* What follows is a long, rambling rant about literature, politics, and why we have an ignorant cheetoh winning in the polls. None of my readers are under any obligation to feel this way, and none of my friends are under any obligation to agree. All I ask is that nobody yells at anybody else. That any discussion remains civilized. That nobody goes after me with a torch and a pitchfork and calls me dirty names for trying to figure out how things went so horribly wrong.
So, a long time ago I taught The Crucible, and part of teaching The Crucible was studying Arthur Miller's theory of diabolism.
Given the state of the world, of social media, of the candidate we must not name, I thought diabolism was an interesting thing we might want to study today.
In the story The Crucible, a group of young women are found dancing in the forest, playing at casting love potions. One of the young women, Abigail Williams, had an affair with her employer, and when her employer's wife turned her out--and her lover sided with his wife and said, "This was wrong, it must stop," Abigail turned vengeful. She didn't just want a love potion--she wanted the wife to die.
The girls are discovered--and instead of writing the dance and the witchcraft off as "simple stupid teenaged bullshit", the people who found the girls freaked the fuck out, and one of the girls was so frightened of what her Puritanical community would do to her, that she felt into sort of an hysterical trance. The other girls, frightened because, remember, this community had no forgiveness for anything that deviated from a very strict norm, followed Abigail's lead. They were frightened, they were a little bit guilty, and they wanted to avoid terribly harsh punishment--so they confessed, but they used the age old excuse, "The devil made me do it--and this person is the devil!"
The town was sort of a hotbed of discontent. The pastor wanted a bigger slice of pie, Abigail's uncle wanted his neighbor's land-- one neurotic woman with one child was jealous of the saintly old woman who'd had practically a dozen. Into this sort of rats nest and jealousy come these hysterical girls, calling out witches, saying, "This scary old woman made me snort a toad!" and the more manipulative grownups start to think.
"Hey--I want these things on the material plane. I want revenge. I want stuff I'm not supposed to want--if I can steer this swarm of cannibalistic starlings in one direction or the other, I can get some of that stuff."
And the judges listening to these complaints are like, "Well, of course everybody's telling the truth. Lying puts their mortal soul in danger--why would they lie? We should kill the people they accuse immediately, because we will tolerate and forgive no deviation from a very strict norm! The only way we will know if they are cured of their sickness is if they accuse somebody else, and then we can threaten THEM with death!"
And the judges--the people who should have known better, missed the hole in the plan.
The hole in the plan is that everybody--the girls, the townspeople, the people accused who then turned into the accusers--all of those people believed that there was no forgiveness for deviating from a very strict norm.
Why yes, I've said that a couple of times now.
I'm on a diet-- Weight Watchers. And the thing about diets is that everybody knows how to lose weight. Eliminate X, Y, and Z from the diet, and only eat A, B, and C. The problem? X, Y, and Z are YUMMY AS FUCK, and A, B, and C are tasty, but they don't have the sugar and fat that turns us all into junkies sucking soda and chocolate chip cookies. The thing that Weight Watchers--and most successful food programs--has discovered, is the thing that the judges of the Salem Witch trials never figured out.
If our line in the sand -- the line demarcating good and evil, the line that claims there is NO FORGIVENESS FOR DEVIATING FROM A VERY STRICT NORM is too harsh and too insurmountable, everybody falls in some way. If we can't have a chocolate chip cookie once in a while, we end up eyeballs deep in Oreos and Hagen Daas, daring our nearest and dearest to come one step closer and nibble a corner of our stash.
It's a byproduct of being human.
The minute you declare that all action on B SIDE OF THE FENCE is not only wrong, it's unforgivable and there is no learning curve and there is no margin for human error, you have effectively determined that everybody--every man, woman, and child of the human race is FUCKING GUILTY AS FUCKING SIN.
Because we're all fallible.
You're not allowed to be petty? That damns us to hell?
Well fuck--I envied my girlfriend because she's way more talented than I am, and I'm fucking doomed.
You're not allowed to be lustful? That damns us to hell?
I enjoyed relations with my husband. I'm fucking doomed.
You're not allowed to be slothful? That damns us to hell?
I will cut a bitch who tries to wake me from my nap. I"m fucking doomed.
You name a sin, thundered about on a pulpit--or on a Twitter thread--and people have, consciously or unconsciously, committed it.
There are two things you can do if you've committed that many sins.
The first--always my option--forgive yourself, forgive others, and try to do better.
