Tyrannical Certainty

Alllll the way back in September, I was sitting in the hallway of the Learning Center at my school, killing time before tutor training class, when one of my fellow novice tutors showed up with a brochure in one hand and a sandwich in the other. It was around lunchtime, but the sandwich would go uneaten for a while. Her appetite was lost during her walk across campus, due to the enormous banners with equally enormous pictures of aborted fetuses outside the library.

“There’s dead fetus pictures?” I said.

She confirmed that yes, this was true, and, “Don’t you think it’s a little extreme?”

Before I had seen the banners for myself, or even thumbed through the brochure which had even more dead fetus pictures, the sensationalism had seduced me. “There’s dead fetus pictures?” I repeated.


“Could you watch my stuff?”

Venturing out to the library would prove to be a stupid idea for more reasons than the mere fact that I have a runaway imagination that has no trouble soaking up extreme images and reproducing them at night while I’m trying to go to sleep. This is why many of my nights are spent with the light on.

…shut up, don’t judge me.

My beloved fundamentalist atheist friend later told me that most of the pictures pro-lifers use are actually pictures of pig fetuses, but the ones on campus that day looked pretty darn human to me. As I inspected the gruesome depictions like a sick voyeur, I was approached by a middle-aged guy with a baseball cap and an armful of brochures. He held one out for me to take.

“I’m okay,” I said. “We’ve got plenty in the Learning Center.” This wasn’t a lie. After I left my backpack with the fellow novice tutor, I noticed several abandoned here and there on my way out to indulge in all this sensationalism and contagious outrage. The baseball cap guy wasn’t frothing at the mouth or anything, but I did pass a rather fervent young man who was laying down some Thus sayeth the LORD rhetoric on someone he’d managed to stop.

These pictures of pig fetuses… I mean, human fetuses… (Like I said, they didn’t look piggy to me, but the beloved atheist is very passionate about certain things. When statistics and whatnot are used to support said certain things, to the inexperienced ear, it’s hard not to take it as fact without any grains of salt or research on one’s own.) Anyway… these pictures of human fetuses, this carnage, Baseball Cap says, if it was in the newspaper and on CNN, abortions would be outlawed licketty split because, well, it’s carnage.

He gestured to the banner for effect, carnage….

You gotta wonder what the banner-making place thought of all this.

While he’s in the vein of TV news, Baseball Cap cites Vietnam: when people turned on the tube to see good American boys being slaughtered overseas, they were like, oh snap, this is real, and this is carnage. I don’t like this war anymore.

This is when I made my mistake. Or at least, this is when it started.

I engaged him.

It was an accident, I swear.

I said, “Well, we didn’t see the dead bodies from the Iraq war on TV.”

I thought it was something I could just throw out there, get a short, semi-neutral response from him, then I could return to the Learning Center and relieve the sandwich tutor of her stuff-guarding duties.

But Baseball Cap insisted we did see the carnage of the Iraq war, just not as much as Vietnam. He knows this. As far as he’s concerned, it’s fact.

I said, “But the president at the time was like, don’t show our dead boys on TV, that’s depressing.” I know this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fact.

“No,” Baseball Cap says. “They showed some.” Then he kept going about Vietnam. Then Vietnam turned into the Civil Rights movement.

I went ahead and assumed he meant the one in the 60s. My black history teacher said there was more than one. Just because the one in the sixties is all kinds of famous doesn’t mean it’s correct to call it THE Civil Rights Movement. I don’t correct Baseballs Cap on this, even though, as I far as I’m concerned, it’s fact. You gotta pick your battles right? And I was still hung up on how WRONG Baseball Cap was about dead soldiers in Iraq on the TV, and how RIGHT I am about the lack of them.

Baseball Cap said when how terribly the black protesters were being treated was shown on TV, people were like, oh snap, that’s horrible. What can we do about this? The media was the catalyst for change, Baseball cap said.

Yeah, and even more people would have said that about the war in Iraq if THEY SHOWED THE DEAD BODIES ON TV. Maybe Baseball Cap was looking at the wrong footage and got confused. Maybe he was looking at a televised footage of aborted pig fetuses in fatigues. But I wasn’t wrong. I couldn’t have been wrong. I was right.

However, I didn’t want to get into it with this guy, because, as far as he was concerned, Baseball Cap was right, too. I considered my options:
1) continue to be talked at by this guy
2) do what I already decided I wouldn’t do: let him keep talking, but yell my opinions loud enough to drown out his
3) say, “Well, I’m going to be late for class! Thanks for the chat!” and bail.

I went with option 3, even though it wasn’t true that I would be late for class. I had plenty of time to track down fellow tutors in the hallway, in the back room of the writing lab, even to the parking lot and back when I followed my friend out to her car, all the while prattling on about this dumb pro-life guy. I mocked him. I ranted about him. Anything in the conversation – not just the Iraq stuff – was fair game to manipulate into making him look absurd and incoherent.

“One of those pro-lifers was talking at me for hella long about the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” I’d say. To which someone else would respond, “…why was he talking to you about the Montgomery Bus Boycott?”

I read into their faces the reaction I wanted.

And I looked like a complete tool.

I wasn’t the kind of person you could sit down and have a real, two-way conversation with. I could say that I had crowned myself King of the Mountain, but it was more like I had placed myself on a pillar. People can climb mountains, reach the self-crowned monarch, deluded with her certainty, and at least try to have a civilized conversation.

I was closed off to any such civilized, intelligent conversations. I was right about this one thing. There was no room for another person on top of my pillar. There was no room for generosity, unity, understanding, and civility. It is almost hell in a way, because when swept away with this, I close myself off from authentic human moments. When I stand there, nothing and no one is three-dimensional.

And I looked like a tool (quite embarrassing in retrospect!). I was so swept away by this overwhelming notion that I was RIGHT, that if there was someone or something with an opposing view, I must assert the undeniable veracity of my righteousness. Say I was frothing at the mouth about something that was worth having an intelligent conversation about? A conversation that mattered, or even changed things? Being on top of this pillar wouldn’t just be a matter of me making an ass out of myself. What if someone started associating a topic actually worth exploring with my nuttiness? They’d look at dead pig fetuses in fatigues and not see the spark for an intellectual discussion to be taken seriously, but an association would be made with me snorting the cocaine of self-righteousness, and nobody would take pig fetuses in fatigues seriously. The audience would be lost.

I hate that. Contrary to all that noise, I would like to uphold the virtues of unity and fellowship in the way I actively live my life and interact with others.

These types of one-sided conversations don’t help a lot of things, let alone tutoring.

I don’t want to rant about these people.

The top of the pillar is hell. I have enough hell to deal with already, thanks very much. Like the grueling first world problems of trying to figure out the window de-fogger in the car and finding a spot in my room that sustains a wireless internet connection long enough for me to watch all 26 minutes of the Kung-Fu Panda holiday special on Instant Netflix.

1 comment:

  1. So you're saying *you* were the extremist unwilling to engage in a two-way conversation, Kathryn? Hmm... something's wrong with this picture.