But at the same time, they’ve had to validate work on some level, so they’ve simultaneously been telling us: work is a value in itself. It creates discipline, maturity, or some such, and anyone who doesn’t work most of the time at something they don’t enjoy is a bad person, lazy, dangerous, parasitical. So work is valuable whether or not it produces anything of value. So we have this peculiar switch. As anyone who’s ever had a 9-to-5 job knows, the thing everyone hates the most is having to look busy, even once you’ve finished a job, just to make the boss happy, because it’s “his time” and you have no business lounging around even if there’s nothing you really need to be doing. Now it’s almost as if that kind of business is the most valued form of work, because it’s pure work, work unpolluted by any possible sort of gratification, even that gratification that comes out of knowing you’re actually doing something. And every time there’s some kind of crisis, it intensifies. We’re told, oh no! We’re all going to have to work harder. And since the amount of things that actually need doing remain about the same, there’s an additional hypertrophy of bullshit.
Won’t reparations divide us? Not any more than we are already divided. The wealth gap merely puts a number on something we feel but cannot say—that American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution. What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.
What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.
I am thy father’s spirit Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison-house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combined locks to part And each particular hair to stand on end, Like quills upon the fretful porpentine: But this eternal blazon must not be To ears of flesh and blood.
I have no doubt that the victims of Clayton Lockett, and the other man scheduled to die on April 29th, suffered terribly. It is easy to argue against the death penalty for its waste, its inefficiency, its expense, and on behalf of the rare innocent who is executed for a crime they did not comment. It is far harder, and far less popular, to argue against it on behalf of those who seem to deserve no sympathy, who are unquestionably guilty of awful crimes. But that is the most important reason of all to oppose the death penalty. The law must be better than the people it dares to condemn, and for our system of justice to rise above the will of the strong, doing as they like, imposed upon the weak, who suffer as they must, it must know kindness, love, and generosity of spirit. Only with those attributes can it turn from an instrument of retribution to an instrument of justice. Nobody is good; to torture a man to death for forty-three minutes, no matter how awful his crimes, for reasons of political expediency and in defiance of the state supreme court makes you worse than most. One day, I hope, Mary Fallin will have wisdom enough to regret the foul crimes done in her days of nature. Until then, I hope the ghost of Clayton Lockett haunts her in her dreams.
In Brooklyn, as you order your home-grown-arugula and lemon pizza, your server can entertain you with their opinions on Jonathan Franzen, their fluency in Swedish design concepts. Tipping them is kind of like supporting the arts. Somewhere, I imagine, there really is a place where the server and the served interact on equal footing, reciprocally enjoying a shared culture. Perhaps it’s simply an issue of remuneration. Maybe that place is in Portland, where rents are cheaper and the rich aren’t as, well, filthily so.