Article 43

 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Cruelty And Catastrophe

The Terrible and Catastrophic Price of American Cruelty
What Cruelty is (Really) Worth in an Age of Catastrophe

By Umair Haque
Eudamonia
December 12, 2020

Americans dying by the thousands every day. A President who knows Covid is deadly, but wont lift a finger. Governors who tried to mandate not wearing masks. A population that seems more concerned with “free-dumb” than protecting the vulnerable. A government that won’t support people, even as they lose their jobs in the wake of a global pandemic.

Covid is just one telling example of what America’s legendary for now the world over - not freedom, justice, or truth, but a kind of weird, gruesome, and relentless cruelty, at every level of society.

America’s behaviour during the pandemic - which is startling to much of the rest of the world - is a textbook example of American cruelty. Many Americans refuse to wear masks, cooperate with lockdown orders, or try to fight covid in any way entirely.

As a result, America ended up having the world’s worst Covid outomes. As of today, more than 296,000 people in America have died of Covid. And the difficult truth is that most of those deaths were needless. To most of the rest of the world, Americans appear shockingly cruel, indifferent to infecting not just the vulnerable, but even themselves and their own familes with a deadly disease. A pandemic simply can’t spread through a society the way Covid has spread through America unless it’s ruled by norms of indifference, cruelty, brutality, and violence. And above all, all those things being necessary and just punishments which separate the weak, who don’t deserve to live, from the strong, who do.

The problem is that America’s fatally misjudged what cruelty’s worth. American thinking supposes that cruelty perfects human beings: “No pain, no gain.” But the truth is that cruelty isn’t an asset for a society, or a person. It is a liability. It leads a society to become something like a Ponzi scheme of the human spirit, each person preying on the next, and thus corrodes it from within leaving it in the hands of Caesars and Caligulas, or Trumps and Bannons.

But let’s start at the beginning. American life is now one long exercise in cruelty - first learning to survive it, then learning to appreciate and admire it (as perverse as that sounds), then learning, in the end, to perform and enact it - bang!!  thus, the cycle keeps going. Do I exaggerate? You go ahead and be the judge.

You’re born, you go to school. Active shooter “drills” and lunch “debt.” From an early age, you learn that life is divided, therefore, into predator and prey. You go to middle school, high school it’s a uniquely awful, dispiriting experience, about being mean and nasty, bullying and submission, popularity and vanity and selfishness and while you might think, “it’s like that everywhere!” my friends, it isn’t. Other nations don’t base their entire adolescent cultures on the trauma of just waking up and going to school. But Americans do, because that’s life. Hence, among disastrous effects, skyrocketing suicide rates among teens.

Those that do survive a culture of extreme cruelty from the day they’re born? Off you go go to college - and you’re hazed mercilessly to join a fraternity. What are you being trained for, really? Education, creativity, insight - or dominance, submission, and tribalism? Never mind. You graduate and go to work. And the workplace is one where bullying itself is called management, and every kind of abuse is normalized. No one else in the civilized world, really, puts up with bosses shouting at them and berating them and demeaning them, like feudal overlords. It just isnt tolerated - it’s usually quite literally against the law. But America created a culture where overwork is work, where 80 hour weeks for shrinking pay are just fine, and you have to perform with a rictus smile of submission on your face. You’re not really “working” more than that, you’re performing a kind of flamboyant display of emotional and intellectual servitude, which proves what you really are, a social nobody. Better not make that capitalist mad - or is he your feudal lord? Yet for Americans, all these are perfectly normal and acceptable.

You’re getting older now. Heaven forbid you get sick - better not tell your boss. He might fire you. Heaven forbid someone in your family needs to use the insurance. They might axe you for that, too. Don’t take a vacation, don’t use up those sick days, don’t be the first to leave the office, always be the first to arrive. Cruelty’s been internalized at this point - you’ve learned to “take responsibility” for abusing yourself, sadly, and call it “adulthood,” - yet it’s anything but that: its the repression of the true adult in you, which is crying out for meaning, purpose, belonging, truth.

So you search for a partner, a spouse. Who do you want? The one that everyone else wants. Culture doesn’t tell you to be interested in a person for who they are, what they’ve been through, the secret suffering hidden in their heart - which is the one thing which might save you, too. It just tells you to date the hottest person with the highest attractiveness quotient, basically swipe right. So you go on endless dates - but nothing seems to click, work out. You say there’s no spark, ruefully, to your friends - but what you can’t admit to yourself is you’re afraid the person you actually like meets the strange standards he’s got perfect abs, she’s a perfect size zero, never mind the ego, self-absorption, vanity, greed, duplicity, and indifference - everyone’s learned from a culture of cruelty to admire and celebrate as universally “attractive” in the first place.

You have kids. What are their lives like? Not much different from yours - you learned to survive cruelty, then admire it, then enact it, finally. I could go on. But perhaps you see my point. American life is one long headspinning exercise in cruelty - and Americans seem to revel in it, or at least to shrug, grin, and bear it, while not understanding that life elsewhere isn’t like this, because, well, people shudder at the thought.

