defender of the universe

The mad kitten awoke me at 1:11am by sitting on my throat, purring and nipping at my septum. We had both crashed out at 7, curled up and sleeping to the sounds of the storm and now it was time for the defender of the universe to go out and do her job.

My little cave has a little yard with a little fence. MK does not leave the yard, she learned last year that there is a whole, big scary world out there and is quite content to stay in her part. In the late night and early morning, she likes to go out and patrol the yard. Occasionally she brings in a little mouse friend, but mostly she sits and growls and throws dramatic fits to keep other cats away. They have all learned that she is ahhhhh a bit of a drama queen and will come and sit 30 feet away from the fence and just silently watch her lose her mind in a growling and hissy frenzy. She knows that if things get too hot and heavy I will come out and yell at whomever to go away.

I am keeping something I have dubbed the “nerd chart.” It’s the chart for tracking the who’s and what’s and when’s of what I am eating and how I react. What I have discovered is that there is not much reason to change my diet (outside of the copious coffee) because frankly, I don’t often eat the foods I should avoid anyway. The issue is not what I am eating but when. I have learned that I have to eat every two hours unless concentrating or under stress and then it is every 20 minutes until that time period is past. The odd thing is I have discovered that eating breakfast is like poison to me. I can eat small (like 12 nuts, half a slice of bread small) amounts for the first three hours I am up before I can sit and eat more. Which is funny when I think of all the times I made a concerted effort to “take care of myself” which always started with a good breakfast, who knew I was shooting myself in the foot by doing so?

It’s odd too, to suddenly have this very palpable connection between what you do, what you feel, what you think, what you are around and how your body reacts. That is a part of why it is so fascinating. It’s like having the cover to an engine suddenly removed and you get to see how it all works.

Baumeister has gotten up to the point where he is debunking some of the common social welfare and psychological myths about violence and cruelty.

The first being that cruelty and sadism does not come from a lack of empathy, he shows quite clearly that the most sadistic people are also ones capable of the greatest empathy – for that is how they know best how to torture someone.

He then moves on to the ideas that abused people become abusers and that certain cultures/subcultures (i.e. poverty) breed violence. His comment being, “We keep asking the wrong question – it is not why does an abused child become an abuser – but why do not all abused children become abusers?” Statistics, he points out, do not support the assumption of that type of pattern of abuse or violence.

What he does point out, which is kind of the show stopper/scary thing is that all violence and cruelty stems from the choice to lose control – not a unstoppable loss of control, but a choice. He rolls right into the myth about addictions being based in uncontrollable behavior saying “you still have to go prepare the food or the drink or the drug and go through an entire process of active choice to get ready to continue imbibing whatever the substance is that is being abused and most often, there is also a choice made not to do certain things during that time period because they are too life threatening.” This thought process negates the concept of the uncontrollable addiction. He comments that we mistake the unwillingness to suffer withdrawal for some sort of magical force of addiction making us do things against our will. The choice, he says, to continue is very much an act of will. But, that it is characteristic of persons who lack self control. And, he points out that people do not lack self-control in one aspect of their lives but that there will be evidence of it throughout all areas of their lives. Lack of self-control, he carefully emphasizes, is a choice.

Tying it back into violence, evil and cruelty he points out simply that even the worst serial killer – defended as being the most insane and out of control – never kills in front of a police officer even though there is plenty of opportunity. Spontaneous acts of violence, he points out, are rarely spontaneous and there is often a traceable series of building triggers until the point where the person chooses to react disproportionately with violence.

He makes the comment that there is no such thing as “an eye for an eye.” It is more a case of “you slapped me, I’ll hit you with my fist” and a steady escalation.

This is interesting when you consider the case of Ameneh Bahrami in Iran, which is back in the news. Ameneh was a beautiful and bright woman who turned down a suitor (she never met) and was then stalked by the suitor who threw acid in her face, scarring and blinding her. After her recovery, she has sought justice by Sharia. Something you rarely hear instances of a woman doing. By Sharia law, the law of retribution, her suitor (who is in jail) is to be strapped to a table and a doctor is to pour acid on his face to scar and blind him.

Her comment is that she will gain nothing by forgiveness and that at least with retribution she is assured that she knows her suitor has learned that there is punishment for such actions.

Now, given all the things that Baumeister has been saying (and I have been retelling) is Ameneh being cruel and evil? Is her pursuit just? And where does Sharia fit in all this? It is not so much that a woman rarely uses Sharia but that few people access its allowances for “eye for an eye” retribution. The justice system in Iran is balking, no doctor can be found to perform the task and they are begging her to reconsider but she is holding firm. Of course, the international human rights people are also outraged.

Yet at the core of this is the embodiment and enshrinement of a sadistic cruelty towards another human being in which there is no gain.

One of the other things at play in this instance is something that Baumeister refers to as “social loafing.” With social loafing, when confronted with a potentially evil situation, rather than stand up and say this is morally wrong, this is evil – people make obtuse excuses and rationalizations. He brings up several instances early in the Holocaust that when police units were charged with rounding up and shooting innocent citizens rather than protest that it was evil and morally wrong – it was safer to say you were busy. “Oh I can’t do that, I already have an assignment.”

While that may temporarily remove you from participating it sets up a no-win situation in which the evil act is endorsed by you (and you have in essence, agreed to participate) because you have defined a set of conditions that must be met for you to participate. In this case, the officer merely has to be reassigned to the killing duty and there is no protest that can now be offered. If they were to now protest the evilness of the act, it would not be taken seriously because, after all, why didn’t they say that in the first place? Now, it sounds like an excuse.

Amenah has thrown everyone for a loop because she has asked for retributive justice under Sharia with absolutely no excuse. This is not a call for stoning someone because they have disgraced a family’s honor (a very hard thing to prove and define). She has said, point blank, “he blinded me and now he must be blinded.”

No matter how awful you think the entire thing is, you have to recognize that this scarred and blinded woman has done something that is an absolute rarity and absolute challenge to all of our social structures. She has spoken without excuse and without rationalization.

And that level of honesty is something that we are not morally mature enough to know how to handle.

And that last sentence – that’s a global statement.

c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.

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About cassandratribe

"There are few artists that can do what Cassandra Tribe does. Whether with her poetry, her videos or her blog, Cassandra examines the truths that most of us can never come close to realizing and shows it for what it is, both beautiful and frightening at the same time. She exposes our inner-most workings like the cross-section of a powerful but flawed machine, our gears and springs, nuts and bolts removed and laid out before us. She is a true artist. Her new video, Requiem for a God, is the latest example of Cassandra's willingness to tear open and examine the very things that make us human. Shooting the film entirely by herself, she also eliminates all the little excuses we come up with to keep us from ourselves and our truth. You see, even when she's not trying to be, Cassandra Tribe is a beacon of truth and humanity in this darkest of worlds." (Michael E. Quigg, The Culture Network, June 2009)
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