Oh, the Humanity! A Blast From the Past Post-7-3-2007
I’ve been thinking a lot about humanity, recently. Partly, I think, due to an ongoing and profoundly disturbing thread in my conference in Baen’s Bar (Sarah’s Diner) where someone suggested “feeding” humans to unspecified dark shadows. The thread (which is a fantasy thread, in which regular posters imagine themselves as shape shifters or what-have you, in a reinventing of their lives in the e-space of the diner. Think second life, without the props) has progressed, with some people objecting, to now saying that these people being pedophiles, who therefore “deserve” to be fed to the shadows.
I will confess this still makes me uneasy — vaguely nauseous too — and it’s not due to compassion for pedophiles. It’s more the fact that I like humans in general and humans in particular. This is something I often discuss with Son #1 who is going through his “I hate people” phase. And the whole thing has just been fermenting (festering) in my mind, while I go about cleaning and cooking and finishing my much overdue novel for Bantam (I’m on it, Anne, I swear) all of which was delayed by illness (to be explained later, perhaps.) The illness also prevented my posting here. And it also, at some fundamental level, seems to have changed me. I’m doing a lot more thinking about principles I’ve accepted, unexamined. I suppose this is good for a writer. And I promise I won’t be larding my books with long philosophical passages. (I adhere to the Heinlein code of WHY to write and making people think is way down the list. Though for the record, it is there.)
So — to stop rambling — Humanity, my friends. Are you pro or con?
Okay — right about now you’re thinking “Okay, she’s nuts. Of course I’m for people. I’m people.” Yeah, yeah, that don’t mean nothing bud.
Recently, as with the thread in my conference, I’ve been coming across more and more people — arguably sane, often painstakingly educated, provably intelligent people who hate human beings. The hatred goes from the subtle to the spewingly overt and in all cases it puts me — personally — off.
For an example of subtle — if you haven’t read about Arthur Miller’s issue with his handicapped son, go here
No, I’m not equating his putting away of his son and what must have been a morally excruciating decision with hatred of humanity in general. However — and I’m not dissing the man, I know he has been read, listened to and loved by more people than my paltry words will ever reach — I think the fact that he was able to put away his son and not think about it, and not think of him as his son till very late in life — this might be more of a male thing, btw. I can’t understand it. Particularly when the conditions the child was brought up in were justifiably bad — is predicated on his view of his Down Syndrome cousin as a useless encumbrance mistreated by his own mother. The interesting thing there is that the rest of his family did not in any way see it in the same light. They remember his handicapped cousin as being challenged, but much loved by his whole family and immeasurably enriching of their lives.
Now I know several families raising handicapped children — some profoundly handicapped. It’s not an easy task and not one I envy PARTICULARLY when the child is mentally or emotionally handicapped. Both times I was pregnant, (And this will doubtlessly repeat itself, should it happen again) I felt like I was playing trades with fate. There was this continuous argument at the back of my mind “if the child must have an issue, let it be a missing limb. Yeah. Missing limbs can be fixed with prosthesis. Or let it be blindness. Terrible, of course, but it can be got around. Or deafness. We can do deafness. Just please don’t let it be mental or emotional.” This, I think, is every parent’s nightmare just because of the difficulties in communication, as well as everything else. When my babies were young and pre-verbal, I’ve been known to run from the house into a snow storm, because they were screaming and I couldn’t figure out why or how to make it better. I can imagine that frustration on and on and on forever.
So I suspect the mother of Arthur Miller’s cousin DID yell at her son now and then in a rage. Heck, I yell at my sons now and then in a rage. (Though usually the younger as we have a serious clash of hormones going on.) And I suspect on the whole, the cousin WAS loved by his family who considered him not a curse but a blessing.
It is that Arthur Miller saw only the curse and not the blessing that I think constitutes a “subtle hatred” of humanity. Or at least of humanities’ failings. Yes, I have watched his plays — repeatedly. They were a favorite of TV in Portugal in the seventies — and I think the same thing comes through. This is a personal opinion, mind, and I do not wish people to deluge me with examples of his compassionate words or his empathy or whatever. I never SAW it or felt it. So reading that Amazon blog I went “Oh. That makes sense.”
For the record, I feel the same way about Christopher Marlowe, whose words I love but whose characters and plots I abhor. Many people have lingered on his “sadism” or his love of blood or whatever. That I can excuse as “writing to market” and also the fact that he was — ultimately — a sheltered intellectual (at least in one version of his bio. <g>) so the idea of great massacres made his pulse pound faster and he wrote it. What I can’t excuse is that all his characters are cold and dingy, “good” as well as “bad.” Compared to Shakespeare, who made you love — or empathize with — even his villains, Marlowe made even his “heros” repulsive.
I think — deep down — that’s how he saw all of humanity.
