Numbed into Vituperative Silence

















I can’t seem to write anything about Science Fiction or Medicine these days. I am numbed.

It is vituperative silence.

Donald Trump’s star in Hollywood has been defaced with an awkward backwards swastika, and I recently responded to someone who objected. Objected not because she approves of the Donald, but rather because she doesn’t like vandalism.

So I wrote to her:

“It is essentially what Donald Trump is doing to Mexicans, women, Muslims, blacks, and so many other groups who don’t have their names up in lights. He is defacing their lives with words, and somehow doing that to millions is better than one spray can defacement of one narcissistic self proclaiming star for people who elevate their personality disorder to an art-form. Sure, I would not do this, especially with a backward swastika. But the defacement of an edifice is minuscule compared to what Trump is doing to the American people. People who watch what he is doing and are amused and excited about it do not know their history. The last century was the bloodiest in human history … ever … and it starts with the warlords, and the Stalins and Hitlers and Maos and Amins and Trumps of the world. Words are a lot more powerful than some spray can.”

Self-reflection is supposed to be helpful. We teach reflection as a method of ongoing clinical improvement and medical education to our students in medical school. Looking for the meaning of what we think and what we do can help us remove the dangerous biases of undisciplined thought.

I think medicine is a beautiful profession because we earn a living helping people. We actually get paid for that warm fuzzy feeling of helping someone; and the more vulnerable they are, the more the helping warms us.

This can be a dangerous and misleading feeling if we get too much into the ‘warmth’ of helping as a central self-satisfaction rather than a truly altruistic purpose … which is where reflection is so helpful. ‘Am I kind because I want to help this person, or because I want to feel good about helping this person?’ Some would say it doesn’t matter. The truly important issue is to maintain objectivity, which is why health care workers are trained not to treat the people whom they love.

I am being deeply disturbed, almost obsessed, by the events of the election process in the United States. I find it scary, frustrating and unnerving. I am appalled, angered and overwhelmed that so many people can hang on the meandering unfocused words of a person whose narcissism pushes the boundaries of serious and potentially dangerous mental functions.

I need to self-reflect.

A handful, there will always be a handful, sure. Maybe a thousand or two. But 41% of half the country? Can so many people be so blind? I get to pondering silly impossible scenarios such as Bernie Sanders collapsing from illness and Hillary Clinton caught up in a scandal over emails, leading to not the stupidest president of the United Sates ever, but perhaps the most dangerous.

Does it matter to Canadians? Well, it sure makes our Prime Minister look good, that can’t hurt. And who knows, the second worst candidate down there is probably, regrettably, Canadian. But the USA is not an island, and the pathways available  to its attackers, their bombs or their people, includes our country. So it sure does matter.

And it matters to the people of the United States: “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee..!”

Building walls instead of tearing them down, dividing people instead of uniting them, answering every political question with an ad hominem because he has no realistic answers. Deciding immigration based on religion in a country created to allow the religious freedom of its inhabitants, irresponsibly threatening incredible violence  (“You don’t want to know what I will do to ISIS”). Accepting endorsements from bigots and liars, from self-proclaiming no-it-alls, from individuals who cannot put two sentences together in an intelligible paragraph.

This feels to me like Dante’s eighth or ninth level of hell (is this fraud or treachery?): objectifying women, and women love him; calling Mexicans rapists and Mexicans love him; pandering to the religious right with less knowledge than an atheist, and the evangelicals love him; living above the gap with hubris, and those below the gap love him.

This is so dangerous. I believe in democracy, but it is so dangerous. Do we really all deserve to die in some conflagration of a third world war because demagoguery begins like this?

Years ago, I read an instructive book by Paul Johnson,  Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 0-75380-826-9. He described the twentieth century as the bloodiest in human history, something we tend to forget in these years of social media and instant knowledge. The warlords in China knocked off millions, Stalin ruled by terror which Hitler tried to emulate. And there have been countless others from Pol Pot to Idi Amin to Bashar al-Assad … the list goes on and on and on.

But it always starts with words: divisions, scapegoats, revocation of human rights, exaggerated descriptions of current oppression, elevation of vigilanteism, and proclamations of the one and only religion, the one and only god.

“Maybe he needs to be roughed up a bit.” “I could shoot someone and my support would be the same.” Or words to these effects, I didn’t go and look them up, because I am already suffering enough. My hands shake and my stomach churns.

And I reflect, ‘Why am I so numbed into vituperative silence?’

Please, Americans. Please wake up.



2 thoughts on “Numbed into Vituperative Silence

  1. Don’t worry, Dr. I don’t know if there have been Canadian equivalents, but Americans have flirted with extremist candidates before, even nominated some. They always go down to defeat in the general election.

    I perceive you to be a scientist/artist, while I’m more of an artist/scientist myself. I lived in Los Angeles for over 20 years. The Hollywood Walk of Fame has long been vilified as kitsch. I mean, you really can have your PR rep mount a campaign and buy one of these, even if you’re no more than D-list famous. Fans and tourists take selfies with them, but folks also spit and urinate on them every day. You should see the stuff done to Bill Cosby’s star lately. It’s a form of vox populi. I find it ironic and genuinely comical that someone objecting to Trump couldn’t manage to get the swastika right. That tells me that even ignorant people can see through his act.


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