Cruelty and Ambivalence
“I loathe deliberate cruelty.” (Pat Conroy-The Lords of Discipline)
In my world there is currently much talk, and some screaming. Talk of compassion, being tactful, inclusive and accommodating-These are all good things. But, they are only one side of life. Ambivalence tells us that there is another side, the darkness, the cruel. Cruelty is real indeed and sometimes necessary. The sooner you realize that dear reader, the sooner you can move on from idealism and childhood, to the complexity of adulthood.
Our modern civilization, born of ambivalence rests on four pillars: Humans are complex and (deeply) flawed. That life is best when you follow the mean. That the will to power is a temptation which must be checked. That life is filled with uncertainty, and will always be. Fail to appreciate any one of these, we invite zealotry, cruelty and savagery. Our civilization is a lonely outpost within a sea of cruelty: Isn’t that what nature actually is my dear reader-Cruel. In our man-made oasis, the extremes are moderated.
And who keeps the cruelty at bay outside our fragile walls: Soldiers and policeman, or firefighters and medics. They are the sentinels who confront nature and reality head on. To watch a fighter struggle to contain the fire, the soldier or policeman enforce the law, the teacher hold the line (I could not resist), sometimes leaving human debris and wreckage. To feel satisfied in the knowledge that sometimes it must be so: That there are dirty jobs which must be done and it has befallen upon you to exercise such responsibility. To feel the love and the cruelty, coexisting side-by-side. To look back and understand what you were capable of: That is when you take a good hard look at yourself without illusions. I suppose one has a choice: To go mad, or become ambivalent.
For some of us, the moment when we realized we were capable of cruelty, and, human nature being what it is, perhaps even enjoying it. To remember the time when you were capable of anything, when you exercised control to channel that potential: When you did what had to be done. That was the moment when ambivalence became personal.
Humans are “groupish”, social creatures. Human history is an endless drama: The formation or dissolution of groups. The shifting composition between insiders and outsiders: Us and them. What most call cruelty is simple a shift in allegiance, the enforcement of a boundary, the drawing of a line. On the other hand, compassion is a mellowing, an accommodation towards those on the outside. If you believe an action is required to preserve the group, then for you, it is a necessity. For the rest of us, on our better days, the question remains: Is it necessary or cruel. Is it interrogation or torture? Is it hazing, or instruction and discipline? Is it arrogance or holding the line? Is cruelty is just a word?
Ambivalence tell us that human nature is an alloy: The good and the bad united as one, in opposition, inside. This is a tough truth to hear, let alone feel, experience and understand. I hope my dear reader, I have allowed you to feel the damp cold air, to look into the abyss without falling.