You Don’t Scare Us Anymore – Fiction
By Greg Burkholder
[Originally published in Time Magazine: July, 2049]
The recent terror attack on The Siempre Mismo Hospital, one of the largest federally assisted reconstructive centers in America, has garnered an outpouring of outrage and sympathy from both within America and without. As the tiny bombs went off and the flames licked the sky, a group of twenty Unmentionables ran through the hospital’s parking lot, screaming profanity through bullhorns. “We are u–y!” they screamed. “We are b—-ful,” they screamed. Their unclothed bodies glistened in the June sun and we tried not to look at them but there was nothing we could do but stare, because we are human after all. The police finally arrived after several minutes of this embarrassment and tucked them in the backseat of their cars. The images will linger forever in our minds, replaying over and over. People across America see the terrorists faces under their eyelids, un-reconstructed and naked, sweat running down their six pack abs and Apert eyes and Treacher Collins chins.
The world is sickened too. People in Germany demonstrated in the streets to show solidarity for the embarrassment we Americans went through. The Indian government set up a charitable donations fund to be dispersed to all those afflicted with night terrors of the unforgettable scene. Across Europe people staged candlelight vigils to honour the bravery of those that suffered that fateful day.
Who wouldn’t be deeply saddened and heartbroken, watching the lifeless bodies of swooning mothers, who have never seen an Unmentionable in person before, let alone nude? Who wouldn’t be angry hearing the timid cries of children asking their parents what the word u–ly means and what the word b–ty means? As those heart wrenching images flashed across news broadcasts worldwide for weeks afterwards, one could only wonder what purpose is there in such senseless conduct? What reason could drive someone to commit these heinous acts? I’ll tell you. It’s the fear mongering perpetrated by the ignorance loving, progress spurning simpletons on the fringe right who continue, even in the the year 2049, to spread backwards, backwoods hatred and misinformation about this country’s great reconstructive centres.
The attack on TSMH was a direct response to the bipartisan Kindness Act recently passed by the Senate. This bill finally made it mandatory for all those afflicted with “stand out” body features (hourglass hips, high cheekbones, Nager Syndrome, droopy eyes, six pack abs, no cheekbones, Apert’s Syndrome etc.) to seek reconstruction. This was after months of incessant public outcry against those ignorant, misguided Unmentionables who still clung to outmoded conceptions of themselves and refused to go through with the optional government funded reconstructive surgery. This reticence to change with the times, as you might expect, made the people around them deeply uncomfortable. Just the presence of an Unmentionable was enough to stir up riots wherever they went.
Now, thanks to the Kindness Act, it’s no longer an option for people to keep their sparkling blue eyes or the purple, throbbing birthmark on their face, and the final strands of shallow judgement culture will be extricated from this country. We will become the first true post-judgement society on Earth, where everyone will be measured by who they are, rather than what they look like.
What the backwards thinking conservatives fail to comprehend is that mandatory reconstruction for all Unmentionable people creates a scenario where everyone is on equal footing. They don’t care one iota about such equality. All they care about is belaboring the tiresome, antiquated idea that the body is part of who we are. These ignorant individuals are so radical they believe that not only minor facial flubs, like pouty lips or overbites should be celebrated, but that, wait for it…people with deeply unsettling faces, like in the cases of Treacher Collins Syndrome, don’t require plastic surgery either. Imagine! Imagine someone being proud of a craniofacial condition like that instead of trying to hide it under layers of reconstruction.
To anyone with a scrap of human decency in their hearts, it is unfathomable to think that someone wouldn’t care about being stared at, mocked, or talked down to because of their “stand out” features. This is where the right-wing wing dings exhibit their glaring lack of empathy for the people they are claiming to care about. Treacher Collins and facial clefts and sparkling blue eyes and six packs abs are deeply shameful. Imagine what it must feel like to be burdened with a face or body that makes you stand out instead of blending in! They don’t try to think about what it must be like for Unmentionables. Instead they try to cram their outmoded ideas of liberty and self-reliance onto people who just want to be accepted at all costs.
The faux moral outrage of the fringe right Pro-Diversity movement (What they are is Anti-Kindness, so that is what I will call them) towards the recent Kindness Act has been astronomical. They claim that it is an “Outrage!”, “A travesty!”, “This bill promotes shame!” they say and “Liberalism run amok!” they chant!
