So, after 13 years of this, I've gotten to learn that my son, His Teen-ness, has some fascinating ideas. He also has a penchant for stopping me in that constant forward motion of multi-tasking that moms of a certain age seem more addicted to than overpriced lattes, so he can tell me all about them. There I am, trying to squeeze the grocery list on the back of an old PEPCO bill or filling in the microscopic boxes on a health claim or sorting through a mountain of old catalogs for recycling without throwing out a check, and I hear, "So, Mom...." This is when he prefers to lay his knowledge on me. Not during some quiet moment around the table, but when I am busy, when he has to wrestle my attention to him and what he wants to say. Sometimes he has to take the pen right out of my hand or whisk the computer mouse into his pocket. "You have to listen right now," he says at times like these. Open person that I am, I cross my arms over my chest, scowl, and assume that look that says, "This better be good, Teen-ness."
Last night, at bat was the small matter of the Holocaust, Pol Pot, Rwanda, and man's cruelty to man. Although, I had been sure that my son had been spending the last couple of hours surfing You Tube for blooper videos, no, he had been solving humanity's most gruesome riddle -- Why do we exclude one group from another, and then systematically annihilate them? And now he stood before me, ready to Explain It All To Me. Naturally, I was skeptical.
"So, you know how I've been asking all those questions lately about the Holocaust and then I read online about the Tutsis and the Hutus, and then there were all those pictures of skulls that I drew for awhile?" I nodded, remembering the last two months of morning drive conversation, during which he questioned me on everything from the nature of SS guards to why Belfast needed peace walls.
"Okay, so I figured it out. It's about competition," he explains. I start to get this funny feeling that this is going to a place none of my college anthropology classes ever got. "See, people are naturally wired to compete for things -- money, a better house, ladies." He scowls a bit at that last one. "If you are competing, you have be really clear on who you are competing against, so you make groups. Like, I mean, you can't play a basketball game if you don't know who the other team is, right?" I nod, and he continues. "Maybe somebody looks a little different or their hair is weird or they don't talk so good, and the bully in the group -- there's always a bully, right? -- convinces everyone that this person or those people are the other people. The bad group, right?"
By about now, I am certain that every insipid "the world can be a cruel place" explanation I ever gave him is about to seem about as useful as a wet paper towel in a hurricane compared to what he is about to say.
"So, the one powerful group kills the weaker group to make sure they get all the good stuff, and then evolution kicks in. You know, that Darwin, natural selection thing? All the powerful people get to have all their babies that survive, and then hating the "other people" gets into more and more people's genes, and hating weaker people gets all, like, inside us."
"No wonder making peace is so hard, Mom. We have some really bad attitudes in our genes." His Teen-ness says, pouring himself a glass of orange juice and sets a plate in the microwave. "This thing still not working?" he asks me, nodding towards the microwave. Then he pads back to the den to check out South Park.
If Plato knew how much wisdom could get winged around in my house while my son reheats last night's pizza, he would have skipped all those trips to the agora.