The two tall men pulled out chairs on either side of me as we sat at the lunch table. Former colleagues from my political days, Covid had severed our connection three years ago. Now we were reviving the contact. Happily, both men looked well though one admitted he was struggling with Diabetes. Diet is critical to controlling the disease, so I bit my tongue when he and his companion ordered hamburgers, fries, and colas.
While we waited for the order, the man without diabetes broke into a story. “ My plumber for the last twenty years fixed my toilet the other day and announced he was a transgender woman.”The man who should have ordered a salad laughed. A lifelong Republican, he rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. “So he/she is giving up plumbing?”
“No,” said our friend. “But I expect her to charge less.”
Coffee spurted from my nose as I stifled a giggle. It’s wrong to laugh at others, but my vulgarian self wasn’t listening. Afterward, to clear my conscience, I shared what I’d learned about transgenders while writing a blog—that sex expresses itself throughout the body in several ways and that physical differences exist between homosexual and heterosexual brains.
Science is challenging cultural norms I told my friends, and those who choose to fight change should heed the Darlek’s warning. “Resistance is futile”
What we’ve yet to understand about ourselves is the disconnect between reason and human behavior. Being educated seems to count for nothing. Tucker Carlson and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas are intelligent men, yet both allow truth and hypocrisy to share the same bed. Carlson confides that he abhors Donald Trump yet is content to earn his supper by praising the man. Thomas dispenses justice to others never doubting his conduct is exempt.
“We live in a time of social upheaval,” I assured my friends as I risked another swallow of coffee. What I didn’t add was that not all change was good. Holywood has crafted a more inclusive set of standards for the Oscars, for example, but Richard Dreyfus says they make him want to “vomit.” The aim may be laudable, but my spine also stiffened. Art and political correctness aren’t good traveling companions. In times of unreasoned savagery, art was obliged to offend.
Intelligence, as Carlson and Thomas illustrate, lacks the power to overwhelm sentiments like greed and fear. Against these, we have but one defense–Emotional I. Q. It allows us to understand our feelings and use that understanding to interpret the responses of others.
Unfortunately, history’s chaos suggests we’ve done little to develop that aspect of our brains. While technology and science propel us into brave new worlds, our emotions are those we’ve carried since the stone age. Greed and fear seem to dominate which leaves us ill-equipped to be guardians of the planet. Even so, we are moving forward with plans to adapt space as part of our infrastructure.
An ambition like that gives new meaning to the Greek notion of hubris and raises a new question. How will we confront the life forms we encounter in space? Will we embrace them with wonder? Or will we treat differences as a reason to hate?
Art has long been the vessel designed to hold revelation. Pablo Picasso exposes our inhumanity in Guernica. James Nachtwey’s war images beg us to feel shame. Yet the primitive brain knows how to defend itself. If truth is painful, we become blind to it.
When our lunch visit is over, I rise to give a hug to my two friends. Peering over the shoulder of one with diabetes, I note he’s consumed his hamburger, fries, and cola. A line from Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch pops into my head. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us.