The Limits of Loyalty

Is loyalty a virtue or a sin?  Does the world need more of it, or less?

Donald Trump, in a controversial speech to the Boy Scouts of America on Monday, endorsed the former in no uncertain terms, rambling to the gathering of thousands of teenage boys, “As the Scout Law says, ‘A scout is trustworthy, loyal’—we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.”

The subtext of this remark was clear enough to anyone paying attention to current events.  Throughout the past week, the president has been very publicly steaming about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump feels betrayed him by recusing himself from the administration’s Russia imbroglio—and also, apparently, by not investigating Hillary Clinton for God knows what.  In an ongoing series of tweets, Trump has tarred Sessions as “beleaguered” and “VERY weak,” effectively goading him into resigning, lest the abuse continue indefinitely.

The implication—or explication, as the case may be—is that Sessions’s duty as America’s chief law enforcement officer is to protect Donald Trump from the law, not to defend the law against those who violate it, up to and including the commander-in-chief himself.  As Trump made plain in an interview with the New York Times, his hiring of Sessions was predicated on the AG serving the president—not the Constitution.

But then it’s not only Sessions who has found himself the object of Trump’s wrath on the question of absolute allegiance.  Let’s not forget James Comey, the former director of the FBI, who famously met with the president in January, when the latter said, point-blank, “I need loyalty; I expect loyalty.”  Comey’s eventual sacking—like Sessions’s, should it occur—was the result of being insufficiently faithful to the man in the Oval Office.  Of daring to think, and act, for himself.

As someone who has never been leader of the free world—nor, for that matter, held any position of real responsibility—I must confess that I remain skeptical about the value of unconditional submission in one’s day-to-day life and generally regard free agency as the far superior of the two virtues.  Indeed, I would argue (to answer my own question) that “virtue” might be altogether the wrong word to use in this context.

When thinking about loyalty, the question you must ask yourself is:  What, exactly, am I being loyal to?  Is it to a set of principles, or to another human being?  And if you are merely dedicating yourself to a person, what has he or she done to deserve it, and what, if anything, will you be getting in return?

Certainly, the spectacle of Trump demanding total fealty to Trump is the most extreme—and most cartoonish—manifestation of this latter category, since the president has shown minimal interest in reciprocating whatever devotion happens to come his way.  Except with members of his immediate family (so far, anyway), Trump’s modus operandi is to ask for everything and give nothing back.  Part and parcel of being a textbook sociopath, Trump views his fellow humans purely as a means to an end and rarely, if ever, stops to think how he might make their lives easier in the process.  It does not occur to him to treat people with respect for its own sake.  If anything, he views empathy as a sign of weakness.

This behavior may well represent an abuse and perversion of an otherwise useful human trait, but that hardly makes a difference when considering the enormous political power of the man doing the perverting.

Which brings us—by way of analogy—to Adolf Hitler.

In Germany, beginning in 1934, all members of the armed forces were required to swear a solemn oath—not to Germany, mind you, but to the man at the top.  This vow, or Reichswehreid, read, in part, “To the Leader of the German Empire and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and […] at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.”  As you might’ve guessed, soldiers who refused to comply tended not to live very long.

If that seems like an extreme and sui generis example of a personality cult run amok, let me remind you of the moment in March 2016 when, at a campaign rally in Florida, Donald Trump implored his adoring crowd to raise their right hands and pledge, “I do solemnly swear that I—no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions, if there’s hurricanes or whatever—will vote […] for Donald J. Trump for president.”

While a stunt like that doesn’t exactly sink to the depths of the Hitler oath—Trump wasn’t about to jail or murder anyone who opted out—it is nonetheless a profoundly creepy thing for a presidential candidate in a democratic republic to say—particularly when you recall that Trump once reportedly kept an anthology of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside table.  This for a man who can otherwise go years without reading a single book.

That Trump evidently views Hitler as some sort of role model—and is haphazardly aping the Führer’s stylistic flourishes on the campaign trail—ought to give us serious pause about where his own fidelity lies—is it to the nation or himself?—and about whether his pronouncement at the Republican National Convention that he—and he alone—is capable of steering America forward was less an expression of supreme confidence than a barely-veiled threat against those who doubt that a serially-bankrupt con artist is the best man to preside over the largest economy in the world.

