Showing posts with label guilt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guilt. Show all posts

10 September 2015

Presumed Guilty

by Eve Fisher

A while back at the pen we did an exercise which started off with the question, "Have you ever been falsely accused?"  We only had one guy who went off about the reason for his current incarceration, but by the time they get to an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop, the inmates are generally up front about what they did, and sometimes even why.  But everyone could think of a time or two when they had been falsely accused - and presumed guilty - including me.

When I was a child, my mother operated under the assumption that I was getting into trouble, and she just hadn't caught me yet.  She would search my bedroom while I was at junior high.  She would never let me close the door.  And other things.  I lived on a very tight leash.  Thirty years later, she told me that she'd known that I'd been having sex with someone (before I was 14).  I told her the truth:  she was dead wrong.  (I don't think she believed me, even then.)  The truth was, I was a nearly straight-A student (except for gym class, where I always got "D"s), obedient out of fear, and an extremely quiet bookworm.  Over time, I did drink some - there was booze all over the place and (what the hell) nobody kept track of the levels.  I also did do some drugs - there were bottles of Darvon all over the place, and nobody kept track of those, either.  But both of those were survival tactics.  Sometimes you have to numb the pain.  And I left home as soon as I was old enough to survive on my own.

The thing is, I could never convince my mother that I wasn't doing what she thought I was doing.  I was presumed guilty - and that happens a lot, to a lot of people.  In my case, I was presumed guilty for two main reasons:
(1) She as an alcoholic, and alcoholics/addicts believe what they want.  Anything for another reason/excuse to have a drink.
(2) She had done what she suspected me of doing.  I didn't find that out until much later, until after she was dead, and her only brother filled me in on the secret parts of her life and their family life (alcoholism ran in the family for generations) that she had kept hidden for so long.

There's a lot of that around.  Presumed guilty.  Shifting guilt.  Projection.  Think of all the politicians and preachers who have been rabidly anti-homosexual or screaming about family values and then been caught with their pants down in a men's bathroom, sexting their interns, screwing hookers, or more recently, being outed in the Ashley Madison hack.  It's classic psychology:  people with guilty consciences accuse everyone around them of doing what they have done or long to do.  Especially if they're alcoholics/addicts (and you can get addicted to fame - look at the Donald).  Addiction makes the addict accuse everyone around them because it's an excellent way to deflect attention away from their own behavior.  Go on the offensive:  attack, so that the people around them end up defending themselves, apologizing, perhaps even profusely apologizing, begging, pleading, etc., while they go get another drink/hit/high.  And guilt can work exactly the same way.

We talk a lot about presumption of innocence - and thank God for that concept - but presumption of guilt is pretty high, from the personal to the international level.  The assumption that the kid from the wrong side of the tracks is going to be trouble.  That family is always bad news.  That THEY (neighbors/cousins/in-laws, etc.) will never change.

Internationally, that guy with the turban is dangerous.  THAT country is always going to be trouble. Everyone wants what we have, and will do anything to get it.  Thus, with the whole Iran thing: Iran must want nuclear weapons, be working towards nuclear weapons, be stopped from getting nuclear weapons, despite their endless denials of wanting nuclear weapons and despite the fact that they've never gotten them, even though they have the oil, the money, and the willing suppliers, and more of all three - for decades - than Pakistan or North Korea, who did get them.  But Iran is presumed guilty. Always.  Why?  Well,

Destruction of the Shia tomb of Husayn
at Karbala, Iraq, at the hands of
the Mughal (Sunni) Empire
(1) Perhaps because we have an old grudge against them, because of the 1970s hostage crisis.  (Of course, they've got one against us for when the British MI6 and the United States CIA toppled their democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953 and put in General Zahedi, who was a nasty piece of work.)

(2) Perhaps because we chose the other side in the current religious civil war.  In the Middle East, Iran and southern Iraq are Shia, and almost all the rest - Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Oil states in general, etc. - is Sunni, and nobody is giving up any time soon. BTW, ISIS is Sunni, too, so those who conflate Iran and ISIS are just plain ignorant.  (For a better understanding of what's going on in the Middle East, I recommend a study of the European Wars of Religion, 1524-1648, which were nasty, bloody, often more political than religious, and one big brutal mess.)
NOTE:  Yes, I know that Iran supports Hezbollah and other anti-Israeli terrorists (not that they're the only Arab country that sponsors anti-Israeli terrorists, including some of our allies, cough, cough, hint, hint).  It's still not nuclear weapons.   
(3) And perhaps it's because we, the United States of America, have the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world, and are the only country who has ever used nuclear weapons, and so we expect everyone to do as we did.  If they get the chance.  We did it, so everyone else must want to, too. We're constantly arming ourselves, so everyone else must want to, too.  Presumed guilty.

