As an introvert, it is a natural, perhaps inevitable, course for me to go inside myself, but I know that is not the way for everyone. Maybe being by themselves for any length of time freaks people out, like venturing into a cave of self where it’s dark and clammy and questions bounce back as echoes. I, on the other hand, have always been quite content to be by myself, and rarely, if ever, do I get bored, even if I’m just sitting somewhere not doing a goddamn thing but chasing my thoughts wherever they may lead. I consider myself lucky that the workings of my own mind, as wildly delusional as they are accurate in their perception and interpretation of phenomena, hold an endless fascination for me. No matter the amount of time I spend contemplating this, I never manage to scratch the surface of what I know or understand, about myself or the world. If anything, the opposite is true: I come away with an overwhelming sense of what I don’t know, which has the added benefit of keeping me humble.
I imagine that aliens learning about human behavior on planet Earth these days would have an extremely difficult time resolving the conflicting displays of religion. In the US recently we had a head-spinningly strange confluence of religious events between the visit of Pope Francis, with his message of love, peace, tolerance and even respect for the planet, and the gay-hating shenanigans of that near-martyred Christian Clerk from Kentucky.
I cannot conceive of any circumstances under which I would either die or kill for my faith. That’s because I don’t have one – at least one based on any kind of religious, supernatural belief. However, I can easily conceive of circumstances under which I might die or kill for my right to write my mind’s innermost, darkest thoughts, for those thoughts, regardless of whether they give offense, are who I am, which I could no more deny than physically amputate. As a writer, the stiff winds of anti-intellectualism borne of ideology and a fundamentalist belief in one’s cause or faith are enough to give pause. When did we jump the shark in our public discourse that the first recourse against being offended by a differing viewpoint is to pick up a rifle, knife or bomb and kill – or, less fatally, to censor – the messenger? Intellectually, it feels as if we have retreated further into the Dark Ages again after the unthinkable killing of ten staff members and two police of the French satirical cartoon magazine Charlie Hebdo during an editorial meeting. To say that these people in any way asked for this to happen by “poking the Islamic bear” evokes the same ludicrous argument making the rounds in our culture lately that rape victims ask for their attack by wearing provocative clothing. As Jonathan Chait wrote, “One cannot defend the right without defending the practice.”