Storytime, again. I’m cleaning out the archives. Normal services will be resumed soon-ish.
There are people who like living by the rules, who find reassurance in Being Good People and Doing The Right Thing. There are people who choose to live the lawless life of the outlaw, regardless of the potential dangers. There are people who think they’re above the rules because of their superior social or financial status – and, until they push things too far, they’re often unfortunately right. And then there are people like my friend Ang.
On the surface, Ang looked like a complicated person. Her behaviour never failed to confuse or even shock people, anyway. She was really a very simple person to predict, though, once you worked out how she looked at the world.
The vast majority of social interactions tend to have both costs and benefits to both parties. They are based on a spoken or unspoken acceptance of the principle of quid pro quo, give and take. It’s only natural: most people don’t want to be taken for a ride. Most honest people don’t want to take others for a ride, either. They might be playing fairly because it’s the right thing to do. They might do so because their egos are invested in them being Good People. They may also be motivated by the purely self-serving wish to continue being seen as honest in order not to be ostracised. After all, being unfair or just unreliable could very well result in other people not wanting to continue dealing with them. You don’t need a degree in psychology to work out that, if you want to have long-lasting and healthy relationships with those around you, acting like a predator or a parasite is not the way to go.
Ang didn’t see things that way. She looked at every interaction and saw her potential benefits as God-given rights, and any costs as a sign of oppression. She was the sort of woman who, at the least provocation, would have no qualms about resorting to verbal or physical violence; yet, if anyone tried to control her, would switch to demanding to be “treated like a lady.” Afterwards, instead of feeling any guilt or shame, she would congratulate herself for having “stood up for what is right.” And I know this because she’d do much of the congratulating out loud.
When I first met her, she was the girlfriend of a friend’s friend, and an Abused Woman. I capitalise the term because she seemed to do the same: I’ve never seen a woman being so smug about of her bruises. She always seemed to stand a little bit taller when she sported a black eye. Growing up, I met plenty of people in violent relationships, but that was my first time meeting someone who seemed proud of it. Her partner’s face was hardly without a mark, too, but that could have been the natural result of her defending herself. Anyway, men must not hit women. It was one of the rules of my social group. Another rule was that you don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, so we kept an eye on the both of them in case things escalated, but otherwise let them do their thing. Eventually he broke up with her, and after some histrionics she evaporated.
I lost touch with her completely for a couple of years, until we reconnected. Again, she was the girlfriend of a friend’s friend. Again, she was getting beaten up. The only thing that had changed in the equation was the male doing the beating. In fact, the male role had been covered by a number of partners in the interim, all of them people with no history of violence, all of them violent towards her, and all of them never violent towards anyone else afterwards.
Call me suspicious, but I started to smell a rat. If everywhere you go you encounter the same problem, it could be that you’re extremely unfortunate… or it could be that you are, in fact, the problem. A minimum amount of research revealed that Ang was the instigator of the violence. She had a habit of slapping her partners around when she got shitfaced, which was not a rare event. The guys put up with it up to a point, trying to contain her behaviour, but eventually either snapped and walloped her or just hit her back in self-defence.
The guys were labelled as abusers. She was a woman getting beaten by a man, so she was the victim. She truly saw herself as the injured party, and she made sure that everyone around her saw her the same way. As that description of the situation fit many people’s prejudice, they didn’t bother looking into it enough to realise how the reality and the narrative didn’t match.
Anyway, that was history. Her current partner, Pat, was different. He grew up in a social group where mutual, consensual domestic violence is perfectly acceptable. He wasn’t overly invested in stopping the behaviour or escalating it; he was happy with things as they were. So they beat each other up at night, patched each other up in the morning, and got on perfectly fine. Domestic bliss, it seems, is a very subjective state of being.
Ang and Pat were two peas in a pod. They had both decided to be unemployed, because – and I quote – “working for a living is for sheep.” Why work to earn, when you can do nothing and be kept by the state?
As two single lots of benefits add up to more than a couple’s worth, they elected not to declare they were living together. Why should they miss out on the additional income “just because of some stupid rule?” That meant that Pat had to rent a completely unnecessary house, but as all costs were covered by the government that wasn’t an issue. They knew they were doing the right thing, because “taxation is theft.” If the money wasn’t used to support citizens, it’d only be syphoned off by corrupt politicians or be used for totally unfair war efforts, anyway. Their bottom line was that “screwing the system” was inherently righteous.
