Credit: dave leon

Aquittal

by Dave Leon

     The worst thing, in my opinion, about the acquittal is that it furthers the notion that right and wrong is determined by legal strictures instead of moral or ethical guidelines.  Exoneration in this case means only the absence of punishment, not the absence of criminal actions, but this distinction is lost in our warped reality 2020.  It furthers the warp, it is an injury to the space-time continuum of shared reality that allows us to function.  The cognitive chasm that exists between what is legal and what is ethical feels analogous to the basically good and decent person who is also an abject racist or homophobe without experiencing contradiction.  Having and thinking abhorrently bad thoughts about whole groups of other people is not experienced as bad, it’s rewardingly, tragically a source of identity. 

     Up to a certain level, it is quite healthy to envision yourself as the hero of your own story.  If you believe in something and people support your belief, it re-enforces the belief.  I worked in a group home in the mid-west in the late 1990s, a fairly stable environment housing 20 adults with mental health and substance use challenges.  An older white man moved in, tall and gaunt and deadly serious with long scraggily peppered hair and a sparse beard and long pointy fingers, immediately reminiscent of an old testament image of god, or Moses.  He was deeply intelligent, well-spoken and loquacious with the fatal flaw of believing deeply that he lived to be served by others.  Without any (obvious) threats of violence or outright intimidation, within three weeks in the house the other residents were serving him coffee and buying him things, advocating to the staff on his behalf.  Thinking about the impact of the acquittal led me to reconsider this man as a black hole of personality, sucking everyone within his reach into his funnel of delusional grandeur.  His reality literally became everyone else’s reality by the power of his charisma alone.

     In Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace, we meet the monster Norman Bombardino who, not satisfied as a titan in the construction industry, tries solve the self-other problem by eating until there is no more room for anyone else in the universe.  When he is first introduced, Norman already weighs more than 900 pounds and is eating a bloody stack of expensive steaks with his hands in a restaurant, splattering the walls with steak grease.  This man was literally a black hole, or aiming to become one.  By the end of the book he is reintroduced only as ominously pounding, shuddering footsteps coming onto the scene, clearly far huger than he had been 200 pages earlier and well on his way to his goal.  It was that kind of book.  Norman was the physical manifestation of the delusion of grandeur. The delusion of self-importance can be so oddly powerful, if paired with a charisma that catches hold, that it acts like an imploding star, dragging human shared reality into a death spiral around its own empty core. 

      I once got into an argument with someone over money.  Only once, really.  I was explaining a situation regarding money and in the course of the conversation realized this person did not know basic math, like addition and subtraction.  I also immediately sensed that for this person, not understanding math led him immediately to the conviction that my math-based argument was an attempt to swindle and trick him.  And I felt afraid. I could not use what I understood to be logic to convince him not to be angry. 

     The book of DBT, the official Linehan guidebook to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, starts with the example of a little girl who tells her mother that she is thirsty and her mother says, “No, you are not thirsty.”  When you break a child’s belief in their own sense of bodily reality, this split effects everything else about that person until the split is repaired.  When the blatant betrayal of the public trust is so blithely overlooked it creates similar ruptures in the reality continuum.  Shared reality is so fragile because it isn’t a thing, a fixed point.  Despite our wars and general stupidity in reaction to our discoveries of the riches of the earth, it did maybe seem in the last 200 years like humans were moving towards consensus on basic concepts like the reality and truthfulness of science.  It seemed, naively, like we humans could come to an agreement on at least this level.  Maybe the fundamental breakdown of our day is the split between believers and nonbelievers in science.  Science is about facts, and when facts are seen only as opinions there is no basis for shared reality.  Believers in scientific fact are utterly powerless against nonbelievers.  If I disown what I do not understand, it loses its power over me.  If I eat the entire world, it can no longer hurt me or make me feel small.     

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