Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Wrath of Becky

There was some discussion of The Wrath of Becky over at Althouse.  Ann covers a wide variety of topics and things that I might miss, especially when it is coming out of popular culture.I don't think she is at all puzzled about what is up here.  She posted it because what is happening in this movie is obvious, and she wonders why everyone doesn't see it. But just in case, let me tell you what the message is in this movie, coming out at this cultural moment.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

The game is to substitute their reality in for the actual one.  They do it well. It works with far too many people.

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

We had this at the church we visited in Brewster.  I sang it years ago with men's chorus and have loved it.  Very fun to sing, including when you are actually walking out in the woods privately. Yet I was hoping to find a harmonised one.

I'm not the only one.  Country musicians play it, jazz musicians play it, and I was looking for a version I thought stood out among the many. I saw at a glance that what I wanted was someone who I could reasonably think believed the words. A lot of the videos in the search dropped right out. Others were...well, maybe... 

I kept coming back to this one.

Allowing People To Hurt You

The was a fashion twenty years ago in psychology - I associate it strongly with the UNH nursing instructors and the Antioch College psych department - that what other people did does not make you feel a certain way, you choose to feel it, or allow yourself to feel that way. I take the point, that you as the receiver retain ultimate control. It is also good to learn that your retain agency, and it is good to teach yong people that they retain agency and to not have to respond in a certain way. 

But to suggest, as these instructors did, that the person acting on you is responsible for zero percent of the "making" is just silly.  It is very similar to what CS Lewis was pushing back against in Abolition of Man. When we see a great waterfall, it is not something entirely arbitrary to think it sublime. To see it as sublime is entirely proper.  To fail to see it, in fact, suggests that there is something missing in you as a human.  When someone pops you in the snoot, or says something nice about you in public, or takes something from a small child, makes you at least initially feel a particular way. (In context, if the the punch is from a toddler, if the compliment is from a weasel, etc.) To not feel something for the child is to be missing some bit of humanity. To be indifferent to someone's compliment is to not quite get the rules of social interaction...

Or to have dismissed the person to such an extent that their opinion means nothing to you, and this is where the subtler rules of humankind start to emerge. 

When someone can hurt us, it is because we have allowed this vulnerability, yes. But that is a great deal of what it means to love and to be human at all. If we are beyond (we will call it above) being hurt, we have in some way left the building. It is an odd imbalance when we are not able to hurt someone who retains a power to hurt us, but it is actually very common. One of us is likely wrong, A for moping around B who no longer cares, or B for denying a bit of their humanity but cutting off A from consideration of affection. Some of us may make ourselves vulnerable to too many people, others to too few. But at the extremes there is a problem.


 Hard to find, I may have to order a carton. Sweeter and lighter than the similar Deep River product.

All the Kids in the Anime Club

Simone Collins made an offhand remark, intended to be humorous, in her mention of dating and autism, something like "all the kids in the Anime Club" have dated each other by the end of the year.  I think she implied "but not necessarily successfully." I had not heard of an Anime-fan/Aspie* connection, but immediately saw how it could be so. I thought of a charming, eccentric girl from church immediately, now a senior in highschool. She draws her own anime and has a stable of her own charcters. And something on the spectrum fits for her. Plus, in Goffstown the anime club meets at the library. Plus, they are a little different from generic comics kids. Plus, I have younger sources (actually**, just Bethany) who believes she has seen this and it seems likely.  How much more proof do you need?  

This put me in mind of Ron Suskind's NY Time article from a decade ago "Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney," in which he describes using Disney movies, especially animations, to teach his son how to interpret social situations. 

Next, I thought of Korora's explanation over a year ago that the bronies, the adult fans of "My Little Pony," were often somewhat autistic and used the interactions among the ponies as personal instruction in how to navigate human socialising.  He even gave a good example of it in the comments just a few weeks ago. BTW, whether this autism/social teaching aspect is open conversation among bronies or whispered among the few who observe what is going on I don't know, so you might want to be careful how you use and present that information.

Are we seeing a pattern here?  Highly stylised characters being used not only for adventure and entertainment, but sought for their social teaching aspects. For people who sometimes take human interactions too literally, it's a godsend. Sometimes social, intellectual, and moral questions of complexity are addressed. Almost twenty years ago Cohen's autism research center developed a test studying how autists perceive and notice faux pas in described situations.