What nonsense. These claims gloss over what they truly think about those lesser among us who have been wrought with strange bodies, full red lips, hourglass hips, protruding noses and hearing aids and breathing tubes and starry eyes that dance in the light. They don’t care about these Unmentionable people like they claim. There are even segments of the Anti-Kindness movement that hide deeply misguided Unmentionables in their basements so they’ll avoid the repercussions of not complying with the Kindness Act. Hiding them isn’t some grand act, it simply shackles people in bonds of ignorance from the bliss they would experience in this burgeoning post-judgmental society. How is preventing someone from receiving urgent medical care for their faces, so they no longer feel the sting of strangers’ stares, kindness?! The fringe right isn’t kind. Isn’t empathetic. They have fought against every forward step in the march of empathy since the first small crests of the Wave of Empathy appeared in the 30’s. No, no, don’t be fooled by their words, probe deeper into their actions and their mindset and you’ll see that this is nothing but a movement of hatred against those who have had the misfortune to be born, I’m sorry to be so blunt, b–utiful or u–y.
The fundamental assertions of the fringe right Anti-Kindness propaganda machine rests on two equally faulty premises. Both of which can be knocked down by the skills of any remotely forward thinking elementary school student. If the people gurgling down the Anti-Kindness propaganda were to ponder for just a few seconds on the ramifications of the two main points their ideology rests on, they’d see the fundamental shakiness of the entire worldview and the resistance would crumble overnight.
Although most of you reading this have heard these philosophical arguments thoroughly debunked numerous times before by me and many others I will repeat them again for those who the message still hasn’t reached yet. I will, in the interest of adhering to this magazine’s draconian word count, and in deference to the time of those who have already experienced the full, wondrous bloom of enlightenment, attempt to cram the multi-tiered arguments into the span of a few paragraphs.
The first point repeated ad nauseam by the fringes of Anti-Kindness dreck, is that your body is part of who you are and neither the norms perpetrated by the culture in which you live, nor the government, should goad you into reconstructive surgery. This is patently untrue. Or, rather it is a deft manipulation of the American soul. The idea of personal liberty, espousing the rugged individualism of one’s self is a good way to get any true blooded American to listen to you. But it is a feint. It mischaracterizes what the nature of the hallowed self is by never fundamentally challenging what makes up the definition of ourselves. Its premise, the body as a part of the self, is an early century mindset that most self-respecting philosophers and scientists have long since moved past.
One does not identify with one’s arm hair. One does not identify with the mucus spurted out by one’s nose. What TV and magazines and movies had done for so long is to allocate certain parts of the human body that were ok to identify with while others were just soulless parts. It was ok to say my eyes are part of me but it was weird to say that your toenails were part of you. It was normal to brush your cheekbones with pretty mud and blush because your face was part of your identity, but the soles of your feet were second class citizens, unworthy of makeup or blush or even toe liner! What our ideology does is strip away these meaningless contradictions by proclaiming that your cheekbones, your six packs, your dimples are no more a part of you than your nose hair.
When this idea is fully internalized, suddenly the world opens before you and it becomes your soul, your mind, that is the true marker of who you are. To suggest that anything besides your personality has anything to do with your identity is unbelievably erroneous and undermines Homo Sapiens greatest asset, our minds, and leaves us prey to the old restrictions of bodily judgment. By acknowledging the power of the brain above all else, it enables human beings to fully unlock their potential beyond the constraints of this mortal coil.
The second point the Anti-Kindness movement likes to trot out is that human beings should be self-reliant and not sell their souls/ facial features for the empty satisfaction of “acceptance”. They believe, with the tunnel vision of a mentally unbalanced child, that it is up to people to accept themselves and that no amount of skin grafts or bone implants will change anything, that these procedures are (ironically), just a Band-Aid over the deeper issue of persistent shame. Only once the profound shame in that runs rampant through micro-communities of Unmentionables is eradicated can they expect the world to accept them.
In my graciousness, I have presented their logic better than they ever have, yet still it holds no water. It is the intellectual equivalent of a shot glass filled with hot air. Let me explain why.
Humans beings are naturally inclined to judge others based on their appearance. It is simply in our genes. It is a leftover instinct from when we were prowling the forests trying to avoid tigers and trying to find a suitable reproductive mate to keep the thin sliver of humanity afloat. Our minds, through no fault of our own, naturally incline towards judging people based on these old procreative urges. We exalt those most apt to procreate and demonize those who aren’t. This has led us to exalt those who match our cultural standards of positive procreation and to mock and stare at those with radical faces not conducive to the evolution of our species.
