Think of this as Volume 12, Number 19 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Everyone who has been a parent, or a child, knows something of torture.
As my son John prepares to graduate high school this month, my parenting career enters a new phase. I will try out this new role on a trip to China, Taiwan and Japan starting May 23rd. Posting will be sporadic.
It is not easier for someone with ADD to parent children who have it. It's harder. My son's ADD is much like mine, only sometimes it's on steroids, and our long-term efforts to treat it have left different scars on him than my own long-term denial left on me, coming up.
I must admit here that there were times when I hit him. Hard. He could be, can be, infuriating. He has the same buttons I have, and has known how to push them since he was a small child. Parenting him has helped me deal with my own ADD, for which I'm thankful.
But there have been times when we tortured one another, both mentally and physically.
I doubt this is unusual. America has a high rate of ADD. My theory is that ADD people, who couldn't fit in with their own societies, would naturally be drawn to the blank slate, the open door, that America offers to the world.
Moving to America does not cure ADD. In many ways freedom and privacy justify it. They allow its gifts to be unlocked, but they also protect its demons.
America has always been a violent country. Whites oppressed blacks, and committed genocide against the native people to a degree Spain did not. You can see the evidence on every Mexican immigrant's face.
We are violent in public, and violent in private. While we espouse freedom and liberty as high virtues, we also define them in such a way that our demons are left as alone as the better angels of our nature. This is not entirely bad. There are lessons our demons can teach us.
But as Americans, we are often reluctant to learn these lessons, to banish our demons as we want others' demons banished.
What brings up this meditation on torture is this post from Digby, documenting the shocking rise of torture in our own time, especially against children. Where once we lived in Prozac Nation now we live in Taser Nation. Millions of people, facing even less provocation than my son caused me, have taken to a belief in Abu Ghraib as leadership academy.
They're called "boot camps," or "wilderness programs." They are nothing more, or less, than torture academies. My son went to a real wilderness program, called SOAR, and I know the difference. SOAR did great things for John. That's because it has a tremendous counselor-student ratio, one in which every move toward violence is seen, and explored as an opportunity for teaching. When SOAR kids go off on a five-day wilderness hike, it's an exercise designed to empower them. The older kids learn leadership, the younger kids model their example, and the counselors are there to keep everyone safe and on the task of growing those mental muscles ADD kids get later than other kids.
Trouble is, our society is intolerant of this development delay. We expect all kids to learn empathy and proper behavior in kindergarten. When they face someone like my son, a truly brilliant young man with social dyslexia, he is immediately branded as a troublemaker. Even though every incident he went through, in the Atlanta Public Schools, involved his attempts to either learn behavioral rules, or have them applied evenly (as they are never really applied), there was no tolerance of him until the police were called.
Since that horrible time things have been better. He was identified, and protected under the law, as he should have been five years earlier. But the damage had been done. He had a reputation, among the faculty, not as a brilliant kid succeeding despite ADD, but as a troublemaker, intolerant, prone to violence, self-righteous and infuriating.
Thankfully, those days will soon be over. Our trip to the Orient is designed to help wring those days out of his system, and a chance for me to see how much healing there is to do. In both of us.
Back to torture. Parenting for me has been a form of torture, as it has been a torture, at times, for my children. I have learned that violence is no answer to their problems, and when we sit around the dinner table these days both my kids say their childhoods were happy.
This is the blessing one gets when you rise above torture. Your personality integrates, becomes one, not one dark side and one light but one complete person, who understands how hard the Golden Rule is to put into practice, and who can slowly learn to forgive himself and then move on to others.
Too many of our institutions, both religious and civil, have yet to reach this mountaintop. And it is a mountaintop, one that is just as hard to reach as any physical mountain might be. Unfortunately, for each and every one of us, it is a personal mountaintop, not a societal one.
It is infuriating for people like Digby to see those who have yet to climb their own mountains wallow in their own self-degradation, torturing and murdering anyone whose absolutes they don't share, or can't fathom. It is the work of a lifetime to hear the better angels of our nature, and follow where they would lead us.
History is the story of how far up that mountain we have come, as a society, and how much further we all have to go. We have all, all of us, stumbled and fallen during this decade. We have become the monsters we most feared, under the leadership of fearful men whose own demons define themselves as absolutely just and everyone else, angel or demon, as absolutely demonic.
It is not enough to say, "We do not torture," or "We will not torture." International law does not allow for that. The Bush Torture Regime is America's scarlet letter, the stain in our hands that will not wash out. We can only expiate that guilt, a little bit, by confronting these horrors, by investigating them, by doing justice by the victims, both those who suffered from torture and those who, by order, were forced to commit it.
What I have learned in my own life is that torture is not the black-white issue we make it. We all contain demons in our souls as well as angels. Banishing those demons is the work of our lives. And the work of our national life.
The Constitution is just words. The Bill of Rights, just words. Both can be undone with a memo. Unless their requirements are written on our hearts, and engraved on the hearts of our children, we can't say "We don't torture" with any credibility.
Justice is the path we must take. It's a long and winding road. It is the path my son wants his life to take. And I pray that, as he walks down that road, he learns that the goal of justice is not just to punish what happened before, but prevent what might happen next.