Connections have been on my mind lately because I’m losing the ability to talk to people that I don’t agree with.
I want to blame this on the tenor of the times, but I know people have been disagreeing about a great many important things for a long time. What I think is that when we think about the great historical disagreements, the lines and issues are already drawn and the shouting is (hopefully) over. It’s so easy to place ourselves on one side or another without being sucked into the emotional space between. Nowadays, in the noise and the mess, it’s so hard to see those lines (or it isn’t because one side you have racists and on the other side you have people who want to live in peace) and understand the discourse.
Fundamentally, I think it’s a problem of courage. We know that people who think brown, black, queer, Indigenous (etc, etc, etc), the other is lesser and ought to be oppressed is a wrong and bad and evil person. Anyone who wants to oppress others is, by definition, Very Bad. But it takes such a huge amount of courage to overcome the moral inertia and stand up and say “no, don’t do that”, that we muddle the issue so it’s not so clear who or what we are standing up against. That maybe the issue Isn’t All Bad. I should know: I’m one of them. We all are. It’s so easy to look back and say “Look how bad and wicked and naughty those Nazis were,” and with the same breath, ignore that you work with people who, y’know, aren’t against immigration per se, but…
(And then if you do say something, you run the risk of being that person who just sucks the fun out of everything yaknowwadImean? Who you can’t even say a simple joke around, right? Which, if our jobs and lives and happiness didn’t depend on negotiating around other people 24/7, wouldn’t be a problem because, like the good people we all want to be, we would stand up, lecture the person on tolerance and inclusiveness and all the good things in life, and suitably chastened, they would listen, reflect on their wickedness, Go, and Sin no More. At least, that’s how it looks in those videos I watch online, in a dark room all by myself.)
Which, if you do say something, good luck and more power to you. I’ll watch from over there.
(Screw this, I’m going home)
I want to blame this on the times, but I can’t. Humans will always let themselves be drawn into conflicts between ideals and it’s from those negotiations that society emerges (that’s what it means to be human; it’s just plain wrong to think that we are on a steady incline towards some ideal, for “our stability is but balance“). But how do we do those negotiations? How the hell did our parents and foremothers do it?
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I read Rebecca Solnit’s great piece Not Caring is a Political Art Form, and I was struck by (among many other things), how it described, wonderfully and clearly, a politics of love:
Not caring is the center of their ideology, and it’s what’s at work in the alt right, where you can see the adolescent-boy glee of people who no longer have to be “politically correct” by refraining from hate and violence and lies. There’s a disinhibition in not caring, because the emotion of caring is inextricable from the act of caring for someone or something; the former compels the latter.
That caring can also be called love, and it often brings love in return; it has its rewards but also its terrors: of loss of being loved, of loss of the things you love.
I watch the world sometimes, and wonder how it bears the weight of problems heaped upon it. It would be so easy not to care, but Solnit’s piece frames that not caring as, rather than a metaphorical throwing up of the hands and staying out of it, as a turning away. Not as not caring, but of not loving. I love the world. I love every bit of it I’ve seen. And why would I hurt that which I love? “Even thieves love,” etc.
Solnit talks about the “freedom from” instead of “freedom to”. The imagined ideal is freedom from consequences, of freedom from those thorny connections that pierce us and catch us and bind us together. I can say what I want because I have the freedom from consequence. Let me my guns, my meat, my slave-labour shrimp: I have the freedom to them. Leave me be, and we shall both have our freedoms. There need only be consequences here if you make them (and then you’re that guy that no-one can joke around, jeez).
What do we, who believe in the value of connections between people, say to that? How do we negotiate between my ideas and values and desires, and those of people who want nothing to do with anyone so long as they get what they want? So long as they can manage them on their own terms, by their own admission, accepting only what consequences they wish?
What can we say? What can we do about anything?
