Month: October 2018

What does Christianity do with Vulnerability and a Celebration of Sexuality? Part I and II

Part I

The day in Bo began a long and didactic discussion of the future of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, attended by bishops of various countries and pastors who are now administrators of churchwide bodies. The day ended with a celebration of the fertile energies of adolescent bodies. They dared the adults to join them, and protect them, on their joyful and dangerous journey through life. It was a celebration, ultimately, of trust.

As a scholar of African History, I know something about these traditions. I have a sense of the sacred nature of these dances that celebrate fertility. But it was nonetheless shocking to see them performed by church youth before an audience of Lutheran Bishops.

The Lutheran church in Sierra Leone is thirty years old, and ten of those years, as stated by several attendees who lived through the 1990s, were scarred by a civil war, marked by deliberate brutalities that were intended to upset the normal moral order. For them, it was a lost decade, and the church and the country stuck in a societal adolescence. It is a land that habitually, and daringly, casts from its consciousness the continual traumas that have haunted it for 400 years. The slave trade took five thousand people a year for during the century before Freetown was established as a British settlement for liberated slaves. Slave ships were captured at sea, the captives unloaded here, and slavery became a shared memory.  The traumas lurk somewhere in the magical region that Pierre Bourdieu called “the Realm of the Undisputed.” 

“The fact that warfare, raiding, and the knowledge that bodies could become commodities in exchange for wealth formed part of the every day conditions of life for over four centuries was surely insidious in itself. Terror had become a taken-for-granted aspect of the environment in which people’s lives unfolded.” (Shaw, 41)

For anyone interested in understanding this Middle Earthen kingdom where magic is still alive, I would start wiith Mariane Ferme’s “The Underneath of Things.” Read that first, and then go on to Paul Richards’ “Fighting for the Rain Forest,” and finally William Reno’s “Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone.” There may be some newer books out there as well, but, if you really want a challenge, read Rosalind Shaw’s “Memories of the Slave Trade,” whence the quotes that populate this essay come.

In a long discussion of Sierra Leone’s unstable history with men and women who lived through the war, one also recommended Ayi Kwei Armah’s barbed novel of postcolonial ennui in Ghana, “The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born.” It tells the tale of a  particular tragedy that has never quite been conquered in West Africa, and is more accessible than Syl Cheney-Coker’s magical journey through Sierra Leone in “The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar.”  In the meantime a new millennium has presented a more optimistic societal canvas than has been present for a long, long time. Sierra Leone’s new, democratically elected president is making his first tour upcountry since taking office, and is following close on our heels. His advance security people are present everywhere, just below the level of consciousness. They represent a widening governmental commitment to competence in a nation where a generation of the civil servants, professors, and businesspeople fled into exile, and a new world had to be built by the young. At the sprawling hotel where we are staying, it was only the jolt at breakfast of the scantily clad young women, who inevitably accompany all advance presidential guards, that brought their presence to my notice. One must keep in mind that in Africa, and this is particularly true in Sierra Leone, you are living in a society where 50% of the population is under age 15, and a great number of them are vulnerable where families and infrastructures were decimated, where social norms came under fire, where jobs are few. They seek protection.

At the center of the Crossroads, you get all the messages you are looking for. However big a thing is, it is to the center that it has to come.  All these roads, they have meanings.  If something is hidden, the road will tell you in the center. (Pa Yemba, quoted in Shaw, 92)

The road from Freetown to Bo is new and smooth and well marked. Parts of it pass through primordial landscapes whose modernity is marked only by the absence of of the towering trees that once lorded over the coastal rainforest. Human settlement has slashed and burned all but the palm trees that still cast their storybook shadows over the verdant hills. Elsewhere the roadsides jostle with bikes and motorbikes, pedestrians and goats. As elsewhere in Africa, all share the same narrow public space, and accidents do happen, but are here considered exceptions to God’s tender mercies and the respect for each other during the fleeting moments when viable public infrastructures are there to be shared.

We stop at a crossroads to wait for another car in our little caravan. American bluesman Robert Johnson sang of magical happenings at the crossroads, of devils on Greyhounds, and hellhounds on the trail. He conjured the magic of the crossroads from sinews of cultural memory that his ancestors brought from the Western coast of Africa. A Temne diviner in Sierra Leone explained to Rosalind Shaw that “The spirits come to the Crossroads.”

