And now for a change of pace

December 8, 2005

I’m pretty sad tonight for a number of reasons.

1. I caught a look at Sam Harris’ The End of Faith this afternoon and, while nothing I read really surprised me, the intensity of his anger and hatred was striking. It’s all about how you slice the pie – for him, there is atrocious behavior, and there is ethical behavior. The atrocities all seem to him to be attributable to monotheism, people motivated by feelings or beliefs that are intrinsically immune to rational critique. The small amount of ethical progress the human race has achieved, on the other hand, is mostly found in the Enlightenment and a few mystics. So he slices up the pie of human history and sees an enormous mountain of evidence that religion leads to violence and intolerance – since human history is, in large part, a history of violence and intolerance – and is enraged that people still raise their children within Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They are directly aiding and abetting terrorism and hastening the end of the human race.

It’s not that the perspective isn’t familiar, as I said; in large part, that’s what the discussion with choc was all about. Harris has distilled it into a highly corrosive substance: an antidote to the disease that I embody. It’s an old story – people have their identities excluded from other folks’ worldviews all the time – but it still is a disturbing experience.

2. I found out yesterday that I had neglected to renew my wife’s benefits for 2006, her first full year at her new company. Half a year ago – of course it feels like yesterday to me – we enrolled her in medical, dental, etc. as well as three reimbursable accounts – where you put away money tax-free to cover expenses like medical expenses (not covered by insurance), transportation and child care. So I saw the package for 2006’s benefits when it came in the mail, and sort of understood what it meant (the whole idea of a window of time for changing your benefits and re-enrolling in them) and although I wanted to read through it – mostly so I could be a good husband/secretary and make sure I wasn’t missing anything – I was pretty sure we were just going to keep everything as it was. Well, that’s fine for health insurance – those benefits were simply rolled over to the new year – but not the accounts. As it stands, we are not going to be able to put any of that money away – which means it will all be taxed – and there won’t be another opportunity to enroll for twelve months. Which means I just cost my family a certain amount of money which I haven’t even managed to calculate yet. And this is my job. Since I stay home with Georgia, I run the household – I take care of the mail and all the paperwork – I don’t earn any money, but at least I take care of the details that allow the household to run smoothly. And I fucked it up. So it feels like I’m earning negative income for my family.

3. This summer, two blocks from my building, a guy tried to cut into my lane and I refused to get out of his way. So his rear bumper scraped up against my front bumper. Unfortunately, another detail I’ve missed for months is getting the new car photographed for the car insurance company – because they won’t insure it against random damage unless they know what the condition of the car was originally. And I didn’t get out of the car, didn’t get this guy’s insurance information, nothing – I was just too angry, and embarrassed, because I felt it was my fault. I lack that gene that makes it your first response to notice the role other people play in your problems. Well, the front bumper had to be replaced. So in a few seconds I lost my family another six hundred dollars.

4. So yesterday, my wife’s birthday, was the day I learned about the lost tax money. Today, as a kind of part two to her birthday, I was going to surprise her by taking her to what I hoped would be a nice banquet / awards ceremony, a benefit for a non-profit whose work I admire – JFREJ, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. So of course I splurged on this, and hoped it would be a sort of out-of-the-ordinary fancy occasion for Marlene and I. Well, it turned out that there was no dinner, only two tables full of fruit plates, crudites, baba ganoush and little triangular savory pastries. The awards ceremony was held in the sanctuary of a synagogue where my wife (in her second trimester) had to sit in a fairly narrow pew. And it was little bit of a self-congratulatory event, a lot of lefties (many of whom, like Christians, are probably very pleasant as individuals) who had collected to pay attention to the people who can make them feel good about themselves (otherwise known as heroes). The emcee was Kate Clinton who got up and did a routine about President Bush that was pretty much sustained mockery – and the crowd laughed with cathartic approval. I hate the President’s choices as much as anyone, but I find it a dreary focus for progressive energy to loathe him. The event just wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. And you know, that would have been okay, except Marlene (who didn’t really want anything they had to eat at the reception beforehand) started asking questions about the foul-up with the reimbursement accounts, and soon had me wondering about a whole other angle where I might have cost the family even more money. And she did not dig the crowd and the problem with her benefits was stressing her out and I felt like a lousy husband.

5. While, like any other human being, it’s hard for me to see beyond my immediate surroundings, I also was affected by the shit happening to some of our friends. One of Marlene’s friends, his brother died at the age of 25 of a drug overdose. And he was found by his mother, dead in his apartment. This friend of Marlene’s is a fun and funny guy, someone who’s really tried to find the roses growing in the pile of shit that his life has sometimes been, and it really sucks that he lost his brother this way.

6. Another friend – her husband just lost his job. She stays home with their 3-year-old son (who is still nursing twice a day) with another baby on the way.

7. Another friend – her current boyfriend is looking – much like many of her past boyfriends – like he doesn’t really care about her. And she’s just finding this out as HER friend appears to be dying of cancer, and he isn’t being very supportive of her efforts to care for her friend. And you know? although objectively speaking this is a less severe problem than others I just mentioned, it’s in some ways the most depressing. Just the everyday patterns of misery. Not only do people get sick and die and OD on drugs and have serious financial troubles, but also your boyfriend is kind of a shit. This is what I believe Jesus came to earth to address, and I believe he is addressing it, and will ultimately make a world where your brother is safe from himself and you don’t have to discover your own son’s corpse, where your work is secure and your kids are provided for and boyfriends are always admiring and attentive. I believe that. But Sam Harris has taken all the fun out of believing it – tonight at least.

So that’s where I’m at. Not forever… but for now.

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