“Human life and humanity come into being in genuine encounters. The hope for this hour depends upon the renewal of the immediacy of dialogue among human beings.”
Cameos, written in irony, illustrating how human beings routinely and habitually relate to Self and Other as objects.
Learning to Tango
We learn to Tango before we learn to speak. You pretend that you are true to me, and I pretend that I believe you.
You play a role that you think I think is you but isn’t you. You may feel comfortable in it, but it fits you like a bad suit, and you want me to pretend that it doesn’t. In playing your role you invite me to be your counterpoint, you the table, me the chair.
When I try to reach you by tugging on the sleeve of your costume, you object to being treated as a person, and I object to your objection.
By inviting me to your party, you’ve asked me to sign your dance card. You take the lead, and I follow. We smile as you step on my toes, and I on yours. We St Bernard’s Waltz our way across the boards; shaking our tails like pantomime horses, behooved by our performances, both desperate to leave the stage as the trombone player turns his sheet music.
We dance til dawn without our having to even leave our seats.
We are born into our fathers’ filing cabinets, indexed, labelled, tagged and numbered, long before we even know our names. The big-eyed, soulful animals fair no better. We’re schooled in how to count and measure; how to spell and throw a ball; how, like Hyenas and Zebras, robbers are bad and cops are different; how it’s bad to let the school burn down, and good to phone the fire brigade.
Then shot from a cannon into the metropolis of steel-reinforced concrete, tarmac, copper pipe and plastic conduit; the endless flushing of toilets and unscrewing of our lids, and all without knowing how to survive the flight without a helmet. But it’s not the flying, it’s the landing. Tinker, Tailor, Liar, Traumatiser, Baker, Butcher, Child Neglecter, Womaniser, Politician, Soldier, Narcissistic mother, Sociopathic father, Abandoner, Dressmaker, Joytaker, CBT Therapist.
And so, with the earnestness of a young deer, I set off to learn new and important things, only to discover…
Class cancelled: Preventing and Surviving Existential Injuries From Strangers, Friends and Family 101.
“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges. It should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.”
Mirrors of Usefulness
Like a cloudy mirror from a bird cage, I learn to see myself reflected in my usefulness to you, rather than the Aurora of my cosmic Being, which somehow manages to survive on instant noodles and the contempt of my superiors. I end up a brick to your mortar; a cold, dark distillate held in a test tube before a flame, that scans our shells for flaws; that marks our boiling points; the rates of our expansion; when we freeze; and when we cease to be useful. When I look at myself in the mirror of the world I wonder, not about God and the stars or my humble place beneath them, but how much money I, as a soul, would fetch were I to be sold by the pound.
Like Spartans, we enter the arena to compete, not stand together in harmony. So, let us harden ourselves against one another, seasoned in vinegar, like conkers on the ends of strings. We swing and dangle, playing for a while under the clouds, jousting, elbowing, curtseying and swivelling our eyes like marbles rolling about the floor. We play our Chinese ropes as spiritual beings pretending to be things pretending to be beings; outdoing one another’s needs by appearing not to.
Boot and Thimble
Instead of two sparks of consciousness arcing between each other, and lighting up the night sky in celebration of our brief and beautiful tragedy, unfolding beneath the quiet Moon, the roaring Sun, the irridescent cosmos, we share the oiling can of mutual delusion, you the Tin Man and me the short-sleeved suit of Frankenstein, tightening one another’s nuts, loosening one another’s bolts, with the occasional squirt of 3-in-1.
I’m a lawyer, you’re a broker, he’s a doctor, she’s a pole-dancer, dah-de-dah, pass the mustard. For money, vanity, a carbon-free car you plug into the nuclear power station, or a holiday in Bimini, we play Monopoly like children acting like adults acting like children, me the Boot and you the Thimble.
I am the sneer on my mother’s face. Her unlickable stamp. The boiled egg she reluctantly laid a few years before bathing in the golden rays of my brother’s sunshine. I was thus trained to turn her spoon on myself even before she brought it down upon my shell. When we lose a loved one, there’s a moment in the morning when we awaken and we forget that they have left us or died. Followed by a devastating realisation of their absence. In my case that realisation happens every morning upon waking whilst rubbing the sleep from my eyes, as it dawns on me that I’m still here, still present, lying like a leg of ham beneath the Candlewick bedspread. At work I willingly submit myself to being treated as a mop. After twelve years of being tortured at school, and a living wage for which I feel unworthy, I allow them to lift me by the ankles, force my head into a galvanised steel bucket of soapy water, and proceed with the humiliation of contemptuously cleaning the floor with me. As punishment for allowing myself to be so used, I one tried to punch myself in the face but failed to either gain sufficient leverage with my knee braced against the radiator, or enough momentum in my swing to knock me out. And so in consolation, I bought a pair of trainers on Amazon. They were made in China, with fifty percent off. After I had clicked ‘Pay Now’ I asked myself “When will it ever end?”
One winter’s night, whilst my Auntie and Uncle were sitting on the sofa watching Late Call on TV, my Uncle caught fire. Auntie didn’t know whether it had been a case of spontaneous combustion, or the result of a lifetime of holding on to too much anger. But, always one to see the positive in everything, she sat reflecting on their life together. Yes, she had been the loaf to his breadknife, and he had treated her harshly at times, cutting a slice off her whenever he wanted a sandwich. He had been unfaithful and smacked her around, spending the last of their money on the horses, the pub, unfiltered cigarettes and booze, and never once appreciating her sense of irony. But yet, he had remained the light of her life. And, with no money left to pay the bills, she later said that she spent their last moments together being grateful for the heat he gave off as he went up in flames. With the house warm for the first time in their long life together, the laundry was more or less dry by the following morning.
Treated as an object, Arthur Fleck in the film “Joker”, straddles the gap between the harsh realm of a brutal society and a fantasy world that serves to sooth and cushion the impact of his suffering: the purpose of our madness.
Treating other people as objects is our greatest source of human suffering. We do it to others to their detriment, and we do it to ourselves to our own cost. It is always a choice, and one often born in ignorance, our own conditioning or mistreatment as kids, and later habits arising from attempts to meet our needs via personal inauthenticity. We can all do something about it, if each of us chooses the more difficult path in life.
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