The problem, you see, is not that Trump is Hitler.  (He’s not.)  The problem is that he wants to be Hitler—and Mussolini and Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin and every other national figurehead who has managed to wield near-absolute authority over his citizenry—often with sarcastically high approval ratings and totally unburdened by the institutional checks and balances that America’s founders so brilliantly installed in 1787.

While Trump’s ultimate ambitions might not be as violent or imperial as those of the men I just listed—in the end, he seems to care about little beyond self-enrichment—the central lesson of the first six months of his administration—plus the first 71 years of his life—is that there is nothing he will not try to get away with at least once.  No sacred cow he will not trample.  No rule he will not bend.  No sin he will not commit.  He is a man of bottomless appetites and zero restraint.  Left to his own devices, he would spend his entire presidency arranging meetings—like the one with his cabinet last month—whose participants did nothing but praise him for being the greatest man in the history of the world.  A Kim Jong-un of the West.

Remember:  The sole reason Trump hasn’t already turned the United States into a full-blown banana republic is that he can’t.  Constitutionally-speaking, the only things stopping him from indulging his basest instincts are Congress, the courts and the American public, and we’ve seen how tenuous all three of those institutions can be.  Should the remaining branches of government fulfill their obligations as a check on executive overreach and malfeasance, we’ll be fine.  Should they falter—thereby providing Trump the untrammeled loyalty he demands—we’ll be in for the longest eight years of our lives.

Appeasement

What would you do if you met Donald Trump face-to-face?

I realize such an encounter is unlikely for us mere mortals.  As politicians go, Trump is unusually reticent about close interactions with the public and—being a legendary germaphobe—generally avoids all physical human contact whenever possible.

All the same, the Donald is about to become (or should I say “remain”?) the most ubiquitous person on planet Earth, and thus bound to mingle with some of his 320 million constituents every now and again over the next four-to-eight years.

So it’s worth asking ourselves how we would react if he actually came to our hometown and we were given the chance to speak with him one-on-one.  How would we handle him in the flesh, as opposed to when he’s just an image on a screen?

This is no mere rhetorical question.  At this moment, Trump is arguably the most hated man in America.  For at least 50 percent of the country, he is little more than a disgusting, morally bankrupt buffoon who ought to be walled off from all government buildings—and from all small children—and is deserving of neither our attention nor our respect.

And yet, beginning on January 20, he will be the custodian of the most powerful and indispensable office in the Western world.  The presidency of the United States is the centerpiece of the whole American system of government—an institution that transcends the particular characteristics of the person who occupies it at a given moment.  As loyal citizens, we are duty-bound to respect the office itself, and to a certain extent—however much we might abhor it—this requires respecting the officeholder as well.

My sense is that most of us instinctively understand this basic rule of civic etiquette when it comes to the commander-in-chief.  I am reminded of the classic moment in Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon in which one of David Frost’s producers goes on a tirade about how Richard Nixon is a crook and a scumbag, only to shrivel up when he comes nose-to-nose with the man himself—a pricelessly awkward interaction during which he sheepishly grasps Nixon’s hand and mutters, “Mr. President.”

Up to now, that is more or less how civilized people have been expected to behave.  Because the president is a figurehead as well as an individual, he is to be treated with a shade more deference than if he were a private citizen, regardless of whether he deserves it or not.

Should Trump be the exception to the rule?  Should we adopt as official policy the sarcastic internet meme of treating Trump with “the same respect and courtesy as Republicans have afforded President Obama”?  Or, instead, should we take Michelle Obama’s advice and rise above the fray?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m with Michelle.  Not because Trump has done anything to earn it (he hasn’t), but simply for the greater good of the country.  Because if we succumb to the temptation to sink to Trump’s level of coarseness and depravity, we will be complicit in the cultural moral decline that, once upon a time, the Republican Party was so deathly concerned about preventing.

As well, if the ethical considerations of behaving decently toward the 45th president aren’t persuasive enough for you, there are practical considerations, too.