As we draw this circle just a little wider, we start seeing large additions to the human population: Star Trek, definitely aspie. Star Wars, less so but still yes. Fantasy literature, only sometimes aspie, but Tolkien and Lewis both wrote about the power of myth in literature to teach virtue as well as inspire. We used to take our two oldest sons to Renn Faires - in cosume, and the older one now takes his daughters to Comic-cons - in costume.  And he is the least aspie of the four of us. The literary genre of best that the older version of how to teach everyone, including aspies of previous centuries, how to act in the world?

Isn't all literature, drama, comedy, TV and movies, and art just less-stylised versions of the same thing?  This is how wise people/decent people/heroic people are supposed to act. Jesus taught in parables. God gave all of Genesis and parts of the rest of Jewish history to tell stories about who we are supposed to be.  The things we see as more for aspies is just a more-stylised version of Beowulf, or Aesop, or The Wind In The Willows, or even Exodus. When literature beyond stroytelling and decoration was less available to humans - that is, any time in the last 10,000 years - humans mostly learned about human interaction though contact with other actual humans. But there were still those stories...and ceremonies involving dressing up with wolves skulls...

*I still use the term "Aspie," short for Asperger's Syndrome, even though it has been discarded formally.  It very quickly became a garbage and catch-all category and became so imprecise as to be useless.  (As if Id, Ego, and Superego are models of precision? Borderline? Trauma? Oh well.  Separate battle.) But even though I agree it should no longer be used in a clinical discussion and would be more precise when talking about an actual patient under consideration, I think aspie is still a useful term. If autism is a spectrum, and I am convinced that it is, even with its variants mucking up the understanding, then there will be mild and partial cases, perhaps even more in danger of being confused with anxiety or OCD or sensory disorders, yes, but still there as a general concept that can be used by intelligent people in everyday conversation. As for autism variants, are we moving to a model of Autism Spectra Disorder, a way-station on the way to breaking it into ever-more useful pieces?

**"Actually" is a very autism spectrum term, and I notice I use it a lot.  A psychiatrist friend told me that when she writes her popular book for parents about dealing with an autistic child, she is going to name it Actually... If you notice that this is also identified as a mansplaining term, that will not seem so strange if you tie it to Simon Baron Cohen's theories of autism as the hypermale brain.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Long Covid

It's always going to be hard to define for some individuals. My blood pressure shot up when I got Covid and never went back down, requiring a medication change. It has continued to creep up slowly, but is that because I'm getting older and had previous poor health habits or because I had Covid? There's no way to tell in my case - I'll have to wait to find out from God. All we can do is look at a few million people and see if the ones who had Covid now have worse BPs than the ones who didn't.  There will be some in each group who got worse and we compare the rates.


The feel of the word, the connotative meaning which adds to the denotative meaning, varies in time and place. And it should. It should sound different in Texas versus Maine versus Alaska, because of their histories.  But even more emphatically, it should sound different in the 800s versus the 1800s, and in England versus the Continent versus America and Canada versus the high seas, where the ideas of authority get very smudgy indeed. Who's in charge here? becomes a question that everyone stops asking as it becomes less and less meaningful.  We are each thrown back on the training of our childhoods and our adopted creeds as much as the formal rules that supposedly - that is, forcibly but quite intermittently - rule us.

You may have heard of the Danelaw, an area of England that was governed by the Norse (all of whom were called Danes by the English) under a different set of legal rules from the late 800s to 1066. If one lived in the East of England, one lived under not only a different set of laws but a different system of administering them. The Danelaw had juries which developed the accusations; there was a separate intermediate category of sokemen whose rights were between a peasant's and an aristocrat's (they were free within a lord's jurisdiction but not free to leave it); division of land was measured differently; crimes were consequated differently. Laws were made differently, at things, or folkmoots.

In trading ports it was sometimes unclear what law one was under, as ship, market, and countryside were different polities.

