LARRY NASSAR AND THE BOUNDARIES OF COMPASSION

18 02 2018

Even in the midst of a veritable avalanche of revelations of sexual predation, the case of Larry Nassar sticks out like a gaping, bleeding wound. It’s not just that he took advantage of his position as US Olympic Gymnastics Team doctor to use the bodies of young girls as objects in his sexual fantasies. It’s not just that, apparently, a whole lot of the officials involved with him knew what he was doing, and chose to ignore it. It’s that, in our culture, the objectification of female bodies is, in many ways, the norm, so that, viewed from a certain perspective, what he was doing was not so far out of the ordinary. Our commercial culture uses sexually attractive women’s bodies as a lure to sell things to men, and as a way to shame women, deny their worth, and guilt-trip them into buying things that will, supposedly, make them more worthy. In this world of women-as-objects, sex becomes detached from emotional intimacy. “Sex robots” seem like a reasonable use of technology….hey, they’re just the ultimate sex toy, right? This objectification, and consequent alienation, is a symptom of the normalization of sociopathy in our culture.

not the real thing…just a fantasy

People are rightly horrified by Nassar and what he has done. The father of one of his victims attempted to assault him in the courtroom. He will not be the last person to do so. Child molesters are the very bottom of the social ladder in prison, and often meet violent ends. Whatever thrills Mr. Nassar got from taking advantage of the young girls with whom he was entrusted, he will be paying for them dearly.

But our culture has plenty of Larry Nassars  who have figured out socially acceptable ways to victimize innocent people. I want to examine the case of one man in particular, a man whose initial way of molesting women and children was to drop bombs on them. He didn’t know the children he killed and wounded. He didn’t even see them. He was killing people for what he considered a higher purpose, so that the country he lived in would prevail against the country whose women and children he was killing.

To be fair, he wasn’t intentionally singling out women and children. Their injuries and deaths were, as the expression goes, “collateral damage,” or, more colloquially, “bug splat.” They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, even if that place was their home. When the military forces of the country this man was bombing shot his airplane down and took him prisoner, he was regarded as a hero in his own country. When he was freed from prison, he used his reputation as a hero as a stepping stone to national political office. In the legislature of his country, he consistently advocated militarily aggressive policies that were often adopted, and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, a great many of them women and children. When he ran for President (and lost) he was famous for singing, to the tune of a popular song of his youth, “Bomb, bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran,” which is one of the aggressions that his country has not yet undertaken–not because it would result in the murder of thousands of Iranian civilians, but because Iran is just a little too big and well-connected with even bigger countries for mere intimidation, or the kind of quick invasion his country has visited on other countries, to succeed.

Child abuse, paid for with our tax dollars and done in our name.

On a related topic, as one of the higher-ups in his country’s government, this man must have been well aware of the dangers of excessive fossil fuel use and consequent climate change, but he never did anything to stop them. This failure has already led to the deaths, injuries, and dislocation of hundreds of thousands of people. Again,  many of the victims of his neglect in this realm have been, and continue to be, women and children. Ultimately, every one of us, every living creature on this planet, will be molested, if not outright killed, as a result of his failure to act. To be fair, he was only one of many who ignored this threat.

He was not alone in his advocacy of war and fossil fuels, or his neglect of the welfare of the planet. To cite a couple of examples, let’s look at two women whose advance to the center of power was hailed by many as a victory for “feminism.” One of these women, placed in charge of her country’s foreign relations, advocated a policy of sanctions against a small country, sanctions which, she admitted, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women and children, but was “worth it” because it weakened the leader of the country. The country just happened to be a major oil producer, and the leader of the country just happened to be attempting to chart a course that was independent of the United States, which ultimately overran his country, imprisoned him, and hung him for ordering the deaths of 148 citizens of his country who had plotted to overthrow him. The woman whose orders led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people now lives in very comfortable retirement in her home country.

The other woman advocated policies that brought chaos and havoc to numerous countries, resulting in the deaths, injuries, and mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of women and children–and, of course, innocent men. Let’s not be sexist! When the leader of one of the countries that was attacked at her insistence was murdered by being sodomized with a bayonet, she seemed to gloat. “We came, we saw, he died,” she chuckled. When she ran for President of her country, and lost, that loss was widely attributed to “sexism,” while the possibility that she had lost due to a lack of enthusiasm for her foreign warmongering and domestic elitism was largely brushed aside.

For another example, and another example of a so-called “breakthrough” in admitting persons who are not white men into the seat of power, there’s a man who was widely hailed as the first non-white male to lead his country. Although he had talked a lot about ending foreign wars in his campaign, and was even awarded an international peace prize shortly after his election, once in office he continued all the wars he had said he would end, started some new ones, and was notorious for having a weekly “kill list meeting” to decide which anti-American civilians in foreign countries would be assassinated by the his country–and if any of them happened to be near their wives, children, or other relatives, well, too bad for them.

All three of these individuals, too, have been aware of the dangers of over dependence on fossil fuels and the related dangers of climate change. They, too, have done nothing significant, although they have gone through the motions of concern.  Putting women or men of colour into the top slots of the patriarchy is not the revolution. It’s the counter-revolution.