The Anti-Kindness movement conveniently dismisses all the science and philosophy that bolsters our worldview, in favor of poorly rationalized, turn of the century perceptions of the world. What we aim to do in the Empathy movement is to recognize these ancient attitudes of judgement in ourselves and eradicate them, not through the mystical, pseudo-scientific nonsense of inner change that the Anti-Kinders out, but by knowing that judgement is an inescapable flaw of humanity. Our minds have progressed faster than the old instincts still rattling around in our skulls.
Therefore, mandatory reconstruction is so integral to our cause. It levels the playing field by taking away all avenues of shallow and external judgment that humans are so prone to. We want to be equal to you. Not above you. Nor below. The Anti-Kindness people revel in inequality. They lavish mocking those unfortunate to be born with high cheekbones or craniofacial disorders. They can’t stand the fact that soon they will no longer be able to feel superior to a certain portion of society and frankly it is sickening.
The deepest danger of all this blatant ignorance is when it filters down to the children. I grew up in a time where there was limited access to reconstructive operations. I was born with features that made me stand out: squinty male model eyes, a square jawline & dimples, and muscular biceps. This made me the center of unwanted attention whenever I went. I know the pain, the agony, of growing up in a time where people constantly called me “b—-ful”, “h—-ome” and other demeaning and belittling body quality adjectives.
My best friend was shackled with the horrible plight of Apert’s syndrome. People constantly strove to drive us apart simply because our faces were on far opposite ends of an imaginary scale of procreative attractiveness. The pain we had to go through due to unacknowledged ancient instincts of was staggering. It is this world that the fringe right wants to thrust on our kids again. They pound this nonsense into their children’s heads at an early age. They brainwash them into accepting themselves for who they are, instead of putting the needs and growth of society first. I can’t think of anything quite so selfish.
There have even been cases where parents, burdened with an Unmentionable child, describe the child with slur words, like c-t-, p—ty and refuse to take them in for reconstruction. Imagine the horror, the life of abject loneliness they are subjecting their kids to because of their own ignorance.
Therefore, we fight.
We have been fighting against this type of ignorance ever since the inception of this movement so this latest attack does not deter us in the least. Sure, it was horrifying to witness, and the idea that there is this level of ignorance and hate still alive in the world is unsettling, but we know that since their logic is flimsy they must resort to scare tactics to achieve their aims.
Ever since the passage of the Kindness Act there has been a reigniting of the old tensions between the Empathetic majority and the hateful right. An influx of incidents had sprung up in the months afterwards, culminating in last night’s nude bombing. But we’ve seen this all before. We know how this will end. You are the last gasps of a dying breed. We aren’t scared of you. You cannot judge us for the size of our hips or our cheekbones anymore. You cannot fearmonger with bombs or empty facts. Throughout history you have tried and tried and failed and failed.
In the early 30’s, the initial Wave of Empathy began with protests sprouting up across American campuses. We were sick of the lack of kindness in both domestic and foreign policy that led to the worsening relations with not only the world’s only superpower, China, but to other global powers like Russia and United Korea. We were sick of the outright mean internal policies rumbling along unopposed since the dark days of the mid-teens.
We wanted revolution. And we were going to get it. The mainstream media disavowed us. They labelled us as nothing but a re-emerging hipster brigade and the corporate right wing elites laughed us off like we weren’t a threat to their power. We were demonized by everyone and everything, yet still this did not stop us. Our passion was too strong. Our chants of “Everyone has the right to feel normal!” “Equality is a human right!” surged from our throats until our faces were red and our souls rattled in our ribcages.
Well, all it took was a few short years. By the mid-to-late thirties public opinion had tilted in the way of kindness. Our movement had even garnered a name: The Wave of Empathy. A veritable wave of love and non-judgment spread through the hearts of every American. People, all over the country, typing in the top floors of skyscrapers, scrubbing down meat growing labs, cradling babies in their arms, realized that they too were sick of the falsified divisions between us. This outcry of kindness was so large, that due to public pressure, the government passed the landmark War on Judgement Bill in 2036. This bill would subsidize reconstructive surgery for all those who felt like they were being harmfully judged by our unchangeable evolutionary instincts.