What does it to do us, though? Lets think about it.

Rewind, to before the pandemic.

You’re at Stanford. You’re depressed. You become suicidal. You go for counseling. And instead of support - you’re asked to leave class, your dorm room, your degree, and sent home, until you “accept blame.”

Shocked? I was. And yet, at the same time, it’s still somehow unsurprising. There’s the poor Stanford kid. About halfway through the lifecycle of cruelty I’ve described above. Except maybe he just cant take it anymore - the constant atmosphere of pervasive abuse, emotional violence, pressure, stress, trauma. He grows depressed, and then suicidal. Instead of support, what happens?

The first thing that happens is that SUPPORT IS WITHDRAWN. That’s a very American pattern - and it happens because Americans see weakness as a dangerous, threatening liability. Something like parasitism which will drain away their very lifeblood if they give an inch. What do we do with drug addicts? Instead of supporting them, we follow the crackpot “intervention” model, and withdraw our support. Tough Love, Tucker! Sorry, son - go sleep on the street! But that model hasnt worked - have you seen the suicide rate skyrocketing because it can’t. You can’t withdraw support at a time when people need it most. Yet that is what American institutions are built to do. Need healthcare? Sorry, insurance won’t cover that. Lost your job during Covid? Sorry, can’t help you. Need an education? Sorry - the only way you get one is to pay 10% interest forever. And so on.

The second thing that happens is that the suffering party is shunned and ostracized. Because Americans see weakness as contagious, they must step back. But I want you to note how ignorant and foolish this is: weakness isnt contagious җ thats something like medieval logic, isnҒt it? Yet this is a step beyond withdrawing support the Stanford students donגt just get no counseling, they get kicked out. But that too follows the general pattern of American cruelty. Get sick lose your job. She’s pregnant fire her, just don’t tell anyone. They’re going through a rough patch - we don’t talk to them anymore. It’s so commonplace in America now to shun and ostracize the weak that we barely notice it at all. But what happens to us when we fall, then?

The third thing that happens is that people must never blame anyone else but themselves for weakness - and then they are institutionally legitimized again. They must never complain. In this case, Stanford students had to accept blame, and whatnot. But that’s the general rule. (Of course, here, by weakness and legitimacy, I emphatically don’t mean abusiveness - we’re not talking about people who hurt others, but people who are hurt). You can see this rule operating everywhere - “Hey, I was sick, but I beat it!” “Oh, stop whining and bitching!” You’re always complaining!” “Be positive!” The idea is simply the flipside of self-reliance - one must never broach the idea that one has been failed, only that one has failed.

Now, you might say, so what? The problem with all the above is very simple. You can have a society based on norms of extreme cruelty or you can have a democratic, free, and prosperous one. But you can’t have both. Cruelty like all the above makes people timid, afraid, and docile of being the ones preyed on. It leaves them unimaginative, dull, empty, and ignorant ח because they are too busy obeying order to question them. It makes conformists and braggarts and bullies of them who hope to become flunkies, cronies, and enforcers, one day. But that is about the limit of their existential aspirations, and the edge of their moral horizons.

In this way, a society based upon cruelty is something like a house of cards - just waiting to collapse into authoritarianism, of one kind or another. Which is exactly what is happening to America right now, as the GOP try to push through what is essentially a judicial coup. The people in it are already meek and timid, servile and docile, when their superiors are watching, but vicious and abusive, violent and savage, to their underlings yet all that is precisely the opposite of what a democracy needs, isn’t it?

Yet history tells us this story again and again. Rome degenerated not because it grew poor, feeble, or infirm but because cruelty produced tyranny and obscenity, in the end. The French Revolution’s noble, ambitious ideals were betrayed the moment it acceded to the cruelty of a Bonaparte. Germany’s romantic, bombastic nationalism didn’t lead to a noble empire it led to the Nazis. The Soviets looked forward to a glorious future - and soon enough, an admiration for cruelty had produced a Stalin. And so on.

History is littered with the ruins of the cruel. Because today’s cruelest are really just tomorrow’s dullest - quicker to draw a gun or a sword than read or write a book. But a gun, unlike a book, has never once lit a spark in a mind, a fire in a heart, or held up a mirror to a soul, yet it is those things which prosperity is genuinely made of. That is why the cruel always fall from within - usually, without an enemy even needing to fire a shot. Societies built on cruelty above all else usually are too busy shooting themselves to need their enemies to do anything but gawp. For societies, just as for people, it is best to see cruelty as a kind of fatal ignorance about what the purpose of this life is, and how it is best lived. Not with cruelty. But with grace, authenticity, gentleness, and humility.

The price of cruelty, my friends, in the end, is us. What else could it be? That lesson, which is what history has taken so many long millennia to teach us, has always been lost on America - and still, it seems to me, is.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 12/13/20 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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