i sat and i shat, and i shat while i sat
i shat for so long that sore was my but
i shat and i sat till there was a growling in my gut
and while my gut growled and i sat and i shat
i thought life is shit and that’s why we need to shit
and my stomach got flat and soon i was done, but
i had to eat again and by tomorrow i will have to have shat
Monthly Archives: July 2015
i sat and i shat, and i shat while i sat
“You know I’m not the kind of person who likes small talk.”—said by people everywhere and very quickly edging observations about the weather out as the most common type of small talk. This though is worse because it carries within it a pretentiousness that can only be aspired to by most of us.
“I actually like small talk; I find it good for many different purposes.”- This was a sentence said by a friend of mine to one of the above people. It was liberating. He had spoken a truth that I had been feeling in my gut and in my heart for years but had never had the words and courage to say out loud. He said this and I realised that people can say this and not be struck down by lightning bolts sent out by the god of social interactions.
Very few sentences have had a similar implication of liberation in my life. One of them was of course, “I actually don’t like those Lord of the Rings movies.” I had to find my way towards this on my own when the Hobbit parts 1, 2, and 3 were released. My opinion was endlessly solicited until I cracked and said “you know what I actually didn’t like those Lord of the Rings movies.” It was a ground-breaking moment. Everything seemed to change. It changed for the better: after they had tucked their incredulity away they never asked me about the Hobbit movies again. We could finally return to talking about how much we all hated small talk.
It is time for the third sentence. Here it is. “ I actually like classic in the morning.” Let me give a slight nod to any international readers checking in and explain that classic in the morning is a morning radio music and talk show. It has the biggest audiences in Nairobi and the reasons for this depend on who you ask. One group of people will say that matatu drivers play only classic so in the rush hours between 6 and 9 their customers have no choice in what they want to listen to. This is true. All matatus seem to play classic all morning. There is a sweet spot that you can get into when the mat you are in drives close and parallel to another one also playing classic. The surround sound spills into your ears and for a while you are transported into disco. Then there are the people who think that the matatu drivers only play classic because that’s what people want to listen to. The classic chicken and egg scenario.
I like classic in the morning for many, many reasons though. Today I entered a matatu where this matatu driver had a vendetta against classic in the morning. He started off by letting us listen to 98.4. This, it should be noted was on a Monday morning. On the most depressing morning that you can find, 98.4 gave us a presenter whose voice is better suited to rainy days in and late night radio. It would be great to listen to this sultry, sexy voice late at night but right then what was needed was pep and she was lacking it. To add to her lack of pep she had brought someone in to be interviewed. An ob-gyn who was speaking about the dangers of childbirth or something. What he was saying is important, people do need to know about these things but… you should have heard his voice. The female presenter’s voice lacked pep but had sultriness. His lacked everything: character, pep, psyche, even the hint of entertainment. He probably is a great doctor but there were few things worse to listen to on a sad Monday morning than a sad doctor’s voice talking to a sexy (though sad) presenter about a sad, sad topic for seven sad minutes before a sad person on the matatu asks an equally sad matatu driver to change us all away from this sad station. This is a horrible misstep.
This is not the kind of misstep that classic in the morning will make. First of all they will play music. You are sure of music. Old music, good music. One morning I heard U remind me of a girl by usher and just a few minutes later don’ worry about a thing by the late great Bob Marley. This was not on a personal playlist but a radio one. There will be a sprinkling of easy listening music taking you all the way to the office. Music from a few years ago, music that has become so familiar due to repeat listenings that you don’t even have to like it for it to comfort you. All those repeat listens have scrubbed away the rough edges that ever made you resist it. They only play songs that were big enough hits for a long enough time that you have almost all the lyrics on the tip of your tongue. This music is comforting and routine. It doesn’t jar you out of the trip to work. It doesn’t give the route you take and the jam you experience a different audio landscape that could conceivably have you worked up. I personally would love it if I listened to rap all the way to work every morning. Get in psyched and stoked. Someone else would really like reggae. It goes on and on. This kind of music though with its inability to be offensive to any ear is the greatest compromise candidate available.
