Rendered Fat Content


Illustration from The Nursery "Alice", from John Tenniel's illustrations to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," 1890

"I am neither my neighbor's critic nor her champion."

Have you noticed that The Chattering Class has lost its class? No longer does mere difference of perspective divide us and discourse hold promise. Public derision widens our divisions, encouraging them, rendering unthinkable even civilly agreeing to disagree. Daring to speak my mind might find me publicly derided as a fully fledged Enemy of the State, arriving far too late for any hope of receiving redemption. "Off with her head," some social media Red Queen says, and headhunters appear to jeer and shout down. Can anyone dishonorably defend their honor? I find myself wondering, "Who stole your trike?", for the spite seems inborn, a carefully nurtured identity, a grand and glorious begrudgement of the first degree. Taking offense seems no longer offensive, but an anticipated if overly-defensive response. A simple question seems likely to bring brimstone down upon the questioner and a curious social standing upon the devil delivering it. Dogs eat dogs and pups routinely eat puppies now, every issue a dogfight to the death.

The death of civil discourse arrived on little cat's feet, greeting us as warmly as might any savior.
It promised an end to self-conscious tip-toeing and ushered in an era of goose-stepping insistences. Maybe our resistance had weakened out of frustration with baffling process. Why did every resolution seem to take forever? Where had compromise gone? A bold man took the stage and we simply could not look away as he brashly violated every civil convention. A guilty pleasure washed over the crowd. Maybe public discourse could be loud and coarse. Maybe humiliation could provide a taste of a long-sought and ill-defined salvation. Maybe we could run with the rough crowd, too, little old me and you.

I yesterday deleted my membership in the neighborhood listserv, which, I admit, had by seemingly insignificant increment become a sewer of derision. A neighbor had become the latest target of a group of passionate partisans. I never did understand her infraction, but the wave of scorn deeply offended me. I thought perhaps that she'd murdered somebody. Recriminations reverberated until I realized that my presence there, even as an otherwise innocent observer, only amplified the reach of the sorry romance. I caught myself taking sides when my internal derision engine began spouting advice as if anyone might be listening. The whole forum seemed in that moment to have devolved into a platform for launching clever insults at whatever wounded puppy wandered through, dedicated to the iterative refinement of Fuck You and of Fuck You, Too. What was I even doing there?

I was not high born, but I learned early the utter necessity of respect. Vilification says loads about the vilifier and little about the designated villain. We are not saints instructing sinners, but inescapably, sinners sharing with our own kind. A certain kindness seems essential if only to ward off shame. Some futurist long ago predicted that we might approach a sort of Heaven on Earth once our technology enabled us to peer into each others' unedited minds. We find there, what we might have more reasonably expected to find behind the civility we sometimes so painfully project. We were always slathering wolverines inside, with a hard-won decorum protecting others from our innate savagery. Take away that thin candy shell, and we might just as well be in Hell.

I decided that I did not need that mob in my life. I knew my neighborhood was capable of stringing up any well-meaning Mr. Rogers who might wander through. I'd been the target sometimes, and if I never joined the mob throwing bricks, I still managed, by just being there, to become a part of its hole. I welcome a greater mystery instead. I serve nobody by learning what anyone
really thinks of me. I feel confident enough skating on the thin ice of civility. My tender ego doesn't ache for anyone's vituperous approval. I am neither my neighbor's critic nor her champion. I remain a simple man, wolf inside and sheep out, uninterested in screaming or shouting about anything.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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