One could be cast out from the law altogether, so that you had no rights and protections, neither English nor Norse. This was a usual fate of traitors. Curiously, there is at least one instance of being able to buy one's way back into the law, though how the person had gotten put out of it is not clear. To be made an outlaw, the term derived from various related Scandinavian words such as utlagr, was to be banished, expelled from society. People could do to you what they would if they found you, as you had no rights and protections. Such rights and protections tended to go with belonging to a lord among the Vikings, in contrast to being on a section of land among the English. Either way, you didn't want to be out. You might think it would be a fine thing to have that independence when others didn't but that would only work if you were some kind of Conan the Barbarian who could rely entirely on himself for defense. And even Conan had to sleep sometime. Outlaws might band together out of necessity, but those arrangements were not often reliable and were seldom permanent. 

To be an outlaw, then, usually meant that one had to do whatever it took to survive, and be ready to leave at a moments notice. They often had areas they could go to that were only technically under the control of the king, to hide out and have some safety, but these were rather obviously not going to be the best parcels of land with good resources. Something as simple as clean water might be hard to come by, and good shelters allowed the authorities to find you and wait for you. 

Folk music in England suggests there there was some romance attached to outlaw status, as they not only kidnapped women but sometimes persuaded them to run away with them.  How much that was fantasy, a fear of both men and women that someone would simply run away and leave them bereft, is not clear, but the reality of it was likely unpleasant. In later years the term gypsy was sometimes synonymous, which should give you the clue that the status had not improved much, if at all. Outlaws were hated, and not only by the authorities. We might think that the long popularity of Robin Hood tales would suggest that the common folk secretly rooted for the outlaws and their fine, free lives, but their actual treatment suggests that anyone who owned anything feared and hated them.

Out on the ocean, as we discussed in recent post about pirates, formal and harsh rules had to be in place on each ship, but the advantage for pirates were that these could be temporary, and one could sign the articles on a different ship when the voyage ended. Once one was out of the law, however, there was usually no choice of going back and signing on to some merchant's or nations ship. Your previous status put everyone at risk if your ship was stopped and searched. Everyone else would now be suspect. As with outlaws on land hiding in inaccessible places in the forest or in caves, pirates had locations they were usually out of reach.  Way up north in Newfoundland (even colder during the Little Ice Age) was one, which I had not previously known. We expect ports on Caribbean Islands to be prominent on the list, but Madagascar and the West coast of Ireland are more of a surprise. Such places had laws of agreement, but unless you were violent yourself you could much uphold any rights.

In an American setting it was not always clear what the law and authority was in a place, so as a practical matter what rights and protections one had might depend more on informal alliances. Some form of law did gradually make its way across the frontier, usually at the request of tradesmen and owners of property. Those who have been through a breakdown of law, as in war and persecution, don't hesitate to be strict and harsh when conditions improve and you can put up a blacksmith's shop or a tanner's.

And yet they hold some romance for us, at least in story and song. We hate those who flaunt the law in our own place unless we become convinced that the authorities are themselves more dangerous  and capricious. But for outlaws "out there somewhere," those of us who chafe under authority wonder what it might be like to just be able to put it all behind us. But mostly, we like the affectation of outlawry more than the reality. 

I have a biased sample for the few outlaws I have known or known about, from corners of New Hampshire that people don't like to go to because of a few families or gangs, because I mostly encountered them when one was sent to my hospital for doing something both crazy and dangerous. Still, they did run in clusters and the locals I would contact would assure me that the one I had wasn't that different from his brothers or his friends. The Troy Boys, a gang which was powerful at the State Prison, were simply thieves and murderers, and mostly stupid ones at that. There was nothing dashing or romantic about them. Pockets in Unity, or outside Colebrook, or in Center Ossipee look about the same. They steal from each other as well as anyone nearby who has got anything. Lone paranoids don't seem to be quite the same thing in my mind, though maybe that's a lot of who have been outlaws throughout history.



I have paid attention slightly over the years to the research into whether winning the lottery makes one any happier or not. When I used to listen to WFAN in New York in the late 90s there was even an add for the NY lottery (they had many clever ones) in which a black voice assured the listener with a chuckle that while winning the lottery might not fix everything, it sure did fix everything that had to do with money, as it had for him. I had long said that winning made no difference, but then read things about a decade ago assuring me that people who won the lottery did report somewhat levels of happiness. In particular, older people, interviewed five years later, reported greater happiness, while a greater percentage of younger people ruined their lives.  But this age advantage leveled off at about age fifty.  It makes some sense.  Winning millions of dollars would be a burden now, as I would feel bound to give it away with some wisdom and intentionality, which would be work.