Apart from the music though is the quality of the presenters. No matter what anyone’s personal feeling are towards Maina Kageni and Mwalimu Kingani I think we can all agree that they are amazing radio personalities. Maina is the quintessential smooth talker. He could convince you of anything. A snake oil salesman he would have been in another life. There is a segment of the show where he is paid by somebody or other, usually a land developer, to sell a product. Maina begins describing this property development located somewhere in or near Nairobi. He tells you how much it costs and then promises you that for land in this area this is a steal. You want to believe him like you want to believe that Bill Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman. So you give him more of a listen. Maybe he tells you about the property developers and just how much land they have built on has skyrocketed in value. Maybe he tells you how much land cost in this area just a few years ago. Then he paints for you how this land will look in a few years. It’s a wasteland now but in his words and his voice you can see the school that they will put up. The fencing that will protect your investment. The infrastructure that will enable you to reach it. The amenities that will allow you to enjoy it. Breathtakingly you are sold. You want in. you just can’t afford because land in Kenya costs a fuckton. I get depressed when I listen to this part of the show but I like it because I like to dream about the landless society he promises awaits us when nobody is selling any more land.
Mwalimu Kingani is a beautiful character. Wit overflowing with this guy. You get the feeling that he couldn’t handle a show by himself because of the way he has been crafted (it is after all an open secret that this is simply a character dreamt up by Churchill to rake in even more comedy shillings.) you want to hear his put-downs though. I heard him talk about a Luo guy complaining that everyone wants to welcome Obama home and when the son of the Kikuyus came to kenya nobody showed up at the airport, who is this son of the Kikuyus? Maina asks…Ngugi wa Thiongo. The way he plays off Maina is beautiful. It usually comes out in the most controversial part of the show, the one that concerns itself with gossip. A lady calls in with her man problems. Maina is shocked, absolutely shocked that a man would do this to a woman Kingani plays the devil’s advocate immediately and shamelessly. He does it with what can be mistaken for buffoonery but that is only if you listen to his delivery and accent instead of the content of his words. The devil’s advocate you must remember has a difficult job. The devil’s advocate does nothing more than beg for nuance in a situation that can very easily be dismissed as black and white. This perhaps then is the voice of the devil telling Eve in the Garden of Eden that it’s not as simple as eat or don’t eat the apple. It’s as complex as why not eat the apple and deal with the consequences? It is the shades of grey that lived in between Eve believing that what her creator had told her was right and her questioning everything that she had ever known to be true. This must have been incredibly difficult for her to do, more so than can be captured in a verse or a chapter-the first great temptation is glossed over without considering the pain and agony of the first tempted or her reasons for doing what she did. But we are told that this is the essence of humanity-this free will that was bequeathed to us by Mother Eve. Safeguarding this free will by playing the serpent, by telling us, wait there may be more to this than you originally thought is a noble cause. One for which you will be vilified as Mwalimu Kingani has been. One that you will fail in as Mwalimu Kingani has. One in whose success you will find a grace so beautiful you can almost hear music in the voice of the one who does it as you sometimes can in Mwalimu KIngani’s.
I also love the part where people call in and try to count the money. Love it so much I wrote a piece of fiction about it.
I’ve read a lot on other blogs about Kileleshwa. The new haven of the noveau riche it has been called. A place where people who have just made money flock to in order to show how much money they have. Stories abound about how it’s more important for these people to be seen and so in droves they drive to blankets and wine, they caravan to rhino challenge and the whole time take gigs and gigs of selfies of themselves in their pretty summer dresses and loose linen pants because all they are doing is playing dress-up. Not sure what it is to be rich, afraid of what it is to be thought of as poor and desperate most of all to be thought of. This though, is true of people everywhere not just in Kileleshwa.
