December 04, 2012

The Vicious Lie Is, Indeed, Vicious

The previous post discusses the widely celebrated "feel-good" story concerning a NY police officer, Lawrence DePrimo, who gave a pair of new boots to a homeless man, Jeffrey Hillman. As more details about this story emerge, it turns out that Mr. Hillman is not homeless. Hillman has also received ongoing assistance and aid of various kinds, for the last several years at least.

My major argument in the earlier article was that stories of this general kind, and this particular story in its original version, which devote significant time and resources to what appears to be an act of kindness, primarily serve as a distraction and a means of avoidance. By selectively focusing on such acts of purported compassion, a society mired in brutality and cruelty -- a culture which, as I have noted, offers as a central lesson to all of us, including children, that, "You will be rewarded for cruelty: the crueler you are, the greater the reward" -- seeks to convince itself that it is actually a model of kindness of caring. Even though it is an issue mentioned by virtually no one with regard to the Hillman story, I am compelled to remark that it is more than extraordinary for Americans to claim they embody compassion and kindness to any extent at all, when roughly 120 million Americans recently voted for two candidates who support a program devoted to the unrestricted murder of completely innocent human beings. Moreover, one of those candidates is the man who has ordered the murder of such innocents on multiple occasions and seeks to institutionalize his Murder Program as a foundational element of national policy going forward. Such a country can be described as murderous, vicious, and evil with full justification; kind, just, and compassionate are not words that occur to a sane, healthy person when confronted with brazen, publicly declared evil on this scale.

I have to confess that whenever I mention this issue, I am almost overwhelmed by the deeply felt need to begin screaming. I ask you to consider the nature and meaning of the Murder Program once again: the most powerful officials in our national government routinely and systematically order the murder of human beings whom they must know, if they are minimally honest for even a second or two, to be entirely innocent. These same officials have told us this is what they are doing on multiple occasions; their proclamations have been detailed in the nation's leading newspapers. For almost all Americans, it is as if nothing at all has been said. I feel I have to scream because it seems there is no other way even to get people's attention on this subject. The U.S. government commits profoundly evil acts every day -- and almost no one notices. For several decades of my adult life, I have spent enormous amounts of time reading, studying and thinking about the varieties of methods people use to avoid and deny what should be shockingly obvious truths. Much of my writing here over the last ten years has been devoted to these issues. But I admit that avoidance and denial on this national scale, and particularly with regard to the plain meaning of the Murder Program, leave me feeling close to completely helpless and impotent. I am not sure there is any way to break through a wall of resistance that has been built and is maintained with such willful, deliberate intention. And I greatly fear that only spreading catastrophe will finally cause more people to begin to question the fabricated version of the truth they so fervently believe. If you reflect on this terrible predicament a bit longer, a further especially horrifying aspect of our situation should become clearer: this national exercise in virtually complete denial of what should be obvious -- and what should be resisted with all the strength of which we are capable -- all but guarantees that catastrophe in multiple forms will soon be visited upon us, perhaps much sooner than I myself had once thought.

Even though I think these are the paramount issues that ought to concern us at this moment, we can hold the nightmare in full focus only so long before we begin to go mad. Let us return to the much narrower subject of Mr. Hillman and his particular circumstances.

Remember the key elements of what had made this a "feel-good" story: a homeless and barefoot man is given a new pair of boots by a NY police officer. Now that we learn Mr. Hillman has an apartment and has received assistance through several programs, those who had eagerly celebrated this story are disappointed. After noting that Hillman might choose to go barefoot because "shoelessness might make for better panhandling," one story concludes:
Which would also go a long way toward explaining why Hillman refuses to wear those nice boots. We're not going to jump to any conclusions yet, except one: The Feel Good is leaking out of this story like air out of an increasingly depressing birthday balloon.
Another story expresses the same point this way:
The revelation that Hillman has a warm home and a bed to sleep in further complicated what at first seemed like a perfect feel-good tale for the holidays.
For the feel-good story to work, for it to be "perfect," Hillman must be genuinely wretched: he must be homeless and barefoot, entirely alone, and with no resources whatsoever available to him. The stories strongly hint at what they want to say, but they won't state it in unmistakable terms. Nonetheless, we get the message: This man is a rotten fraud. He tricked us. That wonderful police officer helped someone who didn't even need his help!

As I discussed before, the feel-good version of the story was used in very significant part to make those who celebrated it feel good about themselves. It was a way many people could convince themselves that we're good, that we care, that we don't like to see bad things happen to people. When President Obama and his fellow criminals routinely order the murders of innocent human beings -- and when these same people refuse to understand what that means or even that it's happening -- the need to reassure themselves that they're basically decent is one they feel very keenly. We may refuse to identify explicitly what is happening around us, but we absorb at least parts of that knowledge indirectly. The information is out there -- the government has made certain of that, and continues to tell us the truth even though we refuse to acknowledge it (and they count on that, too) -- and it seeps into our souls despite our strenuous efforts at resistance. In this manner, we are conditioned to accept the still greater horrors to come.

