I read somewhere years ago — I have forgotten where — that if a person cannot relish the puncturing of a flaming hypocrite, that person has lost all zest for life.
Allow me here to extend the Schadenfreude to other public airings of the faults of the faultless — those who raise themselves above the rest of the rabble.
C’mon, we all smack our lips when the truth about the holier-than-thou types comes out.
Yet, we find people — too many these days— whose adherence to a set of beliefs peculiar to this or that party or faction has them bellowing down at us from whatever their imagined height: “You —— are all liars, idiots, perverts and thieves and bigots!” implying, of course that no such descriptions apply to him or his.
Gross, you know?
This drives me — and I am certain many others — to eyeball-popping distraction. It is so pudding-headed that I am embarrassed to feel the need to remind anyone of a truth we all should know by now.
But I do feel that need. So here goes.
The human genome knows nothing, cares nothing for the current beliefs of the Democratic or Republican parties, or any other factions for that matter. So it seems to me ignorant to assume that we may label one’s stances on taxation, or criminal justice reform, or the plight of the disadvantaged right or wrong, good or evil, merely because of party affiliation.
Yet I have to agree with the words W.S. Gilbert put in the mouth of Private Willis in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, Iolanthe:
“Every boy and every boy that’s born into this world alive,
Is either a little liberal or else a little conservative.”
But to proceed from that starting point to insisting that beating one’s wife, being violent, being a flaming jerk, being dishonest, being hypocritical, or lusting after political power are the exclusive shortcomings of any faction is silly. And the end game is intolerance of all other viewpoints but one’s own.
Every one of us who drives along a highway is susceptible to road rage. Every one of us in our daily life is capable of lying. Every one of us in a moment of passion is capable of “completely losing it,” descending into what is known as a “fugue state,” wherein anything at all, including murder, is possible. This, not coincidentally, is why I am skeptical of the phrase, “good man with a gun.”
In the end, we are talking about human issues, and recognition of that fact should negate every attempt to tie them to one’s party affiliation. In all of its forms, wickedness is no respector of party.
I am certain that, were complete knowledge of the thoughts of all persons on this planet possible — thank God it isn’t — we would find wickedness equally distributed among people on every side of whatever the debate.
Let me stress that I am not concerned here with the pathologies of a Ted Bundy or a Joel Rifkin. I am writing about the potential for wickedness that even the most seemingly ordinary mortals among us possesses.
I have cited before a few of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung’s ideas, and I will trot one out again now to make my point.
The human psyche, and consequently every human being, Jung contends, is a mixture of superior and inferior qualities. The shortcomings and defects we refuse to acknowledge, or of which we are completely unaware, are contained in a part of the unconscious Jung calls the shadow.
This shadow is what we are all too accustomed to project onto other people, and then malign as “his greed,” or “his connivance,” her “ignorance,” or his “brutality,” at which declaration makes people within earshot exchange that peculiar look that needs no words to say: “Wow, this dude could not be describing himself any better.”
That is an instance of Smith’s private, unconscious world, his shadow with its powerful charge, first flowing out from Smith onto Jones, then turning about to present him with the mirror image of his own face, which he does not recognize, but despises. The outraged Smith calls this “the truth.” Of course, the supreme irony is that what Smith is hating on is often a part of himself.
We all need to acknowledge the inconvenient truths about ourselves. That in each one of us are things that cannot be loved on any natural level, any more, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “than we can expect others to love the taste of rancid meat.”
First step taken, we must then find a way to healthfully deal with the shadow stuff — our own anger, our own sexual hangups, our own tendency to self-righteousness — and grapple with these devils so we don’t inflict them on our fellow human beings.
I say this not to induce anyone to hang their heads in shame, but only to coax those who need it — that is, every one of us — and care enough to make the effort to acknowledge this humbling truth.
I am right there with y’all. I struggle with anger. Not constant, but spilling out at moments when my guard is down, hurting the people dear to me, embarrassing me, and leaving a throbbing emotional hangover in its wake.
John Bunyan underwent his own “dark night of the soul,” during the decade he spent in Bedford Gaol and from it came The Pilgrim’s Progress. This is perhaps the hardest of human undertakings. But it is the royal road to becoming the sort of decent person Jewish folk call a Mensch.
At this time of national crisis in particular, we all need to acknowledge the devils in ourselves, and stop pointing fingers.
I often think, if we are on the planet to learn anything, it has to be this.
Because these are the devils that rumble around in the gut raising all kinds of hell. But with work, patience and compassion for the imperfections we share with every other human being who has ever lived, or ever will, things begin to settle down. Then comes the day we realize that things have become very still inside. And when we look in there, we discover that awful devil we’d wrestled with, by virtue of our struggle, has become a diamond.
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.