On Humanity, Realistically

I am not fun to watch movies or shows with. My friend Anne will tell you that I begin asking questions immediately and don’t stop. It’s as though I can’t just wait and see. (I can’t. I read the last page of romance novels before I read them even though I know exactly what’s going to happen from the outset.)

I got the new boy started on Game of Thrones this weekend. I am hooked. I love the intrigue, the strategy, the double-crossing, the cliff-hangers. (Just kidding, there’s nothing worse than an episode fading to black just as something critical happens.) I watched the first few episodes with him, and told him to stop where I’d left off. We resumed last night, I slept through the second episode of the second season, and then, revived by my late evening nap, stayed awake through another two.

The show is sort of medieval fantasy, so it’s far removed from our present reality. But it’s a   story that is beautifully applicable to our current times (as history and epics so often are). At one point, there are a bunch of prisoners in a terrible situation (when are a “bunch of prisoners” not in a terrible situation?). Daily, one of them is chosen and then tortured and killed.

I find myself blanching at the thought. Somewhere deep inside me begins to feel pain, a singular discomfort. It’s the same reason I can’t watch the Saw movies, the same reason I had to hide the book of 100 Little Murder Stories (or something similarly titled) that I was gifted during my youth, the same reason I will never forget the episode of Law and Order: SVU where the transgendered inmate is brutally beaten and nearly killed: I can’t stomach the thought of a human being doing terrible things to other human beings, for any reason at all.

The idea of murder is so romanticized, our glorification of violence so tolerated and accepted, so expected. James Bond does it so well, he does it for a noble cause, he kills those who “deserve” it. There is something heroic about the whole affair, something so clean and cold and detached that you sympathize with the killer and champion his efforts.

For me, it’s not the just murders that offend me, it’s the sadistic that stuns me. The fact that human beings, for one reason or another, are so able to cause pain and misery, inflicting cruel punishment for little or no reason at all. I can’t imagine what would possess someone to derive pleasure from those actions.

I look at the warning signs: people abusing animals, etc. I look at the black cats that fill our shelters. I look at my own black cat, who was feral until someone decided he’d be an excellent house cat. I think about someone hurting him. (I think about the sad yowl he let out when I accidentally cut his nail too short – the yowl that haunts me and makes me feel terrible.) I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine it for even a single moment.

I think of our disregard for life. It’s a societal epidemic, our lack of respect for others. I am guilty of the same, Chicago-me flipping off cab drivers that zig and zag through the crowded intersections. In those moments, those cab drivers aren’t people. They’re terrible caricatures in cabs, determined to destroy my commute.

Is that how it begins? I wonder. (Obviously it’s not.) But at what point does the casual disregard turn into something more sinister? Is this the ignition point? The gateway? (Again, it’s not.) But as we move toward a more individualistic society, forgoing the “it takes a village” mentality for the “do it yourself, crush all others” mindset, are we losing a vital piece of our humanity? Are we losing shared experiences, community, and ultimately, the true value of this life?

We can study the causality all we like. At the conclusion of our studies, our research, our newly enacted laws attempting to restrict and mitigate their movements, we will still find that people – human in constitution just like ourselves – will go to great lengths to hurt and injure and ruin other people. We cannot stop this.

It will continue in perpetuity. It breaks my heart. It hurts my soul.

I’ve been enjoying the different perspective that the boy (I can hardly bring myself to say his name, I’m so excited about this and I’m terrified to do anything that could potentially destroy it….like getting a lover’s name tattooed right across your chest only to go home and find that they’re leaving you for someone else) brings to my understanding of life as I know it. I’m finding that even though he’s fairly conservative, we have a lot of shared views.  We’ve been able to discuss politics without our conversations falling into the traditional tropes that seem to define oppositional discussions. He’ll call me a hippie and I’ll call him a gun-owner and we’ll kiss and continue our conversation. (I guess that is exactly the traditional trope you’d expect…) He’s logical and rational, and I am thrilled by the opportunity to pick his brain and ask endless amounts of questions. I’m thrilled by his responses. I’m open to his ideas and experiences. I see what he knows as an area that I’m lacking in, and I’m determined to understand his mindset and his opinions.

I watch him play video games. (I am an amazing not-yet-girlfriend, if I must say so myself.) I do the same gasping and squeaking, nervous for him as I watch his character fight off strange post-apocalyptic demon-creature-things, and I watch as their bodies disintegrate into nothingness, leaving weapons and money and health for his character to pick up. I champion his efforts, and yet, I’m left wondering about the disconnect between this pixelated violence and the violence on a global scale.

Are we hurting our young people by allowing them to perceive these kills so coldly? The real effects of death and war and bloodshed are far greater than these valiant missions in video games. I’m not anti-video game, not by any means; I’m not saying that they are THE social ill, but I am saying that I think they are symptomatic of our cultural neglect of the soul.

They’re just as bad as my willingness to cut off a cab driver who’s trying to squeeze into my lane. They’re just as bad as our neglect of shelter animals, our blind-eyes turned away from the neighbors who punish their children too harshly, our blanket declarations of individualism – the glorification of the “self-made man” in a world that no longer allows for the opportunity of the American dream nor respects the contributions of the global workforce.

Life is everything you’d imagine it to be. Life is personality, drive, hopes, dreams, fears, goals. Of course there’s no way to identify with everyone, but in trying to truly  understand people, there is so much to be learned.

How can personal, societal, national growth happen unless there is learning, understanding, community? Every body breathes. Every body desires, wants, needs. It’d be good to remind everyone of that simple fact, especially as the body counts continue to rise worldwide – from all sorts of crime and conflict – and the world continues to struggle between turning a blind eye and striving for peaceful solutions for all. It is far more difficult to work for love and understanding, but I feel that the benefits would far outweigh the alternative.

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