How to lose the fight for your existence

Dear Hannah,

Breitbart news is absolutely infallible about one thing, and that thing is delivering the opinion of Breitbart news.  About the actual facts they're sometimes dubious; but the overarching meaning behind the presentation of those facts, and the gist of what they're trying to get at, are so transparent that even a twelve-year-old could spot them.

This of course is both a blessing and a curse.  The fact that Breitbart practically announces their positions with fanfare before, during, and after the facts are delivered to the reader, is proof that some people, even if they mangle the facts, are at least being factual about the delivery.  There's an honesty in their slantedness*.  There's no attempt at the lie known as "neutrality," or the crude attempt to portray themselves as above perspective; as though any omissions and commissions of the paper weren't arranged to any specific purpose; as if the specific purposes didn't benefit any particular people; as if the people being benefited weren't the kinds of people who wrote the paper.  No -- we leave that to the snakes at NPR and The New York Times: people who say they're for everybody while being against the majority; who leave out any information that's inconvenient to their pet people, and drudge out all the crimes, follies, and failures of their enemies under the cunning pretense of objectivity.

As such I don't begrudge Breitbart for their one-sided reporting on the NFL kneelers.  I complain about them because their one-sided reporting is sometimes too badly stated to be helpful.  All members of the right-wing can agree that these anthem kneelers and flag haters represent one thing -- an opposition to something the American flag stands for.  The problem is that Breitbart news hasn't only sometimes botched the glory of the flag, but that in doing so they've botched the villainy of Black Lives Matter.

When I say villainy I mean it in almost the original sense** -- a Middle Age slur for an unkempt, unmannered, untrustworthy, unlawful, ugly and ignorant peasant.  The term wasn't originally an insult until centuries of association with everything degraded made it insulting; and long after the serfs were emancipated from their lords' villas (from which the term villein comes), the idea of the villain kept hold of the public imagination.  It meant something between a yokel and a thug -- the kind of person that Black Lives Matter actually represents.

Every once in a while, of course, a really good person like Philando Castile gets shot by the police instead of by his black "brothers"; and in a country of 330 million people we expect nothing less.  In a game of numbers a tragedy is inevitable, and proper action has to be taken in light of it.  The question is who the rest of those shot down by the police are; and in our researches we find that they aren't just usually the worst of the worst (as Black Lives Matter has conveniently left out), but that in defending the worst of the worst, Black Lives Matter maligns the best of the best -- the police officers who aren't killers and are actually upright and professional, white people who love and have nothing against good black people, and happy people in good neighborhoods who have never stolen anything from anybody. 

As such Black Lives Matter isn't about black lives.  It's a historically ignorant revolt against the idea that America, even in a deeply flawed world where "perfection" is impossible, was built upon better principles than any other nation has ever been founded upon -- principles we haven't been able to carry out, but until us no country had really bothered to state.  It's against the idea that good white people can be innocent; that bad black people can be guilty; that our greatest security is in liberty; that an all-invasive welfare state is dangerous; and that in the defense of this liberty, the organization known as the police have a different set of rights than the populace -- one of which is to track down people they honestly believe to be guilty, arrest them, and if said target resists arrest, to crack them over the head with a nightstick. 

To overthrow these bedrock beliefs and principles isn't a fight against American society but society in general; and what Black Lives Matter would do if they were in power would be to transfer power and property from honest white men to our laziest looters, to release a swarm of black criminals upon a terrified and innocent populace, and to give us no redress against said criminals except our bare fists and a too-late-to-stop-anything system of law***.  To believe anything less than this is to court a delusion -- to confront an approaching tiger as if it was nothing more than a hostile housecat.

Which is exactly what many Republicans (and occasionally Breitbart) have done.  Not by refusing to oppose Black Lives Matter vigorously, but by the act of approaching them falsely -- as though the kneelers were an insult to our military (of all things!), and not an assault on almost everything else responsible for our security and civilization.  There is no need in this case to make a victim of a soldier.  Find a beautiful white kid on the street who's never done anything wrong to anyone, and you've found the one they call guilty.  Meet a policeman, white or black, who's willing to to protect and serve in a dangerous neighborhood, and you'll find out whose safety they value less than a villain's.  Find an honest businessman in Baltimore and you'll connect the looters with the looted -- with the businessman the locals won't even visit because the "Ferguson Effect" has made the streets too dangerous.  Black lives do matter, and the result of Black Lives Matter is that the worst of them will realize they matter the most.  I only wish more Republicans would be more honest and say it.

