A Little Mercy

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

What cowardice it is to be dismayed by the happiness of others and devastated by their good fortune. — Montesquieu

The Spectacle Du Jour a couple weeks ago focused on a four-star General and the women in his life which lead to more questions about other accomplished men and the women who loved and/or used them. I did not find it amusing. My concern, in the abstract, was that personal emails were being rummaged through by our government for what seemed like spurious reasons. Worse, I didn’t like the blackmail implications — not by the women (though, of course that was and is a concern) but by the government. By our president.

My thoughts wandered to Hitler and his use of blackmail to silence his political opponents. Say what you want, but I’m not keen about living in a country where our government rifles through the shopping cart of our lives and then decides to shame us publicly when they find the Twinkie or Big Gulp that offends them.

But that’s a digression.

What really sickens is how Americans reacted to the salacious stories. It is sickening to joke about the destruction of many lives — as if these people weren’t people at all. They became amusements. We on Twitter became members of the Forum jeering at the prisoner sent to face the hungry lions.

It’s been said that comedy is a tragedy that happens to someone else. And maybe with distance, those in the throes of marital woe and relational and professional disaster will see the humor, but I doubt it. And I doubt anyone doing the cat calling would find it funny to have their own personal sins blared in neon. Or on Twitter.

Lance Armstrong, as an example, is being brought low. Whether he did the drugs or not (and everyone was doing them so he wasn’t alone), the real motivation to bring him down seems rooted in envy and a desire to destroy greatness. Ha! Ha! He’s a failure, just like me. Now I feel better about myself.

Tiger Woods had some pathological emptiness that needed to be fed with women other than his wife. It’s sad that he’s lost his edge. The world is worse for his lost potential.

General Petreaus got caught up with a woman and like an errant ship, hit the shore of wreck and ruin. America is not better for this failure.

And we are not better for having made fun of these people. We are worse.

I remember when Oprah was shocked at an audience member who told her, “I liked you better when you were fat.”

Oprah: Why?

Audience lady: Because you were just like me.

Now, General Petreaus, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong are just like us. Feel better?

Ace alludes to the “feeling better”:

What I can’t understand is the simple hate, the hate for hate’s sake, the hate of The Other for the sake of Self-Affirmation. I especially can’t understand the hate coming from the sort of people who will insist to you, quite seriously, that they have essentially purged all primitive and dark emotion from themselves and now exist on an elevated Oprah/Chopra plane of pidgin Zen harmony and balance.

I see less of this on the right, but I’ve seen enough to make me uncomfortable. Still, it’s worth noting that philosophically, people on the right acknowledge their own base nature even as they succumb to it. The left seems to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Is it really all that wrong to laugh, though? It’s not hate, hate–as Whoopi says.

What’s the big deal about laughing at Petreaus or Armstrong or Woods? People who know all these men have said that they’re kinda pricks anyway. Probably. A single-minded determination to have mastery in one’s field tends to be born of a ruthlessly demanding nature, competitiveness and annoyingly narrow focus. These people are not like you and me in many ways–they refuse to compromise where you and I do and tend to have a messianic complex about their skewed priorities.

So, they deserve the scorn they receive, right?

Joking does have its place. In fact, court jesters performed this function–poking holes in the aristocratic class and giving the commoners permission to laugh at the foibles and hypocrisy of the ruling class.

Yet, why does this current trend at ruthless mockery leave a bitter aftertaste? Maybe it’s because Petreaus and Woods and Armstrong aren’t the ruling class. They didn’t get to their position by patronage or birthright. They worked to achieve their success. They bested their competitors. They worked hard and achieved greatness.

It seems like success itself is being mocked. These are our peers. They are people who started as nothing and made something of themselves. These are just common men who, through hard work, achieved the uncommon.

These are the people we’d like to be. These are people working to achieve what we would like to if only we had the talent and self-discipline to do it.

Gabriel Malor linked to this piece by Jody Foster when she defended teen idol Kristen Stewart after her very public “gotcha” moment:

In my era, through discipline and force of will, you could still manage to reach for a star-powered career and have the authenticity of a private life. Sure, you’d have to lose your spontaneity in the elaborate architecture. You’d have to learn to submerge beneath the foul air and breathe through a straw. But at least you could stand up and say, I will not willfully participate in my own exploitation. Not anymore. If I were a young actor or actress starting my career today in the new era of social media and its sanctioned hunting season, would I survive? Would I drown myself in drugs, sex, and parties? Would I be lost?

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if I were a young actor today I would quit before I started. If I had to grow up in this media culture, I don’t think I could survive it emotionally. I would only hope that someone who loved me, really loved me, would put their arm around me and lead me away to safety.

Kristen Stewart, a young actress, heartrendingly in my opinion, shared her grief and sorrow through People Magazine at having harmed her relationship with her boyfriend. She prostrated herself publicly, asking forgiveness.

The world jeered.

Social media and blogging and all this technology has democratized communications. It has changed the world for the better, in many ways.

