20 May 2006
Beyond all that
I've never met anyone who I'd respect or even really like who disdained his or her origins. These are the folks who think their hometown is provincial and boring, that the people in their home region are intolerant, rude, bad drivers, and/or uneducated. They are derisive of their parents' religion and condescending to those who have not escaped it. They often claim that education freed them from religion, as if it were a vaccine.
In my experience, these folks are deeply unhappy and universally unpleasant to be around.
I've been here thirty-odd years, and trust me, the drivers are bad. Not that their task is made any easier by the perversities of road design out here.
And I don't believe that these folks are necessarily any less religious than they were before: they're just trying to connect to something spiritual that doesn't make them have to listen to all that icky business about God, who, after all, tells people what to do, among His other unforgivable lapses in tolerance. (I suspect some of them wound up as environmentalists: the Sierra Club has rather more than ten commandments, but none of them involve sex, so it's okay.)
He'd recently quit his job, didn't want to look for another. He'd taken a vow not to cause suffering. Seems simple enough: So That I May Not Cause Suffering. And at first it had been something simple. His goal was to contain his habitual mean streak, the little comments that passed for humor but were intended to belittle: Nice shirt. Ha, ha. You can't really like that band. Ha, ha. You're not that fat. Ha, ha. I guess you haven't read Ginsburg. Simple, but pretty soon just containing his mean streak hardly seemed enough. He learned to hold his tongue when he wanted to use words to wound, but as soon as he'd gotten a handle on that, other ways in which he caused suffering presented themselves. He had to stop eating meat, of course. Couldn't even kill a spider. He had to close his bank accounts. His savings were being invested in unjust enterprises all over the world. He stopped buying clothes made in sweatshops. He'd never realized how hard it was to find a T-shirt that hadn't been dyed or sewn in Thailand or Honduras. He couldn't keep his job at the flower stand workers in Ecuador were being poisoned to havest those gorgeous, scentless roses. He had to convert his little diesel hatchback to run on grease because he saw the blood of innocents flowing from every gas pump. So That I May Not Cause Suffering. Within a month, Tony had become just another organic-cotton-wearing unemployed vegetarian street musician who couldn't pay the rent on his six-foot-by-six-foot walk-in closet-turned-bedroom three blocks from the beach in Santa Cruz, California.
I have rather more sympathy for this chap, fictional though he is, than you might think: at least he's striving for some sort of consistent worldview, which I interpret as a mildly-modified Jainism. And I doubt he's "deeply unhappy."
Still, one can be sincere, said Charles F. Kettering, and still be stupid. And on a hot Oklahoma day, I tend to heed the words of the guy with the first air-conditioned house in America. (It's my mean streak. Enjoy it. I generally do.)Posted at 9:29 AM to Almost Yogurt