Thursday, January 18, 2024


I read somewhere, I believe in the New Yorker, some years ago, about a famously-aggrieved writer, who like many writers--or creative people in general, held a grudge against the world.

That's not an unusual feeling among certain people--like New Yorkers, for instance. Maybe we feel more so more seems more unfair to us. Add to that sense of injustice a heaping helping of paranoia and there, I've just described your creative department, or at least 93% of the creatives you've ever met.

This particular writer had an epigram that I remember, though I don't remember his name. "All I want is a personalized apology  from everyone I've ever met."

That's funny.

As well as painful.

As well as seminal.

Years and years ago when my best friend Fred was alive, we talked a lot and on a pretty deep level. Before Fred died almost two years ago, we had known each other through thick and thin for more than half-a-century. We had gotten a lot of normal, silly conversations, "ja seeda game lass night?" and "wowshes reallihot," out of our systems. 

I'm not for a minute saying we were on the order of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. But we were serious talkers and thinkers with enough mutual regard for each other that we were honest about our feelings, even ones we knew would be refractory. You know, the ones most people don't say out loud.

Fred was African-American and I'm Jewish and we grew up during a time of racial upheaval in Amerika when the old order was beginning to crumble. We lived through a lot together and we talked about it with more candor and openness than most people can muster when talking about things as loaded and fraught as race and racism.

One day Fred and I were talking about Diversity Equity and Inclusion and Fred came out with something that I've been turning over in my mind since he said it--a good decade now.

"I didn't grow up rich. I was a lot poorer than most of the kids in school." (We had each been sentenced to an elite private school in the leafy suburbs of New York. About one-third of our classmates were name 'Pendergast.') Fred continued, "But we had all the things we wanted and I knew my parents loved me and cared for me and they encouraged me."

"Yeah," I said, thinking of my own parents. My father we was mostly drunk and my mother who was a borderline personality and would beat me when she was angry, which was always, and one time she came at me with a knife. "Yeah, from the outside looking in, I had the privileged background," I went on. "But," I joked, "I never even knew food could be served hot until I got to college." My mother "served" frozen TV dinners in their frozen state. It does what it says on the tin.

The tragedy, to my eyes, of so much of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is that it paints with such a broad and undistinguishing brush. 

All people of this sort are privileged.
All people of this sort are less-privileged. 

As if we were rocks.
And that one there is igneous, and therefore has these characteristics.
And that one is metamorphic, and therefore has these.

People aren't rocks. They can't be sorted like they belong in a periodic table or a spreadsheet.

I admit, I am not educated in the disciplines, codes and strictures of DEI, so there's a good chance I'm wrong. But it seems to sort and classify people with the same kind of blanket generalizations as its predecessors. It seems as loaded with agenda as anything that's gone before it and seems to be continuing the propagation of brusque judgmentalism with the same rigor of what it's supposed to have replaced.

Most of the people I know--whether I know them well or merely ephemerally--have spent some time at the college of hard knocks. Everyone carries a burden. 

I know, I've said it myself, the line Molly Ivins wrote about George W. Bush, that "he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."

That statement might be true of a lot of people. But it too might be bullshit.

Everyone has their demons.
Society has its demons.
Bureaucracy, infrastructure, hr departments and tradition have their demons. 
Demons will exist and go on existing as long as humans, their machines and the rest of our detritus exists.

If you can bring yourself to read a serious history of the world, like Simon Sebag Montefiore's "The World: A Family History of Humanity," you'll quickly realize that most people in the world have been folded, spindled, and mutilated, mutilated, mutilated. 

Hundreds of miles of city walls were built in countless cities literally with the skeletons of the conquered. At one time nearly every race and every culture and every tribe has been decimated, burned, raped, beheaded, cannibalized, inquisitionized, stolen, sold into slavery and worse. It's all there and in the past, the not so distant past it's happened to everyone.

We're all carrying burdens. Every single one of us.

Or as The Colonel said in Capra's "Meet John Doe," written by Robert Riskin, "I know the world's been shaved by a drunken barber." And just about everyone you meet, no matter what the occasion and what the circumstance has a billion little bleeding cuts to prove it.

Yes, rules and legislation are needed to help offset cruelties of all sorts. 

But more, kindness and seeing people as individuals is needed. 

Don't kill 30 million people because you deem them, as Stalin did, Kulaks. Don't assume people are ok or not because they "look" a certain way.

And so it goes.

Try seeing people as people, not archetypes or stereotypes.

And so it should go.

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