If I could talk it through, I might have a hope of figuring this out. Because that is mostly how I figure out all the difficult problems of my life: I talk about them to whoever is available, whenever the problems seem relevant to something else I am thinking about; I listen; I rethink; I write; I circle back and write something else; over and over again; and over time I develop a stable picture.
With The Events, I am at sea. For so long I did not even allow myself to speak them to myself. Now that I can, it chafes at me that you have decided that if I want to talk about them with you, I have to follow your rules, and let you trample all over me. Perhaps more people who have experienced Events would talk about them with you if they thought you would do less “believing” and more listening.
Factwise, this is what I want to know: what, if anything, ties together the “superficial” differences in how I dress, how I talk, how my mind jumps around, my repetitive movements, my sensitivities, the kinds of patterns I see and the kinds I miss, my obsessions, my literal-mindedness, my odd oscillations between needing to be alone and needing to be with others, between striking you as charming and coming off as unbearable. Why do I struggle so much to understand which emotion I am feeling? Why am I so bad at predicting what you will find offensive?
The Fact makes me part of a group of people whose boundaries are amorphous; we do not all recognize one another, and even when we do, we are not sure what we have in common. You would like to manage this situation in a very specific way: First, carve off what you take to be the “most severe cases,” and find a cure that prevents any more of them from arising.
Second, assimilate the rest — people like me — as “normal,” or as normal enough, so long as you are sufficiently tolerant and accommodating. But I suspect all the tolerance and accommodation in the world won’t make me normal. Do we have to pretend that I am? Is that the condition on which you are willing to engage with me? And couldn’t a group of people have something in common even if “degree of suffering” isn’t that thing?
I could use your help — not your support, not your approval, not your reassurance but your help as an open and thoughtful audience for these difficult questions. But you won’t help me, because you won’t listen to what I’m trying to say, because all you care about is how much victim status I deserve. You are really letting me down.
Agnes Callard (@AgnesCallard), an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago and the author of “Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming,” writes about public philosophy at The Point magazine.
Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments,” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.
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