Sunday, March 6, 2016

growing up in jerusalem, and the rise of donald trump

I have been preparing all my life for this particular moment in American politics. Growing up in Jerusalem, with survivors of Auschwitz and Birkenau as close family friends, I was sternly and persistently instructed to expect another genocide to arise, to be prepared for that moment, to always be at the ready to fight for and even die for those who would be targeted. Being soaked in that atmosphere as a child—the atmosphere of Holocaust survivors all around me, their tattooed numbers peering out from under sleeves as they stood beside me at the bus stop, many of them not that much older than I am now—impressed into me these internal words: Always be vigilant. Not many people will be willing to see the genocide or rape or violence, much less do anything about it. Be one of the few willing to see it. Look for it. Be willing to resist it, even if it causes you suffering.

So, when Donald Trump began to rise to power, I did not feel surprised.

Americans believe so much in this country’s exceptionalism—even liberals, maybe especially liberals, believe in American exceptionalism; we believe that the suffering of Syrians, for example, is terrible, but it is not our suffering. It is not something that could ever happen to us. The suffering of Salvadorans, Nigerians, Indians, Ukranians—it is lamentable, but it’s over there, elsewhere, at the end of the day not all that relevant.

Of course, not all Americans believe in American exceptionalism, because some Americans are suffering very, very much.

I can feel myself getting preachy, and I don’t want to get preachy. What I think is that genocide has been happening continuously, somewhere in the world, since the Holocaust. We know this, and sometimes we want to do something about it and we don’t know what to do. And sometimes we don’t want to do something about it because our hearts are hard or shriveled or unexercised. Children and women are raped every day, in every town in America and in the rest of the world. They are raped by the people they trust the most. This is true, and it keeps on being true. Many of the children who are beaten, burned, raped, left hungry, screamed at, and shamed, will grow up to do the same to their own children. People are suffering greatly, and in their own suffering they are inflicting horror on other people. Cruel and hollow people are in power. And many—most?—of them are not so obviously cruel and hollow as Donald Trump. Many of the people who cause the most harm seem like good people. They seem trustworthy, interesting, smart, sexy. This is true, and it keeps on being true.

It is very hard to admit these things. It is hard to give them admittance into our hearts, and to keep on admitting them.

For me, the most consistent reason it is hard to keep saying, “yes, this is true” (one meaning of the word “admit”), and the reason it is hard to keep these things in my heart (another meaning of the word “admit”), is because to do so means to also admit how powerless I am. Tonight, in my town, children will be harmed, some of them brutally and irrevocably harmed, and there is nothing I can do about it.

It is of course common in the collective American myth to say, “but of course there is something you can do about it! You can volunteer for Big Brothers, Big Sisters! You can give money to your local domestic violence shelter! You can vote for politicians who will crack down on crime, or who will eliminate poverty, or who will pump schools full of money. Don’t be such a pessimist! Don’t be such a defeatist!” Good-hearted people say these things, and I am all for good-hearted people, but maybe sometimes optimism is just one more way of numbing ourselves from admitting the actual scope and depth of the suffering/evil/horror.

I suppose that not everyone has the same experience, but what I’ve found is that when I gather up the courage to admit sorrow and powerlessness and grief and loss, that the outcome is very different from what I thought it would be. I turn away from the suffering of others because I’m afraid that if I turn toward it, it will crush me, or make me insane, or even kill me. And turning toward the suffering of others with an open heart does do that to us. It crushes us sometimes. It traumatizes us. But it doesn’t only do that. It also softens us. It also makes us more loving. It makes us less likely to cause harm. It makes us more likely to join the resistance, and less likely to be passive or to join the forces of oppression. This, too, I think?, is true.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

interpretation of the play

The above play/dialogue could also be about heterosexual people trying to convince gay people to be straight. It could be about patriarchy-adherents trying to convince feminists to change their mind. It could be about white people trying to convince everyone else to conform to white normativity. It could be about cis people trying to convince transgender & queer people to not be transgender & queer. It could be about Christians trying to convert people who are not Christians. It could be about westerners trying to force westernism on non-westerners. It could be about American Dream adherents trying to convince artist-anarchists that they are wrong. It could be about capitalists trying to convince artist-anarchist-lovers to conform to capitalism.

In my case, it's about wanting to love the people I love, in the way I do actually love them. (Which relates to all of the above, but isn't exactly reducible to it, in my case.) I want to be accepted and celebrated as I am, and I do not want to have to hustle for that acceptance.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

maybe if we explained it to you more clearly....