Several weeks ago, Trump met with a group of editors and reporters at the New York Times, which led columnist Frank Bruni to posit that the president-elect’s most salient characteristic is his desperate need to be loved.  As we’ve seen from his innumerable campaign rallies, Trump derives virtually all earthly pleasure from other people’s infatuation with him.  Emotionally unbalanced narcissist that he is, he can only be happy when everyone in the room offers their unconditional loyalty and approval.  As soon as one dissident appears, his entire sense of self-worth is threatened and he feels he has no choice but to lash out.  Just ask Alec Baldwin.

The downsides to having a human mood ring for a president are obvious enough.  (See: Russia, puppet of.)  But what about the benefits?

Bruni’s inkling—as he explained in depth to Charlie Rose—is that so long as we play along with Trump’s narcissistic personality disorder—namely, by showering him with a steady stream of adulation and over-the-top flattery—we can make him do pretty much anything we want.  As with so many fragile would-be authoritarians before him, vanity is his kryptonite.  He has become so blinded by self-love within his gilded bubble along Fifth Avenue that whispering sweet nothings into his ear has become the one and only route to his heart and his confidence.  Maybe—just maybe—if we began every policy discussion with some bald-faced appeal to his pride and that precious, precious ego, all his usual defenses would fall and we’d have him eating out of the palm of our hand.

Vladimir Putin was evidently an early adopter of this theory, and seems to have played his hand with gusto—as, for that matter, have several other rogue world leaders who can recognize a useful idiot when they see one.

That Trump apparently isn’t in on the joke—that he doesn’t realize he is being manipulated by every petty dictator on Earth—is, for my money, even more alarming than if it were the other way around.  He is undoubtedly the most gullible person to have won a national election in my lifetime, and the notion that he values personal compliments more than democracy or human rights is a viscerally sickening thought.

The question is:  Are we, his 300-odd million constituents, willing to pull a Mitt Romney by pretending to grovel at his feet in order to win some sort of influence in how the country is run?  As Romney himself learned, just because the Donald buys you dinner doesn’t mean he’s going to take you home for the night.

Accordingly—and in all likelihood—the next four years are a no-win situation for those of us who are not already loyal foot soldiers for America’s führer-in-waiting.  To him, everyone else is merely a means to an end, and therefore completely disposable as soon as their narrow purpose has been served.

If playing nice with him means he listens to you for a few extra seconds, maybe it’s worth sacrificing a piece of your dignity for the greater good of society.  But don’t delude yourself into thinking you won’t pay for it in the end.  As the West memorably learned in 1938, once you offer a dictator half of Czechoslovakia, it’s only a matter of time before he comes marching back in pursuit of all of Western Europe.

Not Broken, Just Bent

Last Saturday, October 11, was National Coming Out Day, when the privately gay among us are encouraged to go public.

As it happens, in the South End neighborhood of Boston, Saturday also marked the final performance of Bent, a chilling two-act drama that handsomely illustrates why coming out can be a terrible and deadly idea.

We’ll call it an unfortunate coincidence.

The play, first performed in 1979—with no less than Ian McKellen as its original leading man—chronicles the torture, imprisonment and mass murder of gays by Nazi Germany before and during World War II. (At the time, “bent” was another word for “queer.”)

For all that European Jews suffered as a singular target of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich during the Holocaust, Bent argues that the plight of the continent’s homosexuals, while not on the same scale, was no less ugly—and far less known by the public, then and now.

(From the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: “Between 1933-45, an estimated 100,000 men [in Germany] were arrested as homosexuals, and of these, some 50,000 […] were sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps.”)

The Boston production of Bent, performed by the Zeitgeist Stage Company, centers on a volcanic performance by local actor Victor Shopov as Max, a promiscuous gay coke user/dealer in 1930s Berlin. In the opening scene in his apartment, Max witnesses his one-night stand getting his throat slashed by a group of bloodthirsty SS officers as part of Hitler’s 1934 crackdown known as the “Night of the Long Knives.” Soon enough, Max and his boyfriend, Rudy, are themselves apprehended and forced aboard a train for Dachau, from whence they will never return.

Upon arriving at the camp—in the play’s most controversial sequence—Max finds a two-tiered system amongst his fellow prisoners: There are the Jews, who are made to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing at all times, and there are the gays, branded with an inverted pink triangle. While the Third Reich abhors and mistreats both groups, an inmate explains to Max that homosexuals are considered the lowest life form of all.

