I had my consciousness raised today.
I, like so many, am fond of posting stories and photos that are of particular political, social and artistic interest and/or consequence to me on Facebook. In fact, I’m rather notorious for it. Today, it was a series of images depicting Indian protesters brandishing signs demanding an end to the national compliance regarding rape in that country. I have been disgusted these past few weeks with the story of the young Punjabi woman who was repeatedly raped and beaten-and subsequently died-at the hands of six heartless men. While reports of the tactics used by police to obtain their confessions are specious, it remains an explosive subject in the homes and streets of India and will, I imagine, for some time.
Astride my moral high horse, I posted these pictures with a pontificating advisory:
“These are the signs of rape protest in India. Thank the gods that you and your daughters and sisters and mothers do not live in a country where dissent of this kind is necessary.”
While I expanded further on this subject with what I thought was a defining quote, my Intel Core processor hadn’t even had time to cool when a comment slipped onto the screen:
“I beg to differ. It is necessary. The perpetrators often are more subtle (sic) here. And many situations go unreported, sadly.”
Almost as quickly, an IM popped up from the same person saying,
“I’ve been raped in three completely different situations. Yet, even now, I’m reticent to put it on your post, lest some asshole blame me for being victimized…this is our illness in the us (sic).”
I was flabbergasted: first, to hear this tragic news from a good friend-we had celebrated the Holidays together a mere four weeks ago-and second, to see that I was being na√Øve in thinking that we, as Americans, were exempt from such horrors. (Having spent several years working in the juvenile court system, I shouldn’t have been so ingenuous. I learned firsthand the kind of abuse young men and women submit to in this country.) But this moment shocked me, shocked me at my own guilelessness.
Only last evening, I spent a good deal of time rebuking another Facebook friend, who-though well-intentioned-seemed to me to be far too self-satisfied with the current progressive perspective of America. (Since the election, I’ve noticed this kind of posture from a number of liberal-minded folks.) The topic under scrutiny was a poster I had affixed to my Facebook wall originally published online by a group called One Million Vaginas. Now granted, even I have to roll my eyes at such a dubious moniker. I mean I get it. I get the hyperbolic intention of it, but still …
Anyway, the poster accused former VP candidate and current member of the U.S. House Paul Ryan of, once again, supporting the (equally-hyperbolic) Sanctity of Human Life Act, a bill that could, theoretically, give rapists the right to sue their victims to prevent an abortion, an insidious piece of legislation. This friend objected to my use of “extremist conjecture”, claiming we-I assume progressives-had attained some kind of “moral and factual high ground” on this subject and should maintain our cool, not resorting to rhetoric. To this, I quickly posted a YouTube video of Ryan proudly proclaiming his anti-abortion position and an article from Jezebel.com reiterating the representative’s reprehensible sponsorship of the bill and its potential damage.
She was then joined in her grievance by another who railed against such “alarmist hyperbole”, and at this, frankly, I lost my temper-something I rarely do online-and fired back with my own charge against rampant liberal complacency and the paralyzed Democratic Party. Needless to say, quite a lot of steam was let off, and-I hope-a consensus of agreeing to disagree was reached. However, I couldn’t let it go, and this morning, piously delivered my edict and promptly received my comeuppance.
In my defense, I added to my pronouncement the following quote from Chinese-American civil rights activist Y.C. Hong:
“All the liberties enjoyed in America today were not bought with only one payment, but were purchased anew in many installments, regularly and periodically, by each new generation. History has shown that many men had tried to take away from others their basic human rights. Many others are trying to do the same thing today, and many more will try to do likewise in the future. Where there is wanton disregard for the rights and freedom of others, your own will soon be jeopardized too. Preservation of our liberties requires constant vigilance, energy, and self-sacrifice.”
Needless to say, I quickly apologized for any insensitivity I may have shown, but more than that, I became shamefacedly aware of my own self-regard in thinking that, “thank the gods”, I live in America where such atrocities as rape don’t exist or are in need of challenge. But they do. We’re just far too quiet about them. With the possible exception of Steubenville, OH, there’s no street bound outrage demanding an end to a complicit culture of rape. I stand, like so many, complacent on a “moral and factual high ground”. Such was my naiveté.
And then my consciousness was raised.
You know, as I get older, I find that the expansion of one’s own moral sense is not a one-time act, a grand revelation accompanied by trumpets and high-fives. But rather, it comes slowly, quietly, in fits and starts-“in many installments”-through rigor, humility-sometimes from within, sometimes from without-and with constant, vigilant self-examination and candor.
Thus ends my catechism.