On the Other Hand

Conflict Dove

Conflict Dove

Imagine for a moment that you find yourself at the mercy of enemies. You are taken into a room, faced with a man holding a sword, and given this decision to make: Do you want to keep your right hand? Or your left hand?

Which one can you live without? Your main hand, whichever it might be, is certainly useful. But without your off hand, how to you cut food, carry your plate and your glass, drive a stick-shift, carry groceries and unlock the front door at the same time, and a million other things you never even notice?

We live in a time when shrill voices are shouting from opposite sides of what they would have you believe is a vast chasm. They’re begging you to flee from that chasm, to avoid that abyss. Cut off one hand, they say, and join the rest of us, and we’ll keep you from falling into utter darkness.

I’m here to say there is no chasm, and we need both hands, and in the very solid, very real middle ground, you get to keep both hands and even use them.

Left and Right. The great political divide, only there is no divide. There is no chasm. There is no yawning abyss waiting to swallow you if you step toward the middle and start cutting your food with a knife and a fork, opening the door while holding your groceries, driving that fuel-efficient stick-shift. No chasm.


On the issue of abortion: The far right wants no abortions ever for any reason. The far left holds the position that if you can cut off a full-term infant’s head before his feet clear the birth canal, that should be a legal, acceptable abortion (partial-birth abortion). In the middle, there are a lot of folks like me, who think choice is what you make when you decide to have sex [This statement applies to first-world countries only. In third-world countries where women are still chattel, the first order of business is to get them some damned rights], but that when your life is in danger or choice was taken away from you because of rape or incest (or in other special cases), you should be permitted an abortion through the end of the first term, no questions asked (and if your life is in danger, abortion right up to the point where the infant could live if C-sectioned — an abortion is no less dangerous and may be more dangerous than a C-section by that point). There are a lot of folks just a little to the left of me who think you should be permitted an abortion through the end of the first term, no questions asked, for any reason you like. I disagree with them, but they’re still in the middle ground.

On the issue of being gay: The far right position is that homosexuality is a mental aberration or a disease, and that practicing homosexual behavior is both a sin and a crime, even between consenting adults. The far left position is that homosexual behavior of any stripe is okay — that NAMBLA (the North American Man/Boy Love Associaton) is a fine, upstanding group of folks, and deserving of support; and that bareback sex among men with HIV/AIDS is a valid political and social statement. In the middle, you have folks like me, who think that homosexuality is partially a genetic/chemical thing and partially a matter of life experience — like being straight — and frankly, if you’re both adults, you’re staying safe, and you’re not ruining the life of some unknowing beard who married you because she or he believed you when you said or implied that you were straight, you’re okay. People are who they are.

On the issue of gay marriage: The far left position is that everything should be marriage — groups and festivals and barnyards and your Rottweiler, if you want. The far right position is that any form of cohabitation whatsoever that is not one man legally married in the sight of God to one woman for the purpose of creating a family is wrong, wrong, wrong, sinful, and probably a crime, too. In the middle ground, there are a lot of people like me who think that committed gay couples should be allowed to marry. There are a lot of folks a wee bit to the right of me who think that marriage really is for one man and one woman for the purposes of raising a family, but that committed gay couples should be given equal legal protection as cohabitants. Consensual adult behavior that does no harm should not be legislated, either for or against.

On the issue of capital punishment: The far left fights for the rights of criminals over the rights of victims, demands that no criminal ever be executed for any reason ever, no matter what he or she did. Susan Smith was simply carrying out her legal right to abortion, a few years late. Joseph Edward Duncan III was no doubt simply misunderstood when he murdered two adults and a teenager in order to abduct and rape two small children, and eventually murder one of the two, and what Duncan really needs is a big hug. The far right thinks capital punishment is underused, should be available for many more crimes, should be swift, should be public, and should be horrific to act as a deterrent — something along the lines of “bring back the Flavian Ampitheatre“. The middle ground on this is that there are some people — not a lot, but some — who need to be thinned out of the herd for the good of everyone. It may not act as a deterrent to other killers, but it will sure as shit deter that one. It may not provide closure for the families, but it will prevent new families from needing closure. We don’t need popcorn and public spectacle, a carnie and ringside seats to watch criminals die in new and amusing ways; private, painless and efficient will be fine. Civilized societies protect the innocent from the guilty, and sometimes that’s ugly work. Sometimes the truth sucks.

On the President — any President: One extreme will mark him as the worst and most shameful excuse for a leader this country has ever seen, the devil incarnate, a Nazi or a libertine, weak and spineless or a dictator waiting to pounce, or a mad cowboy, but always evil, evil, evil. The other extreme will acclaim him as the friend of the working man, the champion of civil rights, the guy who gets things done, a hero for our times, a mensch. And the middle ground is that it doesn’t really matter all that much, because whoever he is, he’s sucking up to corporate interests, giving our missile technology to the Chinese, bringing in his cronies to sit on boards for which they are hideously unqualified, sending representatives overseas who are an embarrassment to and sometimes an offense against the country they were sent to represent, abusing his position to hang out with celebrities or hit on working girls or to make money for his family interests.

Race, gender, religion, immigration, foreign policy, education, welfare, Social Security, the war, healthcare, the environment, the right to bear arms — every single issue has a loud far left position, a loud far right position, and a large, solid, workable middle ground that everyone on both ends is fighting like hell to make invisible.

You’ll hear all the shrill screeches of the shills. “Pick a side. Don’t be a fence sitter. You’re with us or you’re against us.” It isn’t the folks on the solid middle ground who are shouting. The noise, the lights, and the carnivals lie the ends. The radical ends want you, they need you, and they are deeply invested in getting you to believe that the ends are all that exist — that anyplace to the middle is weak, spineless, cowardly. “Pick a side, damn you. Have an opinion. Make your voice COUNT!” (You already had an opinion? That doesn’t count. It isn’t their opinion.)

You’ve heard it. So have I. But have you thought about why they’re screaming so loudly?

Why do they want you so badly? Why do they NEED you to sign on to a Left or Right position?

You’re being invited to cut off a hand, please. Quickly, before you think too hard about it. And either hand will do.

People who want to be in power shill for the people who are. And the people who are in power want you to believe that the ends are all that exist, because when you’re at either end, you’re weak. You only have one hand, and there are all sorts of things you can no longer do. You are at the mercy of anyone with two hands.

And sleight of hand and misdirection only work for two-handed folk. All the guys with real power, the corporate cocksuckers and the government hacks, the old rich power-brokers and the Old Boys networks donate their money equally to both parties, so that they’ll always have a winner. They keep the circuses running, they keep the shills screeching, they keep the divisions broad, because as long as you’re entertained by the show, (or making yourself a part of it) you won’t notice them. Real power doesn’t make a lot of noise, because it doesn’t need to. And the ideology of power is “That which makes us stronger and richer, we will support.” It begins there, it ends there, it encompasses neither morality nor mercy. It’s big, it’s dangerous, and it’s very, very old.

And anything that makes you weaker makes it stronger.


Which hand would you like to cut off?

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.