Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Warning: Long-winded, self-absorbed serious post ahead

Steve H. once asked me how I can stand to live in Berkeley and not simply walk around all day punching every third person I meet.

The answer is that I don't allow myself to get angry very often. I never was one much for seething, and I don't own a rifle or high-powered scope, so the whole clock-tower-afternoon-of-terror was always right out. Also, it's usually more enjoyable to take it as moment for egotistical self-reflection. When you hear someone, for instance, casually remark that the most offensive symbol in the world is the American flag, it can actually be very satisfying. You don't have to respond, but just sit back and think to yourself, "Wow, that person is an unthinking idiot." Keep track long enough and you'll start to find that you're one of the smartest people around.

But the bottom line is because Berkeley stupidity, no matter how ugly, offensive or inhuman it may be, simply isn't worth making yourself miserable over. As Lileks once put it, just letting these people be themselves is punishment enough.

Take tonight for instance. At our weekly house council meeting, we were discussing what newspapers we wanted to buy. Someone who calls himself "Mao" (and insists others call him that as well) wanted to buy a subscription to the Revolutionary Worker. Let me just repeat that so it can sink in: He calls himself "Mao". He further says that he'll be going to Nepal soon because of the Maoist guerilla group fighting there. I'm not sure what that means he'll be doing there.

This is a giy who reveres the person most singularly responsible for the greatest amount of misery visited on the largest number of people in human history. He represents hatred for the freedoms which make this country the greatest on Earth. If he had his way, we would live in a society where I and everyone I cared about would be forced into re-education camps, or simply shot as enemies of the revolution. He stands for the proposition that no amount of brutality or bloodshed is too high as long as you have as your goal some vague sense of social justice (and it's no matter if most people aren't interested in your particular vision of what "social justice" happens to be).

So in his case, I'm willing to suspend my usual rule. I hate the bastard in a conscious, deliberate way. It's separate from things like contempt or disgust (though those are present too). To me, those are involuntary reactions, not an active decision. I actively hate him in a way that runs the gamut from my gut to my brain. I hate him in a way that I reserve for true agents of evil. I sincerely hope, should he actually provide material support to the kinds of people he admires, that he meet an ugly end in the manner that is only too appropriate for the aiders and abetters of murderers.

I don't take a decision like that lightly. Hatred is unpleasant, but deceptively so. It's like a kind of low-level, internal violence. I have only gotten in real physical fights a few times in my life. I was never cornered or forced to fight. It happened because I allowed it to happen, always at least partially due my own antagonizing. Each time, I only let it escalate to fists because the other person had amply demonstrated that they deserved a good beating, and I felt they needed to be stood up to. Twice it was school bullies. Once it was my brother.

In each case, in the moments before the actual fighting began I was always filled with a kind of electric excitement, an intensely physical sensation, like the second before you sneeze. Your whole body is concentrated on an explosion and every tensed muscle wants nothing more than to just do it NOW. I'm sure that if I asked her, Michelle could tell me all about what was going on in my body at the molecular level, about the hormones flooding my system or the neural pathways becoming active or the alteration of the chemisty in the brain, all the mechanistic explanations to describe the how and the why. But knowing that's not really necessary. Anyone who's ever experienced that kind of fear-anticipation-exhiliaration already knows what I'm talking about in a much more fundamental way.

And the thing about it is this: each time, the moments leading up to point when the first fists were thrown were undeniably pleasurable. The excitement, a kind of buzzing intensity, was better than any thrill ride could manufacture.

But then, when it was over, often in less than thirty seconds, the excitement always gave way to a kind of heavy nausea that sat in the pit of my stomach, and a kind of involuntary regret. It wasn't that I felt bad for the other person. It was still just as clear to me after the fight as before that the few lumps they recieved were less than what they deserved. Instead, it was merely the simple fact of my own actions that somehow made me feel sick. I suppose it's possible to also chalk this feeling up to simple automatic physical processes - the coming-down off of a big adrenaline high. But whether it was my conscience or my hormones, the undeniable fact was that this after-period was very real, very strong, and lasted a lot longer.

I think hatred is alot like that, only less intense and more prolonged. The feeling is satisfying at first. It's the deliberate action that quenches or somehow temporarily resolves the emotional dissonance arising out of an involuntary reaction of disgust or anger or outrage. But in a short while, it tends to feel like it's eating away at you, sapping your energy, stealing your focus from other more worthy, constructive things. Most of the time, it's simply not worth the effort. But sometimes it is, just as sometimes it's still worth all the negative effects to get in a fight with someone if they sufficiently deserve it.

This guy, I think, fits the bill well.