But I think the NY advertising angle has held up.  An infusion of money does solve money problems.  But it doesn't solve any other problems, and it doesn't even solve the money problems for more that a few decades. Greg Cochran wrote almost a decade ago about the Georgia land lottery of 1832 and the Swedish study of lottery winners.

But those ideas have stuck with me in looking at other "lottery of life" evaluations, on many fronts. I have experienced some great unfairness, and I do catch myself dwelling on those at times.  But I mostly have won the lottery of life, having been given much I did nothing to earn. I try to be careful not to pretend that I have made it farther up the mountain because I am a better climber. I was born in America in the mid-1900s with some abilities that conferred status and advantage in the society I lived in. Unfairness that occurs after that can still keep you at a high elevation. One can become as abjectly miserable as a human can be here, all through no fault of your own, but that is rare.  What we call miserable would have been considered a wonder of wealth, safety, and approval by most of the rest of humanity. 

I think there is a strong sense of punishing the people who supposedly benefited from slavery over the centuries (they didn't) as much as rewarding the people who were left out. The actions and words in the discussion betray that the former goal is the more important one to at least some people. Wanting to take down the toffs, the snobs, the elites seems to be a common motive across humanity.  We know that whatever car our neighbor drives should have no effect on our happiness, but somehow it does. Or some sneaky thing distantly like it, if not the car. Someone has something.

To desire that the last shall be first seems quite proper and honorable, but hoping for the first to be last is more worrisome. Yes, Jesus said it and it's right there, but it's still worrisome to me. But not the point for now.

My concern is only secondarily that it's not fair and threatens to reward and punish unfairly. More to the point, I don't think reparations will do much good helping people's lives long term, and maybe even harm them.  Because after reparations, if those don't work, what next?

Review of Museums: Plimoth Patuxet

I have fourteen posts in the queue*. This may take a while

Formerly Plimoth Plantation, now including the history and interaction with the Wampanoag community in that area. Plimoth was settled by Europeans because it had been cleared and had a fresh water supply.  the previous inhabitants and clearly been gone at least a few years. We now know this was because of the European diseases that ravaged the areas prior to the arrival of the English colonists, who had been aiming for the Hudson Valley. Trading in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Maine had started as far back as 1500. Even the gradual introduction of disease over a century did not provide much buffer. Throughout trip we would encounter references to large earlier populations that shrank during contact with the Europeans. 3000 Wampanoags down to 700 in Nantucket over a century. 100,000 in the 69 villages down to 15,000 in 22 villages. 

But for the colonists this was barely known. And when the mass die-offs were known to have occurred, they were not interpreted in the light of germ theory, which was two centuries in the future. Both the natives and the English thought that God or the gods had engineered this directly, to reward or punish one group or the other. Both would still interpret smaller local events that way as well, of sickness or survival of individual puritans or Abenaki stemming from spiritual causes.  This is not absent from the Patuxet portion of the largely outdoor museum. They are serious about getting the history right and represent what people thought, as near as we can tell from here.

There are people assuming the roles of known colonists, and they are very good at not breaking character, and looking puzzled about incidents that took place after 1627. I jokingly told one who represented my ancestor John Howland that I predicted a long life and many descendants for him (which I now regret - I should have gone along with the museum's intent) and he quite seriously told me that such things were in the hands of God, and then with a hint of a smirk, and of his wife Elizabeth (Tilley). I am going to doubt that the enactors were especially religious people, but they played the intense and sincere puritans wonderfully.  One young woman would not give her maiden name or talk about her family in England, because this was a new world and a new life and she intended to live by that. She was proud of having been accepted into membership in the church and being a new person. I wish I had had the presence of mind to use the joke, common a few decades later and likely understandable to her character even if she had never heard it, that she had dropped her name in the ocean on the way over, but alas, I wasn't quick enough. They had not heard of New Hampshire or Strawbery Banke (which puzzled me, as settlers came here in 1623, but they were right. New Hampshire was not named until 1629 and Strawbery Banke settled in 1630.) They might have recognised Odiorne Point and one woman did suggest "Isle of Shoals?"