*Though the most popular strategy of the left for doing nothing, so far as I can tell, is perfectionism: “I would support it but it’s flawed, I would work with them but they are impure, I would join but they’re not good enough (so I’ve written myself a ticket to the sidelines).” It’s another form of border patrol that in pretending to keep out everything imperfect keeps out every obligation to act or even justifies tearing down those who do. – Solnit
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I was in Toronto when Faisal Hussain shot 15 people. He did not shoot me or any of my family. No bullets pierced my skin; no blood off my back. Nonetheless, I was shaken and rattled and scared and hurt. My city, my people, both hurting. We were, I think, all shocked the next day. And yet, I had some business about town on the 23rd, and saw the flows of people moving back and forth as you would expect them to on any day, honking and pushing and shouting and talking and laughing pretty much as they always do. I want to say there was a tension in the air, a lurking unease that said something horrible and menacing was lurking behind curtains and around corners, but there was nothing. A strength of spirit or a symptom of disconnect, I don’t know. (Although this was pretty great!)
What could I do? The police took care of the shooter. The paramedics and doctors took care of the hurt and wounded. The families would take care of the frightened and the dead. I was isolated, and thank God for that. What could I do?
But it is my city, as much as it is the victim’s. As much as it is Faisal’s, or Alek Minassian’s. Like it or not, we are bonded together. By place or chance or time or blood, we can’t pretend we’re not because all it takes is one angry man (or one who is ill and sad and alone, or all of them) to force the issue. But what could I do?
What can any of us do?
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It’s only a little thing, the prick of the needle in your arm. If you’ve never given blood before, the pain is a lot less than you might think. It’s more of an itch, but I wouldn’t recommend scratching the needle. The clinic was busy. A friendly but yes, tired-looking, nurse told me it might take an hour.
No worry. I’d wait.
The nurse who did the extraction (and how romantic does that sound) mentioned what had happened the night before. How horrible it was. There were nods and sympathetic mumblings all round. It was horrible. I didn’t get a little ball to squeeze to aid circulation, which is either a perk or peril of high blood pressure. I’ll need to talk to my doctor about it, I thought. The machine made little pumping noises beside my chair.
And just like that, all done. I let the nurse wrap my arm in gaudy pink tape that said DONATE BLOOD because I wanted to show the city that I’d done something. This wasn’t a time for quiet and that Canadian quality of ignoring unpleasant truths, dammit, it was time to wear bright pink and shout out “Hey! We need to do something!”
So of course I didn’t talk to anyone as I made my way home. Why would I? It’s Toronto. You don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Making contact on the subway is bad enough, unless you’re playing our third national sport of avoiding-eye-contact tag (if you make eye contact with someone, you lose! There’s no winning!).
Crossing Eglinton at Yonge is a disastrous fording these days. There’s the Crosstown which chokes off Eglinton and condos going up all around you, which means steel skeletons, pounding machines, and traffic gushing from every blocked artery. It was hot and sunny. I was cranky (giving blood will do that to you, so don’t skimp on the juice and cookies afterwards). Why did I wear a black shirt in 30 something degrees? At least it highlighted the splash of pink on my arm, my little statement piece.
I was waiting to cross north, and a woman stood beside me. I just noticed her, made brief eye contact, lost the game again, and thought nothing of it because there was approximately 1,000 other people trying to huddle together on the corner and cross at the same time. But then I saw, nestled in the crook of her elbow, a small piece of gauze covered by a small bandage. “GIVE BLOOD”, hers said. They tell us to take the bandage off within a few hours of giving blood, and hers looked rather fresh.
I made eye contact again, and so did she. We looked at each other, and, in a small miracle that is one more personal piece of evidence for divinity, nodded together. We understood each other, and crossed the street.
We didn’t say anything. What could we? And why bother? We let our bodies and our blood speak for us instead, and who knows how many people went home that night because of it.
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Sometimes it seems to me a better way to organize the political spectrum than along a continuum of right and left would be the ideology of disconnection versus the ideology of connection. – Solnit, Not Caring…
Many of the ideas in Not Caring developed out of her piece, The Ideology of Isolation, which just goes to show you that good ideas rear their heads when they want to and never sleep for very long.
I recommend reading the whole thing (before or after Not Caring), and here’s a little hook to convince you to:
In fact, what is sometimes regarded as an inconsistency in the contemporary right-wing platform — the desire to regulate women’s reproductive activity in particular and sexuality in general — is only inconsistent if you regard women as people. If you regard women as an undifferentiated part of nature, their bodies are just another place a man has every right to go.