Quick-thinking schemer that he is, Max endeavors—successfully—to convince the prison guards that he is Jewish and not gay, in order to secure a yellow star and (comparatively) favorable treatment.

That’s right: As the Holocaust was getting underway, certain victims determined—perhaps rightly—that assuming a Jewish identity was the least bad option.

That, in short, is what it meant to be gay in Germany in 1934. That was the reward for “coming out” as the person you really were.

(How, you may ask, does Max go about “proving” to the Nazis that he is heterosexual? The phrase “you don’t want to know” may be an overused cliché, but in this case, you really don’t.)

Faced with this horrifying yet undeniable epoch in recent human history, we could content ourselves with the belief that the tenets of Nazism have long since vanished from the Earth, replaced by such appealing alternatives as pluralism, tolerance and democracy. That announcing you are gay—or merely being suspected of it—is not the potential death sentence that it once was, and that everyone today is free to be precisely who they are.

We could say these things as many times as we like, but they wouldn’t be any less of a lie. The point of Bent—much like every creative work ever made about the Holocaust—is that the past is never really past, and that all the evils perpetuated by preceding generations are forever at risk of reasserting themselves in all corners of the globe. That is, when they haven’t been there the whole time.

When it comes to the systematic persecution of gay people, the contemporary examples thereof are almost too numerous to count, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. When open homosexuals are not being rounded up and massacred by the score—as they are, in some cases—they are being denied the basic dignity and autonomy of straight people through legal proscriptions on their employment, their sex lives and their freedoms of speech, assembly and expression.

I underline this grim reality—on the heels of National Coming Out Day, no less—because, as I have said before, this is the best time in the history of the world to be gay. A closet case in 2014 has fewer reasons to remain as such than anyone at any other point in time—particularly here in America, where gay marriage did not exist in 2003 but is now legal in 29 states and counting.

(I would be remiss not to mention that Berlin, where the Bent horror show begins, has had a gay mayor since June 2001.)

In other words, the act of coming out is probably always going to suck in one way or another. For the typical person, it will never be an easy or obvious thing to do and will forever carry all sorts of risks, even though the rewards are as legion as ever before.

I realize this is about as ambivalent as coming out advice can possibly be, and slightly less than encouraging for someone currently weighing the pros and cons, knowing that in announcing one’s homosexuality, there is no turning back.

However, as a general rule—and based on personal experience—I maintain that being honest about your sexual identity is a prerequisite to true happiness in life. Coming out does not solve every problem, but staying in the closet means denying yourself the possibility of being loved by another person. In the absence of that possibility, the pursuit of happiness—the notion of having a fulfilling life—is not merely difficult, but impossible.

The moment I first took coming out seriously was seeing Gus Van Sant’s movie Milk, because it showed how much fun being openly gay can be—particularly for someone with an outsized interest in politics. From then, it took me about eight months to work up the nerve to break the news to my closest friends, and another three years to tell my parents, who provided unconditional support without batting an eyelash. That I could have ever feared otherwise, in retrospect, seems just plain silly.

But I am not necessarily typical. In this and other ways, I consider myself just about the luckiest man on the face of the Earth, with a loving family in an open and welcoming society. I have never suffered because of what I think or who I am, and have never felt that pursuing my true desires was either dangerous or brave.

And so seeing a play like Bent, as I did on Friday, was as much of an eye-opening experience for me as it would be for the average straight person, since it takes place in an environment no less alien to my own than, say, the story of Anne Frank, even though she, like me, was a Jew.

In perhaps the play’s most audacious moment, Max and his most trusted fellow prisoner, Horst, stand several feet apart, both looking straight ahead, and begin a steadily-intensifying erotic verbal exchange that would put a present-day phone sex hotline to shame.

You see, the two of them have been employed by the SS in the task of carrying a large pile of heavy stones from one end of a field to the other and back again, 12 hours per day, every day until further notice. This exercise, they soon understand, has no purpose except to slowly drive them both insane and squelch any hope they might have of ever getting out of Dachau. What is more, under no circumstances are they permitted to touch or make eye contact—a detail torn straight from the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four—and speaking to each other is frowned upon as well. At the start, a heavily-armed guard assures them, “I will always be watching.”