Maybe If We Explained It To You More Clearly...:
A Play
(and also a History of my Life, but not just of *my* life)

Them: If you conformed to what is normal, things would be easier for you.

Me: I know. But I don't want to conform to what is normal.

Them: Maybe you don't understand what is normal. Let us explain it to you. Maybe you don't understand the rules. There are rules. 

Me: I understand the rules, but I don't like them.

Them: If you do not conform to the paradigm, we will kick you out of the group.

Me: Please don't kick me out of the group. That would hurt me.

Them: Then conform.

Me: Okay, I will try.

One year time passes.

Them: You are not conforming to what is normal.

Me: I know. I tried. It didn't work, even though I tried hard.

Them: Then we kick you out.

Me: No! Wait! Please don't kick me out!

Them: You are abnormal, nonconforming, and bad. The gate to this realm is now locked to you.

Me: But the food and water and warmth and shelter and human and company are inside that realm. Please let me back in.

Them: Fuck you, you little cunt.

Me: Please please please please please please.

Them: Okay. You can come in, and live in a dirty corner in the far reaches of the realm, and we will monitor your behavior.

Me: I don't like that arrangement. But I am really hungry and cold and lonely, so okay.

Them: We heap shame on you, because it will force you to conform.

Me: Shame hurts so much. It hurts, it hurts, please stop.

Them: We heap shame on you, because it will force you to conform.

Me: Shame hurts so much. It hurts, it hurts, please stop.

Them: We heap shame on you, because it will force you to conform.

Me: Shame hurts so much. It hurts, it hurts, please stop.

Them: You are not conforming to what is normal. Our patience is ended. Now we will punish you.

Me: Screaming

Three years of wandering, scavenging.
Then, accepted in by a kinder, gentler version of the paradigm-adherents

Them: Welcome. In order to be among us, you must conform to our paradigm.

Me: I want to be among you, but there are rules that are a part of your paradigm that I don't want to conform to.

Them: They are good rules. Are you saying they're not good rules?

Me: Sometimes I think they're not good. Sometimes I think they're just not a good fit for me. Either way, I don't like them and don't want to follow them.

Them: But we follow these rules. Are you saying we are bad?

Me: No.

Them: But these rules work so well! Everyone is following them and they are working great for everyone! How can 200 million people be wrong?

Me: The Russian pogroms. The Trump campaign. The Cambodian genocide. The Rwandan genocide. Proponents of slavery. Every man who has ever raped a woman. It's very common for 200 million people to be wrong.

Them: How can you be so judgmental?

Me: Justice isn't possible without the willingness to make judgment calls.

Them: Why are you trying to force us to do things your way?

Me: I'm not. I''m trying to get you to stop forcing me to do things your way.

Them: But what about humility? What if you're wrong?

Me: I might be.

Them: Maybe you don't understand the norm. You don't understand the dominant paradigm. You don't understand the accepted narrative. You must be naive, or not very smart. Don't worry: we will explain it to you--in simple, clear terms--because if you understand it, then you can conform to it, and be happy.

Me: I understand the norm/dominant paradigm/narrative. I understand it well. I know extremely well how to mimic conformation to it. It never made me feel at peace with myself, at ease in the world or in my own body, or joyful.

Them: Then you must be broken.

Me: Maybe. Or maybe the paradigm is broken.

Them: How can you say that? It works for us! How can you judge us?

Me: It works for you, but at great cost to people like me. People like me are oppressed by your paradigm.

Them: Then you must be broken. How hard it is to conform to it?

Me: For people like me, it's impossible. When I do try to conform, life becomes unbearable.

Them: Then you must be broken.

Me: Maybe you are right. Maybe I am broken. I will go try to figure out the ways in which I am broken, so I can fix them.

Five year interlude.

Me: I investigated thoroughly, and the investigation cost me almost everything. It almost cost me my life. And I have concluded I am not broken.

Them: Great! So now you will conform to the dominant paradigm?

Me: No. I do not like the dominant paradigm. It does not align with who I fundamentally am. I have thought more carefully about the dominant paradigm that most people I've encountered living within the dominant paradigm, and I have concluded that it is a terrible fit for me, and it's a terrible fit for many of the people trying to conform to it, and although it does work relatively well for many people, it also has oppressive and straightjacketing parts that are intrinsic to it, and though that oppressiveness might be a trade-off some people are willing to make (for the sake of security or safety or because it does not feel very oppressive to them), I am not willing to make it.

Them: Maybe if we just explained it to you in a more hip way, or more punitive way, or more contemporary way, or a more clear way...

Me: Goodbye.
The end.