Living in a town that loves its liberalism has many advantages. People here may be suspicious of the gentry, but they are generous with their gentle — sometimes to a fault.
Last week, a hundred saplings planted along the Amazon Creek in west Eugene were ripped by their roots and thrown in the water. It’s not the first time this vandalism has happened.
“It’s really hard for us to understand why anyone would do this, whether someone had an ax to grind or just real–ly hates trees,” Eugene city employee Ryan Turner said afterwards. “It’s hard to understand the benefit or the joy that anyone would get from this.”
If you’re looking for the anger, you’ll find it in the 144 comments posted beneath the story online, or in the online conversation that started almost immediately on reddit.com. (Or keep reading.)
Liberal-minded towns don’t do anger very well, at least not without the cloak of anonymity. We rail against the system, we rage against the machine — because systems and machines don’t have a bliss they may be following. Toward flesh-and-blood humans, especially neighbors, we tend to cut so much slack that there’s rope enough to hang ourselves from each end.
We habitually dial down our disgust to disappointment. We revert to passive sentence structures — something is “not acceptable” or “needs to change.” We don’t make demands.
We revert to sadness, with social overtones of pity. We try to sympathize with somebody else’s misbegotten ideas about what they should have done or what they must have meant to do. We feign a willingness to share the blame — somehow we just didn’t communicate clearly enough what we would have preferred.
There are people who want only to deny the happiness of others. It’s not sensible or even selfish, because there’s no personal gain involved. It’s only grief, all the way around. There’s a name for this, but it’s not one we use comfortably. Here it is: evil.
Evil isn’t a popular word among secularists and others who think of themselves as open-minded. I understand the hesitation. Labeling anyone an “evil-doer” can justify heinous responses taken on our behalf. Bad things often are done in our name when evil has been put into play.
I want nothing to do with that and neither do you.
Meanwhile, evil persists. It disrupts community-building all the time. It starts with a “my way or the highway” absolutism, but it soon devolves into a satisfaction that comes only from obstructing the satisfactions of others. The only bliss they follow is the destruction of other blisses.
I’ve interviewed the best in the consensus-building business and what I’ve heard over and over is that you cannot compromise with that. If someone’s joy comes from the tears of another, you must admit it and settle for something less than pure consensus. You’ve got to slap the bully — for the sake of the project, the process, the people, and (we still hope, someday) the bully.
Anyone who may have seen the sapling vandalism or — more likely, at this point — heard someone bragging about their deed, please call the Eugene Police Department at 541-682-5111.
Our liberal muscle memory requires us first to consider that it was all an accident. Fine for one or two — but for a hundred? Then we find ourselves speculating that they were working out some personal issue. Against trees? Who hates trees? There may be shades of evil, but there is no evil in shade.
Hatred here is intransitive — it has no direct object. It’s just hatefulness, as an end in itself. Wanton destruction has no justification, and we shouldn’t worry our liberal heads trying to invent one. We should root out the miscreant(s) and make them plant a thousand new trees before we’re satisfied.
There are some whose bliss should not be followed. We do them no favors by excusing their actions. Make them pay for what they did — tenfold. After that, if they want to join the good work among us, we’ll welcome them — but only after shade has been restored.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.