So I’ve heard that in the Warsaw Ghetto, where corpses littered the streets, residents would write on any scrap of paper they could find–poems, stories, diary entries, bits of prose, snippets of information– roll up these messages and shove them into small crevices in the wall around their prison. They surely did this hoping their words would survive even if they didn’t. They did this knowing little about the world outside those walls, and perhaps even knowing that their written cries of anguish could well end up as more fodder for the laughter of madmen. One such message may have told the story of a notorious, purple-winged angel who was always bitching and complaining about one thing or another. God said, Quityerbitchin and do something. The angel decided that the only appropriate thing to do would be to cut off his purple wings and cut out his sharp tongue. Now mute and flightless, the angel began to weep copious tears that turned into scraps of paper on which people wrote messages of hope that would survive and be read forever.
Surviving? Given the death of empathy for each other as fellow human beings, if we make it through the century it will surely be a miracle.
Hey, Bruised Muse readers, I tend toward cynicism myself at times, and have even been known to be kind of funny in my real life (if not particularly so far on this blog), but my humor is generally directed toward myself, as in self-deprecating, if you know what I mean. It seems we’ve arrived in the last few years at some kind of a PEAK OF SNARK in this culture, in which so called humor is used as a weapon to destroy others, rather than as a coping mechanism to help and heal ourselves. You have to now call ours a Culture of Snark; one writer has even gone so far as to call it the Culture of Sadism. He isn’t far off.
You see the culture of snark and sadism in the songs the kids listen to, lyrics that regularly label women bitches and ho’s. You see it all over the Internet, in “comments” so vile that you have to wonder if the people saying such things in public had mothers. You see it in these dreadful bullying episodes that have resulted in teen suicides. You see it in politics, of course. I see it in my psychotherapy office, among kids who call each other names as standard practice, even between husbands and wives who are supposed to love each other. But what disturbs me the most is when vile comments are EVEN directed at people who have suffered misfortune, tragedy, or trauma, as if some people deliberately reject the “intellectual” or “psychological” idea that blaming the victim is wrong, and try to blame the victim and heap abuse on her (or him) as much as possible.
Because I’m alert to the horror of maternal bereavement myself, I first became aware of this when I heard the unbelievably nasty things people were saying about Cindy Sheehan, who lost a son in Iraq. I mean the woman lost her son! I don’t care what your politics are. How can ANYONE justify let alone SAY in public the following sentence (written by someone who calls him or herself 12th Monkey), which I found after a one minute search of the Internet: She (Cindy) reveals (in her book) that her son’s death in that war almost drove her to take her own life: “Every night I had to restrain myself from taking my entire bottle of sleeping pills instead of just one.” Cindy, please reconsider.
Cindy, please reconsider? 12th Monkey, where were you raised?
It’s as if people’s internal censors are no longer functioning, as if they’ve completely lost their empathy for their fellow human beings. Are we turning into a nation of sociopaths with no conscience?
There’s an important piece by Maureen Dowd called Stars and Sewers in today’s NY TIMES about this issue. It asks the question: “Are our brains being rewired to be more callous by the Internet?” The piece in part talks about the terrible snark that has come out against reporter Laura Logan, after her terrible rape in Egypt. It references two new books I intend to read. The first is by Evgeny Morozov, “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, and the other by Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” Here’s one of Dowd’s quotes from the latter book: “Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”
The Bruised Muse wonders where all this is leading. Can it really get WORSE than Dowd’s example of a Feb. 3 snipe from the conservative blog Mofo Politics, after Logan was detained by the Egyptian police: “OMG if I were her captors and there were no sanctions for doing so, I would totally rape her.”
I would totally rape her?
When we combine snark and/or sadism with a general dumbing down, anti-intellectual strain of the culture, we find ourselves in a truly scary place. Big consequences not only for our relationships but for civilization itself. For example, although we can trace a relatively straight line directly from the behavior and music beloved by many members of my generation, including myself, to the current generation, who in the world would have ever guessed that in just thirty years, popular culture would devolve to the point where songs with lyrics considered racy at that time, like the Rolling Stones’, “Let’s spend the night together” are played on loudspeakers in supermarkets for all to hear, and the kids are now listening to songs with lyrics like 2 Live Crew’s, “Nibble on my dick like a rat does cheese?” Now THERE’S poetry. I sure hope future shoppers won’t be listening to THAT while picking up the Gouda.
Yes, I’m making a joke here, but this really is dead serious.