But back to the daily round, the common task.  Look around your neighborhood.  Or, if you've moved and don't know your neighbors, think back to your childhood.  Who was the kid who was blamed for everything, sometimes justly, and sometimes as a very handy scapegoat for whatever happened? Who was the family that everyone looked upon with disdain?  Who has been falsely accused of something they didn't do, and can never prove that they didn't?  Who has accused someone else?

I used this concept of presumption of guilt in "Public Immunity". In that story, everyone in Laskin comes to believe that Grant Tripp, the police officer who often narrates my stories, is guilty of killing Neil Inveig.  And they're going to give him a pass on it, because Inveig deserved it, and God knows Grant had good reasons.  And there is nothing Grant can do about it.  Because of people's determined beliefs about what happened one night, he can't explain/persuade/prove his innocence.  He is presumed guilty for the rest of his days...  It's a recurring (though not always obvious) theme with Grant, that he's stuck with a reputation as a killer that he will never be able to shake, because no one will ever talk about.  At least, not in front of him...

Presumed guilty.  God help Grant, and all like him.

31 December 2014

Return to the Theme Park


by Robert Lopresti

Recently a friend told me that Barbara Kingsolver says she begins writing her books by deciding on a theme.

My reply was: "And you believed her?"

Not that I am calling Ms. Kingsolver a big fat liar.  But I always have my doubts about authors who claim their creations comes from what you might call a process of scholarly introspection. 

Prime example: this essay by Edgar Allan Poe explaining how he wrote "The Raven" (which is  the only poem to give its name to a pro football team).  He claimed that he chose the theme and worked out the details carefully, bit by bit, etc.  Personally, I think he woke up from a nightmare and grabbed for an ink well and quill. 

The one person I know who claimed to believe Poe's explanation was Umberto Eco, in the process of explaining how he wrote  The Name of the Rose.  And I don't believe his explanation either.

It all comes down to what D.H. Lawrence said: "Never trust the teller, trust the tale."

But I am not writing today merely to cast aspersions on my betters (although that's always fun).  The day after my chat about Kingsolver I blundered onto this piece I wrote in 2013 in which I attempted to analyze the themes of my five stories that were published that year.  So since the end of the year is a good time for reflection, I decided to look at my stories published in 2014 and go on a theme-hunt.  This time I will only point out the ones where I found something worth mentioning.

My most recent story is "The Roseville Way" in The Anthology of Cozy-Noir.  It contains one of my favorite themes, and shares it with "Devil Chased the Wolf Away," which appeared in the January/February issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  "Devil" is about an elderly Kentucky fiddler who, in his previous appearance in one of my stories, did a bad thing.  In the new one he tries to make up for it.  "Roseville" is about a ganglord who retires to a small midwestern town and - contrary to the way such stories usually go - improves the lives of everyone he gets involved with.  The theme of both stories is the possibility of  redemption.

My other appearance in Hitchcock's, "A Bad Day For Bargain Hunters" is a story about an estate sale and it has a simple theme too: everyone is crooked.  Well, that isn't quite true.  The police officer in the story is honest; he's merely incompetent.

As for "The Accessory" which appeared in Ellery Queen,  and "Shanks Holds The Line," which showed up on Hitchcock's website, the only theme I can find is what Jim Thompson called the only plot: "things are not what they seem."

But looking at some of the stories that made their first appearance in my book
Shanks on Crime, I find some more suggestions.  "Shanks' Mare" is about misplaced priorities.  The motive for the theft of the horse is the criminal's bad priorities, and the reason he or she thinks it will be effective, is because of another character's equaly screwed-up ambitions. 

"Shanks At The Bar" and "Shanks' Ghost Story" consist of people sitting around telling tales, and they are both about the power of storytelling.  This theme also came up in "Two Men, One Gun" which appeared in 2013.

As you may know I also write songs and in those I have one overwhelming theme: guilt.  So, here are the lyrics to one of my newest songs on that subject.  And I wish you a guilt-free New Year.

I’m sorry you feel I misled you
I’m sorry you fell for my pose
I’m sorry you ate what I fed you
You have to admit you believe what you chose
  I’m sorry that after you helped dig the pit
  You fell in it unknowingly
  I’m sorriest that you refuse to accept
  My sincere apology
  My sincere apology
 
I’m sorry about my advisors
I’m sorry that I was betrayed
They lied to us through their incisors
I freely admit that mistakes have been made
  I’m sorry you think this is somehow my fault
  Though I take responsibility
  I’m sorriest that you refuse to accept
  My sincere apology
  My sincere apology
 
      How many times must I say that I’m sorry?
      It’s getting a little bit dull
      I’ve bent over backwards to show I respect you.
      When will you get that through your thick skull?
 
I’m sorry you found this offensive
I’m sorry you can’t take a joke
I’m sorry you got so defensive
If I knew you were thin-skinned I never would have spoke
  I’m sorry you feel that your feelings were hurt
  and sorry you blame that on me
  I’m sorriest that you refuse to accept
  My sincere apology
  My sincere apology