It has also given megaphones to what used to be localized mob behavior.

Today, it’s Mayim Bialik’s divorce. I was tangentially aware of Bialik. She is very funny on the hit TV show Big Bang Theory. Less known to me, but a big deal to moms, is that she uses “attachment parenting”. In this form of parenting, a mom wears, sleeps with and generally is around her babies a lot. Women hated her. Well, some did.

Any woman who felt guilt for bottle-feeding when she could have nursed or in some other way felt guilt when she heard or looked at Ms. Bialik now feels triumphant. See?! Her ideas suck so bad they resulted in a divorce!

Oprah’s fat! Tiger has a 15 handicap! Lance Armstrong can’t compete in Ironmans now! General Petreaus won’t lead America’s security efforts!

The gods have been brought low. And rather than mourning the loss, Americans celebrate the fall and delight in the sorrow.

No mercy.



Men: It Depends

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

So Fausta asks about this study about manly men versus more feminine men. The feminine man she brought up was one of my faves: Orlando Bloom. She contrasted Orlando with Sean Connery. Ew. Connery strikes me as an ornery axxhole–just not very nice. Now Orlando? Well, the research talks about strong jaws and brow lines. Orlando actually has both–he’s just long and lanky and more manicured. He is also a vegetarian–which, I admit is a downside. Is he a girly man?

I’m thinking back to Paul Newman as a younger man. He was hotness until the day he died. Pure yum. He raced cars. He walked like a badass. He had the smirk. But he didn’t strike me as jerk. Cool Hand Luke….manly, right? Or what about Clint Eastwood at all ages? Or Johnny Cash? Manly, hot, badness.

And, as a woman, are you gonna get a certain type based on how they look? I mean, does the square jaw, broad face, dense muscles get you a worse kind of man…like Sandra Bullock‘s Jesse James? But Tiger Woods isn’t all that broad-faced guy…so no guarantees. And what about John Edwards? He’s the classic fem guy…I wouldn’t count on a feminine face.

Women like what they like. In the Western world, it might not mean survival but it might mean satisfaction.

More here

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Brit, Tiger, & Religion, Oh My! And: Is Christianity Shunned From Public Discourse?

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

A couple arguments surround the Brit discussion: One, should anyone be talking about Tiger’s relationship to God? Two, can Buddhism “save” Tiger like Christianity can save Tiger?

Charlie Martin and I both write pieces for Pajamas Media today talking about this issue. Here’s a bit of what I say:

There was a time when discussing one’s Christian faith may have been less controversial, but I don’t know. Even fifty years ago, there would have been a presumption that people would view Tiger Woods’ actions as immoral and a sign that he had some sort of emptiness in his life. Back in the day, such wanton infidelity was simply not spoken of publicly. It would be too shameful. Now the media spreads every sort of salacious detail of a celebrity’s life, and everyone is free to comment. Why should there not be a comment on his faith, too? We know that Tiger likes rough sex and sex without condoms and sex with porn stars and has super-human, possibly steroid-enhanced endurance. Should his spiritual beliefs be off-limits while his sexual exploits are fair game?

Discussion about either seems unseemly. Tiger’s sex life should be personal, and his relationship with God is even more intimate than that. His own careless actions made his sex life public. Does that free people to speculate about his spiritual life? It seems a personal relationship with Tiger would give a friend some cause to talk with him about God. A calling out like Hume’s seems destined to fail.

Then Charlie says:

Hume’s right that Buddhism doesn’t offer Tiger forgiveness from a deity or redemption. All Buddhism can do is remind him that he’s responsible for his actions and the consequences of those actions (the real meaning of karma) and remind him that his suffering now is one of those consequences. With that comes the recognition that you need to make amends to those you’ve hurt and try to remedy your behavior in the future.

Maybe that’s not as good as being forgiven and redeemed, but to me it seems a lot more productive.

To which I respond:

As to Brit’s theological assertion that Buddhism would not offer Woods the sort of redemption that a relationship with God and Jesus would offer, Buddhists like Charles Martin admit that Buddhism won’t give redemption or a relationship. The emphasis is on karma — what goes around comes around — and how Tiger is reaping the rewards of it.

In Christianity, the karmic notion is nothing new. Galatians 6:7 makes clear that God is not mocked and that we reap what we sow. The Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis noted a “Tao” of belief that most great religions share, and how this is centered around some version of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do to you.

Charles implies that in Christianity, there is no attempt to “make amends,” while in Buddhism that is the core tenet. As for remedying faults, the Greek word metanoia — translated as “to repent” — means to change. It implies a before and after. A Christian demonstrates his change by actions. “By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matthew 7 is a good book to read about condemning and discernment and repentance.) It’s not repentance or forgiveness of sin. It’s both.

Please go read both of our full articles.

Also, Brit Hume on O’Reilly said something interesting last night. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, that just mentioning Christianity is inflammatory, that no one wants to hear it. Do you agree?