To Communicate Across the Divide, You Need to Learn the Language

To Communicate Across the Divide, You Need to Learn the Language

By Don Hall

While in Fiji, I ate dog. And it was delicious.

I was in a traveling Christian choir. I was in the orchestra and we performed that summer all over the Western Pacific islands - Tonga, New Zealand, Western Samoa, and Fiji. By the time we got to Fiji, I was well versed in my own personal survival mode. I had a large jar of Jiffy Peanut Butter and a box of Saltine crackers because we stayed with local families and, man, they ate some weird shit.

After a week of Steve (the sound guy) and I being screamed at by the mangy dog in the yard and being served everything from Fisheye Soup to Tapioca Root (which, contrary to the pudding, tastes like a piece of pissed-on cardboard), one night we came in and smelled something excellent. Savory. Meat and noodles.

We sat down at the table and our host dished out bowls of the meal. It was so good I thought I'd die.

"Wow. This beef is great. Like a chewy brisket. What kind of meat is it?" asked Steve.

"It's dog," replied our host, grinning ear to ear.

Steve pulled away from the table, ran outside and puked. I had a second bowl.


What Steve couldn't wrap his mind around, a fact so pervasive he would rather be hungry than come to grips with, was that these lovely hosts, while speaking English, spoke and lived a completely different language than we American white boys. They had grown up in a country where a dog was not a cute, loyal companion but livestock.

Steve and I talked about it. His conclusions were simply that these people were backwards - they just didn't understand the correct way to see dogs. They were ignorant and primitive.

I wasn't too sure. I just knew that they spoke a different cultural language than we did. In the circumstances, I could see Steve's perspective but I just didn't see the point of the judgment, you know?

Our hosts were shocked at Steve's reaction. I tried to explain to them that, in America, dogs were seen as sacred animals. Like cows in India. That we assign a great deal of love on dogs. That eating one of them was a bit like eating someone's kid.

"Then why did you eat but Steve did not?"

"It wasn't my dog."

The Hard Conservative Right smacks me exactly like those dog-eating Fijians. Except that, because their beliefs tend to be on the wrong side of history and force marginalization on most people in the world, I DO judge them as primitive, simple-minded fucktards.  But the situation is the same.

I do understand fear. I used to be terrified of homosexuality (and it was expressed as disgust and dismay). I used to be suspicious of entitlement programs. I'm no fan of anyone (neither the GOP Neocons lecturing me on the meaning of Patriotism nor the Liberal Intellectuals lecturing me on Civil Rights and Microaggessions) lecturing at me. I think the government IS too big although my outrage is that we spend billions on waging war instead of on the people who need it - the basic sentiment is the same.

But I do not understand the aversion to evidence, logic, or common sense. I simply don't comprehend how, after decades of the Free Market failing the vast majority of the planet's population, someone with a brain can still fight for it. I do not get, after decades of scientific evidence of the damages of fossil fuel consumption is destroying our environment, someone with a lick of sense ignoring that evidence.


We on the Left have our weird attachments to myth as well - turns out that plastic bottles do not actually poison the water in them and that belief in detox diets are just placebo - blind faith in a way of seeing the world fucks everything up. That's what ideology run amok creates. People living in blind faith to things that fly in the face of reason.

And a person who has blind faith in anything isn't necessarily stupid. They just speak a different language from those of us that try to avoid blind faith as a way of seeing things. It's a different language of processing the complexities of the planet.

Gotta find a way to learn the language without abandoning reason, I think. Try to grasp that eating dog in a country without giant freezers full of beef and pork and chicken makes sense to those who live there. Try to grasp that looking at every black or brown person with suspicion in a part of the country that has thrived on white supremacy makes a certain kind of sense to those who grew up in it. Try to understand that the people in a state that uses Oil Money or Arms Manufacturing Cash to finance their roads and schools want to deny that the gravy train is destroying the Earth.

If I can't speak the language, I can't communicate with them. I can only sit in judgment.

And sitting in judgment is what THEY do.

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