As Americans, we should know this, in blood-scented junctions along the Mississippi Delta and Ferguson, Missouri. As Americans, we should also recognize these African adolescents in the songs of Chuck Berry and the Dixie Cups, of Beyonce and the Black Eyed Peas. American culture does not exist without Africans and the traumas that brought them here.

“Well I’m all grown up. I ain’t a baby no more. And I can do the things, I couldn’t do before. Well I can go downtown, and I can shimmy all night, and he wants to kiss, I can say well that’s alright. And I can fall in love, and marry by and by, because I’m all grown up, and that’s the reason why.” (The Dixie Cups)

You want to warn them. You want to build a wall around them. You want to turn back the clock until they shrink back into a child’s body where their innocence is evident and their vulnerability sparks the instinct to protect them. But they are telling you that you have to let them go. The dance is telling you that it is their sexuality that drives them into the world. The dance is telling you that their mastery of their bodies signals their mastery of the world and all its cruelties, of which they know almost nothing. Adolescence is one of those magical crossroads filled with all the possibilities of life and all its attendant dangers.

At the crossroads on the road to Bo, a young woman, a teenager with soft shoulders and round cheeks approached the window with a basket of the fullest, ripest pineapples you’ve ever seen. She lingered at the window, hoping for a sale, her eyes as sweet as a shy child when asked what they want for Christmas. And when we waved her off, telling her we weren’t buying, she turned away with that same heart-breaking smile and not a trace of disappointment. It struck me that this girl, impoverished as she is, selling fruit by the roadside on a Friday, has everything she needs. Somehow, even on that chaotic corner, the African village, that ancient and most durable institution, has nurtured her in body, mind, and spirit. She is altogether healthy, her immediate needs of food, shelter, and love are present in sufficient abundance. What is missing, clearly, is the chance to do something more with her life, to train her capabilities and channel her generosity of spirit into something more productive. But what struck me is that the humble abundance that her family and village have given her offer only the thinnest layer of protection.

What struck me was not her poverty, but her vulnerability. On that day, you’d be hard pressed to find a more well-adjusted American teenager. But the American teenager, the middle-class ones at least, are cocooned in layer upon layer of institutionalized protection: security cameras and police, medical insurance and hospitals, food safety regulations and drug controls, a trillion dollar military and drones, trigger warnings and conflict free zones. This girl stood at the crossroads with pineapples on her head. And ghosts flew around her: ebola victims, child soldiers on meth, slave raiders with cutlasses and nets and crushed consciences. I can only imagine, and hope, that the ghosts protect her like the village does, as one of their own. If more restless ghosts still roam the land, they are not seen. But one can only imagine that they lie in wait to inhabit their human hosts and take their revenge.

“Landscapes bear traces of violent histories in different ways. One is through the suffusion of a place by the lingering presence of past violence and suffering: haunted houses, pools, forests, and stretches of road that were sites of murder, raids, drownings or, car accidents.” (Shaw, 46)

Just before we set out for Bo, we stopped into the Freetown neighborhood of John Thorpe. As with many areas here, a place is named in a feudal sort of way after some long lost occupant who carries an English name because once upon a time the land was ruled by people who had been liberated from slave ships and settled in this colony, converted to Christianity, and named after Englishmen. It was a shallow conquest, and a largely forgotten one, but it meant that traumatic memories of enslavement were planted upon the new society like the Magna Carta.

In John Thorpe the major industry is a sand pit, and heavily laden trucks of sand grind their way up and down the cratered dirt roads. In the cruel and uncaring manner of all plagues, the Ebola outbreak of 2014 hit John Thorpe particularly hard. The virus struck down 182 in the small community, and only nine survived. The Lutheran church worked in its own small way among the international armies of doctors and scientists who descended upon the country in their blue hazmat suits. The Lutherans helped organize community members to bring food to those in quarantine who had no one else to care for them. They found homes for the feared orphans who threatened everyone they met with the possibility that they might be possessed by the infectious ghost of their parents. They found places in school for them. They built some outhouses to stanch the spread of cholera.