Another thing that’s true of people everywhere not just in Kileleshwa is that the vast majority of them get around on public transport. Matatus, buses, trams, trains, subways, metros. This is how people in urban areas move around. All those cars belong to a tiny percentage of the people in this or any other city. So this story is about one of these modes of transport, the matatu. Specifically the Kileleshwa matatu. This is a matatu that’s very different from the rest of its breed. If your matatus are those long mini-buses with music then it is not like a Kileleshwa matatu. If they are matatus that are still state of the art with a system put in that plays music as soft as a pillow or billows out beats as hard as a rock at the touch of a button then it is not a Kileleshwa matatu.
Kileleshwa matatus are old matatus. They have been on at least one other route. They have been beaten up by life. The carelessness with which a matatu is driven leaves it’s mark. The accidents and the bumps have an effect and they tell a story. A story of loosening. Things don’t fit as they used to, they begin to fall apart, they are replaced by things that they should not be replaced by. The glass cracks and something else is put in, the seats shake, the metal frays and then rusts, the windows jam. And then they are taken to Kileleshwa. A port of last call in Nairobi. When they are considered too old for this route they are taken away from the city. Old matatus like furniture (and in a time some years ago that I feel is extremely uncaring old people) go upcountry to finish out their lives. Their usefulness in the city is considered done and they are taken to a place of near-immortality. Their owners forget them until they visit and then they ask about them interested in their well-being but only because small talk is necessary. Then these things die and there is no mourning. As soon as they left the city they were considered dead or at the very best companions for an age far, far away.
As long as you are of above average height in Kenya, let’s say that this is 5 feet 11 inches matatus become uncomfortable. There is only one comfortable seat. The one in front, not next to the driver but the one next to the door. Each of the other seats in these matatus and I will focus only on the ones in Kileleshwa become a version of hell.
- The seat next to the driver.
That seat is tiny. It’s worse because you don’t usually give up the nice seat unless someone bigger than you comes along. It could be a tall and wide person. It could be a fat person. It could be a person so much older that you just scoot over. You sit there near the driver and immediately there is not enough space, this person next to you has taken over it all. You try to lean back but you can’t, not really because their width has occupied what you would have had. There is not enough space in front of you so your legs are crouched. The gear next to you hits your outside right thigh with every change in shift. It’s an old matatu so it’s metal. It is metal that is constantly massaging one spot until that muscle can remember how it feels. That spot has a dull ache every time you think about that seat.
- The seat in the first row behind the driver
This is a special seat. This is one of the worst seats you can find. Most mornings a kile mat will overload. There will be at least 4 of you fit into this seat and sometimes the conductor tries to fit himself in too. This seat has no space at all. The only way I can feel even slightly comfortable on any seat in this first row is when I lift my legs and put them on the dashboard or whatever that place is called -the part right in front of this row that used to be the preserve of children back in the cramped days when matatus really never filled up and the kids would sit there staring back at everyone. The worst seat in a matatu for a tall person though is the one in the middle there. There is a metal bar surrounding this place. The metal conducts heat from the engine. If you are tall the metal fits in this sweet spot somewhere between your knee and your ankle. It fits right in there like a lit match would fit in the middle of a candle. It moulds the bones of your legs so that you can actually feel them curve to that shape; there is a depression in this place if you allow it to happen. The front seat has a dull ache but this seat here has a pain. An actual pain. It’s hot and on fire even as I write this. It’s better to walk home in a downpour of rain at a time when it has flooded and you have to nearly swim across a road than it is to sit…. Ok it’s not but allow a nigga some hyperbole.
