The children I teach are cruel to each other; they lack compassion for misfortune; they laugh at weakness; they have contempt for people whose need for help shows too plainly. -John Taylor Gatto
At the time of that event, I had been walking for less than a year. While nearly all other memories of those early days have forever faded from my mind, yet I am left with that one remembrance: I remember the feeling I felt when I did that terrible thing.
In kindergarten, my bully friends and I told another new girl that we would be her friends if she showed us her underwear. She did, and we pointed our fingers and laughed at her. That’s how friendly we were.
When the new boy with white hair came to school, I prayed in my mind, “Please don’t let him sit by me! Please don’t let him sit by me!” Of course, he came and sat right next to me. I found out that his name was Colin. I despised Colin because he had white hair and a strange name.
I don’t know why I felt that way. Certainly my parents have never taught me such things. I don’t even know how to describe it. All of the usual words--hatred, cruelty, bigotry--seem so incomplete. We don’t have language that can adequately convey the sickness of heart that I suffered from.
Then my family moved away. I lost all of my friends and anything that had been familiar to me outside of my immediate family. Having been something of a bully as a boy, I understood well enough what it could mean to be the newcomer. I couldn’t see why the boys and girls in my new neighborhood would possibly accept me. I had stupid, fat lips and I was ugly.
So, I coped with my anxiety by staying close to the familiar. At school, during recess, I would play four-square with my big sister and her friends. Then, one day--I was in the third grade--my sister turned me away from the four-square game and said that it was time for me to go and make some friends of my own.
I turned away and I began to cry. I ran and ran, hoping to find a safe place; hoping that no one would see me crying because I knew what happens to those who cry at school. Did new friends come to my aid to strengthen and comfort me? No. I was right. I was young, but I knew what could live in the human heart. They pointed and laughed as I ran. “Look at the crybaby!”
On another occasion I accidentally broke a school rule. I made a urinal in the boy’s bathroom suck the air into the pipes. I didn’t mean to do it, but it made a terrible, disruptive noise when it happened. One of the sixth grade teachers had authorized a team of official bullies of his own to seek and capture anyone who caused this noise during school hours. I was hunted down and brought before the sixth-grade class, forced to my knees--my shirt pulled up--and I was threatened and lectured in front of everybody in that class.
The teacher did this to me, with his ruler in hand, in order to teach me a lesson and to ensure future obedience to the rules. He didn’t understand or believe my pleas--that I hadn’t meant to harm anyone when I broke the law of the school. That teacher just needed me to be broken because I was a lawbreaker and I didn’t belong. Look at all of these sixth graders! They don’t do such things. You’re not one of us, little boy.
I’m still too embarrassed to publicly share other humiliations I suffered at the hands of my peers--and sometimes my teachers. Perhaps we all have such stories to withhold.
Suffice it to say that all of my former bullying was answered back upon my own head and with interest. At school I spent some of my time in worry and desperation, weeping quietly at my desk, until one of the kind boys finally made me his friend.
At the new school, my very first friend was Howie, a Korean boy; and who knows if perhaps I mistreated his little sister once upon a time. I believe there really are people who never had that inexplicable meanness in them that I once had. In fact, it isn’t that we have meanness in us at all. Only, that some of us lack kindness.
That kindness, and a great many of my own tears, healed me of the old sickness that had been in my heart. On the last report card that a young bully had brought home from kindergarten, the teacher had written to my parents the following words: “We have discussed problems this year... I wish all of Peter’s family the best in the move. I feel it will be beneficial to Peter socially.”
She was right. I still remember that old feeling of cruelty, but now I remember it also with sadness. It is too bad that I was once that kind of boy, but now I know how to be better. Luckily for me, it was only a short chapter in my life.
...and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. -Genesis 11:6
- Competition instead of cooperation.
- Liberal individualism with its complete dedication to negative liberty.
- A sense of being chosen or of having a particular and glorious destiny apart from all others.
- An acquisitive purpose that sees as its primary fulfillment the achievement of prosperity.
