Nine days ago I didn’t even know there was a Ferguson, Missouri. Not knowing that, I certainly didn’t know that it is a suburb of St. Louis. Come to think of it, there are a lot of things I don’t know, and I have plenty of company.
I am pretty certain that a police officer shot and killed an apparently unarmed man there. I know that there have been peaceful protests, escalating into violence and looting of businesses after the sun goes down, in the neighborhood where the incident took place. This is all I knew nine days ago.
After nine days of non-stop 24 hour a day media coverage, sub-media coverage, and media-esque coverage, editorializing that passes for reporting, press releases, Presidential statements, autopsy reports, secondary autopsy reports, Missouri Governor statements, Gulf Shores, Alabama, police-chief open letters, Missouri State Trooper statements, third party statements that significant others said about what the officer involved may have said, videos surfacing that show the deceased robbing a store, videos surfacing that counter the narrative others involved have advanced, and hundreds of links on social media that take one to the most awful websites where everyone hates everyone else, has the correct answer to everything, knows the honest whole truth about every event that has happened, and has the cure for all the social ills in America, I have an admission: I know less now than I knew nine days ago.
What I was certain of knowing nine days ago is that if there was a Ferguson, Missouri, I didn’t know about it. Those days are forever behind me now that I know of the existence of Ferguson. Other than that, I know very little.
Do I have an opinion about Ferguson, Missouri, and the events that have transpired there? Yes. Is it worth sharing? No, because it has no value to me, and certainly none for you. Beyond saying that I regret that unfortunate events have occurred there, what can I possibly know about Ferguson, Missouri, other than what I have learned from the plethora of media on the scene, behind the scene, and thousands of miles from the scene, which apparently know about as much now as it did nine days ago, too, other than the name of the officer involved in the incident, which seems to be a legitimate fact.
Facts are being tossed about like penny candies from a Krewe of Confusion Mardi Gras float careening down Canal Street, steered by an inebriated driver. Every side has its facts, and the facts seem diametrically opposed. But facts don’t normally work that way. In this case, every fact has a counter fact, which means that every fact is a partial fact, not the whole truth. As Ben Franklin’s POOR RICHARD warned us long ago, “Half-a-truth is often a great lie.”
There are those who seem impatient for the truth, though. They would like it served up on a bed of half-cooked rice that swells in the stomach after it is eaten. Careful now, you don’t want as much of that rice as you think you do, else you desperately need a double-dose of Black Draught to purge your system of the poison that sets up inside you like mortar on concrete blocks. Sounds unpleasant, doesn’t it? I hope so.
There are media people reporting on Ferguson that hope this is the event that takes them to the next level of their career, likely a minor spot on a failing network, making exponentially less money than their predecessor’s predecessor’s recently ousted predecessor. I wonder why that would be a desirable thing.
Those activists from the national stage will use any event, any partial fact, or any false thing the smells like a fact to advance the cause of their activism. They are dependent on events like those of Ferguson to keep them relevant. I think some of them hope against hope that events like this will occur and occur frequently since events like these are the means of their livelihood. No advocacy group ever reached the point where they declared, “Our battle is won. Our cause is over. We are laying off all our staff and administrators, canceling our leases, returning recently received grants and donations, and disbanding.” I doubt one will ever see such a thing. Can you imagine Al Sharpton ever saying this? Wayne LaPierre? Any executive director of any organization?
I certainly know more about Ferguson than I ever wanted to know. What I know is not very pleasing. What I don’t know about the incident or the city could fill volumes. What I do know is that things are not always what they seem, and there are those on either side of the story advocating for their righteous cause, ignoring everything the fails to lend credence to the narrative they choose for their own purposes, whether those purposes are their idea of justice, retribution, or concealing the truth if the truth does not help.
The wise and ancient Sophocles, ever on his search for an honest man warned us, “How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there’s no help in the truth.” That is just as true now as it was when he said it. Truth has a admirable tenacity about it. It will stick around when it serves you; it will also stick around when it doesn’t.
