Shit Spiral

Einstein taught us that time is relative. If I’m hurtling towards a black hole near the speed of light time will slow down for me compared to you if you’re watching from earth. The quarantine is like a black hole. It has fucked with my perception of time. Our pool guy comes every Thursday. Sometimes I wonder why he is here two days in a row because the week has whizzed by. But it feels like we’ve been here in Canyon Lake f-o-r-e-v-e-r. So I counted. It’s been 84 days since we left Chile and landed here. Only eighty four days. Or eighty four days in which America has descended into a shit spiral.

Almost everyone, even those who didn’t disliked the idiot-in-chief from the outset, had hoped that he would make it through his mid-week vacations to the White House without actually having to do anything. But as luck would have it 2020 didn’t cooperate. First there was the CoVid. Whatever else you may say, the idiot’s response to CoVid has been consistent. From the start and at every turn he has completely fucked it up. The nation is rudderless – no – more like with a mad man at the helm just when we need a leader. While Americans watch in horror and die in record numbers the world has come to a grim realization that no answers will be coming from here. When I talk to my friends in India, Singapore, Dubai, or London their attitude towards America has changed from envy/praise/disgust to pity, pausing briefly at ridicule along the way.

To be fair, the idiot or his base didn’t sign up for this. CoVid popped out of nowhere and upset the global applecart. He didn’t have the strength of character to set it right. Just when it looked like he couldn’t do any worse, he said “Hold my diet coke”. The cops killed George Floyd slowly in broad daylight. It was the last straw. I’m quoting Ibram X. Kendi writing for the Atlantic:

No-knocking police officers rushed into your Louisville home and shot you to death, but your black boyfriend immediately got charged, and not the officers who killed you. Three white men hunted you, cornered you, and killed you on a Georgia road, but it took a cellphone video and national outrage for them to finally be charged. In Minneapolis, you did not hurt anyone, but when the police arrived, you found yourself pinned to the pavement, knee on your neck, crying out, “I can’t breathe.”

The Black experience of policing in America is extraordinary. But Floyd’s killing wasn’t just the last straw. There were no excuses this time. They treated him like less than human and when they noticed they had killed him they acted like they had just finished a box of donuts. Unknowingly, these four cops pitched the second curveball of 2020 to the hapless idiot. The idiot swung and missed. Yes – he didn’t choke Floyd. He has said and done plenty of racist things and every neo-nazi white nationalist fuck supports him. But that doesn’t imply he is one of them. He could have got his shit together and done the right thing and led the nation at a time of crisis.

I first heard the story of the scorpion and the frog in The Crying Game almost 30 years ago. You’ve heard it a hundred times, but just incase Evan hasn’t and he’s reading this post 50 years from now, I’ll summarize it (adapted from http://allaboutfrogs.org/stories/scorpion.html):

One day a scorpion wanted to cross a wide swift river. He saw a frog and decided to ask for help. “Hello Mr. Frog!” called the scorpion, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

“Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you wont try to kill me?” asked the frog hesitantly.

“Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

Now this seemed to make sense to the frog. So he agreed to take the scorpion across the river. The scorpion crawled onto the frog’s back, and the frog slid into the river. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs.

“You fool!” croaked the frog, “Now we shall both die! Why on earth did you do that?”

The scorpion shrugged, and said, “I could not help myself. It is my nature.”

So the idiot stung a tense nation that was looking to him for help. Over and over again. He lashed out at everyone. He even tried to poison the military – one of the few sacred cows in modern America.

Listen to the idiot’s supporters. They too were unhappy about the way Floyd was killed, they said. They too support the right of angry blacks to protest, they said. But then came the riots and the destruction of property. And finally, the looting. That is inexcusable they said. I too wish there hadn’t been looting. But for all the Rolex watches that were looted you can’t give Floyd back to his six year old daughter. As for the rioting, right after I first saw the video of Floyd being killed, I wouldn’t have argued if they had burned it all down. Now I’m able to more rationally condemn violence.

I don’t dislike cops. I haven’t had one bad experience in my 35 years in this country during my numerous traffic stops (shamefully I admit due to my speeding habit). I will even throw out that absurd line: I have friends who are and were cops. They are very good cops. They stop and help old ladies of all colors cross the street. They protect everyone. They are decent humans. Yesterday evening when we were walking Ouiser, JoEllen observed that police in America are the counterparts to our teachers. We have bundled up all our societal shit and years of bad policy making and moral laziness and politics and handed it over to our police men and women and our teachers and told them to fix it. We are asking our police to do an impossible job.

