I want to talk about Pittsburgh.
Well, let’s take one step back from that. I don’t want to talk about Pittsburgh, but I feel like I need to talk about Pittsburgh. I feel like I need to talk about Pittsburgh because, somehow I’ve gone from basically forgetting Pittsburgh existed to that word bringing me roughly three seconds away from tears at any moment. I feel fragile and volatile and furious and scared. I’m reminded that there are myriad people in this world who have not met me, but want me dead. It’s not personal, but is an intensely personal feeling. It’s not about me. It’s not about most anyone alive today, but it’s very real. It’s about a legacy of hate charting back centuries that’s somehow survived nigh universal public condemnation. But private and public are very different things, and none of us can really know what’s bubbling between the surface at any moment.
Few people around me would know that for the past few days, even thinking of Pittsburgh has made my skin flush. You know that prickly feeling where you’re teetering on the edge of breakdown? For me it’s been an almost constant sensation. Why? I don’t live in Pittsburgh. I don’t live in America. I don’t interact with people who own guns, who hold open prejudice. I don’t interact with violence in my life. I don’t. I live in a bubble that innoculates me against the worst of humanity. At the same time it’s knocking on my door constantly. I know that hate exists. I know that prejudice exists. I’m taught to fear. I see it every day on my social media feeds. In the news cycle. It’s hate, prejudice and fear all day long.
I don’t have personal reason to fear. Really. I live in a privileged position of security. I have a job that keeps a roof over my head, food in my stomach and my health in check. I live in a quiet neighbourhood with nice families around me. I don’t deal with outward aggression, unwanted advances or any kind of substantive threat. I’m a straight white cis male who hasn’t known the sting of real prejudice as so many others do daily. I always felt different, growing up Jewish in New Zealand. I was basically the only Jewish kid at my school. I hated it. I didn’t feel special, I felt weird. Mismatched. Unwelcome. It’s not like anyone really went out of their way to make me feel this way, I just did. Anti-semitism had a hard time surviving in a country where we had maybe 8,000 Jews max. We were statistically insignificant enough not to matter. Who would care? Auckland was a cultural melting pot of foreigners and misfits. I’m sure we all felt like outsiders. I was gently forced to go to Hebrew school on Sunday mornings. I hated it. I didn’t want to be Jewish. I didn’t want to feel different. I never connected to the religion and had no interest in it.
I felt connected to suffering though, with no real idea why. Holocaust stuff didn’t really have much to do with me, but it stung in a way that made it feel personal. It always has and I trust it always will. Anti-semitism seemed abstract, so far from my lived experience. I didn’t know why it hurt so innately, considering I’d never felt it tangibly. But it did. It’s always felt that way. I’ve never had a Jewish slur thrown my way with any form of malice. Still, I don’t know that it’s possible to be Jewish without the ever-present awareness of the legacy you’ve inherited. It’s just a fact of life. There are people out there who wished the Holocaust stuck the landing. I don’t even think they know why. I’m not sure they’ve had much real interaction with Jewish people beyond obnoxious sterotypes handed down from their forebearers. Hate is taught and I’m not sure if it can survive empathy.
Of course I’m not saying that suffering is uniquely Jewish. Far from it. Whether you’re black, Muslim, queer, outside of gender norms or in any way divergent from the paper thin definition people use for “normal”, you deal with it daily on some level. So many people out there have to tolerate far worse than me on a more regular basis. Suffering is known by too many and tolerated by many more. The worst thing is, it’s not going to get better. These feelings I’m sitting with, that people sit with constantly, they’re only increasing. It’s all reaching a fever pitch, which will only rise. As bad as we think it is, that’s how things are trending. We’re not there yet. Suffering will continue, as it always has.
We’re diverging day by day and I don’t know how that rift heals. There are sides and we all draw lines in the sand. We retreat from those who disagree. Why engage with them when we could have our own views reaffirmed? Now it seems like we’re living in dichotomous realities where we’ve each made monsters of the other and are jumping at shadows. We’re all scared of losing what we have, that everything is temporary. We don’t bother trying to foster understanding, because what’s the point in wasting effort? Empathy is trying and it feels impossible to teach someone how to care. I don’t know if we’re minutes from midnight, but it sure feels that way.
The weird thing is, we’re probably statistically in a better place than we ever were. Terrifying as the world seems every day, it’s likely not that way for most of us. The resonance of fear and hate has been amplified by connectivity. The more it resonantes, the more we hear of it. It’s not going anywhere either, because it sells. Suffering is something we can all connect to, so we share in it. We see more of it, because we’re attuned to it. Because we’re all attuned to it, it’s what we’re shown from all angles, but not with any nuance. We get soundbites and snappy phrases, but not depth. Because we live in a constant news cycle and we don’t have time for in depth journalism. Plus nobody really wants it anyway, when they can “understand” a headline so much quicker. And we’re not seeing principled journalism ethics at play, because news is just something to sell advertising by. They have overheads too and really, they’re just trying to do their jobs with what they have. So we’re all scrambling to hear from opinion leaders to let us know what to believe, but nobody knows what to say that helps. Everyone just wants to put their head down and get by. Plus we just want to hear what reaffirms what we already believe anyway. It’s all so much bigger than us, that doing anything about it is overwhelming.
So what am I gonna do about it? Probably nothing. It’s so fucking hard to deal with this stuff at all when it’s so simple to disengage and distract myself. So instead I’ll likely stay where I am and nothing will change. Despite any differences between myself and those I disagree with, we’re mostly the same in that regard. It’s more difficult to think about how to help than it is to do nothing.
So nothing gets done. And this is amplified. And we’re all doing nothing. And we’re all suffering. And we’re all distracted. And the ones who act out are scared and suffering too. And we’re all fucked until something shifts. But it won’t. So we won’t. So more will die. And this will continue. Until someone does too much. And there’ll be nothing left to talk about, because nobody is listening. And that’s why I don’t want to talk.
Because mostly, I’m scared. And it won’t help.