- The second row
The main problem with the second row is overcrowding. You will be put in like sardines. As many as will accept to enter the matatu will find a place for themselves there. It’s really ridiculous. I have a special pet peeve with this place. It spits on my polished shoes. Something about me is I hate to polish my shoes. I abhor this necessary task. I avoid it when I can which means I do it every other day brush, take some polish, apply spread. So that the shoe is black. I like black shoes more than I like polished shoes though. There is something of the night in them. Light disappears into the polish and will not come out, it smells heavily of kiwi. Then you sit in this second row and the conductor tries to fit himself in the first row with four other people. He contorts himself rather impressively, somehow he gets the door to close on your fat frame, stands because he can’t sit and stretches his foot back then he steps on you. All the fucking time. He then steps on you.
- The special ones.
Some matatus even in kile are less equal than others. I remember in harry potter there was a magical car that could fit a huge family in it comfortably while looking perfectly normal from the outside because of magic. Some matatus are just the opposite of that. Even short people are uncomfortable in these matatus. In these matatus I get into that third row which is one of the best places to sit and then I realise there is no space. I can’t sit with my legs spread in front of me, in fact I can’t sit with my legs slightly at an angle. The only way I can sit is with my legs at a 60 degree slant. My knees are all the way out in the corridor. Any time someone wants to pass I have to stand. My frame and posture are awkward. I become a cartoon figure: limbs splayed, spine curved, head and shoulders pointing in different directions. This kind of matatu will have a nail loose somewhere and you can just feel it rip your trousers. You can just feel it. This problem goes for both the third and fourth row that are pretty similar when it comes to design and space concerns.
- Special mention: fucking windows.
The fucking windows. I don’t know who to blame for this. I can say though that I remember a lot of my aunts telling me that I would catch malaria from the cold. This is old Kenyan folk wisdom. The cold= sickness. So people have a phobia of cold in this country. Its not just in Kileleshwa. Everywhere I go people will refuse to open their windows. Many, many Kenyans will curse us all to an oven where we are stuck with people we don’t know and won’t try to know. People whose problems we don’t care about and who don’t care about us. Stuck going to places we don’t want to get to especially in the morning because most people don’t like their jobs. Stuck in the discomfort of all those seats mentioned above. Stuck in traffic for what feels like eternity. Yes. Kenyans will rather curse us to hell every morning on the way to work than open their windows just a crack, just a little bit and allow the beautiful, fresh breath of god into the matatu. This may be because you can get malaria from the cold.
- The best seat in the house!
The one in front. I love this seat. I get up in that seat and stretch my legs. There is no pain when I think about it, bliss instead occupies my mind. I crack open the window immediately. There are matatus on this route where you have to hotwire the window and I know how now. Pull it all the way down and put my hand outside. This seat is great even when there is someone in the other seat, its better when there isn’t. My legs repel each other like magnets. One arm out the window, the other as far as it can possibly get, in the middle of what used to be my neighbour’s seat. When I sit here and traffic is moving. Or if it isn’t and I’m catching up on a nap especially while listening to classic in the morning I feel fine. I feel just fine.
The following are my thoughts on the gay marriage decision of the US Supreme Court. the full decision can be found and read here.
Justice Kennedy in writing the majority opinion said.
Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.
Those are lovely words on marriage. The kind of thing that would not sound out of place in wedding vows. He says that marriage is to remind us that we are not alone. That the most basic of human fears, after all the fear of death is coupled with the horror that we will have to face it alone, can be allayed for a while and that this is something that we should extend to all the race that walks down this path of solitude with us.
To me this snippet of the decision carries it soul. The majority of the judges believed in marriage so much that the thought that there were people not deserving of it because of who they chose to love was inconceivable. Not inconceivable, but wrong. In running down their justification they looked back at other groups of people who had not been allowed to marry under the laws of their country. Marriage between people of the different races was illegal in America. People in prison were not allowed to marry. Fathers who had not paid alimony could not wed. These restrictions fell by the wayside one after the other. The interracial one in a case appropriately brought to a court by a petitioner named Loving.
