s trans, whom I love. I have had many conversations with folks at various points in their process – one of which was the most eye-opening couple hours in a bar I’ve ever spent – and I am fully prepared to sit right in the middle of the argument: I agree we all need support, we all need to be considered human. And our image of ourselves, including our sexual selves, should not be weaponized.
But then neither should having a dissenting opinion.
Why is it impossible to have a respectful conversation? In her essay, Rowling appears to have all the makings of someone willing, even wanting to have a dialogue, to look for common ground. But she writes, “I expected the threats of violence, to be told I was literally killing trans people with my hate, to be called cunt and bitch and, of course, for my books to be burned.” Why? Nazis burn books, liberals don't. Why would someone protest the burning of The Diary of Anne Frank or Huckleberry Finn or I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, then turn around and light a match on Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince?
It doesn’t make sense. We only survive together. We can’t survive together if there are no issues we can agree on, or – more accurately – if there are non-negotiable issues that prevent discourse altogether.
I have said this before, and will say it again: I believe everything exists in a bell curve. There are more of us in the middle than at either end. We consistently cede our power to the fringes and this will kill us, all of us. It’s doing it now, slowly but picking up steam.
In an earlier post I lamented the need for people to kick the crap out of Jimmy Fallon, the Western world’s bestest boy, for a smirky sketch he did as a paid network employee more than a decade ago. Similarly, I implore you, anyone reading this, not to add fuel to hate. Any hate.
Don’t repost things that sound like they might be in your approximate wheelhouse; do the work. When I read the article about the trans community being up in arms about JK Rowling, I didn’t say, “Yeah! Get the bitch!” And I didn’t say, “Leave her alone, she’s awesome!” I read the essay, and I formed an opinion.
I don’t have an answer for the trans question. I don’t need to weigh in on who’s right or wrong. But I know this: As long as we deny each other, shout each other down instead of yielding a tiny piece of our time, a little of our soul, to other human beings, we are done. There’s no road back from that.
Who can be our voice of reason when hate is acceptable and volume is mistaken for victory?