Cruelty Culture

Recently, I scrolled past a meme on Facebook that referred to ADHD as “diet autism.” While amusing at first glance, there is a nugget of truth in this. Those close to me know I have regularly mentioned suspecting I might be on the autism spectrum myself — especially since 2012, when I began working a part-time job again after years of limited human contact. I had to consciously and deliberately rebuild my socialization skills from scratch; the sort of systematic way I went about it is probably good example of how I approach myself, generally.

For years I have, only somewhat jokingly, referred to my struggles as learning how to be human. It has been the dominant theme explored over and over in my self-portraits. In aggregate, these images are obviously an attempt to relate my lived experience in ways I am unable to communicate with words. I don’t “love” or even “enjoy” drawing, but now theorize that I developed it as a part of my functional “vocabulary” adjacent to verbal and written language.

I have also illustrated the intense inner-conflict between my desire to be “good,” while believing for much of my life that I am “bad” or deficient. Apparently that is a documented phenomena. I tick off a lot of boxes, including some repetitive and ritualistic behaviours that I always assumed might be OCD, but are more likely a form of stimming. I do not know if a diagnosis at my age is easily possible.

When I dig deeply into my earliest memories, a clear pattern emerges of my struggles with social interaction and relating to others. Though I was never too bullied by classmates beyond the scope of isolated teasing, I did frequently feel “othered.” I saw myself as the “weird” one, and was definitely treated that way. I was often rejected without understanding why. Part of this was obviously due to the extreme restrictions placed upon me by my parents, but I believe that my neurodivergence played a role as well. They are irretrievably intertwined.

Throughout my life, I have encountered people that absolutely loathe me for reasons I did/do not know. I am speaking about elementary-aged school children to adults — going so far as to accuse me of, fabricate, and spread rumours about things I “did” that literally never happened. Even my parents! This could have been a source of bitterness for me, but it has mostly been bemusement.

“Confused” describes my immediate reaction to most interpersonal conflict.

It makes much more sense in the context of a brain/developmental disorder. Impulsivity, opaque and fast-moving thought processes, and an almost complete obliviousness to “tact” has generally led me to having virtually no verbal filter and expressing myself in the worst ways possible. People around me have also never hesitated to tell me what was “wrong” with me, which normalized that behaviour. I know this may come as a shock, but independent of good intentions, helpfully informing people what you feel they are doing wrong is rarely well-received.

These days I have learned to slow down and/or just keep my mouth shut.

For those that cannot or do not want to understand me — that is okay. I am doing my best, and constantly evolving. That is all I, or anyone, can do.

The Prisoner, 2016

Yet — in spite of the impairments I have had to overcome, and my personal shortcomings, and in spite of how I have often been treated over the course of my life — I have never relished being cruel. (Petty, sure, but in a harmless way.) Even at my most oblivious, I have never deliberately acted to deprive, destroy, hurt, or injure someone. Cruelty, and indifference to the pain and suffering of others, is something I find morally repulsive. I do not understand it.

The concept of deriving delight, or even joy, at the genuine misery of another person is also a concept I cannot wrap my mind around. I lost several Facebook friends, and a paying Patreon subscriber, after I repeatedly deleted ghoulish and gloating comments on a post I made when Donald Trump was diagnosed with Coronavirus. Readers ignored my numerous requests for them to stop, and eventually I became so distressed that I deleted the entire post.

I despise Donald Trump specifically because of his cruelty and I do not want to become the thing I despise. Is this truly that alien of a concept? I did not feel bad for him, and I do not wish him well, but throwing a party? is a whole other level. Trump’s discomfort and pain do not improve my life in any measurable way.

For those who believe in karma, how is the hypocrisy not apparent?

At times like these, I really do feel like some kind of alien being. Everyone is entitled to their emotions, and I am not lecturing anyone or trying to claim the moral high ground. I am attempting to convey my utter bewilderment.

Earlier this week, the Trump campaign finally pushed out a story that fucking broke me. Amid the fraudulent “scandal” about “Hunter Biden’s” alleged laptop, the New York Post published a series of private text messages between Hunter and his father. These are text messages from a hurting, vulnerable person, grappling with addiction and grief, laying bare his insecurities.

Joe Biden’s response was to be a compassionate, loving, and supportive father.

That’s it. That’s the “gotcha.” Joe Biden is a good dad. These malignant assholes’ sense of compassion and humanity has atrophied to the point that expressing love to your family is something to be looked upon with derision.

They intend me to read these messages and think less of Joe Biden.

I would have sawed an arm off to feel even half as supported by my father.

Right-wing Twitter began circulating a portrait of both Bidens together, as adults. It was a beautiful and warm photo, shared with a nudge-wink insinuation that there was either incest or pedophilia going on at some point between them.

A tender moment between a father and son, brandished to humiliate.

And I cannot handle any more. I do not understand these monsters. I do not understand this world where people are mocked for caring about others. I do not understand this world where kindness equals weakness. I do not understand this world that invokes the name of Jesus Christ constantly, while doing the opposite of everything he preached. I do not understand this world of greed, dishonesty, selfishness, and power at all costs. I do not understand this world where the Stock Market is worshipped as God, while people die in the streets.

The brain circuits tasked with processing this cruelty have over-loaded.

My heart is tired. My bones are tired. My spirit is tired.

I have had to temporarily withdraw into my projects for my own health. I am still posting my work-in-progress over on Patreon, but have dialed back my social media exposure until the belching firehose of cruelty has abated.

Tend Your Garden, 2018

Because of the election — no matter which way things go — the continuing increase in Coronavirus infections as people spend more time indoors, economic fallout from lack of action by the government, and the persistent threat of militia and white supremacist violence, we are in all likelihood about to confront one of the darkest and most grueling winters in living memory.

Here in the Midwest the daylight is dwindling, and the snow has started falling.

I recommend that you mentally and physically prepare yourself, in whatever forms that may take. Buy a few extra cans of food on each grocery trip (leave some for others though!), keep Gatorade/broth/soup and other such liquids on hand in addition to water, have a supply of general OTC cold medicines, make sure home and vehicle maintenance is up-to-date and winterized if needed.

Have plenty of your preferred entertainment and/or escapism stockpiled — books, movies, music, hobbies, creative activities. Hang Christmas decorations early if they help to keep your mood up. Try to limit the use of destructive coping mechanisms, like alcohol and opiates, that can fuel downward spirals.

Most importantly, reach out to and maintain virtual contact with your family, friends, and neighbours. It is only through coming together as a community, and acting non-selfishly, that we will successfully navigate the challenges ahead. It is going to get worse before it gets better, but I still believe things can get better.

Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Stay safe, my friends. ❤