I notice the Pope has announced his opposition to the death penalty, period. The boss of the Roman Catholic Church and political head of the tiny but influential nation called The Holy See has essentially made it the entire faith’s tenet that capital punishment is an evil.
Well, at long goddamned last. For all the “pro-life” bluster the Christianists have spouted in the last half century, few of them have made the logical leap to recognizing the supposed sacredness of life across the board. When I hear pro life I think only of anti-abortion; that’s been the rhetoric and the activism since abortion became big news in the mid- and late-1960s. Oh sure, there’ve been a scant few priests and nuns who’ve called for a ban on state killings and war, but they’ve been such outliers that, statistically, they don’t exist.
I’m under no illusion that the world wouldn’t be better off without broken human beings like Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacy. My own opposition to the death penalty is based on a widely-shared mistrust of elected or appointed politicians and jurists to do the right thing in all cases. Look, we don’t trust our leaders to fix potholes the right way. We don’t believe they have the ability to end homelessness. They’re helpless in the face of drug addiction. And we expect them to be able to carry out executions fairly and justly?
Now, if only Francis can do something about the child molestation problem bedeviling the Church. One suggestion: How about putting an end to the boys-only club that is the priesthood.
I try to respect another’s argument or stance as much as prudence will allow. Hell, I’ve got Republican friends. And I’ve had heated debates with people on my side of the fence about how the world needs conservatives to balance off the liberals like me and them. But sometimes I just have to hear a guy out and nod non-commitally because, man, he’s not stating a thesis, he’s just crying out that he’s cracked.
Case in point: A guy comes into the bookstore early Saturday morning. Very chatty. Opens the conversation…, no, wait, let me emend that — opens the soliloquy by positing that our two-party political system is woefully inadequate in this day and age of multiple points along the poli-philo spectrum. The Republicans, said he, are the party of the stern Dad — there’s a right way and a wrong way and we all had better toe the line. The Dems, on the other hand, are the Mom party, cosseting the populace, forgiving, rescuing, accepting all manner of deviations and eccentricities.
As a simplistic rendering of the parties, an explication of the extremes of both sides, his analysis can stand w/o me jumping on him with both feet. As long as we weren’t concerned with subtlety and nuance, I didn’t feel the need to quibble with him.
After a while, he drifted toward the rear of the store where Margaret, the owner, holds sway. He bent her ear for a good 15 minutes on politics before I noticed the discussion — oops, sorry, the monologue — turned to hard science. He touched on fossil fuels and geology and archaeology and one or two other topics. One thing he said caught my ear: Those in charge, he stated, are in possession of scads of technologies that they’re not telling the rest of us about, mainly because we, the unwashed mob, wouldn’t be able to deal with the knowledge. The implication, of course, was that well-informed, sophisticated fellows like himself surely can. Immediately my mind flashed to things like invisible death rays and time travel and other scifi chestnuts.
Then he drifted off into genetics. The researchers working on mapping the human genome, he said, have found there are 62 strains of alien DNA in our genes. That is, some 62 different expeditions of beings from other planets have come to Earth, mated with proto- or fully-humans, altering our branch of the genetic tree.
Margaret, to her credit, said, “Oh, is that so?” And then she quickly added, “You know, I’ve got to get back to this project I’ve been working on.” I heard his footsteps coming back toward me. I buried my head in the New York Times book review, peering so hard at the computer screen it’s a wonder I didn’t burn holes into it. I read this headline a good half dozen times in succession:
Two New Novels Expose the Fracturing of the American Nuclear Family, From Midcentury to Today
Funny thing is that very headline or a reasonable variation thereof has run approximately 728,000 times in the NYT book section since the term nuclear family gained currency in the 1950s. (BTW, acc’d’g to Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster puts its origin at 1947 while the Oxford English Dictionary finds a reference to it in 1925. Who knew?)
Anyway, the guy took the hint and passed me by on the way to the door. I sighed, gratefully.
Funny thing is, back when he was pontificating at me he’d said the internet was both a blessing and a curse, seeing as how it is the portal to so much human knowledge as well as a cesspool of misinformation. I have to imagine this fellow found out about the 62 alien visits from — where else? — the internet.
It’s our age’s curse that few, if any, of us can distinguish between the portal and the cesspool when we’re online.
I’ve finally gotten around to reading A First-Rate Madness. Subtitled Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, it was written by Nassir Ghaemi, professor of psychiatry at Tufts University. The book argues that an unusual number of notable world leaders throughout history have been, well, loco. He cites as examples — pretty much a chapter for each — the likes of Lincoln, Gen. Sherman, Gandhi, Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and others. Each of them, acc’d’g to Ghaemi, was mentally ill. Not as in, say, Charles Manson, but more along the lines of people who’d been laid low by deep clinical depression or who were bipolar yet somehow achieved a high station in life. They were highly functional even though they carried with them psychological burdens that could well have caused them to commit suicide or self-medicate their way to skid row.
For contrast, Ghaemi cites perfectly sane leaders like Neville Chamberlain or George W. Bush who lacked the depressive’s enhanced empathy or the hyperthymic personality’s willingness to take huge risks. These sane people might be perfectly fine leaders in times of peace and harmony but when the global house of cards looks about to collapse, they’re virtually helpless.
The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy.
Me? I’ve always held that anyone who wants to be President of the United States has to be somewhat off her or his rocker. I mean, what sane person would want to be the human whose finger hovers over the red button that just might trigger a planet-wide nuclear inferno? Who wants to be the person who’ll never again be able to go for a quick walk in the park or run down to the convenience store for an ice cream sandwich on a whim? Who’s got the crust to say, Y’know, I wanna be in charge of 330 million people? The answer: a nut.
So, yeah, the sane Bush fils really is a few degrees off kilter — but not as awry as JFK was, what with his sexual voraciousness and his mind-altering Addison’s Disease. And not as mentally fragile as MLK, who jumped out a window in hopes of killing himself not once but twice as a teen. Sherman was crazy. Churchill was whacked out. Lincoln was as depressed as a human could get and still find a way to get out of bed in the morning.
It’s these more loony than the average loon kinds of people who’ve excelled as leaders in scary times. And then there’s the likes of A. Hitler, whose madness transcended that of Churchill or Roosevelt. His was another story entirely.
Unfortunately, Ghaemi’s book was written before the unlikely victory of President Gag in 2016 so we don’t know what the prof. might think about our current screwy leader. My take is Li’l Duce‘s madness obliterates the boundary of how daft a person can be and still run a huge government. Then again, it looks as though the US Gov’t right now is really running itself despite the March hare atop it.
What happens if and when P. Gag is faced with a real crisis? Will his psychopathy play well? I wouldn’t bet the mortgage payment on it. See, I wouldn’t want Charles Manson as my dear leader either.