I suppose hate is too strong a word, but there are times when it seems the only word that conveys the intensity that I will occasionally feel towards my fellow beings.
But it’s not what you think: it’s not for acts of irreparable evil or supremely callous negligence. No, it’s for . . . the little things, things like green nail polish, clip-on ponytails for balding men, Hawaiian shirts made in China, face-lifts, tanning lotions, laser treatments for hair where hair should be—and the attitudes that go along with them, which include the not-so-secret conviction borne by each human being that he or she really IS the paragon of animals, while everyone else is just another beast.
I suppose that the Lord High Executioner’s wickedly wonderfully funny song in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, “As Some Day It May Happen”, sums it all up:
But it really doesn’t matter whom you put upon the list,
For they’d none of ‘em be missed—they’d none of ‘em be missed!
The great kernel of truth in the aria is that anyone we perceive to be different from ourselves arouses animosity. It’s a feature of the human psyche that some evolutionists might explain as having conferred a competitive advantage when the species was in its infancy. Now, however, the advantages are very difficult to discern, although this aspect of our primeval heritage seems to be as powerful and alive as ever and constitutes the foundation for racism, exceptionalism, exclusivity, classism, factionalism—you name it.
It is only in differences, however, that we sense and reach beyond ourselves. In fact, it is the ability to tolerate differences that allows for pacific cohabitation; and it is the ability to celebrate differences that leads to an appreciation of the wonderful joy of the world around us.
In the political sphere I have been deeply dismayed by the lack of any serious forum where differences might be civilly explored. The presidential election debates, for example, were exercises in simple-minded exhibitionism. A real ‘debate’ requires time—time for a particular viewpoint to be elaborated sufficiently, for responses to be formulated and for thought, real thinking, to ensue. Instead we receive abbreviated shout-downs that key into our most primitive emotional reactions.
As a young man many years ago I used to frequent the Victor Café in South Philadelphia, where a vast collection of recorded operatic music was stored and played, and often, on any given night, the kind-souled John Ruggeri, custodian of this treasure, would pull out a dozen or two different versions of a single aria. We listened, we argued, we had our favourites, and we’d go back and listen again, to all of the glorious differences, over and over. You might say that we were united by our divergences of taste and preference.
The political process that characterized the recent presidential election highlights, underscores, emphasizes and incontrovertibly demonstrates what is fundamentally wrong with our system. There was never any room for a serious and searching exposition of the issues that will affect our lives most profoundly. We had instead a carnival of superficiality that served as cover for matters of substance and that stoked the glowing embers of divisiveness, ignorance and enmity—the primordial fear of difference.
Where, I ask myself, are those public arenas where an appropriately informed exchange of ideas, however different, may occur? For without them we will only get more, unfortunately, of the same.
Dr. Garcia is an American-born poet, novelist and physician who resides in New Zealand.