Wednesday, July 15, 2015

No Escape from the Pillory

"An escape from the pillory was a rare event, but the general chaos and disorder that were associated with its use was not, and reports of punishment at the pillory abound with tales of an angry mob only scarcely under control.  Two culprits taken down from the pillory at Chelmsford, for example, were 'begrimed with rotten eggs' and as they were escorted back to the gaol 'assailed with the indignant shouts and execrations of the populace.'  At Charing Cross, a man convicted of assaulting a drum boy was pelted with 'mud, eggs, turnips, and other missiles' until he was 'completely enveloped with mud and filth', and it was only with 'the utmost difficulty that the peace officers could prevent him from being torn to pieces by the mob.'  Not only did unruly spectacles such as these fit ill with new ideals about civic decorum, they also tilted perilously close to a breakdown of order.  The pillory was sure to attract a large crowd of men and women, drawn largely from the lower sections of society, with the consequent risk that disorder was never far away.  It was all sharply at odds with the neat and ordered market-place that civic elites were attempting to fashion."
Emma Griffin, The 'Urban Renaissance' and the Mob

At some point in history, the pillory came down.  Not, as some would argue, because we became a more enlightened people; but because the pressures of urban life was creating something new with the late 18th century, which the above quote describes - specifically, an intense, dangerous, unbridled hate, seeking a target that could be attacked without fear of retribution.  The old-fashioned punishment of placing people in stocks, cages and other pillories offered just such an opportunity.  Their decline was not marked by a general distaste for anger or brutality - as Ms. Griffin points out, capital punishment even as a public spectacle was quite safe from reproach.  No, the decline had much to do with where it was happening - the market place - where violent crowds were both a matter of threat to the established order and bad for business.

We'd like to think we invented 'haters.'  It has been here all along.  We've simply reinvented the market place, let the same old people rush on in and make what new torments we can devise for ourselves.  It is at least pleasant that we are all so far apart from one another that the market place can go on letting us hate as much as we please.

I've heard a number of older people argue, "There were no haters in my day."  That's dissonance for you.  What that really means is that in their day, hate was organized and largely state-sanctioned. Today's hate is somewhat less directed, somewhat less ordained by the priests of power.  It's personal, from the hip.  Spontaneous. 

Hate is a hard thing to talk about because, yes, while we are all victims of it, we are also all perpetrators.  All innocence is pretense, the disguise behind which our turning minds justify things we dislike, things we think others should dislike, things we judge as lacking on merit and our sacred quest to ensure that lack of merit is understood, vilified and stamped out - as much as we can manage, at least.

I write here not to argue innocence; only to explain what's happening.  We were all raised with an agenda, some of it acquired from our upbringing, some from the media, some from our own experience.  Most especially from the bitter experiences we have had, those experiences where people and forces humiliated us and made us feel less than those around us.  In so many ways, it is the steady battering against our egos that make us envy, resent and despair over things we will never have, things we have but cannot appreciate and things we never wanted but which we're stuck with, forever.  This is what makes us hate, the sense that we are trapped.  Trapped in our limitations, trapped in our distaste, trapped in our company, trapped in our frequent and helpless addictions to things that have ceased to satisfy us.

Yet humiliation is a tricky thing.  It does not only lay us low, it also produces a craving for approval, as we cast about for someone who won't hurt us, who won't hate us, who won't take advantage of our shame and our doubts.  In the deep dark misery of that craving, too often we don't care where that approval comes from . . . and all too often that approval will come from the exact same people and origin as the humiliation itself.  The very friends and family who will take malicious pride in smashing down our character will, in the same instant, reach out with a hand and hoist us out again with condescending tenderness.  Our tormentors and our saviors are so often the same person.

While we, in turn, do the same for others.  Condemn and spare, hate and reprieve, the endless cycle that creates the dependency that returns us again and again to the source.

Hating and humiliating is the steam that drives us, at the same time denying us the will to make our own decisions, encouraging the will to subordinate ourselves to others, subverts our strength to make demands or take a stand and leaves us terrified of abandonment.

We do not need to worry about that.  We have plenty of tormentors for company.


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