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Monday, 19 October 2009

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JPool

Scott,
I almost posted this on the last one, but I think you need to cut yourself a good long length of slack on these "ethical" questions. Now I know that people often shake their virtual heads at your stories and wonder if they could actually have happened to you. It probably doesn't help that you sometimes have presented things you made up as quotes in situations where you thought that what you were doing was obvious. It also probably doesn't help that you frequently wander into snippy and parstactular waters, where what was said and was was meant and when and how are hashed and rehashed ad nasuem. But errors of memory, particularly in response to a traumatic event, are not lies, nonfictional or otherwise. "Lies" are deliberate deceptions. They are knowing. The twists and turns of memory are fascinating, and they're probably as good a thing as any to turn over as your brain and body are working through the trauma of coming up next to death and the horrible fragility of the body. You were witness to something. Errors of vision or memory are not claims to something that isn't yours, they are your brain trying to make sense of something that ultimately can't make sense. There's nothing ethically dubious about this. If you're called to testify about the event you can front up how much you feel like you can't trust your memory and why. Til then concentrate on the truth of your experience and the process of healing from it. Take it from a historian, don't get lost in the trees (or at least, if you find tree wandering therapeutic, don't beat yourself up with those trees ... through running at them, or what have you; it's not a perfect metaphor).

Jonathan

Schopenhauer said that the purpose of life can only either be suffering or nonexistent. Shit like this is why.

Jonathan

JPool, anything not true is a lie. Lying is unethical. Everyone should attempt to be ethical. Everyone lies. QED The purpose of life is suffering.

Jonathan Dresner

anything not true is a lie. Lying is unethical. Everyone should attempt to be ethical. Everyone lies. QED The purpose of life is suffering.

Three false premises, and two non-sequiturs later....

To quote myself, channeling my lower postmodernist, "Sources lie, but they're all we have." JPool is right: functional historians learn to live with using incomplete, biased, falsified and erroneous material as the building blocks of truth, recognize (though we don't use the term, more's the pity) that our discussions of causality are often confabulated, and know that we will never satisfy the philosophers and legalists but that's OK because we don't work for them.

SEK

I think you need to cut yourself a good long length of slack on these "ethical" questions.

I absolutely agree ... the problem is, that's not how I feel. It's stupid, I know, but the questions feel pressing because they press upon me, not because I want them to.

Now I know that people often shake their virtual heads at your stories and wonder if they could actually have happened to you. It probably doesn't help that you sometimes have presented things you made up as quotes in situations where you thought that what you were doing was obvious.

That second sentence is, I think, a problem of my tone: I think something's obviously written sarcastically, other people believe it's possible that someone said something that stupid ... and given some of the people I've had to deal with online, they're right in doing so. But as for what could and couldn't actually have happened, there's more to that, I think. I didn't post something I'd written in response first to this comment, and then to my dad saying he was proud that I'd pulled over and tried to help. I simply didn't understand what they'd meant. I'd done nothing.

That said, you probably remember my parents arguing in the comments (hers and his) about the tool used to remove a toilet seat from my head. The reason they could have that argument is that my father was an EMS/EMT until I was nearly ten, and after soccer/baseball practice, my mother would head to her job as a pediatric nurse and my father would head to the rescue squad to be on call and I'd go with him. My childhood memories that don't occur at my house almost exclusively involve those nights at the rescue squad, the games of Memory, the sleeping on taut cots, etc. I grew up, or had chiseled, a la Locke, a "moral sense" on my blank slate in the backrooms of a rescue squad building, so my decision to pull over wasn't quite a decision, and it's certainly not something I deserve credit for. I did what I did because that's what I was raised to think was the only thing to do. People who know my history don't think it's odd that I reacted as I did; people who don't might see in it an attempt to fluff my feathers. (My father, I think, just wanted confirmation that he'd raised me right.)

But honestly, at this point, I'm way beyond caring about whether or not people believe what I've said happened to me actually did. Due to the more politically inflammatory material I've written, I've been challenged by people who thought threatening to "expose" me on the office sex, the being hit by a car, the library fiasco, etc., and they've all met with the same sad fate ... by which I mean they ran headlong into a bureaucratic Wall of Truth, consisting of incidence reports, eyewitness testimony from people other than me, etc. (I say that, but I've got to admit: Sifu's comment really rattled me, because I know him and of all the reasons the cast doubt on what happened, the fact that it scrolled off the CHP ticker seemed unnecessarily suspect.)