There are historians on premises who talk in modern context as well, very knowledgeable. They discussed the technical changes that have been made since the place opened in 1947, such as the addition of wattle and daub to the buildings. This rang true to my wife, who had visited in 1975 when the spaces between the slats admitted a fair bit of breeze. We were told that there had been the suspicion at that time that something had filled the chinks, but until they knew it for a high probability, they had not reconstructed the houses that way. They make them without modern improvements, so that every twenty or thirty years they have to be replaced, in as authentic a manner as possible. They know a bit more with each building they replace. They learn more about costumes, and what the blacksmith who arrived in 1623 actually did for repairs, because there was no mining or ability to fabricate items. A surprising amount is known about what medicinals they grew, as a few people kept clear records.

We went over to the Mayflower II as well. Also very knowledgeable over there, and walking into the spaces gives me a clearer picture, at least.  I had not visualised it well on my own.

Very highly recommended.  It will take you an afternoon, including the films and exhibits indoors, but they package it very well so that is not an overwhelming amount of similar information to take in.  They know how to break it up.

*The joke is that queue is a perfect illustration of itself. One letter followed by four silently in a line after it..

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Review of Museums: Whydah

Whydah Pirate Museum: (pronounced "Widdah" after a West African town that the Portuguese rendered as "Ouidah." Which should tell you that the vessel spent some time as a slaver.) I had expected that this was going to be a generic museum about pirates, striving to be the New England version of the story. But it is focused on a specific ship, the Whydah, and its captain Samuel "Black Sam" Bellamy, notorious and fabulously wealthy for a few years in the early 1700s. The Whydah was only definitively located off the arm of Cape Cod in 1984, and has apparently been the focus of documentaries and books about the discovery and excavation, all of which I missed. It was known where it had gone down, but the shifting sands made the pieces of the ship and all its cargo spread over a four mile area, and 10-50ft below the floor at that. Lots of gold and silver, and you can even touch some of it. 

It's a new museum, less than a decade old, just off the main drag. We loved it. It focuses first on a few known characters and restricts itself to what is actually known and the artifacts known to have been theirs. As you circle through the museum there is also a lot of discussion of that particular ship and its contents. Yet additional topics are put in rather artfully along the way, such as 10-step directions for how to fire a cannon, displayed prominently next to one of the recovered cannons. There was discussion of the various freedoms and obligations that came from signing the articles on a ship and becoming part of its crew. I think I will have to have a separate discussion of that, of the origins of the word and concept "outlaw" from the Norse and the division of being "within the law" and having certain rights even if a criminal versus being outside of it and having none even if innocent. The old language of "masterless men," and the importance of having a flag to sail under or a protector over you will be part of that.  To be continued. For our purposes here, it is important to note that becoming a pirate placed one in a position of almost certain execution if caught. The exception was Africans and ex-slaves, who would be sold back into slavery. For blacks and New World natives, on board pirate ships were a place of near-equality with whites, and in many instances entire equality. There was democratic election to the various roles on the ship, and this likely had influence on the countries on Atlantic coasts, especially in the New World. It can be overstated - they did force captives to join them, especially if they had a needed skill, and that's hardly freedom-loving. They also made their livings by taking what was not theirs and doing so with extreme violence. 

On the other hand, the legitimate governments of Europe impressed sailors and regularly took each other's stuff on the sea via violence. So not a lot of difference. Piracy was a more extreme version of what everyone else was doing, perhaps. 

The Whydah went aground and sank in a Nor'easter, and a captive forced to be one of the navigators was a major cause. He was given control of all associated ships because he was the only one who knew those waters off Cape Cod. So he brought his ship, which had less draft, over a sand bar the Whydah couldn't clear, making his escape. He was arrested and imprisoned, but ultimately not executed.

The last sections of the museum focus on how the artifacts pulled out form under the ocean floor are recovered. The objects are called concretions, more commonly a geological term, referring to items that have changed because of substances coming in contact with each other. We can ex-ray the object and take a guess what the precise nature is, but we can't just break it open and look, as it has likely changed in substance and might disintegrate rapidly after being exposed to dry air.  So they bathe the object in a continuing stream, for weeks or even years, and then subject it to electrolysis to allow them to pull the outer parts off and see what is within. They had a number of objects on display that were actual finds, now being recovered slowly by this process. Very cool to look at it happening in real time.