Alas, their combined benefits still weren’t enough to keep them in the state to which they had become accustomed, which was off their respective faces on recreational drugs. Being enterprising people with an eye for opportunities, they decided to convert Pat’s otherwise vacant house into a weed-growing facility. It wasn’t a particularly good location, being a subdivided Victorian house with neighbours literally all around, and they weren’t particularly subtle about their activities, but it didn’t really matter because “drugs should be legal anyway.”
The enterprise was more involved that they had anticipated, alas. Plants need stuff like soil and water and food and heat and light; all stuff that costs money. Their utility bills, in particular, were horrendous. They overcame this problem by resolving not to pay them. What could the supply companies do, anyway? They couldn’t cut their water and electrics because “those are human rights.”
The problem escalated to the point that the landlord became aware of it. He tried to talk sense to them informally, and failed. Instead, what his intervention achieved was the two deciding to stop paying him any rent, because he was “being a fascist.” Paying rent was inherently unfair anyway because “all landlords are useless parasites.” So what they did was collect their rent money from the government and keep it for themselves. That would teach him! What could he do to them, anyway? Evicting tenants can take months, and surely the fact that Pat was unemployed would protect him from being thrown on the street by a court.
The landlord, however, decided to take an unorthodox route. One day Pat and Ang went to the house to gather their crops only to find that the locks had been changed and the house had been obviously emptied of everything therein, dope included. The landlord had not only unfairly evicted Pat, but had also stolen from them! It took a lot of people a lot of time to prevent Ang from calling the police on him. The fact that “officer, he stole the drugs I was growing in a house I was pretending to be squatting in as part of a benefit scam” is the sort of sentence that could cause more trouble than it could ever solve was either beyond or beneath her.
At that point, my life took a different turn and I left that group of people, with all associated drama. I didn’t get back in touch with Ang until five or six year later, by which time Pat was history, and she was In Love.
It was True Love. She had met an internationally-renowned artist and decided that he was The One. Their romance shone brighter than any other romance ever had or ever will. She was determined to celebrate and seal their Love by bearing his child. Unfortunately, he was refusing to play ball.
It emerged that, although he was very willing to occasionally engage in sportfuckery with her, he had no intention whatsoever to be her partner. He was even less inclined to co-parent with her, and he would not contemplate the merest possibility of getting her pregnant. To Ang, that was obviously unfair. He had a steady supply of sperm that Ang was obviously entitled to by virtue of their Love, and he wouldn’t give her what was hers. To make matters worse, he already had a kid with someone else. If that woman could have his child, why not Ang? So Ang had begged and nagged and chased him – literally and internationally – for months and months. It’s not stalking if it’s True Love, obviously. Her biological clock was ticking ever louder, and he still refused her. She might end up dying childless, and it would be his fault.
The conclusion Ang shortly came to is that All Men Are Bastards. Everything clearly pointed to that very simple explanation. Men’s evil was the source of all iniquities in the world. Ang decided to address this problem by taking steps to avenge not only herself, but the entirety of womankind, one man at a time. Even better, she would let men’s own evil trap them.
The concept was simple: you find a guy who’s interested in you; you gate-crash his house, claiming damsel-in-distress status; you get off your face on drugs (his, ideally, because drugs are expensive and every penny counts); you jump in bed with him; in the morrow, you claim rape; a couple of weeks later, you claim pregnancy and demand payment for a private abortion, or you’ll report him and his rapist ways to the cops.
It worked. She got her money. Unfortunately, she had neglected to consider that people, even male people, tend to have friends and families. Even her highly forbearing social group wouldn’t stand for entrapment and blackmail, particularly when it was conducted on members of that same group. The explanation for this irrational behaviour on their part was obvious: “they were all in this together.”
Given that at this point Ang was sofa surfing, finding herself persona non grata was a serious problem. In order to change her situation, she decided to make some money and make a last stab at her artist’s sperm at the same time. He was temporarily in Morocco, were certain recreational substances are, I’m told, both cheap and plentiful. Ang would travel down, woo her man, load up on sperm and drugs, travel back up, and sell the drugs for a lot of money to start a new life with her sprog. It was a flawless scheme. Yes, it was ever-so-slightly illegal, but “you have a moral obligation to ignore unjust laws.”
