THE SONG          EXPANSES          ADD YOUR VOICE                  
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Robert Jones, Jr.
It is a peculiar thing to live in a system of reality where people are ranked and valued in accordance to their potential to oppress, not merely on their own behalf, but on behalf of the nation-state, maybe even the world, in which they reside.

To name the culprit is a mouthful, but we have devised words to articulate the overarching sources of degradation: sexism, racism, classism, ableism, ageism, heterosexism, transphobia, fatphobia, and others. These help us to identify the pains at their root, pains that demean their targets, yes, but also, perhaps even more so, their wielders.

The most insidious revelation found in the naming is that both the namer and the named are implicated. For at any moment, the namer can, and has, become the named—which is, in fact, the point of oppression: to separate human beings from the parts of themselves that hold compassion not merely as virtue, but as nature.

In that separation, the first casualty is truth. It is not merely that we do not tell the truth; it is that we cannot recognize or understand it. We certainly avoid it, particularly when it threatens to free us. One of the strategies we employ to distance ourselves from it is to direct it toward someone else. We love nothing more than to point a trembling moral finger at the fallen, they who have erred in front an audience greedy for blood for being their lowest selves. This audience—which has crystalized on the Internet, but has existed for far longer, having its touchstone in the Roman coliseum and even in the schoolyard—makes no distinction between the criminal and the juvenile. Whether one is an adult who has repeatedly caused tangible harm or a 13 year old whose mind is still developing so foolishness is inevitable, both are suitable for the same level of the vitriol, the viciousness being the camouflage, and telltale sign, for the wielder’s own misdeeds. Nuance and care do not merely escape these arenas; they are despised in them.

Rarely are the falls from grace an occasion for self-reflection, for an unabashed look at the inner workings of our own fallibility, vulnerabilities, mistakes, and harms, which have the great fortune of being unknown to the rest of the audience, at least for the time being. And it is the unknown status which drives us to savor and participate in the digital “draggings” of others, which are nothing more than the virtual renditions of the ones that occur in the corporeal world, as recent as what befell James Byrd in Texas. The consequences, perhaps, less physical, but exact no less of an emotional and psychological toll. The measure of progress here, I suppose, is the distance between the scars that can be seen and the scars that cannot.

And all of this in the name of innocence, the most precious of all of life’s commodities; a shield, yes, but also a sword, flaming, in the name of righteousness, no different from how various messiahs have threatened to return in the apocalyptic visions of many a holy text, they, themselves, never accounting or accountable for the devastation that occurred in the wake of their abandonment of post. The innocence, then, is its own sort of crime: reckless endangerment, depraved indifference, the refusal to mature; James Baldwin has already made these things clear.

What, then, can we do other than investigate the contents of our own thinking, interrogate the kindling of our own hearts, scrutinize the terrors of our own hands? To wipe the blood from our fingers, we must first admit that the blood is there.

That is the process.

Holding other people accountable is one thing, generally an easier thing; holding ourselves accountable is the other, harder thing and, perhaps, the measure of the value of existence. To do away with binary propositions like “good” and “evil” and replace them with actionable terms like “healing,” “intervention,” “prevention,” and “restoration,” is to be worthy, finally, of what it could mean to be humane.

We are, however, a great distance from that possibility, which need not be idyllic, but is definitely so due to our failure of imagination and the secret sadists that reside in the space where our souls should be. The great terror is the possibility of discovering that, perhaps, the sadists are our souls. However treacherous, the journey must be made nevertheless.

And there is hope. It is likely that our salvation—if we can, in fact, save ourselves before it is too late—rests in the most terrifying of all places: our vulnerability. The world is in the condition it is in because, frankly, we have tried to deny this existential feature. We have wiped out civilizations, enslaved artisans, plundered lands, shattered children, slaughtered animals, erected brutal hierarchies, and cast ourselves in bronze and stone all as a means to hide the ephemeral character of our being. But no matter the wealth, no matter the intellect, no matter the talent, no matter the might, human flesh is still soft, easily pierced by a pin; certainly, we have proven, subject to decimation by a hail of bullets or bomb-rain, and also the curious hands of ourselves and others. If those things can penetrate, leave their marks (never for better, always for worse), then surely, we must believe, fairness can, kindness can, love can.

Because where can mercy be found—and where is grace—other than in the place that has and always will connect each and every one of us?

Gently, the end of harm is within our grasp.

All we have to do is dare.