Sometimes I think about how animals look back at us and I see our species through their eyes. Many of them have evolved to fear us. Smartly. Some have been bred to love us, like our dogs and our cats that we keep and feed and house for our own pleasure or to spare them a worse fate without us. I won’t list the eyes of animals I see in my mind’s eye, not on Christmas week or the Winter solstice. I do not want to dampen the mood. But let’s just say sometimes I wonder about love.
What is love exactly? And can it forgive us our worst sins? Against humanity, against animals? That love is there whether we want it or not. Unless the plumbing is broken and a person feels nothing. Otherwise it is there and it must be directed somewhere, at something. God or celebrities or food or politics or our pets or ourselves. I have found this past year that for me love is far preferable to hate.
I didn’t realize how hard it was to live with hate until this past year, as I watched my friends and those I most care about spew nonstop incessant hate at Trump and his family. To them, they believed it was justified. If you picture a child being torn from his mother’s arms just before you tweet something mean about Ivanka - she deserves it, therefore. If you imagine Trump is a racist xenophobe just before you launch into a tirade about Melania’s Christmas decorations or Jared Kushner’s voice or Trump’s hands - then it is justified because anything is. But what does that do to you, when that nonstop dehumanization is normalized?
Your average person on the left would launch into a long lecture about how Trump is the one dehumanizing people and so he deserves it. The Republicans are the ones dehumanizing the poor, destroying the natural world, hoarding all of the money for themselves. They are racistsnazishomophobestransphobesxenophobes and so you must hate them, show them no mercy and dehumanize them. It always struck me as odd that they were preaching love by preaching hate.
I joined in for most of the last four years. No one could hate like I could online. It feels so good to lob a missive at untouchable people. I was blocked by many, including Tim Robbins and Xeni. I was put on a list of meanest Democrats. I have a terrible temper and I have shown it often over the years in ways I’m not proud of. Twitter is the worst avenue of expression for people like me because we cannot control ourselves. It wasn’t my own hatred that changed my view. It was watching the hate come from others. Maybe it was so many traumatic things happening at once. Maybe it was the endless persecution coming from the left - so much so that we have all become Big Brother, watching those who are already guilty, and hunting their every move to prove the crime.
At some point, for me anyway, I could not watch it anymore, which was why I eventually dove headlong into Trump world and humanized them all myself. I dove deep into it - doing all of the things that are verboten on the left. Well, almost all. I mostly drew the line at Mark Levin. But I watched Tucker. I watched Laura. I wanted Hannity. I listened to a few podcasts. I read National Review and the Wall Street Journal. I read the Federalist. I kept looking and looking for the smoking gun that proved all of the dehumanization was justified. I found a lot of things we can’t and don't say on the left. But it looked very different from how I'd imagined it all of this time. Now I see them all as I do many on my side: we’re all just people. Flaws and all.
You see, dehumanization is always wrong. Always. Not because of what you’re doing to someone else but because of what it does to us, what it turns us into, WHO it turns us into. Every crime against humanity involved dehumanization: The holocaust, slavery, the witch trials.
I don’t know what I believe anymore - I thought I knew but this year has called much of that into question, not just who I am online or what I contribute to, but how I waste my time online doing things that destroy me and others.
Fundamentalist religions and cults need an agreed upon evil force to strengthen the communal bond. Us against them. We’re right, they’re wrong. This is as true on the right as it is on the left. The only difference I see is that, somewhere along the line, all of us abandoned any pretense of civility. Now, the meaner a person is, the higher their profile. This isn’t to say that shaming isn’t effective in some instances. It is. It can force change. Sometimes for the better. But most of the time it feeds into the daily ritual of making dehumanization a casual thing.
Humans have always needed leaders who guide the way towards love and away from hate and dehumanization. Jesus Christ, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Jr. John Lennon. But such teachers are in short supply. Love is offered but only for those who agree to hate. Where are those teachers now? To teach that message, they would have to humanize even Trump and his supporters and no one has the courage to do that, not on the left and not on the “new left” on the right.
When I look into the eyes of an animal to see what they see I know I can’t possibly know what they see. They have evolved to fear the biped. Wisely. When I look into the confused eyes of pigs trapped the way they always are, asking us silently why? I don’t know what to do with the helplessness I fear, even if I am not necessarily advocating everyone stop eating meat. Can I advocate for kinder methods? I do wish I had an answer for them, since they’re smart enough to ask in the first place. But I don’t have the answer. They don’t need an answer anyway. We do.
Love might be propaganda for humans. It might be the thing we use to justify every terrible thing we do - or it might be our only saving grace, the one thing that stops us from doing every terrible thing we could do.
All I know for sure is that we need more of it. More love for each other. More love for our perceived enemies. More love for animals we own and consume. More love for the natural world that is the best thing about being alive at all.
So what happened to me this year, as people continue to ask? I just stopped hating people I was told to hate and I didn’t hide it for fear of reprisal. It isn’t a big thing but it made me sleep better at night, even if it cost me a few friendships.
I hope for you there is one good thing for the holiday season - one good thing to help you sleep better at night.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Winter Solstice. Better days ahead, I hope.