We at Combat! blog spend a lot of time considering the problem of others. Partly that’s because I work from home, where I live with several terrariums. When you live alone, have no coworkers and socialize with an insular peer group, it’s easy to start thinking that other people are basically the same as you. They are not. The human experience is characterized first by its stunning variety, and what one person considers the givens of existence are, to another, mere trifles. Take lying, for example. When I lie, I have to take care that what I’m saying sounds like the truth. Otherwise, people will start to think less of me, and because I see the same people over and over again—the colloquial term for this phenomenon is “friends”—my life will get worse. For other people, lying is a sort of formality, the way Japanese people say ittadakimasu before eating. They just have to make the gesture of a declarative statement, and even though nobody believes them, that gesture is enough. It’s probably because they have no friends and the truth means to them what Rembrandt’s Christ With Arms Folded means to a labrador, but who knows? This week’s link roundup is chock full of absurd behavior undertaken by weirdos, and it serves to remind us that other people are startlingly different. Won’t you shudder in disrecognition with me?
First let us consider the man who last year claimed that the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended to apply to women and homosexuals: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Soon, his court will rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Scalia and Clarence Thomas prepared for that landmark hearing the way any honest judge would: by attending a dinner sponsored by the law firm that will argue the case. The justices were featured guests at the Federalist Society event, held at a DC hotel a few hours after they considered the petition for review and sponsored by A) Pfizer, Inc., the gigantic pharmaceutical company; B) the law firm Jones Day, which represents one of the challengers to the law, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and C) Bancroft PLLC, the law firm owned by Paul Clement. Clement is expected to argue the case before the court in March. Why wouldn’t two Supreme Court Justices serve as the paid guests of attorneys in a case on which they are about to rule? That would only bother you if you thought you needed an independent judiciary. On a related note, it bothers Scalia and Thomas not at all.
That’s the thing about impartiality: by definition, we have to agree to disagree about it. Normally individual decency/dignity prevents obvious abuses of this system, but there are situations where decency and dignity break down. Take Newt Gingrich—please, to a nice a farm somewhere. The former Speaker of the House explained on Fox & Friends Tuesday that people like him because he is not a Washington insider. There are two lies in that proposition. The audacity of the second one is a testament to how much easier speaking becomes when you have an electorate instead of friends. Say you are an arrogant fat man named “Newt” who who told your first wife you wanted a divorce while she was in the hospital. Are you really worried that your public statements will lower your credibility among the people who know you personally?
Children in the Combat! blog audience are invited to construct their own transitions from that story to the news that several Starbucks in New York are closing their public restrooms. Those of you who do not live in the city should know that A) the New York Post is written to a sixth-grade reading level and B) it’s really hard to go to the bathroom. The proliferation of Starbucks—there were 99 of them in Manhattan in 2008, about 6.5 per square mile—is a great way to solve that problem and/or walk into an enclosed space coated entirely in human feces. It can go either way. Knowing which Starbucks offers better odds is one of those knacks that makes New York living so much fun. The Starbucks on 78th and Lex, for example, is consistently clean, whereas the one nine blocks up on 87th is a literal shit show. Astor Place Starbucks has two bathrooms, but they are positioned in such a way as to break line of sight with the rest of the establishment. You don’t think that’s a problem until it suddenly, really is.
A bathroom in New York City is a place to meet interesting people, is what I’m saying here, and there are more interesting people out there than you think. There’s the man who wrote this open letter, for example, explaining what it is like to be a sociopath. The author claims to have embarked on a long-term course of therapy after his “predatorial instinct” became overwhelming. He seems to experience the imperative not to hurt people as an intellectual truth rather than a visceral sensation, which is both horrifying and—when you think about it—something that you can’t really blame him for. “In the end, psychopaths need to be given that very thing everyone believes they lack for others: empathy,” he writes. In so doing, he poses a tacit indictment: what can you say about a society that puts other people to death on the grounds that they fail to sufficiently feel for other people?
It’s possible that empathy, the thrill of violence, the desire to assert superiority and other make-or-break moral issues are matters of degree, not binary presence of absence. Maybe the general public is a little more socio/psychopathic than we want to admit. That would probably explain why I like this video:
It’s not really fair to apply the sociopath test to Russians, though.