Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

A fable about inequality, gender, race, SJWs, poltics, and social trust in America.  §

It’s 30-something degress outside. A late middle-aged white guy walks by the side of the road on a hill, obviously under-dressed for the weather. From what he does happen to be wearing, it’s clear that he’s a working class man in a working class job, and it’s rush hour, so he’s probably recently done with work for the day. He’s carrying a gas can, walking in the opposite direction from the nearest gas station, which is about two miles away.

One could reasonably suppose a few things.

  • He’s probably been saving gas to try to count pennies. He works full time, maybe two hard jobs, but he’s not really keeping his head above water. He cut things too close and ran out of gas. He’s already walked all the way to the gas station in the cold, bought a can full of gas, and is now walking back to his car, which is presumably somewhere within a one to two mile radius.

  • He’s probably freezing cold, especially as he’s low on energy after a hard day’s work and hasn’t had a chance to eat anything in hours.

  • He’s probably divorced, cut off from his kids, and has nobody else in the world to help him. He’s on his own to make trips like this; there is no one to call, no assistance to be had. Maybe alimony is contributing to his terrible financial state, even working as much as he does.

  • Calling an Uber is probably beyond his financial, as well as possibly technological and educational means.

  • He likely has many more years of this to look forward to, alone.

Car after car after car passes him buy as he plods along, arms folded tight. Nobody stops. Nobody even slows. Of course, one can make guesses about what the people in these cars are thinking as well.

  • He’s a stranger. He’s possibly dangerous. Best not to pick up strangers, they could kill you or rape you.

  • He’s a man. If he’s all alone at his age, that almost certainly means he’s a wife beater. Or worse.

  • He’s white. White people—white men in particular—don’t need any help. They’ve had thousands of years of privilege. There are lots of other people who need help, but he’s not one of them.

  • Might be good to help, but there are other, more important, more urgent things to do.

  • Surely somebody else will help. Anyway, four or five miles round-trip isn’t that far to walk in the cold, especially for a man. Especially for a privileged white man.

  • He looks like he works at a dirty job. No need to get the car dirty. Probably he uses coarse language or says embarrassing things that are difficult to respond to.

Back to the man. Am I just making up some sort of sob story or edge case to make some misguided political point?

No, I met him today. He said my sixteen-year-old car was really nice. He was embarrassed to be in it. He was embarrassingly deferential. His round trip would have been about six miles. He was about four miles through it. After working two shifts and not eating. In thirty-degree weather. To get one gallon of gas to his beaten up old car, standing lonely on the parking lot after everyone else has gone home without helping him out. Definitely his ex-wife wouldn’t help him out. She’d just laugh. His kids haven’t talked to him since the divorce, decades ago. They all live in the area, but he wouldn’t even bother to call them, they wouldn’t come.

I can anticipate from any potential audience here some indignation about the second set of points:

  • Cry me a river. As soon as he talks to his men friends and tells them to stop abusing women, maybe it’ll be safe to think about helping out. Until then, I presume that every man is violent.

  • Cry me a river. He’s white and he’s a man. White men have had patriarchal and racial privilege for thousands of years. It’s time he got some of his own. He doesn’t deserve a damned thing from me.

  • Cry me a river. He’s probably a Trump supporter. Let him get his “klan brothers” to help out.

  • Cry me a river. He’s probably a union member. Let him get his “union brothers” to help out.

  • Cry me a river. I work hard, too. Anyway, he should have worn a coat and been more careful with his gas. Personal responsibility, you know?

  • I have better things to do. I get that life is hard, but some of us have places to be and people that rely on us. Sorry he doesn’t, but that’s life.

  • Man, if it was a lady I’d stop, especially if she was good-looking. But stop for a man? Sorry, bro, no can do.

  • Man walking on the side of the road? I didn’t see one. When I drive, I don’t notice things on the road.

  • Too bad. I just hope my own son doesn’t grow up to be like him.

  • Wait, why didn’t he just put gas in his car? Anyway, why doesn’t he just call an Uber now?

I didn’t actually meet any of the dozens of cars that passed him by. I’m just putting thoughts in their drivers’ heads. Call it a thought exercise. I’m not even saying that any of the thoughts are wrong, necessarily. Each of them can probably be passionately and cogently justified.

But lot of people in America are destined for this life. Most young white males born outside of affluent circles know that it’s their only likely destiny. They may already be living it. And many others are besides.

He was shocked that anyone did actually stop to ask if he needed a lift, much less give him one for that last two miles back to his car. He didn’t know what to make of it. He honestly didn’t.

It took all of five extra minutes.

Sadly, as an ex-social scientist who continues to keenly observe society, I wasn’t shocked. It’s where we are.

Yes, yes, structural this, that, and the other. But people don’t live “structural” day-to-day. They live their individual, small details lives. And then they vote on them—if they’re even able to vote at all. I don’t know anything about this guy’s personal history or political inclinations.

The fact that most people would say that both are critically important before deciding to help someone out—especially this “sort” of someone—is where we are, how we got where we are, and where we’re going with even more determination than ever before.

There’s a lot of stuff in our “big picture” right now, but a lot of it is evoked, from many directions, in this particular scene.