Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thor’s Day: Let’s all just, like, love and be chill

By Morris Dean

I was stunned into recognition this week by an article in the New York Times about Ellen Page [“Ellen Page Goes Off-Script,” by Sam Anderson]. The following paragraphs are what did it. The article had just described an attempted conversation between Page, who is gay, and an evangelical Christian band called the Bontrager Family Singers — a family of 12 that had come to Des Moines to perform, that night, at [Ted] Cruz’s Rally for Religious Liberty:
The discussion had hit ideological bedrock, it seemed, beyond which persuasion was impossible. “We follow the Bible,” the father said, and added that they could probably talk about the subject for five hours straight and never agree. No one was angry, but soon the conversation petered out, and the crew left the bus [in which the Bontrager family live and travel]. Page seemed crestfallen that she hadn’t been able to get through to these nice people.
    This is what most impressed me about Page: her radical empathy. Radical because it didn’t extend only to her allies [emphasis mine]. (I was struck, even when she told me about the heartbreak of losing her final soccer game in a late comeback, that she took a moment to acknowledge the joy of the other team [emphasis mine]: “It was dope for them,” she said.) Page seems to believe that the ultimate good, and the strongest possible argument for tolerance, is genuine human connection [emphasis mine]. At the end of our final conversation, a nearly three-hour talk about gender fluidity, queer theory, Halifax [Nova Scotia, where Page grew up], Kim Davis, and the ripple effects of intolerance, Page summed it all up with: “Let’s all just, like, love and be chill. Right?”
    “Just be chill?” I asked her, thinking of the arguments, riots, demonstrations, persecutions, and demonizations that have dogged the history of human sexuality.
    Page laughed. She was joking, slightly, and aware of how naïve this sounded. But she also meant it. So she went ahead and said it again.
    What stunned me into recognition was the bit about Ms. Page’s acknowledging the joy of the other team. I had always felt a special connection with Ellen Page – something about her that I didn’t quite know what it was. As a high school senior, I too had felt detached from the us-against-them fanaticism of what seemed like every other spectator in the stands. I thought that the other team deserved its success no less than “my” team would have if it were winning, so wasn’t cheering the one and booing the other wrong-headed?
    And also the bit about genuine human connection’s being the strongest possible argument for tolerance. What is genuine about another human being? I don’t think it’s whatever stereotypical label might be hung about a person’s neck. Do we ourselves think that whatever label might be hung about our neck – liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, libertarian, right-winger, left-winger, moderate, theocrat, patriot, traitor, whistle-blowergay, lesbian, homosexual, hoity-toity, elitist, intellectual, atheist, free-thinker, scientist, true believer, global-warming denier, Fox News-follower, anti-women’s righter, animal lover, conservationist, capitalist, socialist, communist, skeptic, fundamentalist Christian, born-again Christian, Catholic, papist, Bible-thumper, Muslim, Islamist, Buddhist, Hindu, infidel, gentile, Creationist, evolutionist, Mormon, Arab, Jew, monarchist, anarchist, terrorist, freedom fighter, activist, relativist, absolutist, black, white, carnivore, vegetarian, vegan, spiritualist, magical thinker, superstitious, astrologer, evangelical, Pentecostal, Baptistholy-roller, nihilist, materialist, naturalist, spiritualist, supernaturalist, curmudgeon, eccentric, weird, ass-hole, old fart, geezer – defines who we really, genuinely are?
    And even the labels we apply to ourselves – as when we say, “I am an atheist,” or “I am a Christian” – may not flatter us so much from someone else’s perspective as they do from our own.

Of course, recently, during the month of September’s series of three columns on experiencing Jesus, I was already approaching the second recognition, in discovering that I could simply take the word of people who experienced something I didn’t, and accept their experience as real for them, even if not for me. I could thus “just be chill” with them, connect with them, even love them and, perhaps, be loved by them – although the latter seems curiously beside the point, like forgiveness’s almost always being more important for the forgiver than for the forgiven.
    In the context of experiencing Jesus, I love that this sounds so much like Jesus’s suggestion that we love one another.