In the gay marriage case (as it will always be known) there was an urgent legal question at hand, brought about by the fact that some states recognised all marriage while some only the kind between a man and a woman. The 50 plus sets of laws that govern their country meant that something would happen when people crossed state lines and suddenly were in a place that would not see them as married. Being married, apart from all the advantages of not walking warily by yourself through the wall of solitude that is life also allows tax benefits, decisions on death, exceptions on inheritance and the right to adoption.
The court considered the morality of allowing this to go on, and compared it against the extensive back-catalogue of cases on this and other rights, of decisions down their history that had allowed them to lock laws out of operation. And the nature of injustice being so that “we may not always see it in our own time” because as history has shown us over and over and the lessons of the past have painfully taught us “times can be blind.” Finding that
Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.
The argument being in effect that you can disagree with homosexual marriage just as you can disagree with sex before marriage, however for the state to disagree too is for the state to weigh in. It is for a government that is supposed to represent all its citizens to approve moral codes that only some have that are based on profound philosophical reason, deep religious faith, or personal reflection and introspection and to then use its power or its lack of intervention to send an implicit message that some disparaging is fine. As a friend of mine put it if marriage is the business of the state then the state must provide it to everybody.
The Chief Justice of the court dissented, disagreeing with what he saw as the hubris of the court:
This universal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is no historical coincidence. Marriage did not come about as a result of a political movement, discovery, disease, war, religious doctrine, or any other moving force of world history—and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians. It arose in the nature of things to meet a vital need:
ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and father committed to raising them in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship………….
………As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?
It is impossible not to see his point of view. The chief justice, quite rightly observes that marriage has been as it has been forever. A man and a woman. It did not arise as a result of a decision to discriminate but was naturally occurring. Mushrooming in every corner of the world without a fertilizer, a seemingly innate part of human culture, of who we are. It is hard to disagree with this reasoning unless you think about all the other things that came up without a historical force and in every culture in the world. War and oppression, poverty and violence, the subjugation of women, the right to treat children as property and chide them with violence. All of these can be found in world cultures but perhaps being merely as human as our ancestors made us is something we should aim higher than.
Part of the argument adduced was based on the decision that struck down laws making the act of homosexuality illegal. The reasoning in those cases was that the government should not be involved in something private that does not harm either the participants or people with no place in it. However in a paragraph whose legal reasoning is difficult to refute Justice Roberts wrote that:
In sum, the privacy cases provide no support for the majority’s position, because petitioners do not seek privacy. Quite the opposite, they seek public recognition of their relationships, along with corresponding government benefits. Our cases have consistently refused to allow litigants to convert the shield provided by constitutional liberties into a sword to demand positive entitlements from the State.
Reminding the Court and the people of those famous words of Faulkner “the past is not dead. It is not even past.” and that
The Court’s accumulation of power does not occur in a vacuum. It comes at the expense of the people. And they know it. Here and abroad, people are in the midst of a serious and thoughtful public debate on the issue of samesex marriage. They see voters carefully considering samesex marriage, casting ballots in favor or opposed, and sometimes changing their minds. They see political leaders similarly reexamining their positions, and either reversing course or explaining adherence to old convictions confirmed anew. They see governments and businesses modifying policies and practices with respect to same-sex couples, and participating actively in the civic discourse. They see countries overseas democratically accepting profound social change, or declining to do so. This deliberative process is making people take seriously questions that they may not have even regarded as questions before. When decisions are reached through democratic means, some people will inevitably be disappointed with the results. But those whose views do not prevail at least know that they have had their say, and accordingly are—in the tradition of our political culture—reconciled to the result of a fair and honest debate. In addition, they can gear up to raise the issue later, hoping to persuade enough on the winning side to think again. “That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work.”
