Accountability

When We Look For Responsibility Why Is It That We Save

There’s an old gag that runs – the definition of “chutzpah” is when a kid murders his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan. It’s funny, and yet, increasingly no one is to blame for anything in our society – no one takes responsibility, not even for their own actions.

Over three decades ago, Dan White set the implausibility bar very high by claiming he’d murdered Harvey Milk as the result of being hopped up on Twinkies. (The tasty snack treat made him do it!) That defense actually worked, and sparked riots.

We live in a society ruled by an enormous dog, (even bigger than Clifford the Big Red Dog) and all day long that dog eats our homework – so we never have to do it.

Now that the presidential election is ramping up across the land there is hand wringing and obligatory excoriation of elected officials. While this is understandable, everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten that they are the ones who put the offenders in office, and they can vote them out. They could even – gasp – run for office, like Harvey Milk.

Personal accountability was a cardinal virtue among the people who built this country; but it seems to be almost unknown today. The fact is, if lightning strikes your house, it’s not your fault, but it is your problem. Assigning blame isn’t going to fix your roof, getting up there with a hammer, saw and nails will.

This subject is very familiar to me, indeed, my youth was a veritable love song to entitlement. I thought roughing it was when we didn’t get sorbet in-between courses, (to cleanse our palettes). That all changed when the heavens rained fire on my life in the form of mental illness, madness, manic depression.

Bear in mind, I did nothing to deserve this curse, this nightmare, this torture. When you are mentally ill you have a very strong case for playing the victim card, and you can, if that’s what you want to be. But I didn’t. Like others before me, one day I simply refused to be a victim anymore, took ownership of the disaster, and faced it.

If you want the full story you can read it in my bipolar memoir, INVISIBLE DRIVING. Suffice it to say that engaging in that long battle didn’t just wrestle the illness to the ground, it made me a man.

One hears so much wisdom in AA meetings. Recently I heard a woman say, “I am not a victim and life is not an excuse.” Alcoholics and drug addicts are among the most skilled liars in the world, with an absolutely inspiring ability to blame other people for their faults and difficulties. Over years of having the bs beaten out of you by no-nonsense dipsomiacs one finally grows able to see, as Shakespeare said so nicely, “the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves”.

Importantly, AA doesn’t care about righteous rage and fair versus unfair, AA is only interested in results. It is a program of absolute accountability, and, the question of – now that you are accountable what are you going to do?

Ironically, it was through mental illness and addiction that I grew to understand how to live a righteous and responsible life. Today I am no victim, that much is certain.

Fearing Fate

Some Born To Greatness Some Flee It Unsucessfully

Fate is a concept that has fallen from fashion; like honor, morality, and manners. We think of fate as akin to voodoo, primitive twaddle embraced by simple, unsophisticated people. Surrounded by our gadgets, the much-loved amulets and totems of today, we imagine ourselves swimming in free will, shaping our very reality as we go, bending life itself to our wishes. This, of course, is fatuous delusion, the product of our misguided belief that technology will cure the human flaws that have dogged our every step for millennia.

In fact, we are well past the master/slave tipping point and it has become impossible for any serious student of modern life to suggest with a straight face that these machines serve us; our habits and behaviors have simply become grist for the mill they own and operate.

We are the raw material; they are the plantation owners. Candidly, you will have to search far and wide in our society for anything resembling freedom and free will; as was the case in post-bellum America, “volunteered slavery” results when the terrible face of freedom rears its ugly head, we race back to the comfort of shackles, all of us.

Mental illness introduced me to freedom, real freedom, the freedom one experiences wandering alone in the desert at night, pursued by jackals. It is every bit as terrifying and exhilarating as you think it is. But today, now, I am more interested in fate, that force we imagine we’ve outgrown.

I suggest that the only people who would deny the existence of fate are those who have never tried to disobey its merciless judgment, those of us who have never tried to swim upstream, those among us who have never put forth the unpopular, contrarian position just because someone needed to do it and no one else, apparently, had the moxie.

Because, friends, you flee fate at your peril; hide from fate and you enter the old testament world, you get smote with a two-by-four.

Let’s paraphrase Shakespeare. “In my stars I am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some are beaten like rented mules and stepchildren until they finally get a little humility, to say nothing of a clue, and start doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Greatness lurks on both sides of my family tree like a meretricious monster, smiling its disingenuous smile, lying without even saying a word. As a child I did worship it, like other people, but became more conscious of its horrors than its delights, and soon fell into the familiar pattern of fleeing into escape in its myriad forms, drugs, alcohol, mania and depression, indulging hedonistic appetites, the adrenaline rush of reckless thrill seeking, etcetera.

What comes of wrestling with one’s fate, hiding from it, denying it, is simple – and recognizable from far away – you see a man losing a war with himself, a man who has become his worst enemy, a man self-administering the death of 1,000 cuts.

In 1990 I wrote the first draft of my bipolar memoir, Invisible Driving. In the course of doing so I had to confront some hideous realities.

First, of course, came the shame and disgrace of being less than, inferior, crazy. Then there was the ragged history of escape into intoxicants. Worse still was a long string of unpalatable attributes, cowardice, arrogance, entitlement, narcissism and elitism among them.

But, as I slaved to do the impossible, that is, put readers into the unimaginably foreign world of mania, something even more horrible appeared, a quality I’d feared yet always secretly wondered about; greatness.

Once you have done something absolutely new, something clearly impossible, you cannot pretend you haven’t. You know. And if you know, and you fail to act on that knowledge, you are far worse than a slacker – you are too much of a coward to be yourself.

We are put here to love one another, to care for one another. When we don’t, we fuck with fate, and the sickness begins. There are a million ways to be great.

If greatness is your fate, do not flee it; but remember it’s the gift that keeps on taking.” Taz Mopula