In which I find out I’m not a humanist.
If you’ve already decided to TL;DR that article, here’s the gist: celebrating the beatdown of a person who has done Bad Things allows us to turn him into a monster and thus not deal with the fact that we once considered him an upstanding member of society. It’s a shame if you’ve decided so, that is, not to read it, because it’s a bold, sharply written piece that defends an unpopular stance with solid rhetorical appeals. But it is way over the 140 character threshold, so I guess the modern attention span can’t be expected to see it through to the 2000th word.
My gut reaction to the article was to review my gut reaction to the news that the famous pedophile Subway guy got smacked down, specifically for being the famous pedophile who took the infamous fall from grace. If that was too meta for you, I’ll rephrase: I immediately had to think, did I celebrate it? Someone in jail decided the famous villain needed a famous avenger. Was I so ecstatic he had been violently attacked that I wanted to share the news with others and say something quippy about it?
Well, I mean, I am writing this now, aren’t I.
Sub-theme to the article: by turning convicted pedos into monsters who deserve slaying, we encourage or enable further abuse by allowing for the continuation of the myth that nice guys would never do that. Enable? Yes, I’m on board with that. Encourage? I dunno. I tend to doubt it. If someone has a guilty conscience, I highly doubt it’s the potential for prison retribution that keeps them putting on their ideal public persona everyday. You might have an argument for the old duality of self, in that if they can convince themselves they are in fact nice and not a monster then that might allow them to keep denying their own monstrous side. But the world in which a pedophile operates, in my view, is so buried deep within their own psyche that even if our society did roll out the red carpet for pedophiles but to admit their urges in exchange for a lifelong ticket to a gold-rimmed therapy couch and cushy psychological care, and like, lots of money, they still would not. They’d be all Yes I agree with society on this issue as well as everything else because I’m such a nice guy and nice guys agree and no this has nothing to do with me nope no nothing at all, therapy, me? But I’m so nice! Now what time can I babysit again no don’t worry pay me later this one’s on me because I’m such, a, nice.
Yes it is important, I think the article rightly points out, not to allow ourselves the safety of myth. Nice guys are not universally nice any more than monsters are inescapably monsters. But what I learned about myself reading that is, I’m just not above a little human hating. I don’t know about “deserves.” I don’t know about karma. Who could know what an equal trade-off would be for his sins anyway, I certainly don’t and I don’t care to figure it out. What I do know is that I’ve always wanted to hit that guy in the face. Always. He’s just always been on my face-hitting list.
No, not “just.” I have a near crippling addiction to the word “just,” I say it when I don’t mean it, and I didn’t mean it ju— um, back there, because I’m not done with the deep dive, here. I’m still holding my breath.
Let me explain.
Today on the way to work I noticed an SUV was in a line of cars with their engines running and I noticed this SUV because it was white and large and oh it’s moving, it’s moving out into traffic, I’m coming up on it and if it’s trying to better parallel park that’s one thing but nope, oh, yeah he’s pulling out with barely a look and nary a signal, the fucker. I could have rapidly slowed, but I don’t tend to trust people behind me to look up from their text message in time to avoid hitting me. My preferred method of not getting into an accident is not to do the accidenting. So, seeing the oncoming lane empty, I maintained speed and swerved around him.
I’m sure by all accounts this was a nice man, certainly everyone who knows him would say so, dropping his kids off at school everyday so they don’t have to walk the streets, negotiating his work schedule and probably his wife’s to get them rides to and from, I’m sure he volunteers at the school too, during food pledges and fruit drives and what have you. And likely too, he’s from this city, he knows how people drive here (horribly), he’s pulled this move a thousand times before, see enough space to get in and they’ll slow down for you. They’ll have to.