Your father,

*I would add that if there's an honesty in slantedness, there's a "having all your facts right" and still arranging them like a swindler.  To tell the facts isn't the same thing as telling the truth.  The people who know this and view the complexity of truth with wonder and face it with bravery go into the humanities.  The people who hate it become math majors and chemists and hide in their one-sided formulas.

**The insult villein has lost most of its sting in Western civilization; and it has lost it because of capitalism.  Barbara Tuchman notes in A Distant Mirror that the peasant of the Middle Ages was tied to his land and his lord, had few rights, and was taxed for nearly everything he did; a combination that resulted not only in an insufferable poverty, but in an overwhelming feeling of resentment -- from the peasant to the lord, and from the lord back to the peasant.  The English felt the French peasants were worse off in general, but the overwhelming picture of both is the same.  Aside from the description I'd given above, that a peasant is unkempt, unmannered, untrustworthy, unlawful, ugly, and ignorant, Smite a peasant and he will bless you; bless a peasant and he will smite you was a common proverb in the Middle Ages; and despite some accounts saying that French peasants had bathhouses in every town, it was also joked that due to the villein's stench, the demons refused to carry him into hell -- the only place that was likely to accept him.

Orlando Figes, in his account of revolutionary Russia, carries the connotation further still.  He depicts a greasy man with filthy nails and a drinking problem, living in a hut full of pigs and shit and fleas and unbreathable air, crammed into a single bed with wife and children, beating his friends and his lovers and his family, ready to rob and likely to rape, exposing himself for fun to the passer-by in public, and thankfully dying in middle age.  The Russian lord's almost implacable aversion to the peasant in this light is understandable.  Imagine being a part of that one-percent that bathes and has manners and reads books and manages things and dines with the famous in a home with fresh air -- imagine this man, riding down the road on his horse and getting accosted by somebody who's never brushed his teeth in his life, whose hair is matted down beyond redemption, whose hands smell like wiped ass and who speaks like the worst redneck -- imagine the two of these colliding and one asking the other for money, and when he doesn't get it, perhaps spitting at the bathed man on the horse or maybe even attacking him.  If you can't place yourself in the nobleman's shoes and understand the immense hatred between the two parties and sympathize with both of them on some level, well... 

The moment all this changed was when we decided nobody should be tied to anyone else in any permanent relation except effectively by family; and that in the civilized society, titles should be abolished and even the most well-born men have to invest their money or work for their bread or go broke -- both American inventions.  Capitalism means every man is free to live or to die.  It meant all the degraded peasantry of the Middle Ages could pursue their own dreams, and that the dream of the rich man was to sell products to massed peasantry.  Now we produce soap for even our paupers, an illiterate man is laughable even to the lower classes, cell phones link the greatest industries with the lowest prices to the poorest neighborhoods, and the lowest classes, were they today to encounter the villein of the Middle Ages, would sneer with the revulsion of an offended aristocrat.  The modern man isn't a kinder man.  A bridge has been built between the lower and the higher classes -- and it is made out of ten-dollar dress-shirts, Colgate, and Irish Spring.

***There are people out there who really believe that in this country, where people can barely drive in the rain and the white majority has difficulty doing the cha-cha, that an honest civilian with shaky hands and a public spirit is likely to make Swiss cheese out of a robber or a rapist.  I say let them believe it.

There are worse things to believe in, and possibly one of the worst is that no good-guy with a gun exists; that the policemen are pansies with tasers and bear spray; that the entirety of the American public consists of little more than an all-you-can-rob buffet; and that if the police ever do take violent action, a large section of our worst people are not only going to take to the streets and an officer will be jailed, but that getting beaten by the police is more lucrative than working a 9-to-5, and that everyone who gets a thrashing gets his 15 minutes of fame.  One of these is peddled by white America and the other is peddled by Black Lives Matter.  You decide which is safer for the majority to believe in.

Follow Letters to Hannah on Twitter and Facebook.


Post a Comment