Saturday, March 17, 2012

How We Fight

Pelham Bay, Bronx, NYC

"You give a head of canvas and oakum an expression of anger and leave it with it, with the convulsion, the tension enclosed once and for all, with a blind fury for which there is no outlet. The crowd laughs at the misery of imprisoned matter, of tortured matter which does not know what it is and why it is, nor where the gesture may lead that has been imposed on it for ever.” – Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles, “Treatise on Tailor's Dummies.”
The title "Why We Fight" was taken, twice, so I figured I'd look today at how we fight, presuming only to answer how we fight without our bodies and without our bodies' extensions -- weapons. Again, only because I can't stand the competition, and there is an enormous amount of competition on "how to fight" with and without weapons for Internet readers.

Sometimes we fight because of a proposal or a clash of viewpoints. It happens, but it happens very rarely. Present tense fights are dialogs that become a list of charge sheets, and the charges become battery.
"Dodd-Frank is more regulation, and it's killing the banking industry. In fact, that's why no one's getting a loan."
"That's crazy. Dodd-Frank hasn't even been funded, so how it can be killing anything is beyond me."
"I know a guy who is on the board of a bank, and they had to hire someone just to keep up with all the regulations and make sure that the bank could fill out all the new paperwork. That's 100% Dodd-Frank, and that's profit that should go to the bank instead of the government."
"What the? If they hired someone, then that's good, but the money from hiring that person isn't going to the government, and I'm sorry they didn't have their books in order, but..."
"Their books were fine! This is regulation killing the business."
"If they're doing fine, they're not getting killed...."
These two people are about to fight, if one of them doesn't find a way to Zen out.
 You see, the evidence to support the claim is anecdotal ("I know a guy") and the interpretation of the data is a non-sequitur on both sides (just because it isn't funded doesn't mean it can't have an effect; hiring a compliance officer doesn't mean the "government" is getting anything; supposing D-F required funds, which it doesn't, there would be no conclusion that this were harming, much less killing banks, which are showing high profits). The two are confirming a past position with new ones, probably. One began with an allegiance to what is today called "conservative," and the other at least didn't. This meant that the fight was like enemy troops discovering each other in thick woods: the fight that happens is bloody, sloppy, unwinnable in a conventional sense, and frequently the one that survived was the one most flexible, not the one most powerful.

We fight, actually fight, not in the present, but over the past tense. 

A huge, lysurgic photo to download. Call it GFDL.A crepe myrtle holding its empty seed pods.

Our memories are monologs. In fact, the problem with people who try to write fantasy novels or memoirs from memory is that those memories can't hold conversations, and those imaginations can't actually give dialog with blocking intent or separation from the speaking mind. Our memories, then, are what she said. They are what we said. 

If I offend you, right now, you object. It takes knowing me, having an architecture of hurt and malice, six cylinders of  unredressed grievance, to get the fight going, and then there has to be an objective. Given that we're talking about fighting and not arguing, there is only one real objective, and that is to make the other person into your own image to correct her or him. Barring that, the objective is obliteration of the other person.

Why you're fighting (dang it! I know -- it's because we are free and they put no value on life and we are defense contractors) is that the other person's differences (of opinion, of outlook, of value) are so great that your memory has an object in it that needs to be addressed. You have, in your past tense, a hurtfulness, unpleasantness, and disgust, and now, 
"Of course she got the job. She's black, isn't she."
Here it is. Oh, no, not again. You warned him (in your monolog in your mind) not to spout this racist crap again, and yet....

Because you need to get rid of the disgust, unpleasantness, and hurt, you have to get the other person to 1) agree with you, 2) agree with you enough to no longer elicit these feelings, 3) no longer elicit these feelings. Fights like this are idiotic, of course, because they can't be won. The most anyone ever gets is #3, and that by silence or evasion. How often have you had or heard a fight, a real fight, where one person says, "You're right. I didn't realize that I harbored such racist views. I'll be more careful from now on?"

Outside of marriage, where I doubt the sincerity or neutrality, I've never seen or heard of it.

Outside of marriage, what people get is behind Door #3. They get silent resentment. They get, "I'll never say nothing around her again" or "She's simply insane."  However, that works. It's functional. Civilization persists. The value of the two individuals has changed, as far as each is concerned. The one who thinks he won and the one who thinks he lost each knows that there was no victory, and each thinks that the other person is foul, and now the other person exists in memory as "Disagreeable jerk that I have to watch what I say around."

The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.  ~Sigmund Freud
 What I have described is what Freud was thinking of. It means that we reconceptualize each other, sure, but civilization continues. We stay out of each other's garden, wait for the next elevator, pretend to have cramps when there is a get together after work, and generally keep an averaged piece by fighting viciously until there is silence. Our objective had been to "correct" the other person by bringing the other person's rough edge into compliance with our own smooth side.

Balthasar van der Ast, Fruit with Shells, 1620
There is another way we fight, though. Remember how I said that fights are in the past tense? Remember how I said that they come because there is an affective state attached to a person before the incident that sparks the fight? Sometimes, people do not seek necessarily to get the other person to think the same things, but to feel the same things.

If you made me angry with what you did, I am angry. Now, when I call you into my office, I could explain your error and wring a confession out of you, show your error and teach the right way, ask for a narrative and see if you confess your error, or show the error and explain how that makes me look. I can pretty quickly get you to agree to never do it again, and you may do it again afterward or not, but it probably won't be lack of respect if you do.

Some people, when angry, do not want to have the other person see the right. In fact, the way the boss will explain things will demonstrate this. "So, Jane, tell me about typing up the assessment report."
"Well, I looked at the guidelines from the NEA and compared those to the SACS requirements and took the material we had submitted last year as well as this year's statistics, and I put the new data into the fields for instruments. I then changed the narrative for the learning objectives to match the updated statements, like you said to do. And. Um, that's... Oh! I called Renee to be sure that we were using the right form this time."
"And did you think about the Mission Statement?"
"The Mission Statement is listed."
"Oh really, Jane? Perhaps you can show it to me, then. Considering the fact that I distinctly remember telling you that the Mission Statement had to be at the top of every form, I'm at a loss to see where it is. I swear! First you don't put it in, and then you use the one from fifteen years ago!"
Many of us work for Executive Hardcase.
It goes on like this. (I apologize for any workplace flashbacks. I drew upon a real boss of mine for the above, where I was Jane.) Now the boss in this case is not looking to fix anything. The boss is not even being a sadist. The boss is, rather, fighting for the same objective, but a different value as other fights. He wants sympathy/remaking. In this case, he is angry, and he demands that the employee be made to feel the emotion that he was made to feel.

This is something that often separates masculine and feminine discourse in argument, as well. It is by no means always the case, but it is often the case that women will fight for an emotional sympathy. "You made me feel unhappy, and this fight is not over until you show that you feel as unhappy as you made me feel" is the dynamic of the argument. Is it fair? It's not any less fair than, "We won't stop until you agree with my logic" is. Both, in the end, are about achieving an overwriting of the other's state to show the power of the one, even as, paradoxically, they seem to be revenge. The person not letting go until fear is achieved is doing so because she or he felt powerless against the other inflicting that emotion.

The only reason I feel like sharing this guide to How We Fight is to bemoan a simple fact. The fight that depends on agreeing with propositions has a sort of annihilating draw option. There is a way to walk away in silence, with both parties thinking less of the other but peace achieved. In the instances where a person demands emotional pounds of tears, I know of no such thing. Perhaps skilled acting might work, with the cost only of integrity, but I don't know what to do with someone who wants anger from me, or sadness from me, because, honestly, that's asking for something that's not in the public sphere.

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