Saturday, June 20, 2015

Self-examing beyond a race problem

On the heels of the Charleston murders, I watched Jon Stewart struggle to deal with the "race problem" in the US.  I thought immediately of Du Bois: "How does it feel to be a problem?" I grant that the US has a race problem. But I worry that when we identify one area of our aggression, we ignore a bigger picture. 

Let me turn to Faulkner.  He ends Absalom, Absalom!  with an exchange about hatred. Shreve: "Now I want you to tell me just one thing more.  Why do you hate the South?" We don't hear Quentin's reply.  We may think we read his reply, but we really read the narrator's rendition of Quentin's thoughts: "I don't hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!”  The End. It's up to Shreve to figure out if that's true.  Good luck.  It's up to us to make sense of the ending and the entire series of layered stories.  I've thought of this ending so much in the wake of the South Carolina killings, and here's what I've come up with. End the book with Shreve asking, "Why do you hate?" No South. No specific problem. 

The US still has a race problem. A human trafficking problem. A child abuse problem. A wife beating problem. A glass ceiling problem. A sexual orientation problem.  An aged people problem. The US has a love affair with violence.  I can't understand how, amidst anti-bullying, anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc. campaigns, sports figures in the US earn millions of dollars to hurt each other.  I thought of this when I listened to Stewart point out that the US spends millions of dollars and thousands of lives protecting its citizens'freedom.  And part of that freedom is to box, wrestle, tackle, trash talk, and bully each other--in public, for lots of money, and with great acclaim.  Of course, this is not just the US.

Humans have a hate problem.  Ironically, it doesn't serve us well.  It makes us less productive.  It endangers our safety.  It ruins our health. And it enervates our happiness.

So why do we hate?  Thomas Hobbes would answer that it's because we fear. We fear, especially, death.  For Hobbes, that's the root of our competitiveness, aggression, greed, and hatred.  Buddhism might agree that it's our inability to accept our impermanence that causes so much of our suffering.

I don't have the answer.  That's not the point of this blog.  My point is that isolating a crime to one problem allows me to overlook any hatred I have toward anyone outside that problem. Instead, I'd be a better person to ask myself, "Why do I hate?"

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"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." - from A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf