I have cats. Currently, I happen to have three living with me. I grew up with cats (among many other pets). Whether we lived in the country or in town, sidewalks or gravel, small yard or acres of woods, we had generations of cats, being born in our closets and garages, dying at home or at the vet’s office. I have always liked cats. As a kid they would cuddle in bed with me while I slept, curling up on my feet, snuggling against my neck when I was feeling bad, playing with string and toilet paper tubes. Cats are cute, cats are fuzzy and sweet, cats are fun.
About eighteen months ago I moved to a house in the country for the first time in many years. Within short order my three fuzzy, adorable, packaged-pet-food-eating cats began hunting gophers and birds like they had found cat heaven. For the first time in my life I started to really take notice of another side of my fuzzy adorable pets. I have watched them patiently wait outside the home of a den of veggie munching gophers, pounce, and drag the wriggling creature into my house where they gleefully play with it in it’s death throes, truly enjoying the long, slow, torturous killing process as if it was better than sex and food and episodes of The Sopranos all rolled into one. I have seen them make the kill with a primal mechanism in their eyes, then immediately walk away to come purr and sweetly rub against my legs with love and affection.
My fuzzy adorable pets are sociopathic serial killers.
I voted for Barack Obama. Well, to be honest, I voted for Barak Obama in his first presidential election. I donated to his campaign in both elections, but when it came time to stand in the polls the second time around I found I had misgivings. I couldn’t bring myself to vote against him, or in fact to cast a vote of confidence for any other candidate on the roster, but I could not, in good conscience, cast a vote for him either. I could not really articulate to myself in that moment the exact reasons why, but there were too many ambiguities, and if I was genuine with myself, I could find no one in whom I had real confidence as a leader, nor as a representative of my interests in the political sphere.
That really is not a new phenomenon for me. The year I turned eighteen and could vote for the first time in a presidential election, the choices were between Ronald Regan and Walter Mondale. I wrote in a vote for Bill the Cat and Opus the Penguin from the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed. It seemed as equally absurd as the choices being offered up. The prime motivating factor in elections where I have voted for a presidential candidate on the roster has almost always been in order to vote against a candidate I was more opposed to. Choosing the lesser of evils. I have accepted that as a reality of modern politics for a long time.
When Barack Obama was first running for president I experienced for the first time the sensation of liking a presidential candidate. He was articulate, he was educated, he was diplomatic, he was reasoned. He supported the end to don’t ask don’t tell. Obama talked health care reform, and social equality. Obama talked ending the war in Iraq and torture reform. Obama talked environment. He seemed smart and nice and fun. A good man, a good husband, a good father.
Since Barack Obama has taken office there have been many disappointments. I’m not terribly naïve. In today’s world there are bound to be almost nothing but gray areas. I pay a slight amount of attention to most ins and outs of the political news. Most of it seems like the lurid breathing of some distorted mythological beast. I focus my attention on trying to make small choices in my own life that support a sustainable way of life as a human being. I try to choose actions that say no to nihilism, that say yes to living lightly on the planet in reasonable non-violent accord with other life forms. Sometimes I wish election pamphlets would offer choices as simple as “check here to say yes to trees” and “check here to say no to murdering children” and “check here to avoid ruining an ecosystem”, but of course it’s never that simple.
However, the most recent news cycle dealing with drone strikes in the war against al Qaeda, each approved personally by Barack Obama, has caught my attention in a sharper way. According to the New York Times the drone strikes have included, “15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.” Obama is knowingly issuing kill orders on Americans and children on foreign soil.
I don’t for one moment think this is anything new. I have long understood the concept of “collateral damage” and the vast moral gray area that appears as soon as you say yes to one justified reason for resolving conflict by violent means. As a human living in the 21st Century I turn this dilemma over in my psyche with regularity. I don’t for one moment think I have something world shaking to add to the conversation. I am simply marveling at my own capacity to regard someone like Barack Obama with a kind of affection, to feel that I “like” him, when all evidence points to his acting in the real world in the capacity as a sociopathic serial killer.
I guess if I were a gopher, or a bird, or a Yemeni Muslim cleric, or the mother of a 15 year old American Islamist on foreign soil, I might “feel” differently toward my cats and/or Barack Obama. But then again maybe not. Maybe it’s in the nature of sociopathic serial killers to be able to foster a kind of palatable affability. Isn’t that how they continue to be able to operate in a world filled with other feeling beings? Like a Klingon cloaking device, sociopaths fly in under the radar with charm and intelligence and cute fuzzy faces. Isn’t that the premise of the character Dexter? Isn’t that just how it is?
Maybe I’m a little late to the party. Maybe at the age of 47 I’m finally unfurling one more layer of willful naivete. Truth is, I still like my cats, and I still feel that warm fuzzy feeling, whatever you can call it, when I look at pictures of our president. The only difference now is, I suspect that that feeling is really beside the point.