Providing as lovely a paean to the American system of Government as was written to the institution of marriage earlier. Saying that democracy and the democratic process are just as important and life affirming to a nation as the conviction “you are not alone” is to an individual. To take away from the people their right to make a decision on a matter such as this is painful to him. It is a matter not to be taken lightly and not to be done without remembering the truth of the past and the lessons of history which somebody once termed as the fact that we learn nothing from history. People are being convinced to make a change that many could not believe would happen in their lifetimes and it may be necessary to allow this to happen by evolution instead of forcing its occurrence by revolution.
Justice Scalia in his dissent gave a more jaded opinion of marriage:
“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.”(Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie. Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say.)
It is necessary sometimes to come back down to earth and remember that we are dealing with human beings. That while a marriage can be the thing that tells people they are not alone it can also, many times be the most lonely experience there is. A reminder that despite our best efforts we die alone, devoid of intimacy and riddled with rot. It is more depriving of freedom than it is enabling. But that could be said of a democracy, while the decisions of a nation may affirm its highest ideals they can also be based on venal concerns and selfish consideration, they may also and many times are an affirmation of the lowest common denominator and a reminder that at the bottom of it all we are capable of the greatest evils.
Justice Thomas points out that homosexuals have been able to live in peace; they have raised children and had the ability to move from place to place. No restriction has been placed on their liberty…
Our Constitution—like the Declaration of Independence before it—was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from—not provided by—the State. Today’s decision casts that truth aside. In its haste to reach a desired result, the majority misapplies a clause focused on “due process” to afford substantive rights, disregards the most plausible understanding of the “liberty” protected by that clause, and distorts the principles on which this Nation was founded. Its decision will have inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society.
This is his problem with the decision. Its apparent disregard for the constitution. For the fact that freedom entails only nobody telling you that you can’t do something. That liberty is present as long as nobody interferes with it. That humanity and dignity cannot be taken away and even when there were slaves the state was not able to strip away their dignity as Justice Alito pointed out:
Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved.
Because dignity is innate. I find myself disagreeing with him. There exist in every generation and every society the special man. The one with such gravitas and dignitas that if he was put in a situation where his freedom was taken away and he was treated by another man like a child and forced to share scraps with animals would still hold on to dignity. It is not all of us and so I think dignity can be taken away. I think that humanity given the right conditions can be stripped of us and that liberty consists of more than not being interfered with.
The dissenters did insist though that what had been done to the constitution to get it to the state where it guaranteed the right of marriage to all stretched it out of recognition. There are many ways of reading a document as important to a country as a constitution; it can be the two stone tablets Moses came with from the mountain. Rigid and unchangeable- if it is not in there in the actual words it cannot be found to be in the spirit and if you want to change it there is always a referendum. Or you can read it as a living document, an organic thing that grows and changes to suit different situations and achieve different purposes. There is a world of danger in both and so there must be proponents of both sides to keep the right properly in the middle.
Of course there is a story in the bible that relates to the US Supreme Court gay marriage decision. There is always a story in the bible that bears striking similarities and potent parallels to what’s going on. Get any 66 books written by the best cultural and philosophical scholars of their time, their time being a period of thousands of years. Distilled through thought and translation as they try to make sense of a world that is objectively much worse than the one we live in while drawing on the shared cultural wisdom of oral tradition and myths, legends and stories told around the campfire and the lessons of an experience of adversity, pain, exile, loss, betrayal and redemption can bring and you will always find a parallel in your life.
The parallel I find here is in the story of Pontius Pilate. Pilate is not oft considered a man; instead he is a symbol of passivity. It is easier to remember that he washed his hands than that there was a person behind those hands. A ruler to whom a decision was brought by an angry populace. The petitioners wanted him to crucify this man who had angered them so by claiming that the rigidity of their beliefs was something not necessary to the beliefs themselves. By telling people that it was possible for god to spell love instead of only vengeance and anger and years and years in the desert. By telling us that personal responsibility for the world we live in begins with us. “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” and “forgive seventy times seven” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He was asking them to be ruled by their own personal sense of morality instead of taking refuge in a system of rules that may have made sense in another time but don’t just now.
