The Boredom of Bigotry

7 May

YawnNietzsche’s Theory of Eternal Recurrence didn’t actually originate with Nietzsche, but rather – one might say – recurred yet again with him after being propounded many times before. It can be found in the philosophies of the ancients, as well as symbolized in the Buddhist wheel of time and the Hindu concept of karma and the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. But it’s Nietzsche who gets credit because he’s Nietzsche and the darling of all nihilistic, goth, pseudo-intellectuals everywhere. The basic premise is that all that has happened in the universe will continue to recur over and over again an infinite number of times. So, my advice – don’t see the new Transformers movie, unless you want to see it over and over again, and – most grueling – hear metal porn on repeat through an infinite number of lifecycles.

My personal view of eternal recurrence is based on an idea I call Patterns & Assumptions. For instance, let’s say you have a husband who has lost his job and has grown bitter. Now he goes out more often than he used to when he was working. He is drinking a lot, and the drink combined with his bitterness makes for a toxic stew of self-loathing which he then takes out on his wife. At first it was only resentment, then he began to yell at her, and finally strike her. There is a distinct recurring – albeit evolving – pattern to the husband’s actions. After a few months he has his specific nights he goes out drinking – they form a distinct pattern. He doesn’t even think, “Will I go out tonight?” He just does. The wife dreads those nights, and does so in a Pavlovian way – she has been conditioned to understand that on these night’s her husband gets drunk, comes home, and abuses her. A pattern is formed and an assumption is planted in a person’s mind.

Patterns and assumptions occur constantly throughout our lives. We have daily recurrences of such small things as: when we wake up, when we eat, taking the kids to school, the routes we drive, etc. Why do so many people claim to hate their jobs, even though they really don’t? Possibly because their jobs seem to recur endlessly – a burden that is impossible to fathom. After a while, the tedium of sameness begins to bore us to death.

That’s the true terror of eternal recurrence: even the greatest thing in the world, repeated endlessly, will sooner or later become routine, boring, and finally torture. So my ambition of endless repeated coupling with Scarlett Johansson will probably just turn into boring, workmanlike, missionary style after, oh, sixty years or so.

Having said all that, I was not surprised over the couple of racially insensitive outbursts made by old white men during the past couple of weeks. One guy was a rancher in Nevada, the other a billionaire sports team owner. Their comments were basically as surprising as an anti-gay marriage candidate revealed as formerly working as a drag queen at a gay nightclub.

Wiles

Because, of course.

Because these things happen over and over again in our society. Because while I’m sure there are plenty rabid homophobes who legitimately dislike gay people, there are others who…well, let’s say that their closet is full of quite a bit more leather and boas than most. And while there are plenty of bigots and racists out there who are young and unwrinkled, and plenty of old people who are not one bit prejudiced, for some reason we usually only hear from the cranky 60+ Archie Bunker types.

There are of course reasons for this – some of the most rabid homophobes are merely self-hating homosexuals. Much known bigotry is a generational thing – while I’m sure many young people are prejudiced, older bigots just don’t understand that when they open their mouths everyone in the world has a chance of hearing them spew.

The pattern of someone saying something offensive is established, and therefore I simply assume someone will do it. And then I assume that there will be an uproar. Most sane people will castigate the offender, while Fox News will somehow turn him into the victim. And there will be consequences – as the NBA unquestionably demonstrated last week. Patterns do change, and when they do, so do our assumptions. Even though the gay rights movement – and especially the same sex marriage movement – has moved forward so much over the past few years, I was generally surprised when Republican Senator Rob Portman came out in favor of gay marriage.

While the title of this post seems that I am nonchalantly dismissing bigotry as something that “just happens,” that is not the case. The prejudice that we see is what bores me. Old men saying stupid things, a cranky old white supremacist shooting up a Jewish center (and somehow, ironically, only killing gentiles), or another white supremacist group depositing Easter eggs filled with racist messages – those things are boring to me because they no longer surprise me. Yet these are the things that most news outlets broadcast as examples of racist conduct in our society. Paula Deen made for great television (for some, though she was rather boring to me).

But none of what they say is as harmful as some of the institutional racism that still exists in America. The Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act is, hands down, more dangerous to our society than what some rich old white man said. Many southern states have voter i.d. laws which are meant to specifically target African-Americans. While the old white politicians can claim that the law is not racist, it is clearly meant to disproportionally affect one group of people (hint: not old white politicians).

On the one hand we have some individuals who make off-hand comments that are clearly offensive, but which only reflect a single individual’s beliefs. On the other, you have a state legislature passing a law that is obviously meant to prevent black people from voting. One explodes the Twitterverse and makes Jon Stewart plotz. The other is too policy-driven for most people who don’t want to be bothered with such things as what our government is doing. At least that’s what our news outlets’ coverage seems to be saying.

***

Recurrence is boring. But that boredom is more than just an endlessly repeating news cycle. It’s also the boredom of the status quo. How many of you have certain meals you always order at the same restaurants. You may be a regular at a bar (though hopefully not as horrible as the husband mentioned above). You grocery shop on the same day every week. You read for exactly a half hour before bed. You may even plan out sex night with your significant other.

Though I thoroughly hate routines, I understand that I need them. I don’t like waking up early and writing. But waking up early and writing is good for me. I push myself to maintain certain routines because they serve to help me improve myself. But routines can cut oneself off from the outside world. If we only eat peas and carrots we’ll never know the wondrousness of brussel sprouts and broccoli. If one claims not to watch romantic comedies, he will miss out on Annie Hall. No action movies, no Die Hard. Culinary and artistic bigotry are not uncommon and not the worst thing in the world.

But interpersonal bigotry – while obviously offensive – is another way to lead a boring, routine-laden life of eternal recurrence. Those who dismiss a type of person out-of-hand restrict their social circles. If you refuse to socialize with certain types of people, you are intentionally making your life less interesting.

I almost feel sorry for bigots. Almost. Look at Archie Bunker (yes, I know, fictional, but still, a pretty valid representation). Wouldn’t he be a lot less angry if he wasn’t so damned bigoted? If he didn’t view others differently, he would not bemoan the changing state of his society. If he socialized with people regardless of their differences, wouldn’t his life be less boring and more interesting? Wouldn’t he be less angry at the world?

 

These are my screaming thumbs.

These are my screaming thumbs.

Aren’t those who come out of the closet happier than those who trap themselves inside? (There’s a reason for the use of the word gay.) Aren’t those who give up the useless anger of hatred happier than those who give in to it? Why are the schoolyard bullies seemingly the least comfortable in their own skins? Why are Rush and Hannity and Bill O the most miserable warriors around?

I am fortunate enough to live in New York, a diverse city where it’s pretty hard to be bored (unless you’re poor, and even then…). Do we see color here? Sure, no one is blind. But we don’t enjoy the company of others despite of their differences, nor because of them. My friends are my friends because they’re my friends. We are all deeper than skin, more worldly than religion, more diverse and complex than our sexes or sexual orientations. My life is richer because of who I know, and cutting them out of my life for any reason besides them being unrepentant assholes is just stupid.

When we push others away, Newtonian physics (metaphorically) states that we are also pushing ourselves away. When we ostracize others for petty reasons, we also marginalize ourselves.

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