This kind of subtle — sometimes not so subtle, frankly — hatred of humanity glares at me from a lot of current SF and Fantasy (and Mystery too.) Perhaps it’s my quirk, but the line where that hatred peeks from under the layer of hiding is always where the author or screenwriter loses me. I’m sure it’s my quirk because the Matrix did very well. However, the first time I heard the line “We’re parasites on the face of the Earth.” pronounced earnestly (And like it was the first time anyone said it too — sigh) the movie lost me. Or those movies on the future of evolution — I don’t remember who made them? — that played on animal planet, lo these many years ago. We watched them with the kids and the only way I could continue watching them was to comment sarcastically on the designers’ open hatred of humanity.
No, don’t argue. It’s not the fact that he forecast our extinction that I considered so repulsive. To a certain extent that was to be expected, the same way it’s to be expected that singers will utter swear words. It’s the shock value. Fine. People who are unsure of their creative powers use foul language (yes, and blood) to make sure they hit the mark. Back when I was fumbling lost in the land of plot and character I wrote a lot more horror and my characters swore a lot more. No. What I found a glaring mark of their hatred for humanity is that ultimately they could not allow ANY simians to survive or even — heaven help us — any mammals. Their hatred of humanity led them to paint out all mammals and ultimately leave the Earth to intelligent — if you haven’t watched it you’ll think I’m crazy — squid-like beings. You’ll say I’m making too much of this example and perhaps I am, but the fact is that hatred of all things human is so common in arts and academia alike that I KNEW before I watched this series how it would end. I KNEW that everything human-like would be erased from the face of the Earth. (Though I confess the extinction of mice threw me. You’d think… never mind.)
And then there was the more overt one — a friend’s father, a member of the earliest fandom of sf/f. He visited our house and was a wonderful man, salt of earth. He played with my — then — toddlers and we had some interesting discussions about science and the news and what not. And then I chanced to meet him, just before 2000. He started talking about Y2k. Yes, I know it was a mooch thing, but he didn’t think it would be and he was looking FORWARD to it. He thought 2/3 of humanity would die and he was gleeful about it because — wait for it — it would thin the herd. Better for the Earth and — he assumed — ultimately better for the species.
This was genocide on a level that not even Hitler or Stalin could aspire to. It was a mass death of the guilty and the innocent. But this man — urbane, well behaved, educated — was looking FORWARD to it. And thought it was deserved.
So… how does this hatred of humanity come about? And why should we care?
It comes about in various ways I think. Most of all, though, I find it in urbane, intelligent, educated people. Our arts and culture community. Our leaders of opinion and thought. And I think it comes about because these people stuck out of the herd. My friend Dave Freer might be able to elucidate this mechanism better than I can from an evolutionary/primate perspective, but I think all of us know that humans will try to knock down and “kill” all those who are too different. And probably most of the people reading this blog know what too different is. You were the kid who sat in a corner with a book and who used words like ‘occluded’ that the other kids thought were insults. Now — I have an idea of how this is worsened in our present times and how our education and society fosters it — but doubtless the hatred of humanity in the particularly capable is fostered at a very early age.
Many of us — like doubtless a very young Christopher Marlowe (and I hope to go into him more, myself first. And the differences in what we know of the bios of Shakespeare and Marlowe as related to their attitude to humanity) — found themselves mocked and derided by people we knew were idiots. We found ourselves back up against a corner in the playground by bullies who objected to our being different. (Yes, some like me came back swinging and learned very early to take on as many bullies as came at one, leading to the dreaded phone calls to mom “your daughter broke so and so’s glasses.” “Your daughter bit so and so and his arm infected.” But most people don’t. Most people, particularly women, for whatever reason, seem not to have a good handle on self preservation instincts.) And we conceived a self-defensive and seething hatred for the great mass of humanity except those we allowed inside the magic circle. And even those, we were likely to see through the worst possible lens. And hating all of humanity, of course, we hated ourselves with it — partly because the universal hatred of everyone else towards us had to penetrate at some level and lead us to believe we DESERVED it. As little as we admitted it.
Why should we care about it?
Because a disdain for the unwashed masses, a feeling that we should “save people’s souls” over their sinful bodies, the idea that we should build an ideal “homo sovieticus”, all these have at their root a great hatred for humans. It doesn’t matter if you love humans as they could be. It matters that you hate humans as they ARE. People who hate humans as they are and who try to whittle humanity into what it could be or should be or some such have been responsible for the greatest massacres in history — including the horror show that was the 20th century. And yet, humanity was not markedly improved by any of their efforts.
But shouldn’t you hate a species in which 90% or more could be qualified as unwashed masses? Shouldn’t you try to improve it or whittle it, or narrow it down to the most worthy?
No, listen — it’s not even a case of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (and I’m sure I’m mangling spelling and grammar there, but you get the point — in more homely language Who Shaves The Barber?) — it’s a case of once that sort of thing starts it never ends. There will never be a “most worthy”. The “genius” who starts killing all the stupid people ends up alone. The “compassionate giver” who hates all mean people ends up finding they are all mean. And it’s the fact that the same way you can’t stand outside the window and watch yourself walk by, certainly you can’t look at humanity from outside and say “this is worthy. this isn’t.” Your views are tainted by your eyes. No other way. Arthur Miller would doubtless, given the chance, have rid his aunt of his Down Syndrome cousin. And in the end would render his family poorer and not see it.