All of these individuals, widely praised as “breakthroughs in overcoming sexism/racism,” have done far more damage to far more children, women, and innocent men than the Larry Nassars and Harvey Weinsteins of the world, but there is much less horror expressed about their actions. Why are we so horrified about the retail abusers, the Weinsteins and Nassars, and so accepting of the wholesale abusers who operate under the cover of government? The child abusers I have mentioned who have run for office have been elected again and again. Even when they have lost elections, millions of people were willing to vote for them, and only a few cranks on the margin, like me, have contested their supporters’ claims that they have been “carefully vetted” and found fit for the greatest responsibility this country has to offer.

As I’m sure you figured out, I’m talking about John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Barack Obama. I’ve left our current President, who did his share of “retail” child molesting before getting elected and becoming a wholesaler, because he’s such an obvious target. Likewise the previous Republican President. When will our national disconnect end? When will we stop making a distinction between our politicians and Larry Nassar, and recognize that the crimes our politicians commit as state policy are as worthy of public outrage as the crimes of those who operate as individuals?

I have had heated discussions with friends over the question of how to respond to these offences, centering around an article written by Caitlin Johnstone in which she wrote that she hopes McCain, for one, “dies soon, peacefully, and painlessly.” A friend of mine posted it as an example of why Ms. Johnstone, who is notoriously skeptical about Russiagate, should not be taken seriously. He and several others were horrified that somebody would wish death on a war criminal/mass murderer like McCain. (We do agree that he is not a nice guy.)  I think a peaceful, painless death in the near future is a compassionate wish to make for somebody as clearly unrepentant as McCain, or the other politicians I have mentioned. Because they, and many others who have had the power to change the direction of our country, have chosen to pursue war and neglect climate change, we are all their victims, even if they don’t start a nuclear war. Wishing them a swift, painless, peaceful death is, in my view, a long way from wanting to cause them suffering and kill them. I would be the first to admit that I could be wrong about this distinction. To help me clear up my doubts, I’ve written to a meditation teacher I’ve known for many years and asked his opinion. I’d hoped to get a response before writing this , but my friend only communicates via the post office, so I’m still waiting. When I find out, I’ll let you know.

Here’s my understanding of why I could be wrong.

First, how “non-violent” is it to wish death on somebody? Haven’t I long expressed the view that “we’re all in this together,” that the well-being of some of us will not be increased by the deaths of others? Charles Eisenstein, whose view I value, calls for the healing transformation of sociopaths, so that they can put their often considerable talents to work for the common good. Shouldn’t we make every effort to bring them along?

Yes, we should make every effort to transform such people. If I were in charge, I would figure out a way to define who is dangerously sociopathic and round them all up. I would not subject them to the mistreatment meted out in our current prison system. I would make sure that they were well taken care of, and let them know there was one way out: to undergo a series of guided psychedelic sessions to rewire their brains and help them realize, experientially, that we’re all in this together and that their selfishness is, ultimately, bad for them and should be abandoned. But I’m not in charge, and I don’t see some kind of revolution that could enact such a plan happening any time soon. With so little likelihood that they will change, is it appropriate to wish for powerful, misguided politicians’ peaceful, painless passage out of this life? Maybe.

Another objection: I have said about proposals to impeach our current leader, isn’t it the system? Won’t getting rid of one crop of psychopaths just open up room for another? Not if there is a concerted, widespread movement for serious paradigm shift. I think that movement is swelling, and could well evolve our culture enough to save the best of our complex and fragile enterprise.

Here’s the thing that we know about scientific paradigm shift. As physicist Max Planck put it,

“a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Is the same true for our sociopolitical paradigm? I don’t know, but I suspect it is, in fact, the case. We’re all going to die anyway. It’s just a question of when and how. If the enforcers of an old paradigm that is clearly going to destroy most of the life on the planet die sooner, rather than later, and thus our planet’s ability to sustain complex life forms is maintained, is it wrong to wish for those deaths?

Hey, we all laughed when the guy in Men In Black told the alien, “You can have my gun when you take it from my cold, dead fingers,” and the alien replied “Your proposal is acceptable.” What’s so different about our current situation?

 

Whether or not it’s within the bounds of radical compassion to wish for the death of certain people, I think it’s OK to feel anger about how they have wrecked the planet, and wish to remove them from power. “Feeling anger” is not the same as “being angry.” “Anger is a legitimate emotion, a signal that our boundaries have been violated. It ought to be completely acceptable to speak up, acknowledge our feeling of anger, and to seek a remedy for the situation. That’s very different from “being angry”: growling, baring our teeth, and lunging for your violator’s throat, literally or metaphorically. I would like to think we have evolved, or at least are evolving, beyond such automatic reactions.

I would also like to see us evolve beyond blandly accepting that there is a difference between an individual who violates women and children and members of a government whose political philosophy approves the violation of women and children  in some other country to “make America more secure.” All traumatized women and children are our traumatized women and children. All traumatized ecosystems are the one we have to live in. If we don’t strike off in a saner direction and quit following those who tell us it’s OK  to trash them over there to save us here, our own foolishness will take care of us. That is likely to happen sooner, rather than later, but it won’t be peaceful or painless.

Can we do this?

music: Bob Dylan Masters of War

Buffy Ste. Marie, ” The War Racket” (first is a live performance w/slide show video, second is the “official video.” Both highly recommended.)

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