It is a warm culture. People crowd in close, they embrace, they shake hands, and this all contributes mightily to the psychological well-being of children and youth, and all those who have avoided or buried the scars of other traumas. And it was those touches and embraces and clasped hands that were most missed when Ebola hit. You see Ebola does not simply infect the individual through the most minute droplet of blood, spit, or semen. Ebola devastates an entire community when all the normal acts of affection are deadly and even healthy people must be regarded with suspicion, and you fear to admit that you found blood dripping from your ears, or eyes, or anus.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote effectively of its human impact in “The Masque of the Red Death,” a horror animated by his fertile imagination and a shred of newsprint. For American readers it was a gothic thrill, and a metaphor for social anxieties and he madness of mobs. For the residents of John Thorpe it was a lived reality, another trauma whose departure was a cause for joy that overwhelmed the memory of the horrors. So they celebrated their survival with us. They thanked us for more than we ever possibly gave them. There are the politics of gratitude, and I know how those politics work, but there is also the ritual of gratitude as a moral act.

And the children performed a small, and underprepared play that dramatized their experience of death and hazmat suits. They fit in some ill-articulated medical terms about the disease and its vectors, but mostly they acted out a generic and reassuring portrayal of familial norms. A husband came home from work and an obedient wife served him and called the children to him as he warned them about the disease stalking the land. The crowd laughed when the skinny husband put an arm around his play-acted wife who, as girls do, had already matured beyond his comprehension. The comedy derived from an irony that pitted the mismatched children against a patriarchal order. And the crowd laughed when another skinny boy in an ill-fitting hazmat suit came to examine the dying husband while his wife cried on the floor. The crowd clicked supportively when the children warned their mother not to touch the dying husband because he might have the disease. And the crowd was possibly quietest when the wife scolded her children for their presumptuous warning in the face of parental authority. What did they know about Ebola anyways? They said they learned about it in school.


What struck me first were the conventions of patriarchal family life portrayed, and the incorporation of the hazmat-suited ghost into that comforting vision of home. Patriarchal perhaps, and one could quickly spiral into all sorts of implications and abuses to be blamed upon patriarchal presumptions. But here this conventional family was an imagined ideal, a reassuring norm a father and mother and three children living in comforting order. As anyone who has worked with children in schools or camps, they like structure. They imagined structure, a family with a salaried father and a mother with time for her children, and a daily ritual of school. They imagined an American sitcom, and all the conventional comforts it could offer. And the reality that surrounds them offers very few of those comforts, and among the families around them, in John Thorpe, the stay-at-home mother and the salaried father and the three well-mannered children in school might be more rare than they’d like, in the wakes of wars and Ebola.

But what stayed with me was the laughter, the healing laughter, the recognition that when people experience real trauma, as opposed to all the hyperventilated traumas Americans subject themselves to every day, that laughter is healing. And that in America we have largely lost the ability to laugh at ourselves, to laugh at our fears, to laugh at our bodily functions. The only laughter we have left, at least in our public discourse, is laughing at each other in scorn. They laughed at themselves, at the way they had been afraid when the plague stalked them, and they laughed at the differences between ideals and reality.

They laughed because they had survived.

See Part II below…


Unfinished draft: Political Posts, Civic War, and the Perils of Purge Categories

I started working on this a week ago, and with more important life events interfering, the whole thing ran out of gas. I’m going to try to compose a more succinct comment on these events as they illuminate the state of the nation…but this post just has to come to an unfinished end… I’ll get around to purge categories at some future time.

As the breathless news coverage about the hearings on the sexual assault allegations against the supreme court nominee takes a partial rest this Sunday morning, I realize how much we miss when we fixate so thoroughly upon the politics of scandal. The New York Times featured a number of excellent articles, as usual, this morning that floated up to the top because the headlines were not quite so thoroughly saturated with the question of whether the supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford.

There was a tsunami-earthquake in Indonesia, and the stories mirror other coverage of natural disasters. There is an excellent and frightening piece of reporting on the slide of the party of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s ANC, into mafioso corruption, with politicians being killed for squeezing in on someone’s turf, or for exposing corruption. And, in a blessed piece of balance, an all-in-all heartwarming story about the plight of baobob trees in Senegal, which are losing ground to new development and climate change, but remain beloved in that peaceful country. And then there is a story from the US that stands as a stark reminder of both the dangers of our fixation on scandal, and the background cause for that fixation. Thousands of detained migrant children at the Texas border are being moved under cover of night to a bigger detention facility, in which they are housed in canvas bunkhouses like low-security prisoners, with no school and minimal recreational facilities. The cruelty of that story is closer to the core of the actual politics at stake during the Trump presidency, and a more humane solution will probably will require a president and congress controlled by the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party is philosophically lost, inundated by the lies its leaders have been telling to themselves and to the American people for years, and the Kavanaugh hearings represent some sort of dramatization of that, among other things. But the handling of that scandal represents a profound moral danger to the Democrats as well, and to the #metoo movement itself. We, as a nation, are engaged in what I’m going to call civic warfare, where political ends justify means that will come back to haunt them.