The right wing…. oh, how the right wing roared then, feeling their precious way of thinking being consigned to the trash heap of history. They harped on about how it was a waste of taxpayer money to fix everybody’s insecurities, but they were really dog whistling an unbridled hatred of Unmentionables and deep-seated fear of the changing world. I’m sure most of you remember the Johnson Fires, in which a lone madman stole a bunch of surgical equipment from one of the reconstructive centers and lit a pyre in the middle of a Manhattan square. There were innumerable violent, hateful demonstrations like this across America, and the year ‘38 would become synonymous with chaos. We still fought on.
We were winning too. By the early 40’s approval ratings for the Empathy movement were at an all-time high of 70% and the scene was set for perhaps the greatest philosophical upheaval in the consciousness of America.
The subsidization of plastic surgery had let people with weirdly shaped eyes, large thighs, nubs for ears, mangled ears easily obtain reconstructive surgery. It is a natural impulse to want to rid yourself of these unique identifiers, of course, but this created a situation where those with big, sparkling eyes, bulging biceps, high cheekbones, pouty lips lorded themselves over the huddled masses. Suddenly there was a swath of normal looking proletarians and above them these sparkly eyed people who considered themselves damn near deities. Normal people began to recognize these people were just as in need in reconstruction as the poor Unmentionables on the lower side of the attractiveness scale, and they began to despise them, telling them that they too should come nearer to everyone else’s level. After all that was what the empathic movement was all about, right? Celebrities who championed the liberal open-hearted cause of subsidized reconstructive surgery balked when they themselves were urged to take action and join the multitudes in equality. People clamored for the subsidized surgeries to become mandatory for all Unmentionable people.
The backwoods rednecks who opposed even slight acts of kindness like the reconstructive subsidies were incensed by the level of empathy being shown by the country and oozed out of the bushes in droves to stage protests and rallies against this “unwanted government intervention.” They yelled “yeehaw” and “freedom” while they drove through the streets in their trucks, shooting off guns, threatening poor, pathetic Unmentionables. They raised all kinds of ruckus and tried to send the country into another tailspin of riots and violence like in ‘38.
But by now most of the country is attuned to their ignorance and their scare tactics. Terror attacks related to the Empathy movement are at an all-time low. Even including the recent spree of Kindness Act chaos, this year is still on track to have the lowest number of incidents since before the movement even began.
So, those in the Anti-Kindness movement please listen. Enough is enough. The country just wishes you would stop. You aren’t helping anybody. Your cause is dead. Stop the violence. Stop the hatred. There is no reason for all this senseless violence anymore.
Please just accept us.
Dr. Burkholder was a student protester during the 30’s Wave of Empathy. He founded Sacramento’s Association for Mitigating Embarrassment and later served on the Senate’s Unmentionable Oversight Committee. His bestselling book “Unmentionable: The Death of Ugly and Beautiful” was a landmark in American philosophy and effectively struck all adjectives pertaining to the quality of the human body from the English lexicon.
Greg has Treacher Collins Syndrome. It’s awesome. The pity filled narrative around facial disorders is strange and disheartening to him. He has checked out of society for awhile, living on a farm in northern Maine to focus on writing a novel that aims to, if his meager amount of brainpower will cooperate, dispel the entire narrative of shame that surrounds people like him.
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Sami Holden earned an MFA in Screenwriting from UC-Riverside at Palm Desert and is the founder of The Tiny Tim Literary Review. Previously she was a dating advice columnist for The Good Men Project’s column – Dating in the Digital Age with Sami Holden as well as the press and social media editor for The Coachella Review. She wrote a blog for a number of years called Chronicles of Cheerful Clotter for HemAware Magazine, where she detailed her life with chronic health conditions. Sami is also an associate producer and press manager for the documentary Invisible: The Film, which focuses on individuals living with chronic pain and invisible illness. She has served on the Board of Directors for the National Hemophilia Foundation, spent time as a Senatorial intern, and was Miss Wisconsin for the ANTSO program. In addition, she has had articles published in Chronicality, Elephant Journal, The Glow (Australia), I.G. Living Magazine, The Manifest-Station, The Mighty, National Pain Report, Ravishly, and YourTango. Her interests include ukuleles and sloths. Find her @SamiDan19.