21 Senators

I like to think that I’m not a natural curmudgeon. I enjoy hope; I revel in beauty; I seek out good things in life, both small and big.

But it’s important to be honest with yourself: I’m an asshole.

This doesn’t mean that the other stuff is untrue. It just means that my natural disposition toward the world is usually an obstacle for me. I’d like it to be otherwise, but, as some wise old Brits still say, you can’t always get what you want.

All that said, there are mornings when my natural lens through which I view reality is confirmed with serious force. For example, the first story I read this morning detailed how 21 United States senators chose to vote against a bipartisan bill to ban torture. Now keep in mind, this is America; torture isn’t going away. But at least the majority of our leaders feel (correctly) that there should be some explicit language against practicing it. That’s a good thing.

Unless you’re the worst.

Which is really the only way I can view the 21 human beings, charged with making policy decisions for millions of collective constituents, who openly voted to keep the right to treat other human beings worse than the law allows us to treat domesticated animals. Baffling, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s not baffling to you, though. Maybe you are still among those who feel that torture can serve the greater good, that it can lead to valuable information which protects the wider public. What’s wrecking one guy’s body when we’re talking about hundreds? Thousands? Millions?

But you’re wrong if you’re not baffled. I’m saying you’re wrong. I’m right. There aren't a lot of times in life when you can be confident, but about this, I am. We’ve seen time and time again that torture doesn’t work. It doesn’t get results. If your body was being pushed beyond all fathomable limits of pain and possibility, wouldn’t you say anything to get it to stop? That’s common sense, and common sense wins out in every reliable case we’ve seen.

Still, we’ve got 21 powerful leaders in this nation who feel fine with blatantly ignoring such evidence. I honestly wish I could be more cynical about this, because then at least I could believe that they’re only trying to win some shrewd political points with such a vote. But I’m not. As an asshole, what I’m seeing isn’t even through the lens of cynicism at this point. What I’m seeing is both the active and banal nature of evil at work. The warm light of hope is so far gone for me when I see a story like this that it’s hard for me to process. I mean, stuff shouldn’t line up with the way I tend to view the world because the way I tend to view the world sucks. But here we have it.

So what’s to be done? I don’t know. Elect different people? We can do that. We can take note of the specific individuals who think mangling the body and mind of another is fine if the perceived (but never actual) gains are big enough, and we can vote for someone else. We can keep our memories of their deeds sharp, never forgetting that their view of human life is straight up disturbing.

We can also remember the value of life, and the value of living it with purpose and hope in light of our reality as connected beings. That's the stuff of divinity. We can remember that we're humans, and as such, neighbors are our reality. We can live that out with some optimism for the good life to be shared by all. We can get upset when even the most jaded among us notice the imbalance of ethics and policy playing out in our public sphere.

We can desire the new and the good. And maybe this desire for transformation and change is part of being an asshole who wishes you weren’t; in any case, it sure makes you different than 21 senators.