Our kittens needed behavior modification the other morning. They have slowly but surely taken over the house. They opened the chess box laying on the dining table and threw the chessmen down on the floor for Ouiser to chew. Then they climbed up the screen doors like geckos. When I drew the curtains across the screens they ran up the curtains like devils. We tried to reason. “No Skittles!” “No Zeus!!” But they didn’t give a shit. So Jo got a misting bottle and filled it with water. When we need to incentivize them to stop doing something we give them one puff of mist. It works. Then Jo gave Evan the mister and asked him to keep an eye on the kittens. Evan adores the kittens more than anyone in the family. When they sleep on him he remains in an uncomfortable position for hours rather than disturb their rest. But once he got that mister he turned into Dirty Harry with a magnum 50-cal in his hand and a swagger in his step. “Go ahead, make my day”. Power corrupts instantly. Giving a man a gun and power over his fellow men is a recipe for instant asshole. It is a testament to their strong moral fiber that most cops are good. But even one asshole is too many. We ask our police to deal with life and death but we don’t commit to training or salaries like we do with brain surgeons or pilots. To quote Chris Rock:

“Whenever the cops kill an innocent black man, they give the excuse, ‘Oh it’s just a few bad apples.’ Bad apples? Some jobs can’t have bad apples. Some jobs, everybody gotta be good.

Like … pilots.

“American Airlines can’t be like, ‘Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains. Please bear with us.’”

Black lives matter. That is a pretty low bar and we are still failing. Before George Floyd’s public state sanctioned execution I have argued that Black Live Matter is a divisive label. Not because of the semantics of whether all lives matter or not (of course they all do) but because it is a racially charged statement (perhaps that’s the point). Replace Black with White and suddenly you’re a racist and that is, or was, the source of my discomfort with the line. To be clear, my beef was only with the name, not the mission. Since the killing of Floyd, I understand the pettiness of my arguments about a name. Only someone willfully disingenuous or unable to understand facts can ignore systematic racism in America. When Jo and I explain it to the kids we use the analogy that someone posted years ago. It shows the video of kids lining up to sprint. But instead of lining up at the start, you get a “handicap” based on your race and wealth. If you’re black and poor you have to be exceptionally good and exceptionally lucky to win. If you’re rich and white you lumber across the finish line without breaking a sweat. With black household wealth at one tenth the average white household wealth, a lot of black kids are lining up way in the back. This is a shitty way to conduct an athletic event or to organize a just society.

Why should I give a fuck? Two reasons. The first is personal and emotional. My nieces and nephews are black. Evan and Vivian’s dearest friends are black. We’ve watched them grow alongside my kids. But when they leave the house for a date or a movie we gulp down that wave of anxiety. Elizabeth Stone said that having a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. But some of those hearts are in much graver danger. In a fair society no parent should have to bear this extra burden because of the color of their child’s skin.

The second reason I give a fuck is philosophical. From Darwin to Peter Singer, we have understood that certain people around us have a higher moral value. They are worthy of our moral consideration. The boundary we draw around them is our moral circle. The relative sizes of the human newborn’s brain and the mother’s birth canal means that mothers need help to birth and then raise this underdeveloped human baby. Mothers have to build a moral circle large enough to ensure the survival of their offspring, and thereby the species. Civilization is an exercise in enlarging the moral circle while carefully balancing it with our own survival. As we individually feel safer and more secure we aspire to expand our moral circle to include our family and non-kin and friends and neighbors and fellow believers (or fellow atheists :- ) and tribe and race and countrymen and eventually humanity. And other species sometimes. Whole Foods charges me a scandalous amount for my pork because I like that during its life the pig lived like a pig should (unfortunately I eat the pig to sustain my life while a vegetarian doesn’t). But in the geometry of modern American society moral circles rarely intersect race lines.

This isn’t a criticism of America though it sounds like it. I hold that Americans are among the least prejudiced people in the world. My personal experience as a dark skinned man in America guides me to this conclusion. But we can do better. If we wish to extract ourselves from the shit spiral we need to do better. I must do better.

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