Love thy neighbor

I finish writing a short piece on nihilism, and then I have to confront the news.

Love thy neighbor

I finish writing a short piece on nihilism, and then I have to confront the news. A teenager shot in the head while trying to find his siblings. A woman shot dead because of a turn into a wrong driveway. Cheerleaders shot because one briefly tried to enter the wrong car.

A prisoner left to starve and sit in his own feces for weeks. Another prisoner eaten alive by bugs.

There's a lot of talk about how the United States sows fear and rage for power and money. Gun companies are an especially vicious model. They thrive on panics incited against politicians whose only liberal credential is not cutting Social Security. They depend on calling entire populations criminals who only want to hurt others. Sales reliably rise because of these lies.

Still, I don't know that gun companies or toxic media are causing the complete breakdown we're seeing. People really want to do sadistic, cruel things to each other. They get mildly scared and immediately reach for a weapon. The anger we're witnessing is well-beyond "I'll kill you if you hurt me." The atrocities I listed above feel closer to mass shootings. As if the one right we can conceive is that of being a mass murderer if we're uncomfortable.


Of course, this traces back to our denial of what slavery entailed. Lots of people say talking about slavery is boring. They know the history, and they know it is history.

That the 13th Amendment keeps slavery legal is more than a technicality. It allows for the creation of two separate classes: the so-called "law-abiding" who have, and those who do not. Those who don't have aren't just lacking property. They are considered undeserving of wealth, outsiders who are always trying to steal.

It is a reformulation of what made property rights so dangerous. The moment people declared other people property, it became impossible to create a culture of rights on property rights alone. The history of slavery is that of repeated beatings, brutality by those sent to police fugitive slaves, and family separation. It is a history of genocide. It goes hand-in-hand with a twisted notion of property rights. A home is a castle, a domain where one can own, do, believe, feel, and think however one wants. You want to sit and rage against people you've never met? That's your "right." You want to store your firearm under a pillow? That's a "right" too. Imagining everyone as owning a castle in a democracy or a republic should set off alarms. A castle is a fortress. Exactly what does everyone own a fortress for? Who are we perpetually at war with? If you say "the government," then what do we make of the words "we the people?"


It is painfully obvious that identification with your property, your wealth, comes at the expense of recognizing your own children. America currently wages war on the young for being young. There's no doubt in my mind that the legacy of the Trump years is the end of more conservative evangelical churches. Once the church elders went all in on Trump, they effectively threw away the next generation. The key to understanding their love for Trump is simple: he doesn't listen to anyone else. He dictates.

To a degree, I can imagine the paranoia. You don't feel listened to. You have money but no friends. You watch the television and share hate-filled memes on your phone. You believe "common sense" is gone, the "common sense" that allowed you to build wealth which no one appreciates. You've got nothing to offer anyone because you don't care to ask what others need, and if you did ask, you'd start suspecting they wanted too much when they answered.

This is a completely debased way of living. It describes innumerable people we know. The identification of property with happiness—the idea we "win" at life and we should fear being "losers"—has just decimated our ability to see how many needs a person actually has. It took me a long time, as a teacher, to realize the attention I was giving was everything. I was completely convinced that if I gave someone attention, it was worthless. I had no concept that attention is paramount because it opens the door to so much more. Not just needs, but also hopes.


"Love thy neighbor" is as beautiful a moral sentiment as can be had. You are to love someone because they are nearby. Next to you. That's it. There's no additional concern about asking whether someone should be next to you, or wondering if someone's skin color or sexual orientation is correct, or believing that your neighbor actually wants to rob you. If you feel strongly about those sorts of things, you have to work on yourself. It is immoral to make up enemies, to spew hate, because you feel like it. It is immoral to consume white nationalist propaganda and poison one's own brain.

The original meaning of "right" is not a limit on a government's power. What is right is what is just. A larger claim about justice, about how we ought to live, hides within our notion of individual rights.

You'd think people could see their own children as next to them. I don't think that's happening any more. They're obsessed with the man on the TV, the other on the radio, the short clips and memes on their phone. People are fully absorbed into parasocial relationships. I get the feeling a number of parents can't conceive what their own children have given to them. They don't understand the things money can't buy.

If you can't see your own children, you'll never see other people's children. Your own neighbors. The inevitable end of not taking slavery and racism seriously was the police state. The prisons, the surveillance, the constant state of fear, the license to violence. Hate, fear, and ignorance are a potent combination. They push us to believe others deserve nothing more than a prison cell, and then we find ourselves imprisoned, with nowhere to go. We don't want to leave the house, after all. Someone, just like us, might rob it.