Make The Automatic Substitution

It is ever-green.  If you switch the party label/political leaning, does the story change? I might talk to people who don't do that, but I can never take them seriously.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Long Chain On

I am back, and will review some museums of Cape Cod and the Islands.  For some reason this song kept coming to me all week.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Cape Cod

We will be going to Cape Cod and the Islands this week.  I have barely ever been, despite living only a few hours away, nor have I been to Plimoth Plantation* despite having ancestors from there and parts around it. (I am bringing my Mayflower list in hopes of finding an interpreter who can tell me something new.) Tracy went a few times in childhood, being from Scituate. We still have a niece in the area, who we will drop in on.

So, migrating birds - I bookmarked some pages and left that to the birdwatcher; many small museums**, which describes everywhere in New England anyway; ferries - I like ferries; beaches and lighthouses - meh, but it's nice to see a few once in a while; odd historical sites - now you're talking.  Martha's Vineyard has the Camp Meeting Association and the Carousel, Sandwich has old Quaker buildings. We'll be fine.

I probably should have read The Dozen on Nantucket in preparation. I can look up the linguistics quickly, though.

*Now Plimoth Plantation and Patuxent, one of those Native American reminders that is more than legitimate, not just inserted for virtue signalling.

**Hyannis has the pirate museum and the Kennedy museum - and they're separate!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Accordion From Multiple Angles

How in the world did accordion players - lots of them - suddenly show up in my YouTube feed? The danger of algorithms may turn out to be inexplicable randomness that we all mindlessly follow, reasoning that it must mean something eventually. 

If you follow the various artistic angles that the cameraman uses, in imitation of MTV acoustic or something, you will see a lot of expressionless men looking somewhat intently at this girl. It would be an excellent creepy opening for a horror film, actually. Maybe it's different in Germany, but in America you could not get middle-aged men to be videotaped staring at a young woman for any reason. We are taking a walk, having a smoke, checking our text messages, thanks.

Journalism Review

I was reflecting, not for the first time, that what we call the "news" sites, descendants of newspapers, are actually sites that tell us right-up-to-the-minute what to think about the news. The more national and important they are (WaPo, NYT) the more this is true. This is clearly an important service to many people. The WaPo report on the new CEO of Twitter could have been written a few months ago with only minor modifications such as putting a person's name in the slot. It is not framed as a directive of what you should think but as a reassurance: yes, what you already thought about this was just about right.  We very smart people at the Top Outlets might have a few fun twists and additions, but you believe the right things, yes.  You know who to hate. Sometimes we will let you know early on who is going out of fashion, so that you don't say something foolish in public about them.  Come back tomorrow and we will top you up again.

Growing up in New Hampshire with William Loeb's Union Leader I thought this was just normal for sections of a newspaper to do this. Loeb was vindictive and more anti-liberal than he was conservative, though he published a number of conservative columnists. Every other paper in the state, especially the Concord Monitor (my cousin became editor) was almost reflexively opposite in politics, also telling you what to think about what was happening in Washington and Boston. Yet in the main, all of them mostly did just report news about crime, and garden clubs, and school awards, and sports. Something of the journalistic ideal seemed to show through, and I imagine it was the same in your towns as well.

It does seem that no topic is allowed to just be news anymore, and someone feels the need to inject their national or overall cultural spin into whatever is put forward. The sports and crime stories are now suffused with opinions outside the actual news.  I haven't seen the garden club news take a dive yet, but there was a scandal a couple of years ago about a knitting club that deteriorated into acrimony and accusations about not being anti-racist enough. There is Jonathan Haidt's evidence that the deterioration in mental health in teenagers, peaking in 2014 and not relenting since has to do with the amount of social media time they invest. My own guess is that it is the relentlessness of the cultural policing, interpenetrating the everyday social development, that creates the anxiety.  There is no escape for these children. If someone insults me on social media I can shrug, because I have a whole world to shrug in where that doesn't matter.  They have no such world. (Which is why it is important for them to be shoved into encouraged to participate in actual face-to-face socialising groups, in sports, or at church, or anime club or whatever. They need a world with fresh air.)

Tangential but related: When I see the words "in the Age of Trump" I stop reading. The person has nothing to say.

