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Moment of Truth: The Window and the View.

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

Three identical triplets. Have you met them? For a long time they hadn't even met each other. They were separated at birth. Then, twenty years later, they were reunited. It was joyous. There were astounding parallels in their separate upbringings. There were stunning and amusing similarities between them. And then things took a dark turn.

Look, it's on Hulu. I'll try not to spoil anything, but I will probably fail. I'll jump in and fail right now: their separation at birth was arranged by a theorist of hereditary psychology who had himself survived the Holocaust. Survived as in, he was Jewish and didn't get killed.

But this isn't about Jews. It's about ideas. The ideas the Nazi doctors explored about heredity and human nature and biology were medieval. Their methods of investigation involved torturing their subjects in ways that would make a Spanish Inquisitor cringe, and gag with nausea. They transplanted eye tissue, that's one, without anesthetizing the living donors. I won't go further because, for reasons of financial ineptitude, I had to sell my book about the Nazi doctors. I'll buy it again when I'm rich.

Now, this Jewish researcher, he arranged to have several sets of twins separated at birth and placed with families who differed in class and demeanor. Their development in these differing environments was followed under the guise of routine follow-up monitoring in the adoption process.

The underlings of this Holocaust-survivor mastermind were grad students or post-docs, going to the subjects' houses, filming them as they put them through your usual childhood inventory of skills and behavior. I say usual, because I underwent therapy as a child, and the tests were very familiar to me. These underling researchers were keeping a secret, because they knew that each solitary individual they were testing was actually an unwitting member of a matching set. They kept it secret from the adopted children and the adoptive parents.

One woman, who looked disturbingly like a more cube-shaped Madeline Albright, and who would only admit to having aided and abetted this study in the most minimal way, evaluated the ethical questions it might raise thus: see, this was the 50s and 60s, we didn't know this was bad.

Thin-lipped octogenarians, note: bright red lipstick is a horrible choice. Oh, wait, that's bad. That's a bad thing to say, bagging on cubic Madeline Albright's looks. Now I know better.

So, yeah, in the 50s and 60s a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust could "not know" it was ethically atrocious to manipulate human beings by experimenting on them as if they were strains of wheat.

We're civilized now. Not like long ago. Long ago we were brutes. Now we wear garments of woven plant fibers. We live in sophisticated communities, connected by technology. We trade with each other, we exchange currency tokens for a variety of goods. We enter into contracts of temporary servitude. We hold transcendent philosophies concerning love, art, and war. We are really something.

We have rights, because we are human. We extend rights to others.

And we talk and talk. And we get our food from slaves. We poison our water supply. We rape and murder our children, and our children shoot us. And we give them top security clearance.

We're civilized now. Not like before. Finally, just as human history is about to be destroyed by human progress, humans have achieved a state of civilization. Of humanity, even.

At this pivotal juncture, perhaps we should take stock of what we have really learned: each and every one of us, as far as I can judge from experience, is prone to the arrogance of believing ourselves neutral, innocent, capable of deeds untainted by impure motives. From the most ruthless dictator, ruling with an iron hand, to the most oppressed, dispossessed victim of ostracization and deprivation, we are each capable of negligence, rationalized destructiveness, even outright cruelty, justified to ourselves by avoiding eye-contact with our consciences. We keep the most unthinkable questions unthought. We keep them in our blindspot. But as the anonymous industrial poet says: "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear."

We know now that the Stanley Milgram experiment at Yale, where subjects were led to believe they were giving electric shocks to another participant in the study -- as much as it was a study in deferring to authority, was itself an unethical authority to be deferred to. We are trapped. Now we know! Now we know! We sing that mantra daily. Now we know that it's wrong to say this or that. Now we know that it's wrong to buy and sell people as property. Now we know that women have been kept under a crushing boot of patriarchy for centuries, exceptions notwithstanding but nevertheless pointed to as the one that proves the rule. Now we know it's not nice to persecute those who differ from the majority in one respect or another. Now we know that White European domination has been enforced with lore and science along with the guns and chains. Now we know! Now we know! 


It's an absurd refrain. Now we know the Earth is not the center of the universe! Now we know the age and nature of the sun. Now we know we belong to the Kingdom of animals, the vertebrates, the mammals, the primates, the apes. Now we know! Now we know! NOW we know. Now WE know. Now we KNOW!

Now we know the Nazis were bad. Back when the Nazis were just starting out, it was understandable not to know. But now we know. Except for the people right now who are Nazis. They don't seem to know.

Now we know that considering some groups as divinely determined from birth to be contaminated and only worthy of the most filthy employment was wrong. It was understandable when the Vedas were passed down orally, it was understandable when Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar arrived to enlighten us. But now we know! Except the hundreds of millions who don't know, to this day, that there is no such thing as an Untouchable.

Except we used to know the Vietnam War was bad. Now it's up for debate again. Maybe it was good after all? Maybe we just didn't try hard enough to make killing every Southeast Asian in sight into a good thing? Let's look at it again, maybe we can get the answer the new colonialists want. Everything old is new again!

Except the hundreds of thousands of Jews who still believe we came to Palestine in peace, and it was no harm, no foul to take land from the people already there, they were bedouin, they were nomads! They didn't own houses! This is my house now, being a bedouin means your house isn't a house and it isn't yours. Except the people who believe our first black president was born in Africa, and the world's economies are run by the Rothschilds, Joe McCarthy was a hero, and various levels of melanin equate to various levels of intellectual ability, and the Middle Ages is the history of gallant white people on horses jousting for courtly love.

All the things we know, all these ways we've become enlightened, they're really contingent on the mood of the audience, and that's all popular opinion is. No truth is so valid that it can't be dismissed during a popular or ignored commission of a crime against humanity. We knew back when Nixon tried to cover up all his crimes that the president ought not be above the law. Yet here we are! But now we know, because we see. But now we see, and now we don't.

We're not the Wise Ape, the Tool-maker, the Value Ape. We're the Magic Ape. Now you see our rationality and compassion. Now you see our irrational hatred and arrogant cruelty. Now you see our self-recriminations, now you see our self-justification, now you see R. Kelly and Brett Kavanaugh in their highest shrieking dudgeon.

You gotta read the room. And you gotta push the window wider to let more light into the room. But the window always stays the same size. When it moves to the left, the things on the right fall out of frame, and vice-versa.

We really are magic, because we never let any idea, good or bad, die completely away. It's not that there is no truth, it's that the truth is magic: now you see it, now you don't.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

Moment of Truth

 

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