Life Imitates Law: Are There Things People Won’t Let Happen?
After the recent domestic terrorism and displays of white nationalism in Charlottesville and after a robust public discussion about the appropriateness of the resulting political response, I've been re-reading a book I’ve thought about often in recent months. With jarring accuracy, Nathan Hill’s The Nix, (aside from being one of the best books of 2016), covers a huge range of topics, including political response to violence. Although much of the book is set in the late 1960's, there are many ways that The Nix is – to my dismay – relevant in the 21st century.
Hill fictionalizes the 1968 Chicago riots and, at one point, Hill’s character of Walter Cronkite calls the police, “a bunch of thugs” for “beating kids senseless” and “taking off their badges and name tags and lowering their visors . . . to become faceless and unaccountable.” Hill’s Cronkite is made to recant by the forces-that-be because politicians, (including the Chicago mayor), want to justify the violence as a necessary response to a perceived threat. In the book, there are also TV viewers around the country who feel “jazzed up” and “edgy” watching this violence from the safety of their comfortable living rooms, and who feel like protesters “had it coming.”
While obviously not a perfect analogy to recent events, the normalization of hate-fueled violence perpetuated by people whose lives and bodies – and rights to do as they please with those lives and those bodies – are not, and have never been, up for debate or legal scrutiny, feels like a mistake we should have learned from and left in the past.
But I’m leaving something important out: Despite heavy subject matter, The Nix is actually a very funny book that may make you laugh out loud. Hill credits his, “own thinking about how contemporary America is, in some ways, totally absurd,” for the book’s humorous overtone. I, like Hill, am a believer in laughter as coping mechanism, and at times even a solution. But over the last year I’ve been feeling the absurd slip toward the terrifying.
Hearing my mounting dismay, my dad told me last year, “It’s going to be okay – there are things that people won’t let happen.” I didn’t feel immediately comforted because the things I feared were already happening, and continue to happen. However, if people resist the pull of apathy and refuse to bury their moral compasses, if they prioritize equality and access to justice and resources, then – even now – there may still be terrible things that won’t happen because people won’t let them. That is, as long as we remember that each of us is one of those “people” and we must use all available tools (literature, law, humor, empathy) to protect each other, the things we love, and the most vulnerable among us.
Bobbi-Jo Dobush believes that sharing our diverse passions — for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment) — can positively influence our practices.