Thursday, August 9, 2012

Nobody's Innocent

Have you ever heard that phrase, like from a super-villain in a movie, "Nobody's innocent"? It's usually the sort of thing that the villain says right before doing something really horrible to a lot of people, and the distressed protagonist points out that he'll be harming a lot of people who have never done anything to him.

"Nobody's innocent."

As a digression, it's interesting to note that Christians believe, on a theological level, anyway, that that statement is true: Nobody is innocent. Man is born in sin. This is widely not seen as an excuse to treat people badly, of course.

There's another phrase, however, that's actually worse, and I've heard it expressed, not in so many words but veiled in angry tirades and teary pseudo-confessions and even coldly logical-sounding (but always wildly illogical) lectures:

"Nobody's innocent except me."

This is an inversion of, I think, an ordinary person. Most people are very harsh on themselves. They wouldn't stand for people talking about their friends the way they think about themselves. Sure, they sin, and in sinning, look for ways to justify it, but that itself only feeds into their own debased notions of themselves.

But the person who walks around thinking "Nobody's innocent except me" is a horror to be around. Literally without compunction, the only restraint on their actions are physical limitations, law enforcement and fear.

My sister is like this. I actually have a six-page (both sides) closely handwritten letter from her that contains the phrase, "I don't blame you for being born but...". It then goes on to detail how I am responsible for all the terrible things in her life.

My mother and father are also both 100% responsible for all the terrible things in her life, too. That's 300% responsibility altogether, that I know of, and none of it belonging to her.

Fortunately for me, she's very bad at this; It's so over-the-top, it's absurd. Generally, people who operate on this principle are much subtler. Confusion, provocation, repeated until someone strikes back usually mildly, and then it's "How could you!" My sister's version of this was—I'm not making this up—to provoke people into physically hitting her.

It's a weird dynamic.

You can spot it by the person who (almost happily) recounts all the sins committed against him while having a complete ignorance of having done any wrong doing. And much like our "virtual traitors" the dead giveaway is a complete inability to receive communication.

I've caught my sister in numerous fabrications, where I can demonstrate factually that what she says could not possibly be true. She "concedes" (because she's not quite insane) but it never sticks or deters her from fabricating future truths.

I've been able to find other people out the same way. It's not that they disagree. It's not that they're not listening, it's that they can't.


  1. Wow, blake. It makes me glad I don't have a sister. But I did beget a brother and sister and they go at each like that sometimes--she (the younger) more so. I think age (sibling order) is also a factor.

  2. Heh. You stumbled on one of my pet peeves: I'm not talking sibling rivalry here. I would've enjoyed that. (Nobody ever played a board game twice with my sister, because she cheated, by her own admission.)

    This is a person who, when she got mad, which was often, would storm into my room and try to destroy my most favored possession.

    For me it was a Buddhist kind of experience. "All life is suffering. Suffering comes from attachment to impermanent things." When I was an infant and she did it, my parents thought it was cute, I guess. Less so when she trashed the garage stealing my mother's car.

    My kids have sibling rivalry, somewhat muted because of the age differences.

    That's not at all what I'm talking about here.

  3. Also, this isn't really about my sister. She's just an example.

    My grandmother was the same way. Heh. Actually from all reports both of my grandmothers were this way, but one died before I was born so I never met her.

    But they're not the only people I've met like this by a long shot.

  4. "Nobody's innocent except me."

    There is a lot of this in my family as well, although it really manefests very differently in the different people involved.

    My grandmother once, at a family dinner claimed that she had never done anything wrong in her whole life. She was actually a fairly pleasant person to be around though. I think she was so sure of her own goodness that she didn't need to make anybody miserable trying to get them to agree.

    My dad, (her son) was the sort who never admitted he was wrong unless you backed him into a really obvious logical corner and then he would play it like the whole event was about making him feel bad. So a rapid shift from aggressive to passive-aggressive in a flash. So, maybe he wasn't quite so sure he was right. Either way, when you were with him you had two choices: Listen to an endless stream of claims (some debatable, some false and some of which were insultingly obvious) knowing that if you disagree with any, it will result in a long, nasty and pointless fight--not debate. Any arguement was in his mind an attack, I don't think the idea of detached intellectual debate is something he can conceive of.

    My sister tends to blame all of her problems on our parents. The thing is that they were not very good at being parents and when I visit with my sister, she likes to talk on this subject and there is a lot to talk about. What she never gets is that our parent's shortcommings as parents just made for an unpleasant childhood. They were not so bad that any normal person would consider themselves permanently damaged by their efforts. This lack of ability to find any personal fault in herself is to my view at least a contributing factor to why she is divorced and had to raise her kids as a single mom. As a single parent, she could not raise her kids even close to as well as we were raised. Her boys seem to be coming out fine now: Proof that even really crappy parenting doesn't have to result in lasting damage.

  5. dbp--

    Me and my oldest friend were in high school when we realized the difference between sloppy, benign neglectful parenting and the truly abusive kind that messes you up for life. All you have to do is meet a kid who's experienced the real thing to feel embarrassed about whining.

    If your sister's not screwing up her kids, I'd call that a happy ending. Not the case with my nieces, unfortunately. I'm expecting the older one to turn up pregnant in high school. I dn't even like to think about the younger one.

  6. I have the opposite policy. I say I am wrong all the time. Even when I know I am not. Because the fact that I know I am right is good enough for me.

    I don't care too much what other people think.

  7. Here's a truth about computer programmers: Productive ones get hundreds (or thousands) of messages coming from the computer every day telling them how they've screwed up. Being able to understand these messages is critical to being able to fix programs.

    But if you want to piss a programmer off? Tell him there's a problem with his code.


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