In this environment—one that is inhuman by design—they decide to make love the only way they can. Yes, it might get them killed, and it certainly won’t improve their physical circumstances in any case. It doesn’t matter: Their love for each other has become unavoidable and, to them, is worth following through on. Their act of love is also an act of defiance. Before they die, they are going to live.

That, finally, is why coming out is worth it in the end: Because it’s the key not just to happiness, but to life itself.  There isn’t one without the other.

Virgin Death

How has America’s mass killing community become a group of such pathetic, pitiful losers?

Surely, this wasn’t always the case.  In the good old days of the Great Depression, we had the likes of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow—happy-go-lucky twentysomethings who robbed banks and shot their way across the landscape just for the fun of it.  As the movie tagline sang, “They’re young.  They’re in love.  They kill people.”

Flash-forward to the present day, and we are presented with one Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who murdered six (and himself) and wounded 13 last week in Isla Vista, Calif., all for the very excellent reason that he could never get laid.

We know that sexual frustration was his primary motivation for going nuts and shooting up the joint, because he left a 137-page note saying so—a document that our media, with its usual tact and taste, took the liberty of publishing in its entirety.

The essence of this would-be manifesto is that Rodger’s life had been one long string of bummers—bullying, rejection, social isolation, the works—and so it was only fair for it to end in one big hail of gunfire.

(My observations are based on excerpts.  I confess I didn’t get through the whole thing.)

Although he ultimately had it out for all of mankind, Rodger seemed to harbor an especially burning grudge against women.  Not any particular women, mind you—just women in general.  Because none had had the basic decency, even once, to climb into bed with him—an adolescent rite of passage Rodger took as nothing less than his due—all are guilty of withholding from him even a faint glimmer of a happy, fulfilling life.  Therefore, all of them must die.

As you can probably sense by now, this is a first-person account featuring a slightly-less-than-reliable narrator (and not a sympathetic one, either).  Were it not for the carnage that its author ultimately wrought, it would not be worth even a moment of our attention, let alone our interest.

Indeed, viewed simply as a piece of writing, Rodger’s rant can scarcely be taken seriously at all.  Removed from its real-world context, it could very easily be confused for satire, albeit of a decidedly pedestrian and juvenile sort.

In his self-righteous rage, Rodger seems to have attempted a modern-day rewrite of Mein Kampf, except instead of scapegoating the Jews for all the trouble in the world, Rodger scapegoats the world itself and all the people in it.  (Except for himself, of course.)

As literature, this could conceivably be a compelling project, except that the allusions to Adolf Hitler are so obvious and over-the-top that the conceit quickly grows rather tiresome.  (To wit:  Rodgers employs terms like “final solution” and “concentration camps,” apparently without irony.)

Much the same could be said for his accompanying video, which he posted online shortly before embarking on his rampage.  This monologue, which coldly sums up Rodger’s case against humanity, has been called things like “chilling” and “haunting” in light of the darkness that followed, but it would also fit right in, in some alternate universe, as a video spoof on The Onion or FunnyOrDie.com.  One can easily imagine the headline:  “Narcissistic Sociopath Mystified Why Nobody Likes Him.”

What I’m saying is that Elliot Rodger was a joke.  A toxic, stupid, monstrous, hateful, destructive joke, to be sure.  But a joke nonetheless.  A one-man cult of death.  An enemy not of women, but of all civil society.

What he was not, then, was some sort of cultural barometer for the status of sexism in today’s America.  And yet that’s exactly what has been implied by the sweeping Twitter campaign #YesAllWomen, whose basic message is that every woman today is subjected to male sexual harassment—sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, and all rooted in the assumption that women are subhuman objects of possession—and that this disease must be fought with the fire of a thousand suns.

It’s arguably a true statement and unarguably a worthy cause, respectively.  But connecting either or both to a loony toon like Rodger—as if he is a representative male—is scarcely more useful or appropriate than holding up Osama bin Laden as a demonstration that organized religion can sometimes make people behave badly, or pointing to the Führer himself as evidence that antisemitism has a downside.  It’s just a little too lazy and convenient.

