Friday, July 27, 2007

The inevitable remorse

I used uncommonly sharp language to express my frustration. That makes what I said not only shocking and potentially unpopular, but mean.

I grew up in California in the 80s. We are Oscar Wilde's legacy in a sense... rattling off quips is often a substitute for real thought or intelligence among my peers (and myself.) We are gifted with extraordinarily vicious tongues, and we are trained to use them.

Why would I call domestic animals "crap machines?" Why would I ever elect to use the word "blather?" So unkind... and I apologize.

You may gauge by the language I chose how strong was my reaction. Oh, I was furious.

Let me explain, in brief, and while someone will inevitably be implicated, I hope it doesn't make them unhappy.

You wouldn't know it from that last post, or maybe not at all. But... I have eggshell-thin emotional skin, and it's fragile. People with whom I identify, or those with whom I sympathize, are so close to me that I feel shame if they say something I know is foolish, and pain if they suffer.

I have watched with increasing dismay as my community has gone through several conversations that I felt were amazingly dangerous.

The first that got under my skin was a thread about somebody's health. Essentially she could not void, and had serious edema in her legs. She had had this condition for several days. Her legs would hold the impression of a hand and they were bruised.

What was her solution? Glad you asked... she went to the health food store and bought herbal water pills.

Some of us advised her to go to the doctor. By far the majority of us gave her unqualified medical advice and/or approved or suggested herbal expedients.

Good. Lord.

Then there was (I think this is the same person, but I am too lazy to verify, how shameful of me) the person who pitched a fit because her neighbor called the police when her dogs got too noisy or stinky. She was fussing because she had "had to" adopt another dog to avoid putting it into a shelter's custody, and her resources and her neighbors' tolerance was stretched to the limit. Nobody (including me) spoke up to say, "your neighbor is RIGHT. You are not zoned for that, and feces is a dangerous risk. Also, your post leads me to infer that your animals are not spayed, neutered, or in receipt of immunizations... you are creating a health risk for the animals in question as well as your community."

Le sigh.

And then there was "My baby is starving to death, and I refuse to feed him what my doctor suggests. I am not going to get a second opinion from a vegan-friendly nutritionist; I am going to ask you lot for your unqualified medical advice." The response? "You go, girl." Not, "maybe your child needs medical help," nor "maybe now is the time to consider being flexible about the stringency of your criteria."

Perhaps the most troubling are the multiple current forum threads about vandalism of Hummers, ways of vandalizing/pranking "hateful" neighbors who disapprove of some exhibit of deviant behavior (and I am not talking about dietary preference, I am talking about openly baiting the neighborhood), etc. As a moral community, and it is, it really is, I think the forum participants should express more outrage. As things stand, it's divided; many objections (thank goodness) but also many gleeful suggestions (ugh.)

And of course the subject of my last rant, "I freed a cat from the Animal Control live-trap set up in my community, and turned it loose without a moment's thought to its survival in the urban wilderness and its many potential progeny, please worship me." And we all stood up and applauded.

Now, I do applaud any movement toward animal welfare.... but cannot animal control be a part of animal welfare? Particularly where the bigger picture, the ecology, and wild animals' welfare is concerned? The best thing we can do for our domestic animals, in the long run, is prevent them from making more. Those of us who worry about shelter overcrowding do know that. What is scarier than the needle, the gas, or the KFC employee's boot is the institutions that promote such callousness and such dreadful exigencies.

It goes on and on, and essentially it is my own cowardice that enrages me. Why I do not speak up and go "oh my goodness, NO!!!" I don't know. That is what my conscience tells me to do, but the courtesy of the community and my desire to be a part of it often keeps me silently queasy.

And I'm kicking myself. The world isn't that scary a place. For instance... at work, a few weeks ago, I refused to falsify a document in order to keep someone's policy valid. I wasn't asked to do so, but I was scolded** (in text, in our virtual file cabinet) about not having done so. I responded with a flat, "I will not perjure myself in order to cover a client." I wondered where that would go... and a co-worker who discovered my note gave me a big hug and told me she was "So! Proud! Of! You! I am just so proud! Good for you!"

(** Not by my boss.)

Any place but the Internet (and possibly California), it is easy to stand up and dissent without offending... or it used to be. But tempers flare and resentments are so serious... we fall into such immediate intimacy with our compeers online. I am timid to offend. And you know what? I'm nurturing ruffled feathers, too, about this whole thing... if someone had any of these conversations with me face to face I would tell them "I disagree," but I'm torturing myself because I do not dare to do it in print.

Anyway. I am sorry if I offended... and I am sure I must have. I offended myself. But it twists me in knots to watch people make choices like "health food store water pills, not doctors," "hate my neighbor, not moderate my behavior," "let baby starve, rather than continuing prescribed treatment" (mind you, this one is fraught and complex and I am on the fence about parts of it, so don't be mean to me), and "how can I damage my fellows' property without going to jail?", and "I abandoned a feral cat! Hooray!" And I have a feeling that not watching is just not the answer I am looking for.

1 comment:

Robert Link said...

A long time ago, on a listserv far, far away, there was "The Vapid Thread". One of our best writers whinged that folks were getting too namby pamby, that folks had to toughen up and learn to cope with the coarse language and barbed tongue of some of our other contributors. I took it upon myself to show that anyone can be mean, and managed to get called "a hand job" and "a fucking twit" as a result, this from someone normally quite reserved and measured.

Snaps, playing the dozens, literary or dramatic criticism, "The Portable Curmudgeon," it's all good. Some folks really should simultaneously toughen up and lighten the fuck up. It's true.

Ah, but then, later, 20 minutes or 20 picoseconds or 20 days, you think, "Was that really reflective of who and how I want to be in the world?" Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes no. And sometimes it just isn't that easy, and likewise isn't that important.

Why is "fuck" bad while "fornicate" acceptable and "copulate" more so? Linguistic classism, pure and simple. Latinate jawbreakers (and a special no-prize to you, ducks, if you can puzzle out from where I'm stealing that particular term) are more socially acceptable than guttural Germanics because of their history of being tied to the ruling class and the clergy. Anglo-Saxon mono-syllables are "poor," "cheap," "tawdry," "common," "vulgar" (as in opposite of "vulgate"?) Refined and restrained language is supposed to be a mark of class. Were you a Hapsburg of a bygone era maybe it would matter. But you are what you are, 3rd Millennium Californian, educated but not a Member of the Idle Rich Class, and consumer in a culture which has elevated the put-down to, if not an art form, then surely a sport.

This desire, then, for restrained, measured language is, arguably, false consciousness. And if you two really do hunker down and have kids, you better believe you'll be calling them "little shit machines" in no time flat. (Yes, that's another pop culture allusion, perhaps even less highbrow than the Shaw.)