Does the Bruised Muse have a “Survival Tip” for dealing with this disturbing tendency? Obviously the Internet isn’t going away, but public awareness is always the first step toward action and/or change. Research may say that our brains are being rewired, but other research (read, for example, Life Unlocked, by Srinivasan Pillay, MD) says that you can outsmart your wiring, in other words re-re-wire, by thinking different (ie better, in this case nicer) thoughts. The Bruised Muse says: Speak out out against the culture of snark. Breath deeply. Think of the other. Be nice.
As a bereaved mother who mourned and still mourns the loss of her three year old son, Michael, in 1994, I cringed when I heard former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, in reference to the families of the victims of the terrible shooting in Tucson, say offhandly, “May God turn their mourning into joy.”
In my view, such ostensibly nice little sentiments, which seem so commonly held in this religious country, show a complete misunderstanding and even a kind of contempt for both mourning AND joy, and maybe even for God too.
Let’s leave politics aside for the moment, along with my personal feelings about Sarah Palin. I’m sure (I hope) Ms. Palin meant those words to be comforting to the suffering families, the poor parents of little Christina Green, the parents of Gabe Zimmerman, the three sons and wife of Judge John Roll, and families of Dorothy Murray, Phyllis Schenk, Dorwan Stoddard, not to mention the children and husband of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and the other injured people.
Yet such apparently harmless sentiments, much like that deeply offensive and overused word “closure,” are a misguided attempt to shrink-wrap and even deny the enormity of losses like this. They imply that grief is an event rather than a lifelong psychological process in which you gradually figure out a way to incorporate your losses into your life and move on from there. There actually is something to be gained from loss, but knowledge of what it is only comes from long suffering and deep searching.
Yes, Ms. Palin is no doubt relating her own and many others’ understanding of God’s goodness, or perhaps talking about joy that one’s loved one is now in Heaven. But consider the implication of the statement. When you’re in pain over the loss of a child, you might hope or even pray that God will take away your pain. But turn it into joy? What God would want to deny the enormity of your loss and the meaning of the life you lost by taking away your authentic emotions and feelings that your loss is real and important, and replacing them with an inauthentic happiness?
Just like those old standby cliches, “Time will heal,” “It’s time to get on with your life,” and “God must have wanted another angel,” such comments as Palin’s have a kind of delegitimizing effect on the griever. They imply that there is something he or she can do that will end or take away grief. They suggest that the pain you are feeling isn’t what you should be feeling and if you would just take this advice you wouldn’t be feeling it. This is the opposite of what the person who attempts to comfort the bereaved should do. My favorite definition of compassion is a Buddhist one: Compassion is willingness to be close to suffering. This doesn’t means denying, deflecting or babbling your way through it, but sitting with it, no matter how uncomfortable intense emotion makes you feel. And this means:
Be present. Be humble. Observe. Reflect. Allow silence. Don’t judge. Accept. Listen.
After seventeen years, my grief is no longer a hissing monster, it’s quiet now. I have found the way to move on and learned the lessons my life has offered. But the idea that I would ever, even now, experience joy in connection with my loss is offensive. While that sort of “feel good immediately” sentiment is consistent with the increasingly short attention American span, and might even be popular in this country (at least among those who haven’t suffered major losses), Palin’s words aren’t; in my view they’re an insult to me, my son, my family, and to all those suffering families in Tucson.
Turn mourning into joy? Do we really want God to transform us into smiling Disney characters?
Conversation in front of an exhibition of beautiful photographs of people and scenes in Israel, displayed in our local Jewish Community Center. I’m standing in front of a photo of a man in an outdoor market. In the photo, we see his back. His shirt is up, and a large gun is strapped into a holster around his waist at the small of his back. The gun is the focus of the photograph.
A woman walks by and says, in what sounds like an Israeli accent: “Is that for real?”
“What?” I say. “The gun?”
“Yes. The gun,” she says.
“I think it’s for real. I assume it’s for real,” I say.
“Scary,” she says. “Why is he carrying it in his shirt like that?”
“I have no idea,” I say. “He must think he needs it for self protection.”
She shakes her head. “What a shame.”
I sigh. “Yes. A real shame. In my opinion, every single gun on the planet should be rounded up and sent to Mars.”
She laughs and walks away, and as she walks away I realize that I completely believe what I said. As far as I’m concerned, there should be a house to house, factory to factory, storage bunker to storage bunker search of the entire planet, and every single firearm, rifle, bomb (nuclear and regular), AK47, and every other exploding weapon, should be put on a spacecraft and shipped to Mars. Then no one would have them, and we wouldn’t have to “protect” ourselves from them. Obviously, we’d still be the same unevolved human race, characterized by our primitive, threatening behavior, but it would be a lot better, and have fewer global ramifications, if we used primitive weapons, like knives and spears, to express our primitive impulses.
I guess I’m out of step with mainstream, conservative America, huh?