First, the ideal of competition trains us to seek and exploit weakness wherever it is found. We develop a keen eye for the unfit, the unworthy, and the incompetent which must be overcome or cast aside. There are only limited resources and there is limited space, therefore not everyone will be able to succeed. The competitive assert their dominance by the force of will. Power and even violence are the principle tools of those who worship competition.
Second, the ideal of Individualism turns our interest to the sovereignty of the self. Self-interest demands a new, less restrictive form of interpersonal relationships based primarily in money and in talking to machines. The individual is increasingly differentiated and the sense of others as outsiders grows more acute.
The word “Freedom”, an important and ubiquitous buzzword, now means the complete removal of all obstacles impeding the individual will. True choice--free will or free agency, as we call it--can only be exercised where there are no personal obligations that were determined somewhere outside of the self! Thus, the ‘community’ of inter-dependent personalities fades into the background to be supplanted with a ‘collective’ group of leveled individuals competing on an egalitarian battlefield.
Duty toward the common good is viewed as inherently incompatible with personal pursuits and is considered coercive in nature and against the ideal of freedom. The care of the group is left to the inhuman and invisible hand of the free market, with the promise that, by seeking only for oneself, one really benefits the whole.
Third, the sense of election--of being a chosen and preferred people--throws the outsider into even greater relief. Perhaps there are determinate “slots” available for those wishing to enter into the collective, but all on the outside appear base, jealous, greedy, and threatening. Our status as “the chosen” must be protected and never sullied by lesser men. There will be only one (intrinsically mistrustful) people, one language, and one name shared among them.
Finally, the chosen are ever striving for heaven. In modern times they reach even higher--no longer to lift themselves up, but to pull heaven down to earth. They seek to establish Utopia (or perhaps Zion). And there is nothing that affirms success in this endeavor more than the attainment of material wealth!
The prosperity gospel also reaffirms the suspicion that there is not enough good to go around--because the only relevant question has become “the greatest good” (or perhaps it is “the greatest goods”). This commitment to acquisition and to prosperity brings with it a renewed inkling that others might be claiming what is not their due. If they are a burden on us--if they drag us down--then they are not our fellowmen. And so, it is not wickedness that we hate, but weakness. We hate weakness until weakness becomes wickedness. Zion will have well-guarded borders and tall walls, and that is precisely how there will be no poor among us.
The natural outcome of any society that puts these four principles among its “First Things,” is human cruelty. That these ideas are useful, or that they have some truth in them, I do not argue. The problem, it would appear, is a problem of replacing First Principles with things of secondary importance and in so doing, demeaning those things that should rightfully occupy the position of primacy: that is, human goodness and fellowship.
Alas, cruelty looks just as righteous in the 21st century as it did when Jan Hus was burned at the stake.
* * *
However unjust and unreasonable the attitude we assume toward others, we seem to set in motion an automatic process which works blindly to corroborate and justify that attitude. It is an awesome thing that when we expose people, however undeservedly, to hatred, they tend to become hateful... It is as if the world, of its own accord, furnishes reasons for our unreasonable attitudes. -Eric Hoffer
The theme and punchline for this video--which was doctored up and published as a joke--was that of “wild animals.” See, these mendicant humans were the same kind of thing as the wandering animals whose movements were also captured by the camera in earlier frames.
The commentary accompanying this production was predictably mean-spirited and derisive. It was the grown-up equivalent of jeering at the crying third-grader who, having been rejected, ran to find a safe place. Weakness and poverty, and the actions of the desperate who want to share in the security and prosperity of others, were things to be scorned. In America, we earn our good fortune.
Is it odd that the most differentiated and self-centered individuals are also the most leveled and predictable?
Last week, where I live, a group calling itself “Concerned Citizens of The United States” was reported in the news. They became noteworthy because they decided to publish the personal details of 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants. The need for “total law enforcement” that these people demonstrated (except, of course, for the laws they disagree with, such as privacy laws) required them to take vigilante action. Here is what The Concerned Citizens have to say:
Our group observes these people in our neighborhoods (In other words, they are our neighbors), driving on our streets, working in our stores, attending our schools and entering our public welfare buildings... We plan to provide your office with new lists on a continual basis and request — no insist — that your agency take immediate and forceful action to the individuals on this list and begin deportation now.My wife brought this bit of news to my attention over lunch one day, and I was at once reminded of an episode of the old British television comedy, Red Dwarf.
