Jul 20, 2023

That's the title of a terrific Frank Zappa song. I prefer the 1988 version, because it has Scott Thunes's great bass playing on it.

Torture takes many forms. The kind that causes me the most pain is the refusal of people to change their behavior despite the damage it causes themselves and those around them.

The way my father died taught me that people will refuse to change even at the cost of their own lives. We're not talking massive, hideously arduous changes. I mean any change whatsoever is not allowed, because notions have become identity. To change is to cease to exist.

Yet as the refusal begins to take the life in question, the response from the refuser is terror, anger, misery, pain, and sorrow. The refusal causes suffering in both the refuser and those forced to witness the demise. And that's where the torture comes in. Alleviation is right there within reach. It's available. All that suffering can be wiped away.

It never is. The torture never stops.

So the witnesses must either suffer along with the refusers, or we must--as a matter of survival--cut our emotional ties. That's not really possible. You can only blunt the pain of being forced to witness needless suffering. It still takes its toll. The pain is especially acute when you knew the refuser as a baby. You think back to the innocence, the promise, and the joy. When all of that is gone and what's left is purely destructive on all levels, the pain is almost enough to drive you out of your mind.

But the refusers make their decisions, and the witnesses watch, wait, clean up, mourn, and move on. What was gained by refusing?

Nothing whatsoever.

What was lost?


The witnesses observe the agony of the refusers, but there's nothing the witnesses can do. There is no reaching most people. The percentage of those willing to change is in the single digits. As tragic as it is, it's reality. So to survive, witnesses must insulate ourselves as best we can from the self-inflicted carnage we see. We must do our best to keep it from destroying us. Suffering destroys both the sufferer and the witnesses of the suffering. Witnesses have only two options: suffer along with the refusers, or refuse.

The bitter irony is that the refusers think we're cold, uncaring, and unmoved. It's exactly the opposite. We feel the refusers' suffering more acutely than they do themselves. To the refuser, none of it is real. That's why they refuse to change. They think they'll live forever, on their own terms. Life is but a dream! But witnesses understand that what's happening is utterly real, it's for keeps, and there's no saving the refuser. We're just not willing to let the refusers take us with them. We're under no obligation to commit suttee. It doesn't mean we're cold, uncaring, and unmoved.

It means we embrace life. We honor beauty. We aspire. And we will continue to improve.

I'm sorry, refusers. I truly am. But I believe in free will. Make your choices and then live and die with them. I won't let you kill me too, especially since your only requirement is to stop. That's all. Just stop it. You won't cease to exist. In fact, your quality of life will improve dramatically. Someday, you may even achieve happiness. Yet you'll go on refusing until you end up in the grave. You always do. I've never known a single refuser who changed. Not one.

Because I'm grateful for the gift of life, I won't take your death-trip with you. I'll watch, and I'll do what I can to help. After you're gone I'll remember you with sadness and regret at the waste, the suffering that meant nothing, and the pointlessness of your tilting at arbitrary windmills even as you understood the whole time that you were wrong. What, exactly, are we the witnesses supposed to do when you refusers tell us that you don't want to stand, sit, kneel, or lie down? We can't levitate you. You know that. You know it full well.

There's a word for your refusals and your demands that we join you in your self-imposed suffering: evil.

I won't be a party to evil.

And now, a little Stephen Jay as an antidote.