The following passage is taken from the novel Texas Tropics.
When I arrived Amerigo was as relaxed and content as the last time I interrupted his little fisherman’s paradise. As I pulled Lucille ashore, Amerigo grabbed my pole and turned to his shrimp bucket to bait up my line. He handed back the pole. He looked at me knowingly and said, “You’ve been busy, no?”
I took the invitation to fill him in on my adventures. Amerigo did not show the kind of surprise or shock or wonderment you would expect any other human to exhibit in reaction to my story. When I finished, his only comment seemed to come randomly out of the blue, “Your father is wise beyond his years.”
I wanted to say, ‘What about me almost getting killed? What about me standing up to Ramos? What about me being set up like a bowling pin? What about me standing trial with my life in the balance?’ Instead, the thing he found most interesting was the last thing I cared about at the moment. I took a deep breath. I looked out across the cove. I let my emotions settle and then calmly asked, “Oh, you mean teaching me about Zapata?”
Amerigo smiled and shook his head in the negative.
“Then what?”, I asked.
Amerigo said, “He has discovered the secret of arrogance and ignorance.”
“What do you mean?”, I asked.
“Well, you asked him what drove him to do what you have told me most people characterize as evil, right?”, he asked.
“And his answer was?”
“He was too proud and too stupid”, I said. “Right, okay, too arrogant and too ignorant. And that – well, it does resonate with me.”
“Why?”, he asked.
“Because you can do something with it”, I said. “If he says instead, ‘it was evil’ it is like saying ‘I am evil.’ Where does that lead?”
He asked, “Where do you think?”
I thought out loud, “Isolation, imprisonment… Hell, I don’t know. It leads to labeling and distancing so you don’t catch any of that disease called ‘evil.’”
“Out of sight and out of mind?”, he asked.
“Maybe out of sight – which, I guess, is ignorance itself…and – come to think of it, arrogance too. But, I don’t think entirely out of mind.”
Amerigo’s seemed pleased with my working it over. He continued fishing, his invitation for me to think it through some more. And I did.
“Ok, Amerigo”, I said. “So, now I am thinking about judgment – like we talked about last time. When you judge, you use convenient labels like ‘evil’, hoping to put something or someone you don’t like out of sight and out of mind – or, at least, waaay over there.” I motioned toward the mainland with my hand for emphasis.
Amerigo smiled. Then he carried on fishing.
A few minutes later I added, “But the act of judging itself is an exercise in arrogance and ignorance.”
“How so?”, he asked.
“Arrogance…the act of judging gives one a feeling of superiority to whatever, or whoever, is being judged.”
“And ignorance?”, he asked.
“Judging, puts it out of sight”, I said. “Makes it no longer worthy of inspection or consideration. One makes oneself ignorant.”
Amerigo winked at me. And in the micro second it took his eyelid to shut and open again it all came to me. I said, “And all this opens the door to resolution.”
“Of what?”, he asked.
“The vicious circle”, I said. “It is a dwindling process toward, well – really…evil, I guess. The more ignorance we demonstrate, the more arrogance we produce. The more arrogant we become, the more ignorant too. Finally, the arrogance is so great we feel just fine sitting in judgment of those we consider lesser than ourselves. And the ignorance is so great we resort to labeling, stereotyping and condemning so that we don’t need to exercise intelligence. We are unaware of, and – so, we don’t care about the consequences of our judgment. You know, the consequences to those we judge. “
Amerigo was looking at me with interest.
I said, “And so, judgment tends to create evil…out of arrogance and ignorance. Do you see, it all becomes a self-feeding circle?”
“Yes”, he said. “And so, the resolution you spoke of?”
“Well, what is the reverse activity of exercising arrogance and ignorance?”, I asked.
Amerigo rolled his eyes and gave an impish smile, indicating he was going to consider the question. I was pleased. I thought maybe I had earned enough respect to ask deep questions of him and have him answer me for a change.
“Humility and curiosity?”, he asked.
“Right”, I said. “I had the concept but I couldn’t find the words. But, you are right on the money. And so when we feel compelled to judge, I mean in the judgmental sense – when we feel the compulsion arise to judge, label and reject…instead, maybe we hold off for a moment. Maybe we gather our wits. Maybe we exercise a little humility and a little curiosity.”