The National Book Awards And Germaine Greer

The National Book Awards have been announced, and Between The World And Me has won the prize for non-fiction.

I have to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s account of the slaying of a friend by a police officer in 2000.  I don’t know when I’ll find the time to do it, but it’s on my TBR list.  Coates rejects the notion that African-Americans are predisposed to crime.  Some of the ground he covers has already been covered, I’m sure, by Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, and her book’s efforts to account for the psychological factors that drove so many of her friends to despair and an early death.

While I have deep sympathy for the anguish of African-Americans, and am aware that whites have been the cause of much of it, I, for my part, reject the notion that whites have caused all of that anguish.  It may be that, in this country, “it is traditional to destroy the black body” (and by this we should include the psychological destruction of it by Ward’s white schoolmates), but we carry within us, black and white, the seeds of our own destruction.  We destroy ourselves as much by fear and self-loathing as we are destroyed by others.

I fully accept that Ward’s friends and Coates’s friend led lives of despair, but I also know that they had jobs they could have kept; they had families who loved them; they had the strength to bear the indignities of their lives, but they fooled themselves into believing that drugs and alcohol would help them do it.  They were wrong.

Human life is exceptionally difficult the world over.  Working–getting up out of bed every morning, cleaning and dressing oneself, driving to the job, and performing that often-thankless task for threadbare wages every damn day all of our adult lives–is the hardest thing that any of us will ever do.  But most of us do it.  We don’t whine about it; we do it.  We put up with shit from our co-workers because that’s what people do.  Those petty quarrels are our ways, mean and various, of expressing our common acceptance of how hard the job is.  Work is a contract.  You can’t back out of it except by suicide or accident.  Life is also a contract.  You can’t back out of it except by suicide or accident, either.  If it gets tough for you, the only proper responses are to get tough right back and ask for help from your friends.  If you’re unwilling to do these things, then the world will pass you by, just as it should.

I take a similarly hard line against those in the transsexual community who tried to silence Germaine Greer simply because she doesn’t think transsexual men are females.  In Greer’s words, “What they are saying is that because I don’t think surgery will turn a man into a woman I should not be allowed to speak anywhere.”

Greer’s opponents are also saying quite clearly, Certain opinions must not be expressed.  Yet, democracies don’t work that way, and neither does free speech.  It saddens me, and it makes me angry, too, that over the last several years the one place in the entire Western World where freedom of thought and speech were honored–the University–has now become the most intolerant institution on the planet.

I am, myself, quite willing to accept transsexuals in society (they’ve been around for decades), even if I am deeply annoyed by Caitlyn Jenner, whose entire adult life has been lived out through the tabloids; but I am not willing to accept as honorable or intellectually-justifiable the protests against Germaine Greer, who has done nothing except express an opinion that transsexuals and their supporters don’t like.


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