The second--and the option found in The Crucible and on social media-- is to believe you're damned for all eternity and fucked up the ass with a rusty sword of justice.
With the first, there is gentleness, education, apology and forgiveness, humanity and a better way.
With the second, there is "Fuck it, I'm screwed anyway, I might as well dick with all the people who pissed me off anyway."
Which is what happened in The Crucible. By the end of The Crucible--and the Salem Witch trials actually-- they had a problem with cows. All of the cows were wandering around the town, because so many of the townspeople were locked up for perceived evils that there was nobody to take care of them. Children were wandering the streets because their parents had been accused and were awaiting trial, because by the rules of the Puritans, it was better to let the children starve than it was to let free a couple of puzzled churchgoers who didn't understand that skipping church a couple of times a year didn't really damn them to hell, and they had no guilt to speak of.
If there is no rule of forgiveness, no guidelines of tolerance, everybody is guilty.
Which is why people are right now saying, "Well, one candidate is as good as another."
I saw an interesting graphic. A credited non-partisan news assessment source (Politifact) assessed both candidates in the American presidential election. One of the candidate--the GOP candidate--was found to be anywhere from lying a little to lying a lot over 75% of the time. The other candidate, the Democratic candidate, was found to be lying less than 15% of the time.
And yet the Democratic candidate had been branded the dishonest one.
Why would an entire country allow themselves to be so mislead? (Or at least half the country.)
Because the big fat orange faced liar is speaking for everybody in the country going, "Fuck it, I've sinned anyway, I might as well pick the guy with my sin!"
Greed? Narcissism? Intolerance? Xenophobia? These are the things that this candidate has come to represent. Well, most of mankind feels these things at some point in time. And then, a lot of us remember our education in the world, we remember our duties as citizens, we remember our ability to master complex functions, and we overcome these horrible parts of ourselves and we move on to do productive things with our time and our beautiful human potential.
But the people following this candidate haven't done that. They've sinned. They're fucked. Let's go with this guy who makes a game out of being an asshole, since obviously all mankind is an asshole. Just like with the witch trials, any deviation from a very strict norm means you're going to hell. Half our population is following the candidate who is proud and excited to be going to hell.
The other half is running around outraged because this guy is leading.
But let's think of this outrage for a moment.
What if we hadn't allowed our outrage to rule us, even from the very beginning.
What if the candidate had opened his mouth, said something obscene, and instead of going, "Oh my God you just said this horrible thing you fucker!" we'd said, "I'm not sure if you realize this, but here are the ways this offended 80% of the population, and here is why this philosophy is bad for the country."
Think about it. Gentle teaching. Consistently. How long would we have needed to do that before he would have just looked like the spoiled child he is, and he would have been yesterday's news?
Instead, we were outraged, consistently. And like any shrieking brat, he went, "I'm fucked, everything I do is wrong, let's see how much attention I can get like that!"
And here we are. On the cusp of electing a shrieking brat into a very dangerous position, because the rest of the world is pretty sure THEY'RE fucked because everything THEY do seems to be wrong.
Social media works as a binary code--Twitter has 140 characters to determine if a person is guilty or not guilty.
The judges who convicted people to hang in Salem had the same code--guilty or not guilty.
The United States Senator who ruined tens of thousands of lives by blacklisting them had the same code--guilty or not guilty.
When are we going to start figuring out that screaming "GUILTY MOTHER FUCKER!" in someone's face doesn't work.
It's never worked.
It's left cows to wander the roadways and orphaned children, but it has never done anything besides turn the accused into the accuser, simply to escape wrath.
Now I'm not saying we all turn to the scary xenophobic bigoted narcissist who may soon hold nuclear codes in his hand and say, "Oh, Mr. Trump, I LOVE you, try not to be a scary xenophobic bigoted narcissist and kill us all, okay?"
But I am saying spazzing the fuck out every time he says something that appalls us is not working.
Even worse, it's making us numb and bitter, like someone who drank aloe lidocaine tea.
And it's making our country sick.
Maybe instead of screeching every time someone crosses the inevitable line of being human, we have a discussion instead of a witch hunt?
Maybe we set out with education in our hearts instead of judgment, and we try to make the world a better, more positive place instead of a place where shrieking crows feast on one another's guts with glee?
The end of The Crucible was that 19 people died and the crowd fell apart.
The end of McCarthyism was that tens of thousands of lives were ruined and the baby boomers rebelled against all those terrible rules with self-indulgence that is killing us even now.
Diabolism benefits nobody, and it harms a great many.
There has got to be a better way.