So you say “Okay, fine, do away with all of humanity.” And…. substitute what? The octopi chirping as they swing from trees in primeval forests? Certainly all of you know those are no more than the wishful dreams of less-than-all-there film makers.
Humanity might suck raw eggs, but then what else is there? Do those of you who are past adolescence remember desperately wanting to be someone else? I wanted to be tall and willowy and blonde, to be able to flirt effortlessly and to fit into groups without thinking. Fortunately no mechanism was available to try to implement this. No mechanism is really available to make humanity as onto angels, either. And in the end as the only species we can PROVE (yes, yes, I heard of dolphins and elephants and even cats) is sentient and, more than that, the species we belong to — all we have is this suffering red clay. And there is no way to improve it but to improve ourselves. Wishing for extinction is akin to cutting off your head to cure headache.
And now we’re back on why the idea of why feeding fictional pedophiles to fictional dark shadows bothered me so much.
As I said before, I’m not a pacifist. And I refuse to stand with people who think EVERY life is equally sacred. If this seems a contradiction on what I said above, it’s not really. Look, I am a woman of very little faith. I try to follow one religion. I flirt with another now and then. BUT in the end, in the very end, I’m one of those people who can’t believe without seeing. My internal spiritual life is best described by paraphrasing Jorge Luis Borges. “I pray every night because my grandmother told me to. I have no idea if I’m talking on one end of a disconnected phone.” In fact, I suspect I am. Often.
But… humans… humans are here, and I can touch them, and I can love most of them to a point. Ultimately my most hated political future could become a ‘tolerated acquaintance’ if I knew them personally. And I know that. I’m forever struck by the admirable and lovable, even, in people who are otherwise wastes of oxygen. I’ve found admirable people whose political views I DESPISE. I’ve met people who’d killed other people and found them to be good and worthy in the rest of their lives. I’ve known addicts who made those around them miserable, but who had great qualities — be they generosity or a genuine love of their neighbor.
So, having said this, why am I not against the death penalty? Why am I not a pacifist?
Because I love people. And loving people I understand sometimes — sometimes, in rare cases — death might be the best thing for not just the rest of people but the individual himself. This is when other deaths/destroyed lives would come from the person continuing to live. And I’m not talking about things like “Oh, business men who exploit the masses” — that’s nonsense. I’m not talking about abstractions or degrees of separation or penumbras and emanations. I’m talking about people who by direct action destroy others: Mass murderers; pedophiles; perhaps arsonists if they can’t be treated. Those people, ultimately will only continue making themselves and others miserable. Yes, there are indications that these are illnesses, but they are illnesses we don’t know how to cure and which will destroy innocents.
Life imprisonment doesn’t work in these cases, because frankly, it can stop being for life very easily. Once life imprisonment is the worst punishment available, then people start arguing it down. And then you’re in the position Portugal was in the seventies and eighties — and maybe still — where mass murderers will get out in ten years or so and perhaps earlier. And the life of those on the streets is endangered as is any hope of a civil society.
(I’m not dogmatic on this. If you really believe life imprisonment will keep people out of danger, then do. I won’t dispute — too much. I’m simply more cynical, I guess.)
In the same way, war must happen sometimes — with its inevitable trail of deaths of innocents. (And no, I don’t want any discussion of current events in the comments, lest I bitch slap people.) Which makes it only justifiable if it will save a greater mass of innocents. Under that light, I can’t but say WWII was perfectly justified, regardless of the opinions against it in British and American papers at the time by well meaning people. (Before we entered the war. And yes, there were such arguments. Some eloquent.) Whether we saved Europe’s soul by trampling its body is something else, and yes, I do have an opinion on it, but it’s a discussion in its own, probably running to several pages, because I do go on…
Anyway, if you look at death penalty and more broadly at “he needed killing” not as a revenge thing or a consummation devoutly to be wished for, but as something you do because it MUST be done — because it’s the only thing that will save the greatest number of innocents — then the idea of feeding even the bodies of pedophiles to inhuman and supernatural shadows will revolt you. Whether pedophilia is an illness — mental or genetic or whatever — or simply a human failing — just a particularly repulsive one — these people are still human. Amid the darkness, there will be occasional glimmers of light. They — all of them, every human alive — were once innocent babies. Chances are better than even that any piece of scum on the street was once someone’s beloved little boy or girl.
We might need to eliminate them to keep the community safe, but what remains in them of our own humanity — the mirror of our own worthiness — demands that we recoil from things like feeding them to another species, real or imaginary.
The rest — the idea of the great things to come once we just eliminate or purify humanity — is for the chirping, tree dwelling octopi.