More than a grain of salt is necessary in times like these…perhaps a large box of old-fashioned ice-cream salt, coarse grained and gritty. It’s not nearly so palatable, but it certainly does lower the temperature of the ice, causing the air-whipped cream to freeze. It will do this every time, regardless of one’s opinion about it. It is a fact, unlike the reporting in what passes for news these days, where facts are as ephemeral as the mood of protesters as the sun sets on hot August nights. They are rather flighty, bendable, and as pliable as plumber’s putty set on a sizzling asphalt parking lot where they can be shaped and molded into something that appears to be something other than it is. Facts are not truth. While they may be true in and of themselves, in determined, selective hands they are assets to be used in any manner their possessor sees as profitable.
Ferguson has given us some diversion from other troubles, though. The media, ever desiring to furnish us what they think we want at any cost have pretty much stopped reporting about Honduran children crossing our borders, persecution of Christians and others in Iraq and Syria, mid-term elections, Presidential foreign policy, Israel and Gaza, Russia and Ukraine, global warming, and Ebola in Western Africa.
Being hurricane season, forecasters have noted a troublesome tropical wave that rolled off the same Western Africa that nurtures Ebola at about the same time of the events in Ferguson. The wave is enveloped in weather patterns that render forecasts for entry in the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 2 or 3 storm, steered by the jet stream for the Louisiana and Mississippi coast. That is all we need to make Ferguson disappear…a major natural disaster causing widespread damage. We might get one on this 45th year after Hurricane Camille. Then, the news will flee to greener pastures, turning to the death, destruction, and misery of millions of affected persons, followed up by experts who point out that climate change computer models had indicated just such a disaster. The stories of injustices in Ferguson will be dropped for 24/7 news coverage where we, hoping to learn something new, will once again hear the same breaking news we have heard for the last 24 hours, with ever-newer experts, with expertly rendered coiffures and make-up applied faces, explaining to us for the third and fourth times what has been previously explained by others, as if explaining it again makes it truer than it was the first time, since repetition is the substitute for truth, for if one repeats a thing enough it becomes truth at the expense of truth. The real truth is traded much too cheaply, overlooked like a stinking mud-shoal oyster, a misshapen Quasimodo with his hunchback, containing a pearl of great price: the cause for its unsavory ugliness is the thing most desired by all, and the very thing that made it forgettable. And Ferguson, when the cameras stop rolling, will be just as forgettable as the Quasimodo oyster, as with no audience it is abandoned by its champions and returns to what it was before: maybe better, maybe not; that would depend on whom one talks to.
Apparently, I do know quite a bit about Ferguson, Missouri, after all. Ferguson is human nature at work. I am always surprised when we are surprised by our own nature, as if, by some magic of modern media, or diplomas, or diversity, or newly minted sensitivity, our human nature has changed: that we are evolving to a higher, better nature: and through the gifts, benevolence, and endless programs of government, we will soon have a stopping point where we can say that human nature has forever been translated into the god-like status we humans have always coveted, conversely the very thing that reveals our real nature, which, fooling ourselves, we like to deny. Humans are not pretty; take out the “r” and you have that most harmless human, the one who is merely petty.
Ferguson is not mankind gone bad. Ferguson is us as we are, but naked, every covering removed revealing more of the core of our godless selves. Ferguson reveals the trust and confidence we have in each other, since in our heart of hearts we know each other, because at the most basic level of human existence, everyone in Ferguson is a lot like us: flawed, fallible, and foundering on our own excesses, much like a beautiful stallion loose in the corn bin, eating until he causes his own demise.
The much less comely mule knows better. Who then would trade the poetic beauty and fleeting hooves of a horse for the much more recalcitrant, braying jackass? Only a few prefer the mule, the same ones, perhaps, who would notice the hunchbacked oyster, the one with the nacre-covered irritation that became the big pearl.
There is such a pearl in Ferguson. There are likely several. Someone will find them, but they will be in the muck, mire, and stink, not in the air-conditioned comfort of hotel suites occupied by those informing me about Ferguson, who know at least a thousand percent more about than I do. I know nothing. If you take my number I served up to you as a given fact, you can do the math and determine for yourselves what those telling us about Ferguson are likely to know, too.
Pearls don’t cry out. They are as silent as the oyster that created them, but formed in the oyster’s rebellion against that which irritated it. I have been told that pigs don’t care much for pearls. Perhaps the pearl’s finders will wisely choose not to display them where they will not be appreciated, but let their simple beauty work its own magic on those who noticed them in the midst of the mud and having retrieving them with great effort, are fortunate enough to hold them in their hands.
©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp