Friday, August 21, 2009

Clay Feet

I've been thinking a lot lately about the space between people--not in a physical, tangible sense, more like the facts around one person that prevent him from being just like another person. I'm aware of a growing sense of frustration that more and more people in the world prefer to distance themselves from one another, then examine the space between them and judge themselves and others based on the nature of that space. Maybe this is an old lesson for some people, but to me it feels frighteningly fresh.

I used to be a part of this small group of women; we'd get together to talk about things of faith, and of life, of relationship and work. One Sunday afternoon the subject of pedophilia came up. I don't remember how, I just remember that we were talking about men who, for whatever reason, felt the need to sexually prey upon young children. I do remember that we talked about 20/20, and the episodes wherein the show would hire pedophile catchers to pose as teens and then the anchor and cameraman would humiliate the pedophile who thought he'd come for a prepubescent roll in the hay with Taylor or Carlie, or whatever made up profile they'd been attracted to.

The small group conversation was rife with judgement and vitriol for these men, calling them monsters and animals, completely deriding them. Some of these women spoke so swiftly about how awful they were and spoke without a trace of the grace that their God gifts to people if they just believe. I was stunned. I'd never seen these women go from zero to malevolently inhuman quite so fast. Yes, it's a deplorable subject and it's incredibly easy to find the bad guy in it. The bad guy is the one who wants to touch the kids, we've caught him red-handed, on video even, case closed, check please. What I was unable to understand was that many of these women seemed unable to recognize that it was only the smallest of margins that separated these men from themselves. If the world is truly a fallen place, then we who know Christ are only rescued from the worst that humanity is capable of, by His presence in our lives. There is nothing, nothing, that allows us to think that we are any better than anyone else; if we hold up our "good person-ness" or our ability to "give back to the community" or our good kind hearts, we're just fooling ourselves, because all of these things are able to be corrupted, to be ruined, and then we are no better than the very ones we sneered at in the gutter, who are ruled by their base natures and forced to feed their hideous deplorable appetites.

It could be that I'm biased. When I was growing up, an ex-con moved into the house next door; it was his mother's house, and he must have had no other place to go, so in he moved with the heavyset old lady with the cottony white hair. We got one of those Amber letters or Katie letters or whatever requires the state of Ohio to tell you when a sex offender is moving onto your block. Now, I have no idea what kind of law he broke. I read a story about a man here in the state of Illinois who killed a seventeen-year-old who attacked him, and the state registered him as a sex offender (which cut off a good bit of his life possibilities post-prison) because the victim of the crime was under 18. It could be that this man wasn't a sex offender at all, but was registered as one on a similar technicality. It could be that he made and distributed kiddie porn, or that he abducted little boys, or that he liked to expose himself to kids on playgrounds. None of it is good or appropriate, or healthy, and the good folks in Columbus mailed us a letter about it when he got out. I always felt sorry for him; we never met--my parents saw to that--but I thought he couldn't have had much of a life taking care of his infirm mother and being an ex-con. Notwithstanding, I saw the cannon of judgement that my folks leveled and fired at him over and over while we lived next door, and I thought every family on the block must be thinking things similar. It was as if whatever debt he'd paid to society was unimportant. There was no second chance, and everyone who knew was content to, perhaps wanting to, label him as a ne'er-do-well, a pervert, a deviant without hope of change.

Recently, I heard a woman on NPR who attended one of these raucous town hall meeting to discuss our President's plan for health care. It was a while ago, but she argued that some policy of universality would make this country, this proud bastion of democracy, "into Russia, or China." She said this with such derision in her voice, as if citizens of Russia are dogs, and Heaven forfend that we consider ourselves anything similar. We are Americans, and anything that does not look like our system is most certainly the dregs of society. Someone should remind her that these are people, people as we are people. They love their country, like we do, and they chose a system of government that they thought would serve their citizens in the best way possible. Unfortunately for them, they were wrong, and now, like just about every country in the world, they're trying to get their feet back underneath them.

But can someone tell me what makes democracy and capitalism so great? I don't know if I'm a socialist or not, mainly because I don't understand politics or economics that well. I love my country, because I can write this kind of a blog posting, and I know that the odds are good that the government won't completely edit it out. I love that I can be grateful for the people who are serving in my military, I love that I can choose to protest the war they fight in, and I love that I don't have to go. I love that I am absolutely doing my duty by disagreeing with the way my government runs, and anyone who says that questioning authority of government it unpatriotic can sod off. Our government does its best for its citizens, but it fucks over just as many as any communist or socialist country. We Americans aren't really as free as we think we are, are we? Isn't that the dirty little secret of our free market, one man one vote system over here, that it's really all a big machine that makes the same kind of scary and sobering decisions that happen in countries we love to pretend we're better than? That the manipulation and movement is so stealth and so swift that if we blink we miss it? The system works us all over, and flying red white and blue instead of stars and scythe is just a technicality.

My point is this: inside, where all the labels don't matter and where very little distinguishes one from the other, I am no better than he, and you are no better than she, and we are no better than they. We are all human, and we cannot rely on the flimsy idea of "I could never do that," or "I don't understand how anyone can be capable of such things" to make us feel better. The fact is that you are lucky enough to have avoided the acrid, eye-watering mixture of things that makes men into pedophiles, that turns women to rock hoes, that ruins governments. To pretend anything within ourselves has made us better than them, is deception. Perhaps it is the kind of deception that people need to tell themselves in order to sleep at night. But I fear this pervasive dehumanizing of others. No good can come of this.


Nyactorgirl said...

Wow...this is a very interesting blog! I kinda feel, though, that the crux of this all lies in the individual's point of view. Would your view of these women change if you knew that they were rape victims or the victims of violent crimes? Or if you knew that they were victims of child molestation or child rape?

Are you judging these women in the same way they are judging the men on tv?

Would your view of the pedophiles change if you had children of your own?

I have watched a few of these programs too. They're hard to avoid. I am of the belief that pedophilia is a sickness. It is not a condition that anyone would just wake up and say "gee, I think I'll be a pedophile today." Some very dark internal forces have to be consistently at work to forge the average person into a child molester. The entire scope of one's sexual perception has to be changed.

I agree with you that yes we are all flawed beings, and that its only by God's mercy that we have not messed up royally. And I also get irked at people (especially religious people) who seem to sit in the seat of judgment. Furthermore, as an actress I must believe that anyone can, 'under the right circumstances', commit any crime. Its the basis under which an actor can step into any character's skin. But there's an AWFUL LOT of ground covered under the idea of "under the right circumstances". There is a measure of salt there. Again, some very dark internal forces have to be CONSISTENTLY at work to forge the average person into a child molester. The entire scope of one's sexual perception has to be changed. We have to ask ourselves what does it take to do this, before we are so willing to jump in bed with the criminal.

The fact of the matter is that the auspices under which we create the laws of our society are largely based in moral judgment. So is it really such an awful thing for these women to judge these pedophiles? Somewhere along the line someone had to say "this is ok behavior for our society and this is not ok behavior". We call those people judges, and we give them a great deal of respect.

I am not so quick to stand up in defense of a pedophile. On a recent one of these broadcasts that I watched, several of the men admitted that this was not the first time they'd met to have sex with a minor. Most of them were seen on camera looking around frantically and watching their back, because they knew that what they were doing was wrong and that they could be caught and arrested. One man even brought his young child with him.

It would be one thing to show pity toward these men if they did not know what they were doing. But the men shown on these shows in particular, by their own secretive actions, are fully aware of the error of their ways.

The only pity I feel for them is that we as a society do not do enough to give them the help they need well before they come to these types of crimes. I do believe in giving prisoners an apt education and options, so that they do not have to fall back into their lives of crime. I also believe that our public social programs should be broad enough to help all those who are in need and want it. But for the men who appear on these programs...they are the worst of the worst. They go far beyond those content to hide their addictions and illness. They go far beyond those who know they are sick and are seeking help. Most of them only show remorse that they were caught, not at what they were doing. They are the worst of the worst. They do not even belong in jail. As my mother would say, they belong under the jail.

But ultimately, they will have their day in court. And I dare say that is more fairness than they deserve.

ABG said...

Jess, you've totally done it again, nailing something that needs saying in a most eloquent way. Thank you.

Yes, there (even there), but for the grace of God, go I.

We haven't really understood our fallen-ness if we cannot say that. We just haven't.

Laura said...

Looks like you've been reading Alice Miller. :) What I hear from all of this is a huge, resounding call for compassion. It sounds like the women's small group was whipped into a defensive attack frenzy and was unable to sink into a sobering sense of compassion for these men (or women) who somehow got mistreated themselves and ended up abusing other children. Of course, this is not an excuse, but it is an honest and raw look at what happens to people who do not have love and kindness and healthy boundaries in their lives.

As for your questions about what kind of country we live in.... well, I think we live in a country rife with denial but full of many small communities and individuals working for change. I believe that there is no such thing as a free market, and, if there were, the US is certainly not practicing it. If this country were truly a free market, then the borders would be open, and there would be no farm subsidies. And no bail-outs.

But, then, I'm kind of a purist when it comes to certain things. :)