By: Ben Johnson
|Are Baltimore gang members more reasonable and compassionate than you are?|
I couldn’t tell you for certain what’s happening in Baltimore right now. I have guesses. I guess that the organized, reasonable protests among blighted and forgotten segments of the population on the just and righteous and undeniably shitty end of the nightstick of history are a big deal. I guess that whatever elements of violence that are happening have been overblown, and are not a big deal, and are certainly not anywhere near as big of a deal as the other thing, the reason for it. Those are my own personal guesses.
I also guess that people are taking government paychecks from taxpayer money, and from all of the things sold from one person to another money, and from poor people court fee money, and from do you know why I pulled you over yes I have at least one guess traffic ticket money, and from lottery money and cigarette and liquor and please god let it stop for a blessed minute tax money, and also from property tax money begrudgingly handed over by the big money boys with a whole gravitational field of strings attached, the big grubby pool of money the collection and expenditure of which represents any city’s priority structure; and these employees are out there, tasked with an impossibly diverse portion of our competing collective responsibilities and trained only to wield blunt inherited tools of right and wrong, and also sometimes, as if by honest accident, killing people. Ending lives. And treating it very much like a cost of doing business, which of course it is. Those are some of my guesses about Baltimore.
I’m guessing also that we are all, by birth or by choice I will be so diplomatic as to call inadvertent, complicit in it. I’m guessing we know this. I’m guessing we all feel the silent, long-expired eyes of a stern native staring us down every time we look out a window and see a tree, or feel the shockingly recent heat bloom of 400 summers of forced blood harvest every time we put on cotton socks, or ride along with the ghost of an expended Chinese laborer on every morning train commute to work, or in a general sense toast to immense and unending and unendable suffering every time we raise a glass to life itself. I’m guessing this knowledge stings like hell, and I guess we have no choice but to ignore it to a certain extent just to stay upright and breathe the air and appreciate the divine luck of having lived. I’m guessing this for all of us, with varying depths of hidey holes in the sand for ostrich heads of varying neck length, some down to the lonely bedrock of pathology.
I’m guessing also that all of this started the instant some prehistoric ape thought I am me and you are not, and smashed some other ape over the head with a rock and took its dinner, and this weird ape glitch perpetuated itself because it turns out dinner wins. Dinner, then rock, and paper, and scissors, and a sincere apology in a very distant last place. The only question with the apology is whether or not it will finish, though it makes no difference in the record books. I’m guessing.
Those are all the guesses I have about Baltimore. The tragedy there is the one larger human tragedy. The one that says help us you’re killing us and taking our dinner, and worse you’re locking your own personal avarice into the genetic record, and there’s not a damn thing anybody is ever going to do about it past a certain point, because we all have I am me and you are not ape brains. This tragedy is an echo of all that we have gotten wrong and will continue to get wrong, and a further definition of the shape of our wrongness and the degree of burn and the stench of it, the willfulness and complicity of it, the absolute obvious needlessness of it, and the nagging sense that it is worsening, that hardwired into our basic wrongness is an uncomfortable maxim that when times get toughest we are induced to turn on each other with increasing viciousness, even while the opposite is our single favorite bedtime story.
But just as surely the triumph is the larger human triumph, the one that says that people together are worth more than people apart, and can cooperate to get the dinner flowing back out the other direction, and that it eventually won’t matter that the dinner hoarders and rock magnates and their unwitting sycophant business associates are running like terrified ninnies from the plain fact of their complicity to willfully shovel a portion of their dinners back into the mouth of whoever is buying ad time on CNN, a tidal clamoring to swallow the most ignorable I am good and they are not version of every story as a temporary ameliorant, hopefully with enough refills to last until death or doomsday. The triumph happening in Baltimore is another in a series of desperately needed reminders that the ape brain can extend to we are us and so are you, and there need not ever be a “them” if we can all just agree on a few very basic things like for instance not killing each other to protect another man’s dinner.
A further triumph in Baltimore is a propagation of knowledge. There is one rich gift, more precious than dinner, that life bestows but sparingly, and apportions independently of the struggle for survival that every living thing faces, and that gift is the truth. I couldn’t tell you for certain what truth is, just as I couldn’t tell you for certain what’s happening in Baltimore right now, but I do know that nobody gets any truth unless they look for it, diligently, in all directions.