Now Tuesday was a really good day. Got to work with a pocket full of nothing, true, but came up with a column about the minimum wage that I wasn't embarrassed to pass on to the editor. Jumped on the Blue Line to Wicker Park. Popped into Myopic Books, one of the great used book stores left in Chicago. Had lunch at my new favorite place, Dove's on Damen, bumped into my pal, Tony Fitzpatrick, the artist, sitting right next to me. Talked about Rahm Emanuel circling the drain. A good time.
Just as I got home news broke about the governor of Mississippi announcing that, envious of the scorn being heaped on North Carolina, his state too had passed its own ridiculous law making it easy for the state's wasp's nest of haters to use their religion as a pretext to snub and harass gay people who try to patronize their stores, to buy flowers or cakes for their weddings, as if those stores were places of public accommodation in a capitalist society called the United States of America and not religious relic stalls at some market in a medieval village in Upper Slovakia.
"Is this the hill to die on?" my kids' elementary school principal would ask, when some particularly nugatory bit of nonsense was being fluffed into A Big Honkin' Issue. Apparently yes, since it seems the whole wheel of Christianity turns upon scorn for gay marriage. Who knew?
Why should bowl-haircut state legislators South of the Mason-Dixon line be allowed to make a fuss about regular American citizens going peacefully about their business, and get no flack back in return? It's deeply satisfying that a company like PayPal fled North Carolina in revulsion. Such courage must be emulated. I pursed my lips, pulled a picture of some black-clad ISIS group off the Internet, and Tweeted it with this line: "Someone should tell Mississippi that 'sincerely held religious beliefs' really isn't much of an excuse any more."
I thought it clever, and others agreed — it was retweeted nearly 200 times, with 300 "likes." I went to watch the Bulls game, satisfied that my small role in flying the flag for liberty and justice for all in the United States had been fulfilled.
By Wednesday, however, well, not such a good day. The motley bund of haters and white supremacists—whoops, excuse me, "race realists"— sulking down in Mississippi began to stir, sniff the air, and mobilize themselves. They cannily deduced, by my name, that I'm a Jew — no slipping anything past these folks — a parasite on my "host" country.
Twitter lit up.
"omg a jew doing jew stuff I'm so surprised omg" wrote something calling itself Ferric Jaggar. Jew stuff? Really? Maybe that's why they call it Twitter; all these twits. How to respond to that? Start by considering the source. Silence would be ideal—what purpose is served by responding?— but it's so tempting to try. I tweeted back: "I assume by 'jew stuff' you mean 'thinking.' Yeah, it's fun, you ought to try it sometime. It's how we stay ahead." For all the good it did. Immediately others were waving it around --see, see? I was claiming that Jews are better than Christians? (Well, umm, this particular one is, at the moment here, compared to morons like you, yeah, I'll stand by that.)
Soon it was coming fast and furious. I lost count. Dozens. Scores.
"What about Israel?" others chimed in. What about the Orthodox view on intermarriage? You could see their logic shining through, like the spine of a tadpole. Of course the Jew stands with Israel. It was the strangest thing. At first I tried to respond. "Don't you have Jews in Mississippi?" Not all Jews are knee jerk supporters of Israel. I'm certainly not. But somehow explaining J-Street ambivalence toward the direction Israel is going at the moment to faceless Aryan Nation bullies who just assume they're hitting me where I live, well, extra stupid. In fact, we tend to look more askance at some of that country's glaring missteps than Christians do, who adore the nation because it fits into whatever insane End of Time philosophy they've got locked up in their secret hearts.
It didn't waste the day. But it wasted an hour of the day. Maybe two. I'd focus on my work, manage 20 or 30 minutes, and then jump back on, read a few, wince, block five or 10 replies—I trained myself not to even read them—and then flee back to my job.
Still, it managed to cast the afternoon in a mournful, sour pall, to think that such creatures exist, they populate our country, the South especially, it seems, muscles twitching in their jaws, bereft that they can't openly loathe blacks anymore and still keep their jobs at the Piggly Wiggly, determined to keep the one group they can hate, gays (and, I guess, Jews) under their boot. It must supply them with the self-esteem they lack.
I don't have energy to pluck out any more specific examples of ugliness. A number seemed to think Israel is responsible for ISIS, or felt outraged that I had pointed out that, like ISIS, the people behind the Southland's pro-bigotry laws are using their faith as an excuse to hurt people. That made them victims, which is how all bullies view themselves, the better to justify their hostility for the world. You haven't lived until someone with "fuhrer" as part of their Twitter handle accuses you of insensitivity.
I had to keep reminding myself that bigotry is, at its core, a form of ignorance: the uninformed ramping up their fright at something that a non-terrified person would instead learn something about and thus no longer fear. A failure of empathy. A crime against empathy, really. And that for all their attempts to hurt others — like Mississippi's new law — their true victims are themselves, crouched at the keyhole of their worldview, missing life's pageant. A number of my new Twitter pals referred to "white genocide"—their term for a world including minorities and people different from themselves. "White suicide" is more like it, as a culture is defined by its worst elements (another link with ISIS: they slur the thing they would promote by associating it with themselves).
Enough. I'm not the Idiot Police. That's a mantra of mine. I can't fix them and shouldn't try—there are too many, for starters, and their logic twists in such a way that they always end up right, in their own minds if nowhere else. It's the rule of their existence. The world will step over them, like a pedestrian avoiding dog shit, and keep moving forward. Let time do its work. It seems like the hate is the only constant in some places, such as Mississippi, and various flesh vessels are born, live and spend their lives allowing the hate to inhabit them before they pass it onto their children like a hereditary disease, like syphilis. They not only lost the Civil War, but they're still losing it, still losing, every day, thrashing at the modern world with their limp little noodle of a creed as it rushes past them, cringing at their touch.
Not to indict them all. I've been South—the photo above is Durham, North Carolina. They don't all seem to be sputtering haters. Or maybe that's just the polite public face, until they can run to Twitter and reveal their true, hideous selves.
Quite the sorry spectacle. And no harm in feeling pity for them, an echo of the empathy they obviously lack. I think it's important not to hate them back, because if you do, then they've won, a little. To be honest, I felt like Dante, pausing at some trench in the netherworld, holding a handkerchief to my nose, half-swooning as I gaze as long as possible upon the horrible sight, the upturned faces of the damned, before hurrying on with a shudder and a sigh. Some people are their own punishment. It's best to linger among them only long enough to remind yourself how good it is to not be one of them, to have the pleasure of getting away from them. It's a luxury they will never enjoy.