The problem was that she didn’t have any money to buy the drugs with. She needed backers. The solution she came up with was to contact the local chapter of an association whose members find cars to have two wheels too many; an association which is also one of the main distributors of certain plant products in that area, or so I’m told. Having had previous dealings with her in her growing days, they decided to give her a chance.
Ang duly went to Morocco, reconnected with the Love Of Her Life, was told where to go yet again, loaded up on herbs, and toddled back off home without a hitch. All she needed to do was hand over the product and take her share of money.
…or she could keep everything. After all, she was the one who had done all the work and taken all the risk. She was going to be paid wholesale prices too, which was a total rip-off. And anyway, what could those guys do? “It’s not as if they could call the police,” after all.
She was completely correct in that respect. The guys in question did not contact the authorities. Instead they sent some of their members, tastefully dressed in black leathers and casually bearing metal implements – you never know when you might need to chain something up, change a tyre, or sharpen a very large pencil, after all – calling to each of her known addresses, none of which were actually her addresses. They were her friends’ addresses. Out of the blue, these completely uninvolved people, some of whom had young children, were rewarded for putting her up and looking after her by receiving these rather ominous visitations. Thankfully, all of her friends thus affected had the sense to be both helpful and courteous to their visitors, and nobody got hurt.
That was it, though. Ang was no longer welcome anywhere. Nobody was willing to do a damn thing for her anymore, because it had become bitterly obvious that her particular brand of reckless had a tendency to spatter.
I never saw Ang again. She might be alive, or she might not. I have no interest in finding that out. In fact, if she turned up at my door right now, I’d slam it right in her face. If she taught me anything, it’s that helping people like her is not only useless, but actually dangerous. It is useless because they create the majority of their problems. You can sink all the time and resources you want into them, and as soon as those run out their situation will revert to its original state, because they make it so. It is dangerous to you, because there is no way of preventing an Ang from deciding that her problems are actually your fault, and taking steps to redress that iniquity, or simply from bringing a ton of trouble to your doorstep. So this story might not have an ending, but maybe it has a moral: do not get burnt by the Angs of this world.
The problem is that nice people have a tendency to be, well, nice; and Angs are some of the most skilful damsels- and gentlemen-in-distress (the phenomenon is utterly gender-neutral) you’ll ever meet. Relying on people’s kindness is not only something they have no reluctance to do, but the way they keep afloat. With enough practice, they get damn good at it.
So how do you spot an Ang before it’s too late?
- They are incredibly good at voicing their needs and asking for people’s help. That might sound like a good, healthy way for them to be, but it’s actually the result of their fixation. They are solely interested in what they want and who can/should provide it for them. By contrast, people who are in trouble due to genuine reasons tend to be quite bashful about their situation. If they do ask for help and you do provide it, they will be thankful. They may consider themselves obliged to you until they’ve repaid the favour. They do not consider you obliged to help them.
(Oh, and anyone who tries to guilt you into helping them is an asshole, anyway, whether they are an Ang or not.)
- Their problems are always someone else’s fault, or the result of a systemic issue. They never take any personal responsibility. They might be surrounded by scores of people living similar lives in similar circumstances who do not share their difficulties, but that doesn’t even register with them.
- However much their situation changes, they constantly seem to manage to experience the same problems. Over time, it can look as if they are constantly recreating the same reality with different players. And, believe you me, a mash-up of “Groundhog Day” and “Leaving Las Vegas” is not where you want to find yourself.
- They lack all feelings of repentance, guilt, or shame. We all make mistakes at times, or do bad things because we give in to temptation. However, most of us do not feel proud of those mistakes. Angs, on the other hand, are righteous about their misdoings and even brag about them because, in their heads, they are the heroes. What they are doing is always righting wrongs, regardless of what it is.
- After all, if they have an unmet need or want, it’s because the world is out of kilter. It doesn’t have anything to do with their efforts or abilities. They shouldn’t have to work harder for what they want, because everything is due to them. Anyone or anything that stands between them and what they want is iniquitous. Their sense of entitlement can be mind-blowing.
What this all boils down to is that in their heart of hearts they believe that they are entitled to everything but never owe anyone anything – you included. There’s no helping someone like that. If you do manage to put their lives in order they will only ruin them again at the earliest occasion, and sometimes yours with it.