The twists and turns of memory are fascinating, and they're probably as good a thing as any to turn over as your brain and body are working through the trauma of coming up next to death and the horrible fragility of the body. You were witness to something. Errors of vision or memory are not claims to something that isn't yours, they are your brain trying to make sense of something that ultimately can't make sense.

I get this, I really do. That was sort of why I contrasted what I know, intellectually, with what I'm going through, which doesn't invalidate what I know, but which does make me understand why I might could feel like it should be invalidated. That said, I'm not lying about what my brain's lying to me about: there's no way I saw what I remember seeing. My own story doesn't even make sense. There's no way I couldn't see the truck but somehow saw the collision, no matter how vividly my memory and dreams insist otherwise. I guess what I'm getting at is that my mind's at odds with my brain and the latter, for whatever reason, is weightier even though the former knows it shouldn't be.

Also, I might not be explaining this well. I remember seeing something I know I didn't see, and I'm not sure what to do with that "memory," given that it's obviously confabulated. Moreover, even though I invented it, it seems I only did so to torment myself, and I can't see the value of that. (In evolutionary terms, sorta kinda, as I'm trying to figure out why imprinting trauma in this way might be beneficial ... but that's probably just more of me trying to frame this in a way I can understand.)

Jonathan and Jonathan D., more on your points later, as I've already written a (by which I mean, "a few") posts on how this experience has shaped my view of life and life as history more largely. I'm not ready to put them up yet, because I don't want this to turn into LiveJournal Land, and if I don't seriously self-censor, it very well could.

John McPhee

Scott,

I just wanted you to know that when I read your last comment and scrolled down I discovered that you're a week away from hitting ONE MILLION READERS. It might seem trite, but as you seem in need of some uplifting news, I thought you should know that despite not having or seeking advertising revenue -- that despite not begging people for links -- that despite writing about whatever it is you wanted to write about, and doing so compellingly, in a way that made strangers want to read it -- that despite all that and on the strength of YOUR HARD WORK AND TALENT, your ability to make other people feel what you felt whatever it is you were feeling, you got ONE MILLION pairs of fuckin' eyeballs to read what you've written for no other reason than you wrote it so damn well. That's an accomplishment. A FUCKING accomplishment. Something to be proud of. You've brought a lot of people a lot joy -- helped a lot of people you didn't even realize were reading you through their shit -- and maybe it's appropriate that you hit this milestone when you're raw as fuck, because maybe we can help salve your pain the way you've helped ONE MILLION of us with ours.

PS. I'm not really John McPhee, I just wanted to give you a pleasant moment. Hope you don't mind that I tricked you.

JPool

I absolutely agree ... the problem is, that's not how I feel. It's stupid, I know, but the questions feel pressing because they press upon me, not because I want them to.

Sure, I just wanted to offer another voice in your ear/eyes/head reminding you to let yourself off the hook here. Your brain is dealing with feelings of guilt over what happened (it doesn't matter that you couldn't controll anything; of course, you wish that you could; this is a necessary corallary to senses of empathy, responsibility and regret; these allow us to live in society and are thus a Good Thing, even if they also pick inopportune times to fuck with us, unjustifably) and filtering that guilt through things that you can normally control, like how you present yourself on the internet (or, at least, it's a more familiar area in which to manage control/lack of control). You know all this, I'm just reminding you.

On Sifu, I'm not sure, but I don't think he was trying to cast doubt on your story, just doing the typical unfogged thing of publically parsing any/everything. As you wrote over there, you should have stayed to talk to CHP, but it's understandable that you went to "Ah! There's nothing I can do! Ah! I have to be at work! Ah!"

Also, this is Scott's place, but for myself, "John McPhee", don't do that. That's weird.

SEK

Faux McPhee:

I take the gesture and your kind words to heart, so no worries. That said, I don't think that was that weird so much as you scared the living shit out of me. A few years back when I was teaching literary journalism, Susan Orlean commented on a post I'd written and then, in a footnote at the bottom, wrote:

P.S. It's "Orlean," not "Orleans."

Remembering that now, I'm still mortified. That said, I don't actually check the Sitemeter---thought I'd removed it when TypePad updated, actually---but one million hits is a bit of an accomplishment for a bitty blog like mine, so I should do something to celebrate. Hm . . .

JPool:

You know all this, I'm just reminding you.

And I appreciate it, since my whole problem at the moment comes down to what I feel futzing with what I know. Other voices are very, very nice to hear right now.

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