I was listening to a local radio station’s musical tribute to Michael Jackson this morning, grooving to the beat of the wonderful music of this incredibly talented man, songs that are so much a part of the culture, classics like Beat It, and Thriller, and Billie Jean, and I’ll Be There, and it occurred to me that the doctor who is apparently going to be charged with administering a lethal dose of what Jackson apparently called his “milk,” is not the only one who should be faulted or even perhaps charged in this case. This is so typical of what we do in this culture, focus on one convenient scapegoat to the exclusion of all others who should bear equal or even greater responsibility. What about the plastic surgeons who agreed to operate over and over on a man with a terrible dysmorphic disorder — to the point where his nose was falling off? What about the social workers and other authorities who allowed an obviously mentally ill man to be the primary caretaker for three young children, without even so much as an investigation? This last doctor, Dr. Murray, was only the latest in a long line of professionals who at the very least didn’t live up to their very clear professional obligations in connection with Jackson. Social workers, psychologists, and physicians are among those who MUST adhere to professional ethics, and be forced to do so by their own ethics boards. Why does celebrity and money seem to top all?
But it’s even worse than that. I’m starting to worry about the sanity of the candidate himself. John McCain has actually been touting the idea that Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience because Alaska is next to Russia. And Palin, who crammed like a schoolgirl for the now infamous ABC interview with Charlie Gibson, echoed that bizarre absurdity by saying that her foreign policy bonafides include her vision: the fact that she can SEE Russia from Alaska. Between all this, and McCain’s perseveration on “We are all Georgians” rhetoric, on peculiar ideas like “Sarah is my soul mate,” and “She’s the most wonderful Vice Presidential candidate in history;” and his impulsive, cynical, irresponsible, politically-motivated pick of this extremist, unvetted, untested Vice Presidential candidate, I feel as if we’ve all landed in the movie Doctor Strangelove, and we’re stuck in the room with General Jack Ripper ranting and perseverating about those Commie Ruskies and our precious bodily fluids. I keep thinking about what a member of McCain’s own party, Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, said once about Mr. McCain, “The thought of his being President send a cold chill up my spine. He’s erratic, he loses his temper and he worries me.” Me too, Thad. Me too. Has anyone actually considered the longterm personality consequences of five years of torture? Is it possible there’s PTSD here?
But this isn’t Dr. Strangelove, after all, it’s 1984, and the Republicans seem to have so mastered the art of doublespeak that a sizeable number don’t even realize that we’re being had….again. When McCain nominated Sarah Palin, I thought surely women, except the true religious right, weren’t going to buy her just because she was a woman and “one of us?” We did that already with Bush, who was judged by many as “someone you’d like to have a beer with.” Are we about to do that again, and get the same result? I’m sure John McCain is fun and likable in his own way, and Sarah Palin is a lot of fun on a moose-shooting expedition, but why don’t we try something new after eight years, maybe elect someone really smart to the highest office in the land? After eight years of George Bush, underachiever, do we really want to elect someone who graduated near dead last from Annapolis? Isn’t that doing the same thing and expecting a different result? Isn’t that insane?
I keep asking myself what can be responsible for this vulnerability of Americans to Swift-boat tactics instead of logic and common sense? Why are so many unable to look at a problem and figure out the right solution? Or at least a different solution than the one that hasn’t been working? Is it a lack of education or critical thinking skills? Identity politics? Is that people have no memory? Is it that people can’t prioritize what’s important any more? Is it that our consumer culture has made us so used to being bombarded with ads and sales pitches that we’re unable to go beyond sound bites and jingoistic phrases? Is it a media that simply isn’t doing its job? Is it something in the water? Have we gone insane to even think for one moment that we’ll get a different result with McCain and Palin?
They can call Obama an “elitist” and a “pervert” and whatever else their Rovian minions dream up, but the result will be the same. While the world moves forward in science, technology, and medicine, we’ll be banning highly promising lines of medical research like stem cells, teaching Adam and Eve as science to our young people, and arguing over irrelevancies, like gay rights, which should be a given in this country.
While the world burns and terrorists proliferate, to a great degree as a result of OUR policies, we’ll continue with our “tough talk and bad strategy,” to quote Senator Obama.
While the planet sputters and begins to die, we’ll continue to prop up Petro-dictators in the most repressive, pre-modern, anti-woman countries on earth, countries in which the Church IS the state, and further erode our own separation of church and state in the process. In the end, we’ll look more like them than they do like us.
While the rest of the world looks on in horror, we’ll continue down our current path, increasing our deficits, mortgaging our and the world’s future, adding to the world’s overpopulation by pushing abstinence only and restricting access to sex education, birth control and abortion, and doing nothing to stop the world from moving toward nuclear catastrophe.
