In a very important sense, the power rests with me.
I type up your symptoms and behaviors and appearance and I form a narrative that suits the purpose of more powerful people than both you or me. In the end, in a very important sense, I hold power as most servants of the system do. I can call you this or that. I can diagnose, using the latest social attempt to define you as you think and operate and conduct yourself and interact with the world.
I have the weaknesses of all of power's servants. Greater power, close or far above me, can decide to take away the power of definition I wield at any time. I can be replaced if I don't do what they want. But I also find that in the sheer size of this structure that I have discretionary power. I can disagree with former diagnosticians. I can make new recommendations. They can be ignored. If I phrase them right, they can effect change. I don't fool myself. There are so many agents of power that I can be very, very easily disregarded, overruled, and a master narrative applied. Your history can return to earlier tellings. It can be as much out of my hands as it is out of yours.
But I can use my time with you to ask you to tell me your story. And others can ignore it and retell it and make you, in a very important, structural sense, into a different person in their eyes.
But in your own, and in mine, you can start to tell your story anew. And that is a very important sense as well.
I don't fool myself that I give you power. I say the whole time that it's your story. And it is. But you're right if you say that I still hold the keys that can unlock shackles, and that I hold keys that let me go at the end of the night. You have no such keys, and the leftist in me continues to loathe this distinction. What is it that I say to my colleagues? "There're the crazies on this side of the door and the crazies on that side." "There're the crazies that leave at the end of the night and the crazies that don't." I bring this up and the students and the interns might balk at my use of the word "crazy," as a noun and as an adjective. I use it to reduce all the fancy talk. I use it to include myself. See, I'm functional enough, or good enough at lying--same thing, basically--to not be categorized as "ill." But I'm crazy, alright. I'm fucking nuts.
But I do my best to remind you, whether you're crying, or whether you're being held down, shot up, and restrained, that you're your own author. I wonder all the time if I'm deluding myself. Sometimes I am. And sometimes a woman who stared at the floor when she met me starts to look me in the eyes. I like that. I didn't do that. I didn't "empower" in the sense that I can't give you what you already had. But I can remind you of what I see, and what others might see someday, and what you've forgotten, what all that "natural law" and "God-given rights" crap tries to say but fails by positing some overlord who gives us what we're supposed to have.
The fact is that you're born with it all. Dignity, strength, power. The fact is that you're made to forget it, made to believe that it can come with a pill or a bottle or a grant of money or access or title from a lord or a boss or an owner. You're made to believe that what you've got you've got to get from somebody else. Fuck that. You're born with it. Fuck the toil, fuck the earning. You deserve safety and respect and acknowledgment of what nobody can give you, what you should have had the moment you drew breath: not a safe and placid and pleasured life of a Last Man, but a life without abuse and violation and invasion and ownership and definition by others and expectations you've got to meet because we say so.
I don't give you that, but I play a role sometimes, the role of a man who respects you as someone who's sitting where, but for chance and brain chemistry and socialization and luck, I could very well sit. And where I could well sit one day, depending on how things go. And sometimes you play a long. And you act like a human when, if we treat you like an animal, you may well act like one, desperate and dangerous and damn impressive to those who ride out the fear and see you striving like people ought to strive when they're oppressed.
And in the end, I hold a very important sense of power, and no amount of pretty intention will cover that up. But you hold a very important sense of power, and I hope a more important sense of power, because in the end that's all I've really got, too: the ability to define yourself, to tell your story, to play along in a part written by none but you and those you claim as collaborators and muses and teachers. I didn't give you that, but I tried to act as if you remembered, and sometimes you do. And sometimes it's not enough and I remember that I'm serving your dominators, and while we always strive to find the way that our mastery serves your well-being, I know that mastery is incapable of doing so. It can prevent the most severe acts of self-destruction, and maybe we can protect you while you're clawing your eyes out and banging your head against the wall. The parent in me comes out when you do that, and it is the only time I have felt comfort with force. But I know that parental mastery is my measure for all force: it must end.
Maybe I've stunted you. Maybe I've held you back. Maybe you belong under the tires of a car or in a pool full of blood. Maybe we're not doing any good. This haunts me, but I do my best when another you comes in and I speak to you without taser or gun or physical prowess. I try my best to treat you like a human being, and that's all I can do at the moment. It's far above the way you're often treated, but I know it's not enough. Some time, I want to know what is.
Inspired, of course, by Jack Crow.
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