I wondered where the break point was between the news of my childhood and the current news aquarium. We talk a lot about how things have changed and whole books have been written about how and why.  Well, maybe.  But it put me in mind of something earlier.

 “Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.” – fictional character Miss Hardcastle, from That Hideous Strength, by C.S.Lewis, 1942

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Apology and Forgiveness - Part Two, and Expanded

Update Below

The ultimate object of apology and forgiveness is reconciliation. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the consummation of apology and forgiveness is reconciliation. However, this is often not possible. The other person might be dead. Reconciliation is pretty much imaginary at that point. Or it may be impractical or unwise to contact them. The apology or forgiveness might be prepared and written but never sent. 

The big-ticket apology and forgiveness items that make the news can be instructive and inspiring, or they can be irritating because we sense an insincerity about them. But those aren't really the things which give us trouble. Real-life apology and forgiveness is interactive and complicated. You are sincerely and abjectly apologising for A, but almost pointedly by omission not taking responsibility for B. I was childish and vindictive in how I left you. Unspoken but usually noticeable is I do not apologise for the basic fact of leaving you. Forgiveness can be a complicated mess of overlooking, excusing, understanding, combined with the truer forgiveness of taking no revenge, or as Korora described it, showing no cruelty. It is no longer simple, as the newsy examples are. Apologies are exchanged; forgiveness attempted; new resentments are discovered as some apologies are left out: Are they being oblivious to how they offended or are they asserting that they did only limited wrong? How your own apology is received can sometimes remind you of mistreatments you had forgotten, and one suddenly recognises they have spent years blaming themselves for something that was not their fault after all. Or we are brought up short like Orual in Till We Have Faces, nakedly aware that we have invited or even caused the sins against us and should actually be preparing an apology rather than awaiting one.

Reconciliation is more complicated. We love people that we hate and find that others have put up with us more than we care to admit.

I think that's the point., and why apology and forgiveness are so central to emotional life, and certainly to Christian life. It is not just working ourselves into a fever pitch for a few moments of massive sainthood. We see things and unsee them. 

Update: When we receive an apology, we often quickly find that we did not want the apology so much.  What we wanted was for the other person to change. Here we are, back in the realm of interaction and reconciliation again. It is much the same when we extend forgiveness, though we seldom admit it to ourselves at first. We want the forgiveness to either be a reassurance that there really are no hard feelings - or to be a stepping stone for the other person to change.

I believe in change a lot less than I did even a few years ago.  I don't say that it never happens, but I think it is not common and not easy. One of the lessons of the Nostalgia Destruction Tour has been noticing the continuities of people over decades, continuities they are clearly not much aware of. I conclude that the others look at me in much the same way, and despair. We cannot expect others to change, we can only expect that they make changes. We cannot expect ourselves to change either, we can only make changes. Great revelations and forced insight seldom does very much. Only in the movies "Luke, I am your father," and a long, staring, pivotal moment. I am a parent of five and a spouse of one and don't think I have ever seen a long, staring pivotal moment. And when I look like I'm doing that myself, it's an illusion.  I'm actually suddenly trying to remember whether it is Wednesday of Thursday.

There is a strip joint almost two towns over, on a road where I have occasional errands, and used to drive some of my sons frequently to indoor soccer and lacrosse. I used to laugh at it, pointing out to them that business must be bad if they have to highlight the prime rib on the sign instead of the women. I was proud, even a bit conceited in my confidence that the place did not beckon to me. Until the afternoon a decade ago when I drove past and it said "Thursday: 40's Pin-up Night." The blood sort of drained out of me a bit and I thought that's going to be a problem. Who knew? I wasn't even alive in the 40's. But even since the 70s, no deep change.  So I made changes instead and drove a different route to get to those errands for a few years. No need to even think about it. No change, just making changes. 

We apply the requirements of apology and forgiveness on ourselves and others with equal severity*, which is why the Scriptures tie our forgiveness in with our forgiving so often. We learn the one by doing the other. We should therefore ask the same - not for ourselves or others to change, but only to make changes. 

*Well, most of us do. When there is a disconnect we recognise it as a character flaw in others. We think at first we let ourselves off more easily, but poking around in the caverns we find similar monsters there.