I always thought Washington state was super-liberal, but ten miles out of Seattle it’s all Trump signs and giant American flags. I was just at a meditation retreat down there and at one session the teacher was hitting little bells and mystic chimes when “Biff! Bang! Pow!” all these fuckin’ shotguns went off just across the road. And you knew some big red-faced bastard had just blown a duck to smithereens. Still, the point of the meditation was to observe how all phenomena arise and pass away, so, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”
Seriously, though, it bummed me out. I believe ducks want to live just like I do and I believe there is solid evidence for this, which is that if ducks catch you trying to kill them they will fly away.
Here’s the thing, though. I have even stronger evidence that those red-faced bastards down in Trump country are human beings. And as much as I have in common with the ducks, I have even more in common with human beings.
So I have to ask myself, what makes that bastard rise in the pre-dawn mist to stand in freezing water up to his hips, poised like a cat at a mouse hole to put paid to a passel of peaceful ducks?
Maybe his Dad taught him how to do it. Maybe it was the closest they ever got, the best they ever felt together. Maybe his Grandfather taught his Dad how to do it. Maybe they all went together – a little red-faced bastard, a middle-aged red-faced bastard, a wrinkly old red-faced bastard. Maybe they shared the same stories men have shared since they hunted ducks with wooden spears and slings.
My Dad once taught me how to carve a little flute out of a green branch. I’ve completely forgotten how to do it now but if I could I’d fuckin’ happily spend every October Saturday until the end of time carving flutes out of little green branches with my Dad.
And it’s not like most people give a shit about the ducks or think the ducks get a say. Most people eat meat, for Christ’s sake. You’ve probably eaten meat already today and if you think this meat was somehow humanely produced, or the animal suffered less than the ducks well, don’t get me started.
(Can you imagine? Hitler was so bad he was worse than Hitler.)
So how to speak to these red-faced bastards? How to get them to see things from another side? Well first, one could actually make an honest attempt to see things from their side.
They have inner lives just like anyone. Fears, hopes, loves. Who the fuck knows how things are going for them? I don’t have all the relevant data at my fingertips, but my something tells me that the great majority of the duck-hunting demographic is not currently experiencing a steep rise in economic clout or cultural cachet.
We’re going to tell them, yes, all the jobs you used to do are gone and they’re not coming back. No, you’re not going to be able to have the life your parents did with a high school education anymore. And don’t get too comfy driving that truck for a living because that shit is on the way out, along with every other fuckin’ thing a robot can do. (Like simple surgery and picking stocks, for instance.) Everything your Dad taught you was wrong and stupid and evil and not only is everyone going to get married no matter what the fuck you believe but super-quick you’d better get that multigender sign up on the commode.
Oh, and you can’t shoot the motherfuckin’ ducks anymore, dickhead.
It’s not that any of these changes are bad. As I mentioned, I’m fond of the ducks, and I feel a bond with this human species you speak of. And although things are tough right now for red-faced bastards without a college education, things are perhaps marginally better for women, and queer people, and black people and, in fact, for everyone except for red faced bastards without a college education. It’s a transitional period. Someone will suffer.
But, do you see? Someone will suffer.
And one might say, “Good! It’s about time,” or, “They brought it on themselves.” As if anyone was ever presented with a clear choice between Good and Evil and said, freely, “Oh, yes! I’ll take the Evil, thanks.”
I just watched this show with my wife. I really want to say what it was but that might ruin it for you. And I don’t want to be a ruiner, or have to warn you you there are “Ruiners Ahead,” so, I’ll try to work around it.
The conceit is that this kid who watched a little porn on his computer gets blackmailed into doing some egregious malfeasance. But then, at the end, it turns out it wasn’t just porn he had watched, it was child porn, and you’re stunned by the realization that you’ve just spent an hour commiserating with a a paedophile.
Now you might abandon all the sympathy you’ve had, and say, “He had it coming” and maybe hate yourself a bit for liking him and think, “What’s wrong with me?” But that doesn’t make sense. Because the guy was really scared, and really suffering. And before you knew what he had done you had a sincere and laudable empathy.
You wanted him to be okay.
And then you found out he was bad. He was not like you. He was Other.
Now hold on, hold on. People do terrible things. I’m not saying people don’t do terrible things, because people do terrible things. Regarding human history—and the human present—can be a dispiriting exercise, because of all the terrible things people do.
But I would argue you’re much more likely to do terrible things when you regard your victims as subhuman, as Other, as not like you.
It’s possible to love people who do terrible things. It’s possible to love red-faced bastards who vote for Donald Trump and shoot ducks for fun. It doesn’t mean you accept or condone what they do. It doesn’t mean you have to hang out with them. It just means that you accept that, like you, they want peace and security, that they’re afraid of death, that they’re looking for some kind of safety, some comfort. We all come out of the same darkness, and we’re all heading back there.
There are innumerable examples of carnage and murder born out of judgement and hatred of the Other: it’s a struggle to find such examples born out of compassion and love.
Right at this moment I’m drawing a blank on that count.