But the reaction to these new revelations about Hillman establishes with awful clarity that Hillman himself was incidental to the uses to which the story was put. Toward the conclusion of the earlier entry, I discussed the general problem of homelessness in New York City. That problem hasn't gone away, whether Hillman himself has an apartment or not. There are still tens of thousands of people who must rely on municipal shelters, just as there remain an undetermined number of additional people who are completely unsheltered. If people are so desperate for a feel-good story, they could make one happen themselves -- if that is what they genuinely want to do. But you see, that isn't what they genuinely want to do. The original version of the Hillman story provided them a feel-good story without their having to do a damned thing themselves. That is precisely why stories like this become so popular, and why they are widely celebrated. They are a means of instant self-worth and self-approval provided cost-free. (We should note that it is false self-worth and false self-approval.)

Although we are now provided with some additional details about Hillman's situation, there remains a great deal we don't know. We're told:
For the past year, Jeffrey Hillman has had an apartment in the Bronx paid for through a combination of federal Section 8 rent vouchers and Social Security disability and veterans benefits, officials said Monday.
The story puts its thumb heavily on the scales and later describes his apartment as "a warm home." But we don't know that it's "a warm home"; it might be an awful apartment, and to pay for heating bills might be beyond his means. Moreover, it is entirely possible that the benefits he receives don't provide enough for food and clothing, in addition to his rent (and electricity, if we assume he also pays for that). Perhaps he panhandles because he truly needs more money, and he knows no other way to get it.

The stories also try to make much of the fact that Hillman refuses help. He's not just a bum, he's an ungrateful bum. To appreciate an interesting connection as to how these dynamics work, recall how every loathsome politician made the same claim about those damned "ungrateful" Iraqis. Hillary Clinton is the loathsome politician in that example, but almost every other loathsome politician said the same. The United States bombs them, murders them in vast numbers, and utterly destroys their country -- and those rotten bastards won't even thank us for the great gifts we've given them. This is a theme of enduring popularity.

I will briefly mention another connection that I myself find quite intriguing. The highly selective focus on feel-good stories, in an effort to bolster our own deservedly faltering sense of self-worth, is the mirror image of our zealous condemnation of certain evils, but evils similarly defined only very selectively. We eagerly condemn certain isolated instances of evil out of the same desperately felt need to convince ourselves that we are actually good, decent people. I've discussed this in several different contexts: in "The Varieties of Pissing"; about the Polanski story, when that was the controversy of the moment; and in connection with the condemnations of torture. From that last link: "By seeking to localize the evil in only one aspect of the much broader and more fundamental evil involved and within a falsely delimited period of time, the torture obsessives would thus whitewash the American project as a whole." The fundamentally unjustified and highly selective focus -- on feel-good stories on one hand, and on only narrowly delimited evils on the other -- always seeks to achieve a whitewash of this kind: it attempts to obliterate the reality of the obviously related, but unacknowledged greater evils in the broader system. In this sense, all such efforts are cover-ups, they are intellectually dishonest, and they are always lies.

Returning to Hillman: the same dynamic with regard to "refusing" help might be at play in his case. A man who was a neighbor of mine for several years received Section 8 assistance. He used to tell me how much he dreaded the visits from the local housing inspector. She (it happened to be a she in this case) would always find some trivial issue to pick over with him: a few grease spots on the stove, a few spots in the bathtub. (He kept an exceptionally neat and clean apartment which I saw on numerous occasions, so I knew the complaints had to be trivial.) But this government bureaucrat loved the measly amount of power she had been granted over other human beings. She would point out my neighbor's supposedly grievous failures to comply with the government's demands (as she interpreted them), and the ominous threat of the withdrawal of the badly needed government assistance was conveyed in unmistakable terms. Is it any wonder that some people might choose to refuse "help" of that kind?

No, we don't know that is what happened in Hillman's case. That is my point: we don't know. But those who enthusiastically embraced this story when it provided reassurance as to "our" innate goodness refuse to acknowledge these further possibilities in Hillman's situation, just as they adamantly refuse to acknowledge the broader problem of homelessness -- and just as almost all Americans refuse to face the monstrous horror that is this country today.

And Jesus Christ (the man of the season, after all): not only does our government have a Murder Program, which ought to put a stop to all discussions of our "goodness" until such time (if ever) as such monumental evil is permanently ended and rejected. As I mentioned yesterday, New York is home to some of the greatest financial criminals of our era. These criminals have devastated the U.S. economy, destroyed countless lives, wreaked havoc in numerous ways -- and for all of this, they have not only not been punished in even the smallest degree, but have been rewarded in amounts of trillions of dollars. And some people are disappointed because one lonely man is desperately struggling to get by in perhaps the only way he knows how? Hillman has unforgivably deprived them of the feel-good story they so badly need? Seriously, fuck all these bastards -- and no, I'm not sorry in the least for using such language, for I know no other way to express my loathing for such miserable creatures -- and if they so badly need a feel-good story about gift-giving at this time of year, then read a genuinely wonderful one.

And then, please, please just shut the hell up.