Copyright © 2015 by Morris Dean


  1. I think I partially agree with Ellen's philosophy of "love and be chill." Love of course is the very heart of Christianity (God being Love itself); Jesus Himself said the greatest commandment is to love God with all that we have, and to love others alongside.

    I think it's the "be chill" that is open to interpretation. Genuine human connection would involve desiring the absolute best for our fellow human beings. If one believes that the absolute best for people involves a loving relationship with God, then "be chill" certainly won't involve the verbicidal definition of tolerance meaning some kind of moral imperative to "let others live however they want."

    "Be chill" works wonderfully in a world of subjective reality, morality, and epistemology, where no one's experience of the world is any more objectively true than anyone else's.

    "Be chill," taken in that light, certainly doesn't work in the context that Jesus suggested for genuine human connection. He was an objectivist after all--He being the objective source of goodness, truth, and life.

    1. Kyle, I think I understand why you cannot simply be chill. Given your worldview, it's as though you see me as unaware that I am inside a burning building, in dire need of being rescued. Naturally, you feel compelled to alert me and facilitate my rescue.
          Given my worldview, the building isn't burning and I'm in no danger. I don't feel compelled to try to enlighten you, since you are safe, both on your terms (you have already left the building) and on mine (it was never burning anyway). I am pointing this out, however, in the spirit of love and of our genuine (and respectful) human connection.
          Perhaps you can enlarge on Jesus as "objectivist" some time? Sounds interesting.

  2. The trouble is that it's not in human nature to love and "be chill". Unfortunately, most of the human race disdains this and takes full advantage of the vulnerability implied in the words of this remark.This philosophy was the by word of the flower child era that ended dying of its own misguided naivete. I knew a family from Arkansas who settled in the Tulare County Community of Alpaugh. The case involved a stabbing of an obese but healthy nephew by his uncle--an alcoholic with a partial amputation. I know this sounds terrible, but the case had several parts of grotesque hilarity. (Some day I may recount the full story if there is someone who really wants to hear it.) I wonder if they could be related to these people?

    1. Bill, do you have any scientific research data to support the claim that "most" (more than 50%) of humans are inclined to exploit humans in the minority (who presumably are ready to "love and be chill")? My own personal experience of other humans whom I have actually met and interacted with tells me that such exploiters may very well not be a majority, and not even a large minority.
          Please do tell the full story of the Arkansas settlers in Alpaugh!

    2. [Reply received via email:]

      No scientific data—but history is replete with examples; e.g., our enslavement and treatment of Africans; our treatment of native Americans; our treatment of factory workers and laborers in the late 19th, early 20th centuries; our treatment of the Japanese people (legal residents and citizens) during World War II. The German treatment of Jews; human trafficking in our own time; the conflicts in the middle east, etc. As Jim Rix noted in Jingle Jangle, the most primitive instinct located in the human brain is fear and its second is hatred. These instincts dwell in all of us and are more easily aroused in some than others. Freud said the same thing in his essay, "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death." It's the built-in drive of living things to survive, and if survival means annihilation of competitors for food or sex then so be it. (Darwin). I am not subscribing to social Darwinism, but I am saying is that we can't be like Blanche in A Street Car Named Desire [Tennessee Williams], relying on delusions and the "kindness of strangers." Stanley Kowalski desired to rape her and he did. The broad social events I note in my first and second sentences in fact had the approval of huge majorities.

      I will tell the story of Billy Bob and Uncle Darwin Bontrager of Alpaugh at a later date.

    3. Thank you, Bill. I find the many examples (and your references to Darwin and Freud) persuasive. And I have to (and now do) admit that however open I am personally to "loving and being chill," I tend to do so following the traditional Dean clan's motto, Sapienter si sincere (wisely, if sincerely – that is, with caution to detect evil intention in the person I would love and be chill with).
          I look forward to your telling the story of Billy Bob and Uncle Darwin Bontrager, although I now suspect that I may have had the pleasure of hearing you tell it once before, some years ago, around your dinner table. But remember, I have forgotten the details, and our other readers have not heard the story before.