This morning I ran across a viral video on Facebook, that intercut scenes of the movie Pulp Fiction of the Brett Kavanaugh hearing relating to the sexual assault allegation. I decided, with some reluctance to share it, so I wrote a long and (you’ll have to believe) eloquent comment as a lead-in, and then pressed share. The post immediately disappeared, never to be seen again. And I begin to wonder about Facebook’s algorithms, that a long thoughtful post is censored, while every emotional, tendentious, and exploitative outburst is given high visibility… You should understand that I don’t actually believe Facebook censored my post. I’m sure the post took me a long time to write on my phone and as a result the page refreshed or something and the post was just lost somewhere in the no-man’s land where tweets reside between the phone and the cloud. I won’t be able to reconstruct it, but some of those thoughts will emerge in this essay. But, first take a look at the Pulp Fiction/Kavanaugh Hearing video, it’s pretty funny, a few vulgarities, but avoids the over-the-top violence of the scene. It is a funny and vulgar response to a sad and vulgar week.

The video is funny because it builds upon the sly and subversive humor of Tarantino’s script and Samuel L.Jackson’s incomparable ability to bring this particular character to life. We encounter a black man who knows that he is generally smarter than most people he meets, and yet has the humility to work within an organization, respect his boss, and acknowledge the occasional encounter with someone who might be even smarter than him. We encounter this black man, like so many, in a confrontation with a bunch of bratty suburban kids who are neither smarter than him nor better qualified, and yet in the broader society they are accounted as his social superiors, and function in the straight world that he is excluded from, for his crimes, his relations, but mostly his color. Those bratty kids just had the misfortune to wander into his world. In this funny and fictional criminal world, not so far removed from the tragedies of the real world, the protective cocoon of the social structure that protects and upholds those white kids unravels and racial hierarchies fold into other hierarchies enforced by more localized violence. To turn that fictional lens upon the Kavanaugh hearing is very revealing, and that is the basis of its humor. And we need humor, we need humor, and we’re in danger of losing all humor except the humor that mocks an enemy.

Somebody assaulted Dr. Blasey Ford 30 years ago, and she’s sure it was Brett Kavanaugh. In my mere phrasing here, I have already broken ranks. In refusing to say unequivocally that I believe her, I stand condemned in eyes of Democrats of covering up an attempted rape, and complicity in the loss of the Supreme Court as a source of balanced judgment. In refusing to support the nominee as a consequence of that doubt, I stand condemned by a morally bankrupt Republican party of something akin to treason in their blasphemous reversal of Jesus’ injunction to his disciples to refuse condemnation of a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus said, “if they are not against us they are for us”; but the Republicans cynically reverse Jesus’ words and say “if you are not for us, you are against us.” What is troubling is that it is not just the post-Iraq Republicans that have absorbed this Manichean logic, but all of us. We Americans are now engaged in a mostly-nonviolent internal war, a civic war fought at the level of rhetoric, image, and loyalty. The Manichean logic then reinforces another unfortunate conceptualization of politics also produced initially as a result of Republican corruption, which is that of “litigating elections” rather than campaigning for electoral office. I will return to these themes later, and their consequences. But first we have to think about

Christine Blasey Ford bears a traumatic memory of a sexual assault in the early 1980s, with Brett Kavanaugh’s face and name emblazoned upon it. Newspapers have dissected the shreds of evidence that have been made public, and the FBI will now investigate, mainly through forensic interviews. It is unlikely that anything more substantial than her memory of the incident will be found. And that implies that we are faced with a choice to either believe her, or dismiss her entirely. But let me propose that it is neither morally nor philosophically incompatible to both believe her and yet question whether the evidence available about the sexual assault is sufficient to uphold the political assault upon the supreme court nominee. In the narrow specifics of the case at hand, we must, as moral citizens and fair-minded people, bear in mind the question: what if the person who assaulted Dr. Blasey Ford was not Brett Kavanaugh? What if she mis-remembered the incident? What then is our moral duty here?

