Monday, 17 March 2014

Suffer Little Children

"I've seen the future, brother, it is murder." - Leonard Cohen, "The Future".

Since we're stuck on the subject of madness, it's no surprise we're going to need to dig around the insanity brought upon society by the existence of children.

Adults tend to hate children.  They're just so young, with so much life left in them, and they don't even have the decency to realise that.  Youth is not wasted on the young, it's actively maliciously misused.  You can love your own children - thank Mother Nature for the chemical processes put in place to promote that - but everyone else's are screaming beacons of everything you've left behind. Try spending three days without water and watching a man piss into a fire, and you'll perhaps be a tenth of the way to understanding what children do to all but the most stable adults (and stable adult is a fiction as unlikely and cruel as any fiction we can assemble about our progeny).

So we do the only thing we can do; we consider things only in the abstract. Think of the children.  Not the actual children, but the ridiculous spectre of our own past we lie into being and plaster onto the faces of every child we see.  Nothing makes thinking of the children harder than thinking of an actual child, which is why we almost never do it.

This profound and necessary chasm between us and our children causes all sorts of problems.  Our obsession with a child's "innocence" is one.  There are two relevant definitions of the word - not guilty, and not aware - and the problem falls in the gap in between the two. It's a natural enough thing to do, I suppose, to start viewing the innocence of children as being dependent on them being kept safe from experiencing crimes.  As if this were possible.  99.99% of children will never know any crime so damaging as those their parents accidentally perform against them. Cohle, our textbook lunatic for these eight entries, knew this all too well, hence his relief that his daughter died before he had the chance to sin the way every parent sins. But of course his child is gone; he has that luxury.  What option do the rest of us have but to keep going, and to lie about the direction we're going in?

The fact that adults lie about this, and about everything, can lead one to view childhood as a time of simplistic honesty.  This is obvious nonsense.  The greatest spinners of propaganda, the very epitome of Orwell's cold nightmares, could never lie so much as a child - there simply isn't the time.  The difference between adults and children is not that children lie less often, it's that they lie because they enjoy it.  We lie because we would immediately grind to a halt if we didn't, like a pocket-watch flooded with sand.  A child can pretend she has an invisible friend who must have her own seat at the table because having an invisible friend is cool and makes you special.  We pretend our spouse hasn't started working late every night because they're sleeping with a younger more fully-proportioned legal clerk.  We pretend we can love two women when we're driving one to misery and breaking into the other's house when they decide they don't want to fuck a married man anymore.

The greatest advantage children have is this: when you lie purely for the fun of it, you get good at detecting when someone is lying for more desperate reasons.  We find this much harder, of course, because if we can too easily recognise each other's forays into excuse-making and track-covering, we might start to pick apart our own, and we would be lost.  Lie detection is a game for the children, the miserable, and the mad.

Every madman was a child at some point.  The killer of Dora Kelly Lange was once a child.  The copycat killer seventeen years later was once a child.  But when?  Did they paint that mural in the church that burned down?  Did they see a horrible monster of green spaghetti that turned and chased them through the woods?  Did they begin to draw pictures in their notebook of couples copulating? At what point do the lies of enjoyment give way to something else? What is madness but a series of lies told about the world that don't correspond well enough with the lies everyone else tells about the world?

It is by no means clear that Marty's daughter has been in any meaningful sense hurt by what she has learned, and what she has felt compelled to draw (when did so many of us give up drawing? Did our imaginations just become too swamped by generating the fictions we need to stumble out of our beds?).  But the terror remains for her parents.  Perhaps the greatest fear for any parent - other than death, injury or disease - is that as their child grows up they will choose for themselves the wrong lies.  That they will choose a woman, dead and in antlers, resting as if praying in a burned field.

But it's too late, of course.  Someone has already chosen the field, and someone else is about to.  The critical question is merely whether Martin Hart can break out of his own lies for long enough to pin down somebody else's.  Whether he can actively shape the future, rather than just throwing it together mistake by mistake.

To give himself, and all of us, the chance to tell ourselves one less lie.

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