The Things We Cannot Name

I’ve had a year where I see, finally, as if with new eyes, all the ways humans project the evil in themselves onto others.

I fear this awakening has come about courtesy of the Trump administration. Trump’s habit of accusing opponents of committing his own darkest crimes has become so standard as to almost be rote.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad now, that when he accuses an adversary of ________, I just interpret it as, “This just in: Donald Trump totally does  _______.”

So it’s gotten me thinking of the ways in which we place shame and blame on others, sometimes to the extent that we completely erase our own culpability. Here’s an example: we all know the word “whore” is the worst way you can insult a woman. But if prostitution is a terrible sin, surely using the services of a prostitute is even worse. A man who takes advantage of a woman’s poverty and desperation? To have sex with her when she would otherwise be unwilling? Doesn’t that make him the absolute scum of the earth?

Doesn’t it make him not just sleazy, but also (apparently) so repulsive that no woman is willing to have sex with him freely? Surely, this combination of World’s Biggest Loser and World’s Ickiest Scumbag must be the lowest insult in the English language.

Except, it’s not. There is a word that describes it — “john” — but it just means “customer.” It’s not even an insult. It’s just a fact.

No word in the english language exists to mean, “A degraded, filthy and disgusting man who hijacks vulnerable women’s desperation to obtain unwilling traumatizing sex.” No. We have put the entire shame of this degrading experience onto the woman, who is the more helpless one in the scenario to boot. The man gets away scott-free.

By contrast, when it comes to drugs, we realize calling someone a junkie might be insulting, but calling someone a drug pusher is worse. A junkie is wretched and pitiable. A pusher is someone who ruins peoples’ lives for his own profit. One fell into degradation; the other one stood behind him and pushed.

What about when men use gross words to describe women’s genitalia? They’re not the guys who don’t care. It’s not gay men saying all those words, all the time. It’s the kinds of men who are talking about, and obsessing about, women’s genitalia. Their idee fixe. And for so many men, that thing they want most in their lives, the thing they pine for, crave, and that brings them closest to a sense of completeness is also the thing they insult, degrade, spew vile at.

In a sense, what they are really saying is, “I am obsessed with sex and that makes me so  ashamed of myself.” Then they put the shame on the object of that obsession, rather than on the one who is obsessed.

What if we put the root meaning of all insults back on the person who spoke them?

When Donald Trump insults the intelligence and humanity of others, what if we took it to mean, “I am deeply insecure and utterly unbalanced and ungrounded and unloved, and I literally have no way to get my bearings in life other than the degradation of others?”

When a man says, “Women should not be in my field of study, because women aren’t as smart as men,” what if we addressed his true message, which is, “I am afraid that I am not smart?” “I am excluding the majority of the human race from the ranks of the competition, because maybe then I’ll have a chance at success?”

Here are some other examples of projection that we as a society don’t really talk about:

The phrase: “Black people are lazy”

Said by White People, Who Literally Sailed to Another Country and Kidnapped People to Work for Them for Free Instead of Doing the Work Themselves

The word(s): You’re weak! You’re a Pussy!  and  He’s strong and tough! He’s got Balls!

Said by a group (men) whose very sensitive genitals will leave them helplessly writhing in pain at the slightest bump; said about another group (women) who genitals are able to give birth.

If anything in the entire world is tough, it’s pussies.

If anything in the entire world is fragile and weak and sensitive, it’s balls.

The phrase: Jews are greedy

Said by anti-semites who like to murder people and take all their stuff.

I wish it weren’t this simple. I wish the entire world’s geopolitical, societal, and community structures were not basically a grown-up version of “I know you are, but what am I?”

Alas, I fear it may just be so.