For this the petitioners asked that he be sentenced to death. Pontius knew what was being asked of him. He knew this man did not deserve the thing that he was being asked to endure and he wanted to free him. However this would set him against the will of the people. The will of the people was almost supreme you see, it could be subverted but this came at a cost. Paying the cost was not worth saving the life of a man who after all was not a citizen of Rome. This man was one of them (the Israelites) and if they had decided as a majority that he should be persecuted and sentenced to death, that he should be reviled and that his existence should be persecuted with the force of the law who was he to turn them down?
He could have though. He was the roman in charge of Judea and as such he had massive powers. Supreme Court of America type powers. His decision was law and he struggled with it. Elements of this type of decision play over and over in the judgement given by the US Supreme Court: if we know that what the people want is wrong is it our place to force our judgement down their throats? Should we allow them time to come to the right decision and enjoy the exercise of their democratic right to choose despite consequences that we consider wrong? Elements of the decision Pilate made can be found in the dissenting arguments. The way he hid behind the law as it was…give them what they want but present them with the choice of Barabbas and if they don’t agree wash your hands of the whole matter. Decide not to make a moral decision but a completely legal one. Act as if the law really does exist in this vacuum. Where the traditions of a Pentecost pardon and the necessary detachment of a colonising power are now the musty words of an old constitution and the rules of its interpretation that are designed not to offend the sensibilities of its drafters who have for centuries enriched the country not only through the legacy of their achievement but also the decay of their body and flesh.
Here though is the disclaimer about this decision, our minds were made up a long time ago. And mine was too. The Pilate paradox of whether you should allow personal morality to cloud issues of public legality is a difficult one. There are layers and layers to it. Consequences to the things that may have happened if Pilate had followed what he thought was right: maybe a rebellion to Roman rule, a garrison sent forth to put it down, women and children murdered, a souring of public opinion against our hero, death and destruction and pain and problems that could have been avoided by simply following the law as it is. Allowing people to make their own decisions instead of thinking that you have the moral force to make it for them is exactly the thing that makes religion so distasteful for so many people. What makes any of us think that a population of people who had such an imposition placed on them from above wouldn’t react thusly?
This we must remember is a matter that was close to the hearts of many, many people living in America. It was important to the gay people who wanted to get married. It was also important to the people who saw their country as a religious state (and you can’t tell me that a country where the president ends his major addresses with the words “God bless America”) is not at least partly religious, is not made of people who believe that their leaders are religious, does not have some citizens shocked and angry that their government was in effect legitimising something that their religion has specifically told them is a sin even in the New Testament where so many of God’s rules and restrictions were loosened.
This is a thing to consider. However isn’t there something to be said for doing the right thing in the face of mass disavowal of your actions. Isn’t there something to be said for making the decision you know in your heart is right. But what kind of pride and yes, hubris does it take for you to think that your decision is the right one? To fly in the face of popular opinion and practically pre-historic history and believe that all who came before you were wrong. What if you are instead? Moral courage and conviction look a lot like an inflated sense of self. The belief that you know where you are steering the boat despite the roar of the waves that have lapped it since you cast off could as well be wrong.
Many, many years ago the petitioners were safely in the majority. They asked that an innocent man be sentenced to death and the tribunal he stood before took comfort in the laws it could follow. It did no wrong in the eyes of the law. It washed its hands of the affair. Now the petitioners are the ones who have been persecuted and the tribunal has refused to wash its hands of the affair. It has looked at the laws governing it and found that a pardon is necessary. I know that I agree with them. We should still consider this though: if the tribunal two thousand years ago had done what today’s did an innocent man would have lived who knows how much longer however a religion that has brought hope, solace, joy, beauty, a shared cultural touchstone for billions (along with death, destruction and disease, colonialism, genocide and slavery) would not have existed.