Reflections on cowardice in my 70th year
This is personal but I hope telling it will help me and, perhaps, a reader or two.
Ten years ago, when I sold all my vinyl and gave most of my books away, I told myself and others that I was ‘de-cluttering’ in preparation for the last call.
Today, I feel ready to attempt to cast off baggage far more difficult to be rid of – self-contempt.
For some time, I’ve referred to a mild form of autism underlying my political behaviour. I think on the positive side, it’s there, in the bloody-minded perseverance, sharp sense of injustice and over-the-top piling up of evidence.
I only started to think about this in my 40s when I’d been reading about autism and realised it made sense as an explanation of some of what I do and at times feel a bit embarrassed by. In particular, there’s the need to constantly work at eye-contact and the anxiety about physical proximity, other than with the one.
The most beneficial consequence of thinking this way, however, was when I realised it might let me off the hook of shame in my childhood.
All my days at school were filled with fear of bullying. Objectively, I may have experienced no more than many others did, but I punished myself constantly with it and, crucially, my inability to fight back. I saw that simply as cowardice. I feel sure that others did too. It’s possible that some who follow my political activity today remember me that way.
What a self-diagnosis as borderline autistic, especially in those days, did for me was to explain an experience I’d had of physical violence when, during the incident, I’d realised with surprise, that it was not the physical pain but the intimacy of the bully and his body, that horrified me.
Reading later that for some bullies the pleasure in violence against a weaker male is a form of socially permissible homo-eroticism, further re-assured me.
In early adulthood, a former bully sat beside me on a bus and apologised for what he had done. I lied that it was forgotten.