Sunday, November 17, 2013

"People who think they have all the answers will always think they have a right to hurt people who don't believe them."

That's a quote from an LA Times book review of Robert Stone's new novel Death of the Black-Haired Girl.

Regular readers will understand why that quote appeals to me. A key purpose of this blog is to challenge people to regularly examine what they know and to recognize that what we don't know is much greater than what we do know.  And we do know, even those most deeply held beliefs about the world,  is shaped by our own life experiences.  Meaning that others will find our beliefs incredible.  Literally.

When you find yourself with time on your hands and nothing to do, or you can't fall asleep, put away your internet connection and ponder that title statement. 
  • Is all of it true?  
  • Any of it?  
  • Can you give examples of people who 'have all the answers "? 
  • Do they "think they have a right to hurt people who don't believe them"?
  • Does 'having all the answers" necessarily make people believe they have the right to hurt people?

I'm leery of propositions that include the word 'always.'  It's easy to quickly fill in examples of people who seem sure of what is true who are ready to hurt the people who deny their truths.  Religious zealots have burned heretics since forever. 

But do these people really think they have all the answers?  Or is their fervor really an attempt to create a facade of certainty to counter their uncertainty?  I suspect that a lot of fundamentalists assert their truths as a way of avoiding the realities they don't want to face.  Fornication is a sin to ward off one's desires.  Becoming a food fanatic to fight off one's obesity.   Consider, for example,  the homophobes who turn out to be gay.  

And while we can probably identify people with all the answers who are willing to hurt people, I don't think we can turn it around and say all people with all the answers are willing to hurt other people.

The quote is a good conversation starter when you're stuck at a party you don't want to be at. 

Reviewer David Ulin likes Death of the Black-Haired Girl a lot.   He ends the review with questions the book raises:

"What happens when we understand that all the things we take for granted are uncertain, that some genies, once let out of the bottle, can never be put back? What happens when we confront that what we see as order is really just chaos with a different face? This has been the subject of Stone's writing from the beginning, and if "Death of the Black-Haired Girl," with its university setting, appears somewhat less exotic, that does not make its vision small. Rather, with this spare and unsettling novel, Stone has vividly returned to form."
More good questions that fit right in here. 

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