I’m in a quandary. I just finished reading nemo’s post on the New York Times and its newest contribution to a more informed national dialogue, and it highlights an ethical problem that I can’t seem to solve. Let me explain.
Today a person I know is celebrating a birthday, and he’s already celebrated more than a few of them. I have not been present when he has, but having attended several other celebrations he has organized — some invented on the spot — I am sure that this one will be enthusiastic and thorough.
He’s a pretty interesting person. He started his first business when he was small kid with a Brownie mail-in-your-camera-and-we’ll-send-you-back-the-pictures setup and a pony. He would walk the pony around his semi-rural neighborhood and take snapshots of the other kids on the pony — for a fee. This business ended when he ran out of kids.
Later, in his twenties, he started and ran an abalone fishing business in Mexico, shipping the canned abalone to Japan, where it was a delicacy. After a few monumental adventures and one staggering misadventure, he ditched the fishery and headed with his wife and daughter to Spain with very little in his pockets and even less in the way of plans for the future. He found he could make something close to a living running a makeshift barbecue shack there, and might still be there today, living the simple life, but his daughter became very ill. That meant he had to make a fair amount of money, and to do that, he needed to come back to the US.
This he did, and I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that he found he was very good at making money, if that was what he put his mind to, and therefore he did. His daughter got the treatment she needed — and he decided that he kind of liked having money. He became something of a notable on Wall Street and in the energy business. Along the way he had a lot more children, and very quietly but very efficiently began plowing money into things he found worthwhile. One was a foundation that recycled computer equipment for reuse by institutions offering training and other educational services to people with handicaps. Another is a center that has literally rescued hundreds of people with mental disabilities from a lifetime of institutionalized emptiness and neglect. There are many more, some of which I know about, and others that no one knows about.
But by far the most impressive thing about him is the simple fact that chief among his best friends today remain those of his childhood and adolescence — people from whom he has now long been separated by geography, but never in kinship.
So -what’s the problem? What “dilemma?”
Well, I’d like to call him and wish him a happy birthday, but the sad fact is, in spite of everything I have written above, I just can’t. You see, he’s a Republican. And worse still, he owns guns.
I suppose I could overlook one or the other, but together, it’s just too much. What can I say about Republicans? They want children to go hungry and get sick. They think that undocumented residents should not have the same rights as citizens to health and support services. They hate minorities. They oppose any effort to save our dying planet, even to the point of openly disputing what has long been settled science. They view the government as meddlesome, intrusive and high-handed when its every thought and act is aimed at a better life for our nation’s residents. And on, and on, and on. I can’t really think of one Republican that isn’t, deep in their heart, a bad person. It’s sad, and I wish it weren’t so — but there’s the evidence, you see, that can’t be ignored.
And as for guns? Need I explain? When will the senseless killing in our schools and our cities, our towns and our marathons, our movie theaters and our gated communities end? What does it take?
And here’s the saddest part. There are many, many people like my friend. (In fact, as of the last election, roughly half the country were Republicans, which is a shitload.) Perhaps not quite so successful or accomplished, but still, in spite of all their gifts and all their talents, unable to see the plain and simple truths in front of them. They cling to old ways and superstitions, fear the future, reject progress and generally act with a callous and stubborn disregard for their responsibilities to their fellow humans. What can this be but an innate evil — a deeply-ingrained and terrible character flaw that neither reason nor compassion can address?
Still, I will reach out to my friend. Because it is my duty as a person. A Democratic person. And a good person. I will try my best to make him see reason, but I am not hopeful. He will not change. He will respond the same way he always has:
See what I mean?