But. Now trailing me, the man stayed on me another couple blocks and then was making a right where I continued straight. As it happens, traffic had slowed, and before his turning street was necessarily in range he was apparently in a hurry enough to swerve onto the berm and go by me, but not in such a hurry as to be able to resist slowing down through the turn and checking me out, me, the guy who avoided hitting his careless ass in a perhaps less than courteous way. And me? I was watching for him likewise. He came to a near stop, and I glared at him, and he got his first good look at me, his own attempt at a glare seemingly caught up in a conflict between wanting to tell me to fuck myself so hard and realizing I was a white guy, because he was black and these sorts of conflicts have historically not panned out so well and especially not lately.
He drove on.
Did I want to fight him? No. Would I have minded seeing his driving style, or lack thereof, resulting in him, I don’t know, clipping a fire hydrant with the sudden loosed pressure rocketing the newly freed projectile up through his engine block and flooding his stupid cockpit with 5000 gallons of icy cold Allegheny? No, I wouldn’t have minded that at all.
If humanism is based on empathy, I believe I could be a humanist. But if that empathy requires me never to wish pain upon or judge other people, I don’t think I can do that. I wouldn’t be who I am without the pain I’ve been through, and I most certainly deserve to be judged. I don’t begrudge this man his instinct to drive by and glare. I just (damn it) I simply felt he deserved a strong smack in the forehead with an open palm.
My first Reds game at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, they had someone there to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, as they often do. I think this was a Sunday, a weekend gig, so it wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill local boy scout troop, or Polly the librarian for the made-up-but-entirely-should-exist Let’s Celebrate a Librarian Day. No, Sundays merit a slightly higher caliber of fame, so I was looking forward to it. Until they announced Jared. Good old Jared from Subway.
I didn’t like him much before that day, what with the omnipresence at the time of those misleading ads that claimed a regular diet of 800-calorie sodium bricks was healthy (don’t forget chips and a soda!), and not just because they were misleading, but because you could tell he knew they were misleading. He knew and I knew that, with every commercial, he was becoming more and more practiced a liar, and he was getting paid fat for it. Or paid royally, I suppose, I hadn’t intended the pun.
But it wasn’t even that logical, really, my dislike, and it didn’t need to be. Mostly my reaction to him was gut-level and fleeting: I fuckin hate that guy. Then poof, commercial over. Until I saw him on the Jumbotron. Then, my rage sharpened, and my resentment grew active and I would speak on it to anyone who brought him up.
That was it. The extent of it. I decided I didn’t like him right then, and if you cut out the rest of the following and now well-documented Jared history from my memory and told me yesterday that Jared got beat up in prison, I would’ve smirked a little on principle before wondering what he’d done to land himself there or how bad the beating. I didn’t need to know what I know. Which isn’t much, mind you, I already couldn’t stand the guy, I’ve taken no specific interest in having my suspicions of his ill character confirmed and horribly.
And I just can’t feel bad for him. Not because I don’t empathize with the monster; I think I do, a bit. I would wager he’s in a lot of pain right now. I would expect he’s more than a little afraid, and probably being protected enough in the meantime to where he’s allowing in feelings of righteousness, like I know I’m a bad whatever but come on, who says this is fair, how is my excruciatingly broken this-and-that a just penance for my transgressions. It’s not, I tell you, it’s not, shh shh shhhh ow ow ow.
Or possibly he’s never admitted to himself his own guilt and feels outright offended at the implication of a deserved retribution. Or maybe he’s near suicidally guilty over his long-held secret life and keeps pushing the bruises in with a thumb because it’s no more than exactly what he’s worth, you dirty, nasty Jared, how could you. Or maybe all of these Jareds, appearing and receding in cycles.
Because yes, he is human, and no, there is no karma, no convenient system of nice for nice or evil for evil. But I smile when I think of this human’s suffering because it allows me the temporary suggestion of such order. It’s satisfyingly tidy, like a sitcom ending or a silverware drawer.
Really, though, it’s just a thing that happened to a guy I don’t know, and it has no more meaning than that.