Indeed, it would be great if these sorts of problems could be so easily dismissed as manifestations of pure psychosis, and therefore limited only to our most extreme, depraved (and well-armed) citizens.  But alas, they are more complex, stubborn and pervasive than that, and demand to be treated as such.

But a guy like Elliot Rodger?  He deserves to be treated like the boring, humorless parasite that he was.

Loving the Sinner

We have faced the question many times before:  Is it possible to appreciate a work of art knowing that its creator did a terrible thing?

Do the flaws of an artist detract from the greatness of his art?  When a person is found to have committed the most unforgivable crimes, should his work be publicly shunned along with him, or are we permitted—ethically and/or intellectually—to separate one from the other?

Generally speaking, I have long found that reconciliation is indeed possible, and probably necessary most of the time.  While circumstances vary, we just might need to accept that all humans are flawed and the search for great achievements will inevitably be fraught with some unsavory characters.

To wit:  I can marvel at Ty Cobb’s near-superhuman baseball playing abilities while acknowledging that Cobb was a racist buffoon.  I can admire Thomas Jefferson’s sentiments about freedom and equality knowing how violently and deliberately he violated those principles all through his life.  I’m not especially taken by the paintings of Adolph Hitler, but if I was, I wouldn’t allow the evils of their creator to prevent me from saying so.

Art is art, for better and for worse, and it ought to be considered on its own merits.

However, even if we take all of this to be true—and many people firmly do not—we are left with several essential unresolved issues.  Not least among these is the question of what to do with such undesirables while they’re still walking among us, and whether we ought to avoid going out of our way to honor them for their creative pursuits, both as a culture and in our own minds.

Which brings us to Woody Allen.

As many are now aware, the 78-year-old movie director stands accused of sexually assaulting the seven-year-old adopted daughter of Allen and his then-partner, Mia Farrow.

Dylan Farrow, the alleged victim, first leveled this charge of rape in 1992, and the whole nasty business was resurrected this past weekend when she submitted an open letter restating her case to the New York Times, apparently inspired by Allen’s receiving a life achievement award at last month’s Golden Globes.

Allen has never been formally prosecuted for the crime in question, let alone found guilty.  He has always denied the alleged incident ever occurred; Farrow has always maintained that it did.  There is no definitive evidence either way.  Unless and until further details come to light, it’s a good old “he said, she said” situation.  Considering that the would-be prosecutor now says the statute of limitations has elapsed, it will likely remain as such.

Officially, this is all old news.  However, I must admit that, until very recently, I was completely oblivious to the whole bloody thing.  I knew all about Allen’s unusual marriage to Soon-Yi Previn—some scandals are simply unavoidable—but somehow the Dylan Farrow accusation eluded me.  I’d like to think this cultural blind spot was simply a consequence of my general policy of not caring about the private lives of public figures, but I now suspect I was subconsciously suppressing any urge to seek out information about Allen that would reduce his standing in the cinematic hierarchy in my head.

You see, my admiration for Woody Allen as a filmmaker is not casual.  I was introduced to his best works at a fairly young age.  I can probably quote Annie Hall by heart.  On some days, his Hannah and Her Sisters is my favorite of all movies, and I could happily watch it every week for the remainder of my natural life.

Yet I am inclined to believe Dylan Farrow is telling the truth, which means I worship at the cinematic alter of a rapist.  What is more, a rapist who is still alive and making movies, and so every time I buy a ticket, some of that money goes directly into Allen’s pocket.

Under these circumstances, the obvious moral thing to do would be to take Farrow’s advice and turn my back on Allen with some sort of one-person boycott.  Stop watching his films, stop singing his praises, stop acting like his alleged personal behavior is not utterly abhorrent and can be somehow brushed aside.

And yet, at least on the first two points, I can’t.  Or rather, I won’t.

The films of Woody Allen mean too much to me.  I could not do without them any more than I could Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” or the music of rock ‘n’ rollers whose abuses of women and drugs were as bottomless as they were repugnant.

As is so often the case, I must perform a cop-out and simply live with the contradiction, accepting the ugly possibility that the provider of some of my life’s greatest pleasures is also responsible for inflicting on others the most unimaginable pain.