While the signs of global destruction mount all around us, from melting ice in the Artic to wild weather in the Americas, we’ll just continue along the same path we’ve been going for the last eight years, and expect a different result. And the Republicans will continue to live in their fantasy world, insisting that America is still and always will be the world’s “leader,” and calling anyone who would dare speak truth unpatriotic.
Bush calls us the “angry left,” but I’m not angry. I’m horrified that the country has gone insane. I’m grieving. I grieve because we’ll be electing a war monger who will not only keep us in the unnecessary, disgraceful war we’re already in in Iraq, but is going to get us into another war with his bellicose “We are all Georgians” rhetoric.
I grieve for the demise of this country and this planet. But instead of fighting as we go down, some of us will be chanting insanely “Drill Baby Drill.” Maybe it’s something in our precious bodily fluids. Or maybe its in the oil
Yesterday on NPR, in an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, Tom Friedman, Pulitzer Prize winning NYTimes columnist, told it like it is on the absolute necessity to go green. Although I definitely disagreed with him on the lead up to the Iraq war (which I always thought not only incredibly stupid but a strategic and moral catastrophe, and he originally supported), Friedman remains among the most brilliant commentators we have in this country. Friedman ought to be required reading (or listening) for every American. Here are a few memorable (approximated) quotes from that interview that drill down (you should pardon the pun) the problem with electing John McCain:
When I heard Rudi Guiliani lead that crowd (at the Repub convention) in chanting “Drill Baby Drill,” I thought, what planet are these people inhabiting? It’s as if on the eve of the advent of computer technology, the Republicans were out there saying “Let’s stick with the IBM Selectric Typewriter.” Type baby type. Type. Type. Type.
If the Petro-dictators–the leaders of the world’s most repressive, anti-modern, anti-woman regimes like Saudi Arabia, which we’re supporting by our addiction to oil, either foreign OR domestic–were up in the bleachers at that convention, they would have been giving each other high fives! They WANT us to remain focused on fossil fuels.
We ought to be promoting fuels from Heaven (wind, solar, etc) rather than fuels from hell (fossil based)
John McCain, whom I used to respect, has been ‘bloody dishonest.’ He’s making people stupid, and it’s frankly disgusting.
John McCain’s support for lifting the federal gas tax for a summer giveaway was absurd and misleading.
We ought to have 100000 innovators working in 100000 garages.
The current tax and production credits for wind and solar energy expire on December 31. A bill to extend them has been brought up in Congress eight times and John McCain didn’t show up to vote eight times. Obama showed up three times and voted to extend. So now, at this crucial time, the solar and wind innovators in this country are at a dead stop, frozen. Nobody is starting new projects. This makes no sense at all.
President Bush claimed we have an addiction to oil, but do you think he invited all these senators, Republican’s and Democrats, to Camp David and said, “Let’s work it out.” Do you think he lifted one little finger, one pinky to help?
Remember when Ronald Reagan pulled Jimmy Carter’s solar panels off the White House?
When Reagan canceled Carter’s tax credits for wind, Denmark bought the top American wind company and now has the largest wind company in the world.
Now WHICH party and WHICH Candidate are green? George Bush (and John McCain, his twin) don’t want to work it out because the Republican party (of which John McCain is a bonafide member, matter how much they try to distract you with their lipsticked Pitbull and claims of being energy savvy mavericks and change agents), is completely in the pocket of the big oil companies. Make no mistake. The only change they’re going to give you is to move even farther to the right than even George Bush. It’s amazing: Here we have a candidate John McCain who’s made a completely irresponsible pick for Vice President, and in addition has picked just possibly the most anti-green person he could have found. Apparently, in addition to her extremist views on religion, book banning, teaching creationism in school as science, her belief that you can turn gay people straight, and so much else, Sarah Palin also apparently believes global warming isn’t man made. Great. While the rest of the world is moving forward in science and technology and medicine, we’ll be increasing our deficits as Republicans always do; restricting the most promising line of medical research, stem cells; continuing to consume oil at a planet-killing rate; teaching Adam and Eve as science to our young people; arguing over gays; adding to the world’s overpopulation in a resource limited world by pushing abstinence only and restricting access to sex education, birth control and abortion. Now that would be a catastrophe. And the Republicans continue to live in a fantasy world and insist that America is still and always will be the world’s “leader,” and call anyone who would dare speak truth unpatriotic.
To hear the whole Fresh Air interview here’s the link on NPR
Be afraid, people. Be very afraid. Bush calls us the angry left? But I’m not angry, I’m mostly just sad. I grieve for the demise of this country and this planet. But instead of fighting as we go down, some of us will be chanting “Drill Baby Drill.”