Uneasy Affliction

An interviewer said to James Baldwin, in one of those “in conversation with…” things, “Now, when you were starting out as a writer, you were black, impoverished, homosexual. You must have said to yourself, ‘Gee, how disadvantaged can I get?’” Baldwin looks at him with his bulging eyes and says, “No, I thought I’d hit the jackpot!” The audience roars. He meant that as a writer devoid of an easy life and easy answers, he could tell the terrible truth and nobody could deny him.

Seen in that light, why would someone so “oppressed” as I—old, white, privileged, never having had to suffer real hardship—why would I waste so much time these past years trying to “afflict the comfortable” by telling people who don’t want to hear it, the ways they have failed to live up to the great promise of their country? Don’t you have to suffer in order to tell others what it’s like? Isn’t raging against the machine a doomed enterprise unless you are afflicted?

You must be aware of the recent drive to warn our precious children about “graphic content”, the “triggers” that might upset their delicate systems. Books that you and I read unabridged, with all their raw language and shocking acts, must now be prefaced with warnings that they might be upsetting, requiring smelling salts when our darlings suffer from the vapors.

What nonsense. We should promote the exact opposite. Violence, war, and sex are in the daily news, and even grade school playgrounds ring with sexual insults. Our precious children, even those who are now young adults, must have their equilibrium disturbed, their balance upset. They should be taught about the injustice and inequality that characterizes our country, and how the promise that it would be otherwise was sold to the highest bidder, about sexual slavery right in our own cities, about our ongoing amoral violence in other countries. The most sheltered must see the Holocaust Museum, and learn to weep outright, to counteract the cheapening of the Nazi horror that comes from calling our own president a Hitler.

I was born at the leading edge of WWII, which was whispered about, but never discussed in the presence of children. When I was 12 I discovered and read Viktor Frankl’s The Theory and Practice of Hell. The author was an eye witness who survived the unbelievable horrors of Nazi death camps, and described it in merciless detail, lest we ever forget. The shock has never left me, but it also lit a fire in me that doesn’t allow complacency about any victims of injustice. That includes those in my own country, where their suffering is often discounted, or smothered by faux-patriotic cries of “We’re Number One”, belying our real position at #27 by any real criteria.

Not enough anger can ever be expressed about the multi-millionaires who characterize half the population—150 million people, the combined populations of South Africa and Spain—as freeloading “takers”, basking in the velvet cushioned luxury of welfare that leaves them unwilling to get a job. These same smug millionaires in their chauffeured limos and custom jets want us to believe that people who work long hours and may have several jobs don’t deserve to be paid fairly. They see no reason to have a minimum wage at all. They want those 60-hour-a-week slackers to receive their just desserts for their laziness, and are indifferent to the danger that results from not being able to buy medical care, leaving them just a couple of paychecks away from destitution.

But the frustration I feel is not because of the kind of people who would read these past 600 or so postings. My frustration comes from the people who should read them, and explain to me exactly why I’m wrong, but don’t. The thing is, they can’t explain why, because the numbers aren’t on their side.

The hardcore conservatives who think Donald Trump, super-egotist, racist, and isolationist billionaire with his own 747, would be a good president, because as he has explained to us, he has a superior intellect. The True Believer Republicans who are certain that giving our money to the richest will dribble down and make us all affluent, in spite of the complete absence of evidence that it’s even remotely true. The fundamentalists who accept the preposterous claims of the Elmer Gantry heirs in their megachurches, and amoral mega-liar politicians alike. Those who vote against their own interests again and again, never figuring out that the injustice and poverty that afflicts them comes compliments of the very people whose lies they believe.

And yet, even though I preach to the choir, perhaps some of what I say is a new way of thinking about a topic, with logic enough that a few people will be better equipped to understand an issue, better able to defeat shoddy thinking. Who knows, maybe someone who needs it will accidentally stumble on one of these posts and be afflicted enough to think a bit more.

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