But of course, it is never about narrow specifics. First and foremost this incident arises in the midst of the #metoo movement, and its effort to fundamentally change the culture of impunity in regards to sexual harassment by highlighting accusations, prompting investigations, and shaming perpetrators. The Democrats are riding the #metoo movement because, by and large, they are seen as more sympathetic and likely to support the movement, and thereby also be supported by it. But Democrats are also taking revenge for the Republican obstruction of Barack Obama’s supreme court nominee, for whom they refused to allow a hearing. They seek to delay the nomination process until after the midterm election in November and thereby gain a measure of control over the choice of nominee. And in this regard, they also are “litigating” rather than electioneering, litigating instead of governing.

Use of this term “litigating the election” is one I hear more and more often, usually from conservative pundits on TV and radio. The term may have emerged from the 2000 presidential election which was “litigated” by Al Gore to demand a re-count in Florida after a razor-thin margin of victory for George Bush. But, this use of the term referred more exclusively to post-electoral litigation in regards to discrepancies, misconduct, recounts and the like. The more general use of the term to refer to what used to be called “campaigning” seems to be a case of semantic slippage, where the habitual use of the word “litigate”, fueled perhaps by a particular rhetorical power attached to the word among lawyers and legal junkies, bled into a new connotation in relation to elections. It is an interesting semantic shift, as it signals a fundamental shift in the concept of elections, and more broadly, political process.

As generally understood, American democracy functions via a continual rhythm of elections for local, state, and national offices. The elections are contested by candidates who express particular ideas and plans, and lay claim to the loyalties of different segments of the population. An election is held, votes are tallied, and a winner is declared, barring allegations of misconduct. The winner then represents the entire electorate in the designated office or representative body. The winner will ideally act in concert with the views and attitudes of the majority of the constituency, and in some cases will seek to make the best decision on their behalf when a new or complex issue arises. In some cases the winner will use the prorogatives of the office for a more direct benefit for him/herself or for the benefit of a particular group of supporters. At some point such behavior can be labeled morally and legally as corruption.

In the American system we have odds and ends of petty corruption, of crass abuse of office for personal gain, but illegal corruption is not that common. Far more common is a more systemic corruption of how the increasingly expensive proposition of campaigning becomes dependent on donors who seek particular outcomes. In some cases these outcomes take the form of laws that are evidently corrupt in the way that they immediately benefit the political donor. In other cases the laws reflect a broader ideological position that is of more indirect benefit to particular donors.

But there is another level to this that can’t quite be called corruption in a direct sense. There are donors who are true believers in certain ideological approaches and certain legal philosophies. They donate heavily to achieve ideological goals, not for self-conscious personal gain, but for what they perceive to be the good of the society. Debates over “net neutrality”, abortion, deregulation, free speech, and many others fall under this definition. But just because the donors seek no direct personal gain does not mean that the effect of their activity does not corrupt the system. In other words, there is an element of process here, and of the dangers deriving from the ability of a certain class of wealthy people to shape the choices of elected representatives so profoundly. What has happened is that a class of politicians has emerged, predominantly lawyers by training, who act in a manner more closely akin to a hired attorney working on behalf of a client than an elected representative acting on behalf of an electorate.

A certain role reversal takes place, whereby the attorney navigates the political system on behalf of the client rather than a politician navigating the legal system on behalf of an electorate. And this reversal gives birth to the concept of “litigating an election.” In this concept, the goal of the politician is still to win the election, but the conceptual basis of the campaign and the victory derives from the goal of accomplishing a task for the client, rather than representation of the electorate. Thus, in this concept, all the tactics of the high-stakes courtroom become legitimate in electoral politics. There is something slightly different at work here than old-fashioned corruption and dirty politics. In past times there may still have been politicians “on the take”, working on behalf of clients, but they did so via their success at campaigning, and their actions were self-consciously corrupt. In the new circumstance, the seeping of litigation strategy into political strategy masks the corruption with the entire set of ethical concepts that govern attorney-client relationships. The attorney’s task is to represent the clients interests, not in a corrupt manner, but in a manner governed by the particular ethics of the adversarial legal system.

