Applicant Nations And The Map of Benevolence
Applicant: one who applies for something.
Nation: a contained and sovereign entity.
Those concepts feel oxymoronic. Sovereignty implies freedom. Applicant implies a contest that involves means or worthiness-- worthiness in the eyes of an outsider. In watching the discussions about native land claims, it feels like the First Nations are pressing their application for something: money, land, rights, recognition. Those were taken from them. They cannot win them back in an open conflict. They cannot wait them out for external forces to grant them what they deserve. They have to find a means to negotiate-- to apply-- for what they feel is theirs. If it’s theirs in the first place, why is work involved in getting it back? If the grantor has it when they don’t deserve it, it’s clear they’re not the best actors in this dynamic. Cold natural selection would say, “if you lost it, you didn’t deserve it in the first place.” Benevolence says, “be fair.” Launching an application to seek equilibrium is always sparked by the wronged party. It always leaves them in the dynamic of an applicant. The dynamic of applicant plays out in many smaller ways: beggar and benefactor; salesman and customer; suitor and prey. It always puts the applicant at a disadvantage.
When something is taken from you, you can press to get it back. If one gets thrown from the horse, the adage is “get back on the horse.” If someone steals your car, you tell the police in the hopes they get it back for you. If someone wrongs you, you want to have your side of the story heard. That last point is where I have been stuck for some time.
I used to get involved in various business dealings. I would come out in a poorer position: my time, effort and/or resources would get lost in a deal. For a time, I would hold a grudge. I would threaten revenge. I would rage and obsess. A few years ago, I got to the mindset of letting go. In describing this others, I have said, “sometimes you gotta say, ‘yep: I got fucked.’” You have to admit that the world is unfair and some relationships have unfair outcomes. In looking at the larger world, I’ve fucked over people. There’s no less delicate way to put it. I am in a food chain of externalization: some effort bleeds out, some reward bleeds in, and the accounting is off balance. I can forgive others, and I can feel grateful that I was forgiven.
I am stuck. The best description of PTSD that I heard was, “you’re stuck in a doorway.” -- unable to travel into the past; and unable to move ahead because of the encumbrance of the trauma. “Drop it” would be what a bystander would say about that unwieldy bag that holds me back. The problem: the bag isn’t memories that I can scorch out. The bag is my social dynamic.
For the last nearly three years, I have had to map out carefully what I would call “a map of benevolence.” The downside of a 20 year relationship is a thorough meshing of social ties: friends, family, employers and acquaintances. It’s somewhat compounded by there being a significant pre-history with the ex-wife. I may not have known her, but I knew most of her friends in other contexts: I worked in a game store with one, went to school with a lot of them, dated a few others. In her high school yearbook, she had circled which of my teenage friends were considered bangable some 10 years she and I met. There was a very thorough overlap. When the split came, it was overdue. Looking back at the months leading up to it, it was sort of inevitable. She lost our daughter once, having sent her off on a wild goose chase with a dying cell phone and flimsy knowledge of the local geography. The “child in jeopardy” is a massive trigger for me and I didn’t have a lot of forgiveness in my heart even though I didn’t wig out as bad as I could have. After our relationship turned into a briefly open relationship, I found she was the annoying anchor and not life partner I wanted. Looking back at given days, I would describe myself in misery; and she would think I was happy. She didn’t know me. She couldn’t read me. What she did left me ambivalent to disaffected. Relationships just erode-- half of the marriages do. It’s Russian Roulette with three out of the six chambers loaded. That’s life.
The long term fallout that I am still negotiating is this map of benevolence. When I used to do parties, I would decide who I could invite based on who liked who. Sometimes, we would do parties and invite people despite clashes. I remember inviting Mark and Paul to a party. They had had a major falling out over business. When Paul showed up, Mark discreetly took off. People do that: they figure out who will play nice with who. While that used to be an occasional matter with 50 people, for me, it’s almost a daily matter with maybe 500+ people.
When the split hit, I did the whole, “you’re dead to me” to about a dozen people who had given the ex-wife cover stories and facilitated her gaslighting. What followed wasn’t a surprise. I was hard to take. Some people did offer support. Some took my side. Some stayed consciously neutral. A lot of them bought into the apparent dynamic: “jerk husband loses long suffering wife.”
What really hurt is how many long term friends of mine bought into some variant of that dynamic. The lasting sting of presumption is that I was a jerk and a vanilla but the ex-wife was a besought bad girl who can know be free of her oppressive husband. Our culture is hooked on watching danger from a safe viewing distance. There are lot more stickers of Darth Vader out there than Luke Skywalker. It’s also hooked on various ways that victim blaming plays out. The dynamic that I speak of is one where a victim is looked down upon. Society wants to dismiss victims as “they were asking for it.” They don’t want to consider that they gave cover or somehow facilitated harm or aggravated the aftermath. Once people have a thesis, they work to solidify it. Therefore: I’m a jerk. To make matters worse, I didn’t take the break up well. I even went so far as to disapprove of all of the lying. And the final straw of my infamy: I distanced myself from people who contributed to my harm. But time heals all wounds.
At the start of this year, the clock attached to the whole “time heals all wounds” approach kept getting reset. My office was moved into same building where my ex-wife and 30 years worth of co-workers and supporters work. Lots of cold shoulders to go around for the likes of me. That map of benevolence went through a seismic event. I count it to be a good week if I don’t get the stink eye in a seven day period. I never escape it for more than seven days.
In the years that have followed, I have had to repeatedly watch myself and where I find myself. I could come into a setting with confidence and a “no one’s gonna stop me” vibe, but that doesn’t work when my detractors range from chilly to openly hostile. It’s offputting. It’s demoralizing. What do I do in that case? Leaving is good option. Not being there in the first place is an even better option-- and the one I do very often. But I would want to press my case. Even though I’m sovereign and do not need the approval of others, making case for worthiness would speak to the contrary on both points. I would be an applicant nation making my case for what used to be mine: the respect, companionship and camaraderie of friends and acquaintances. Even if I made my case successfully, that plea would put me in a subordinate position. The only thing worse than being at a disadvantage is pleading from that position of disadvantage. So I don’t. I pay attention to the map of benevolence and where I can expect to find unfriendly nations.
Losing the wife was unfortunate. Losing the ability to feel comfortable with dozens of friends is an emotional encumbrance that leaves me stuck in the doorway of trauma. I cannot offload my rehabilitation to others-- especially not to others who found it so easy to estrange me without taking a moment to hear my side or consider what happened to me. I miss those people. Even if I let them back into my life, the truth is that I can’t trust them. I can’t let my guard down. That’s not friendship. That’s something like a cordial standoff.
What I have done is look away from those old friend circles and proactively try to make new contacts and new friendships. It feels overt verging on awkward, but it’s the best remedy for me. I can’t successfully apply to get back my privileges. Eventually, that big bag of disaffection will dessicate and shrink: it has to. In the meantime, there are lots of places where my infamy and the reputation constructed for me precedes me.
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