Contemplating cruelty

I haven’t been able to watch much of the trial. After I saw a man weep on the witness stand, I turned the TV off. Chauvin’s icy sadism, indelibly recorded on that terrible video, twisted my insides. (As a former jury member, I can tell you there’s nothing more powerfully influential to jurors than seeing a witness, a grown man, cry.)

Lots to think about. Yet it’s not the publicly displayed massive acts of cruelty I’ve been considering — although they spiked my thoughts.

Many of us have been horrified at the holes dug into what we saw as our advanced civilization over the last four years, and at the people who’ve been manning the shovels and grinning while they dug. What causes people to be so inhuman to the rest of humanity? And how could so many millions of people vote in support of such cruelty?

Such a cliché, but I think it’s because they experienced such cruelty in the microcosm of their families, and are convinced it’s normal, it’s what life is, it’s what to expect and even applaud in others. You know, Strong Men.

Years ago, a psychiatrist told me that the way people treat others, especially the way they talk to others, is a clear indication of the way they were treated, usually by their parents. (Remember what we heard about Trump’s father and how he treated his son? We were all horrified victims of Fred Trump’s parenting.)

I once sat at a dinner table of a family I knew well, and listened to the blistering arguments among them. It wasn’t so much that they were arguing; all families — especially those with teenagers — argue. But the words used, the relentless nastiness in the language, the snide mockery, was so cruel I found myself cringing.

That family grew out of this behavior, not so coincidentally when the kids left adolescence, and is now warm and close. Yet, yet…if you listen to the way they tease each other even today, you’ll hear whispers of the knife edge slashes.

Who did the entire family vote for? The man who nastily mocked everyone around him. They were voting in support of that sort of bully; they regarded him as an admirable father figure. A Strong Man.

I’ve heard all sorts of people talk about incidents involving their (dead) parents, often with admiration, while I sat there appalled at the cruelty. The object of that cruelty wasn’t aware of it. Almost always the insensate object of the cruelty was male, although I’ve heard some stunners from married women, who were blandly unconscious of the oblique domestic cruelty leveled by their husbands.

If I want a simplistic excuse for why I never married, it’d be that I found most marriages I observed to be unacceptably cruel, mostly to the woman.

In fact, I once got a delicately worded piece of advice from a good friend, a married woman, who was herself subject to instances of cruelty from her husband. I complained to her about the behavior of the man I was at that time seeing, behavior which I found fairly unacceptable.

She said, “You know, if you want to get married, you need to become more tolerant of…” and she paused, searching for the word she wanted. This was a highly literate woman with a big vocabulary. “I don’t mean ‘abuse,‘ that’s not exactly what I mean,” she wound up saying. But “abuse” was the word she used. I think I laughed.

As I’ve been writing this, I realized I was avoiding laying out the details of the most awful act of domestic cruelty I’ve ever witnessed. I told the story originally in a chapter of the memoir about my working life.

An excerpt from “A Little Argument About A Typewriter” will be next. It’ll be the first post under a new heading, Scenes From My Life.



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