We should note that the adversarial legal system, and the contested election are separate traditions. Even though they may have some shared philosophical roots, they are not congruent and they each have separate histories. The conflation of these two traditions is dangerous to democracy. What we see emerging is the legitimation of the idea that elections are not won or lost by mere majority of votes, but that elections are merely a procedural barrier to be overcome by a variety of litigation strategies that range from gerrymandering, delay tactics, voter suppression, legislative manipulation, emotional appeals, and campaign contributions. And, more importantly, that these tactics are all legitimate under the conceptual framework of litigation rather than electoral politics.

It is within this framework that much of the Republican obstruction to Barack Obama’s presidency occurred. Any number of congressional and senatorial elections were “litigated” not on the basis of evident fraud or misconduct, but merely on the basis of technicalities (the timing of elections of Al Franken and Scott Brown come to mind) in order to gain minute advantages in congressional balances of power. The de riguer use of the filibuster and other delay tactics in the Senate are also direct consequences of the “litigation” concept of politics. Their expanding use makes perfect sense in a government dominated by attorneys acting on behalf of clients rather than representatives governing on behalf of an electorate. And, in this sense, the refusal to consider Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, was a perfectly reasonable delay tactic. At the time of its implementation by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the outcome of the tactic was uncertain as the presidential election remained an open field. As a Hillary Clinton victory looked increasingly likely, it seemed that the tactic would amount to little, since she would presumably nominate her own ideologically-attuned nominee. But McConnell, the good lawyer, stuck to the strategy and was rewarded with the Trump victory. In many ways it was McConnell’s strategy that made it possible for many Republicans to hold their noses and vote for Trump, because regardless of his flaws, he would get them seats on the Supreme Court.

McConnell proceeded with the tactics of a lawyer, but we still have to account for his electoral victories. And this requires a delve into another aspect of our current political formation, which is the civic war alluded to earlier.

It may not be coincidental that the litigation concept of elections has been reinforced by the civic war concept of citizen participation. At some point in the mid-2000s I saw Bill O’Reilly giving his “talking points” at the end of his show, and I found it disturbing. As a historian I had been through presidential records, and knew that White House staffers often prepared “talking points” for the president when he was to meet face-to-face with someone. The rationale was that the president was not up on all the details and progress with a particular country or interest group, so they prepared some basic goals to keep in mind during a free form conversation in order to make progress on long-standing issues. Bill O’Reilly was mobilizing his audience for a very different reason. He was mobilizing them not as a thinking citizenry, but as his agents, to shift public opinion on issues.

What was notable was the mobilization of soldiers for a culture war and not the enhancement of citizens of a democracy. His effort signaled the presence of the civic war, which just so happens to be an effective support structure for the litigation approach to politics. His goal was to swing friendly members of the jury.

What has happened is that we have all, or many of us anyway, been drafted as soldiers in the civic war rather than citizens of the democratic civitas. This is why our approach to truth becomes increasingly politicized. In every conversation we conceive ourselves to be fighting a larger battle rather than seeking a democratic consensus. This is evident in a variety of Republican hypocrisies and denialism from climate change to immigration policy to the national debt. But, any visit to the liberal-leaning realms of Facebook finds a similar group mentality, where certain patterns of outrage emerge through a complex psycho-political process: there is an element of compunction whereby a pattern of peer-pressure urges you to chime in on certain issues, usually with supportive outrage. A questioning of the outrage draws disbelief, mockery, and more outrage. You feel compelled to agree with the general tone for these reasons, but also for the broader reason of being supportive of the general effort. You tell yourself that you generally agree with the motives and desires of your friends, and that they will feel actual hurt if you don’t show support for the cause. In many cases their posts are structured as a cry for support amidst the trauma caused by various events on the public stage. And I do not question the authenticity of the trauma. But I do wonder if it is a product, in part, of the civic war and the nature of engagement.

The civic war, to the extent that you are deploying your outrage and talking points in personal interactions and pseudo-personal online interactions, is intimate. It happens inside our private bubbles. It happens in the space where social reality is generated. To attack and to be attacked happens within that intimate arena. One’s sense of self is at stake, and one’s status among peers. And so the level of outrage is defensive of self,