Trout Fisting In America #21 – Bicycles

I remember one time this therapist said to me that whenever I got down on everything and was overcome w/despair for the human race, had convinced myself that everything was hopeless and that people were basically scum, I should remind myself that if there was a baby, or a small child, in danger—say about to be hit by a train—nearly every single person would rush to save it, even if that meant putting themselves in danger.

The scenario made me feel a little better, though I think I was desperate enough at the time that I kind of just decided not to think about it too deeply—any psychic port in a storm and all that—but these days lately I’m not sure I believe in it.

I mean, the whole idea is basically just another angle on that whole Mr. Rogers ‘look for the helpers’ coping-mechanism quote that pops up whenever an ‘unimaginable tragedy’ happens (and if there’s a tragedy you can’t imagine, you’re probably living in deep valleys of denial). Anyway, here’s that quote in full for anyone who’s never encountered it:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

And while there are a lot of caring people in this world, no one’s a caring person all the time. As I get older, I think there may be no such thing as a good person or a bad person—just good actions and bad actions, and all of us are capable of each. There’s a reason Google’s corporate motto was Don’t Be Evil, because one can do evil, lots & lots of it, w/o being evil. It takes a lot of individual actions over a long period of time to define our character. And yet even then…a person who’s spent their whole life as a functioning productive member of society is always capable of snapping.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that baby/train scenario a lot lately, for reasons I’ll get to in a second, but first I want to point out that sometimes people just take your five-year-old and throw it in front of a fucking oncoming train, and my therapist did not mention this during our sessions.

So I like to ride my bicycle. But because I live in a town that isn’t bike-friendly—most roads don’t have designated bike lanes, and let’s just say that college students aren’t the most alert drivers—I’m very careful about where I ride. My wife grew up here, and she flat-out refuses to let me ride on busy roads without a bike lane b/c she knows dozens of incidents where a cyclist got hit by a car. It turns out, reassuring ideas about infants & trains aside, that if a driver decides to cross over the double-yellow line in order to pass a cyclist and they come around a curve to find an oncoming car about to hit them and they’re suddenly faced w/a choice between the car hitting them or them hitting the cyclist, the cyclist is going to get it every fucking time.

Last month in Portland, Oregon some men intervened when a white supremacist started yelling racist & abusive shit at a couple of muslim girls. The white supremacist (and btw how fucking misguided & pathetic & lonely do you have to become before you not only become a white supremacist, but like, base your identity around it and wear it as a badge of honor) responded by stabbing the men and killing a couple in the process. The victims were rightly acknowledged as heroes (I saw the shit out of some Mr. Rogers memes being posted on the internet this week), as true angels of our better nature etc. One of them even dismissed his hero-status as the product of the US white savior complex, meaning these guys were woke as fuck and as close to an example of being a good white ally as we’re likely to find.

And yet when they decided to intervene, they didn’t know they were going to get stabbed. They had no way of knowing the situation would escalate the way it did. So I can’t help wondering if they still would’ve gotten involved if they’d known how it would play out? It’s a pointless question—you can think about it forever and still never know the answer. And any conclusion you arrive at says more about you, and what you need to believe, than it does about these men. But me, I keep coming back to those drivers who knock cyclists off the road to save themselves. The baby/train scenario, comforting as it might be, isn’t based in any real-world data. It may in fact just be a comforting fable we tell ourselves to keep from psychically imploding at the visible and very real examples of inhumanity all around us. It makes sense that people would turn to Mr. Rogers for comfort. His show was meant to soothe childhood fears, and childhood might be the last time any of us believed that the world was a good place where people cared about us. In the adult world, life plays out a little darker.

Because everything about this country suggests that people, especially people who vote, will choose to further their own wealth even if it comes at the expense of someone else’s survival. Which is an even more extreme demonstration of the motorist/cyclist scenario. To support a political party, or a budget, that slashes food/health/etc. for the most vulnerable so you can hold on to a little bit more of your money is even uglier than the motorist/cyclist scenario, i.e. choosing your survival over another’s. This is closer to running a cyclist off the road simply because they’re in your way and you want to get to your destination a few seconds faster, and maybe you’ve seen stories on the news trying to convince you that cyclists embody everything wrong in the US today so actually you’re doing everyone a favor.

I guess it says something reassuring that people need to be convinced, that they need to be indoctrinated into fucked-up systems of thinking before they’ll deny someone their humanity, but I can’t help thinking that if the baby in question abandoned on those train tracks was poor, or a baby of color, that there are people out there who not only would allow the baby get hit by a train, they’d line up to give the train driver a fucking medal.

 

Trout Fisting In America appears here every Tuesday. We’re going to keep going until we reach #50, or until the Trout begs for mercy. Check out previous installments HERE.

 

About ScottCreney

Scott Creney lives in Athens, Georgia. He is the author of "Dear Al-Qaeda: Letters to the World’s Most Notorious Terror Organiztion".
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