In the particular episode recalled to my memory, the protagonists share a nightmare wherein they believe themselves to be living in a fascist society that offers “fabulous prizes to be won” for becoming a “Government Informant” and betraying “Family & Friends.” We used to laugh at that because it was hyperbole. People don’t behave that way anymore! Well, it turns out you can’t make this stuff up. It is not make-believe. It is reality, right here where I live.
Others who reacted to this same news saw the more obvious parallels to our own history and especially to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Still, there are quite a few who are greatly sympathetic to this home-grown terrorism that has been directed toward illegal immigrants. The director of our local “minutemen” group, which was formed apparently to invoke the immortal memory of our forefathers mostly by running rough-shod over it, went so far as to call the person involved with this despicable and criminal list a “true patriot.” This man is one who fears that the opposing political party will benefit in the elections if too many outsiders are allowed into the country. Indeed! “No one has done more to purge the ballot boxes than the Voter Colonel!”
It is too bad that we merely interpret this sorry incident as “people being uncivil.” I am happy to hear that those involved in this inhumanity will be punished according to the laws they surely broke. Desperate immigrants who enter America illegally have nothing on these guys. However, our public reaction to this cruelty against immigrants has been only to encourage more ‘civility’ in our discussions of illegal immigration. What we really need to see is that this hateful conspiracy is in fact the logical consequence of one side of the debate carried to its natural conclusion.
The faction that tends toward this unmistakable fascism begins to tell us new stories to justify its increasingly malevolent acts and speech: The illegal immigrant really is the source of our problems! The economy falters because of the illegal immigrant! Crime soars because of the illegal immigrant! Freedom wanes because of the illegal immigrant! War on drugs? We know where to point. Der ist schuld am Kriege! In telling these stories, we will also make them true, for it is often in calling our enemy hateful that he becomes hateful in truth.
In the end, a new Devil will be born and we shall be fully justified in our treatment of him. Any last glimmer of humanity is snuffed out in the ukase that the Rule of Law must abide. “The Rule of Law!” That is what we hear in these days when conspirators publish lists of illegal immigrants who must be dealt with ‘forcefully’ (especially the pregnant, we learn, whose children will become naturalized citizens!). Miep Gies and Oskar Schindler were criminals in their day. We may very well need more of their kind before all is said and done.
* * *
“The men of Sodom had no consideration for the honour of their Owner by not distributing food to the wayfarer and the stranger... They even fenced in all their trees on top above their fruit so that they should not be seized; not even by the bird of heaven.” The law of Moses forbade doing these mean things to the olives, the wheat, and other crops, but they did them... For Abraham, such meanness, as we have seen, was the last straw, and “he cursed them in the name of his God.” -Hugh Nibley
The illegal immigrant is a lawbreaker, to be sure. He comes to us with open hands and the expectation of receiving something, but not with malice to offend us. We do not care anything for his intentions, however; only that we are offended and that our laws were broken. We will make an example of these wretches and they won’t cross us again.
It may very well be the case that we need a wall to protect our border, or a fence.
But the spirit in which that wall is presently being built is the same spirit that seeped into the dirt along with Hitler’s blood and sprung up again as a different wall in another time and another place. We could tear down that wall, but not its spirit. Today, some of its remains lie in a museum in Berlin where they are misplaced. Those remains belong on the American border with Mexico, and should stand in opposition to Emma Lazarus’ beautiful poetry that is now embarrassingly found on the outmoded Statue of Liberty.
There is a big problem with illegal immigration, and if anything, it is a human problem before it is a technical one. As a purely technical problem, its solutions are all cruel. When I read the language of many of those who have aught to say about immigration, I read the language of primal cruelty that was never replaced by kindness. Or else it is the distant, learned and calculated cruelty of “isms” that have become an inseparable part of our discourse in politics and economics.
Is it ironic that I was once healed of my own cruelty in part by the cruelty of others? I wonder how America will be healed, or if she will survive the healing.