Juxtapositions by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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I used to think that we lived in a world of juxtapositions: two things seen or placed together to facilitate a comparison or contrasting effect. Like nuns walking along the beach: the structure of religious order compared to the freedom of a walking barefoot along the ocean’s edge. But in light of recent events, I’m amending my weltgeist slightly: now I’m inclined to believe we’re living in a world of contradictions—you know, inconsistent elements, statements, or ideas that are diametrically opposed to one another like good and evil; right and left; day and night.

There has been a lot of talk lately about “fake news” and “alternative facts.” There was a time—and not all that long ago, mind you—when news was news and facts were facts and these twin “realities” informed our view of the world. But these days, it seems to me that we create our news and our facts to conform to what we want to believe or how we wish to view the world, not the other way around. As a result, everything seems jumbled. Truth—wherever that elusive beast is hiding—seems increasingly impossible to discern. Who’s to blame: the media? The politicians and their spin doctors? Maybe Cassius hit the nail on the head when he said, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” In other words, it’s not fate (or fake news or alternative facts) that drive our decisions and actions, it’s us…it’s in our DNA, it’s just the human condition.

It’s easy to play the blame game but it’s a lot harder if we’re the ones to blame. We so desperately want to believe in easy truths that we create them out of paper mache instead of stone. But like it or not, truth is made of sterner stuff. Climate change is real. White supremacy is wrong. Gun control is possible. Diplomacy can be effective. In today’s skewed world, these notions aren’t just juxtapositions; they aren’t nuns walking on the beach. They’re contradictions, pure and simple.

I would like to think that our current Grand Canyon of political divide can be bridged and that we can somehow find our way back home to at least a modicum of common ground. But drip by drip, I’m turning into a skeptic. Maybe we’re in too deep. Maybe we’ve suspended judgment about anything and everything that’s controversial and dug ourselves into dogmatic foxholes, ready to shoot at whatever moves out there across no-man’s land. In a less-than-presidential tweet, “Sad!”

I feel as though I owe you all an apology. Usually, I try to keep things light, but sometimes it feels like I have fallen into one of psychologist Harry Harlow’s pits of despair. (Back in the 1970s, Harlow used a stainless steel chamber to study clinical depression in baby monkeys by depriving them of all contact with other monkeys for long periods of time. His methodology was eventually debunked as being overly cruel, but Harlow’s studies of isolationism indeed seemed to prove that it resulted in profound states of dysfunction and despair.) Thankfully, unlike one of Harlow’s poor monkeys, I am, by nature, an optimist, and I believe I have the ability and resolve to climb out of his isolationist experiment. In fact, I believe we all do. We could start by moving from contradictions back to juxtapositions. Baby steps.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Deirdre LaMotte says:

    It is all so exhausting. A total disregard for the power of manners, diplomacy, facts — as in this is real! — and empathy. All of these have been chucked out the window. And our reality/celebrity adoring nation focuses in on this like a new Fox show. Add to this a country so gerrymandered that we now live in a “non-majoritarian democracy.” This system distorts the preferences of voters and totally over represents rural/small state. Remember, the majority of US citizens did not vote for he who I can’t stand.
    Stay focused and involved.

  2. Your indirect reference to “Love at Goon Park,” Deborah Blum’s 2002 book about Harry Harlow’s monkey studies is appreciated. Harlow’s cruel research approaches were designed to help him understand the isolation of depression. An important and optimistic post-script is that Harry Harlow’s concern for the suffering he caused his monkeys resulted in him inadvertently determining Group Psychotherapy as a best practice treatment approach for trauma and depression!

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