Wednesday, June 01, 2011


A friend who is very close but persists in picturing me as a sort of mom, which I not only am NOT but totally reject -- finally came around to admitting I was “ruthless.”  As I often do, I looked up the word, then Googled it.  As often happens, this was so fascinating that I had a hard time stopping to write this blog about the quality.  I’ll have to go back after I post this.

The Merriam Webster online says:

"Ruthless" can be defined as "without ruth" or "having no ruth." So what, then, is ruth? The noun "ruth," which is now considerably less common than "ruthless," means "compassion for the misery of another," "sorrow for one's own faults," or "remorse." And, just as it is possible for one to be without ruth, it is also possible to be full of ruth. The antonym of "ruthless" is "ruthful," meaning "full of ruth" or "tender." "Ruthful" can also mean "full of sorrow" or "causing sorrow." "Ruth" can be traced back to the Middle English noun "ruthe," itself from "ruen," meaning "to rue" or "to feel regret, remorse, or sorrow."

Then someone who recognizes that writers -- good ones, not the trivial and ephemeral scribblers -- are ruthless:   “Ruthless Culture is the blog of Jonathan McCalmont, a freelance critic living in London, UK.  Though the blog’s primary focus is film criticism it will also take in other areas of the arts as well as provide links to things that I publish on other sites.”   He reviews online games.

And then a whole online novella that is evidently related to a computer game about future dystopias:
“Ruthless” by Tony Gonzales:  The first paragraph of the novella, free online.

C8 – CHY VII: “Drenali Seven”
Fade Region
Kaurikou Junction

Counting the blue pills and exile packs for the third time, Vilamo reflected on how much he hated himself for what he was doing. He sealed each of the plastic bags and placed them inside his jacket pocket, pausing to take a long look at the Rist-11 on the counter. He despised guns, and had never handled one before getting involved in this ugly business. But it no longer mattered what his personal distastes were. Those needed to be set aside in order to survive. He tucked the weapon into his belt, making sure the heavy jacket concealed it. Opting for warmth instead of weapon accessibility, Vilamo buttoned the coat right up to his neck. As dangerous as this line of work was, he had yet to find himself in a situation that required him to even draw the sidearm. Besides that, it was –10 degrees Celsius outside. The odds of trouble were slim on a bitter day like this.

This author has a Spanish name, a people famous for their ruthlessness during the Inquisition or when considering their Inca roots, but also a people who can sentimentalize death and think ten below Celsius is “bitter.”  HA.  Not in Montana.

I think to my friend “ruthless” means a skewering bird who drives its beak into every vulnerable orifice of the naked body and drags out everything beloved:  from the ear the songs, from the eye the images, from the mouth the words, from the anus the ability to discard and from the vagina the ability to create.  What from the penis?  Power?

It’s one of those words that is created by making a negative of a positive that’s not particularly clearly defined, and then slides this negative around over a sort of field.  Look again:  "without ruth" or "having no ruth." So what, then, is ruth? The noun "ruth," means "compassion for the misery of another," "sorrow for one's own faults," or "remorse."  The antonym of "ruthless" meaning "full of ruth" or "tender." "Ruthful" can also mean "full of sorrow" or "causing sorrow."  Huh?  Another doubleness.

"Ruth" can be traced back to the Middle English noun "ruthe," itself from "ruen," meaning "to rue" or "to feel regret, remorse, or sorrow."  My friend is right:  I have very few regrets, not much remorse, and find sorrow largely useless, paralyzing.   Ruth is on the other side of the brain.  Maybe ruth is in the alternative nervous system, the autonomic with its heartbeat and breathing.

Ruthless is the quality needed for strategy, for rational thought, for creating structure.  One must be ruthless to write ruthfully.  Truthfully.  Ruefully.  I’m too inclined to try to explain, to find mitigating factors, to allow fudging.  This leads one to the gormless strategy of short-term kindness that allows long-term cruelty.  Like the joke about the old man who wanted to dock his dog’s tail, but felt badly about the pain it would cause, so cut it off an inch at a time.  Paradoxically, to achieve true kindness, one must sometimes be ruthless.

One tends to beg for “ruth” while dealing out “ruthlessness” like governments who pretend to care about their citizens but fund only the fat cats.  “Ruth”, regret, rue, remorse are truth killers.  Instead of turning out the pockets of the dead when they are wrapped in their final shrouds, we are so sorry for them and those who sorrow for them (there are ALWAYS some) that we are “decent” and let their sins and murders slip away into the darkness.  At death one is supposed to face a day of judgment, for the “theos” is known to be a ruthless god.

“Ruth” and “ruthless” together are linked doubles, potentially able to inform each other.  The ruthless dogs of war need ruth;  the ruthy charities of compassion need ruthlessness.  The task is not choosing one or the other, but rather reconciling the two, knowing which quality is needed at the right time.

I’m working on a ruthless novel with a skewering beak, but -- surprisingly -- it is funny.  Once the melodrama of some ruth-ish self-pity is abandoned, the essential silliness of humans comes up to the surface.  Laughing is a way to let go, a meshing of pity and vengeance that resolves the dilemma of knowing both.  Magpie, raven, stork, woodpecker, ratta tat tat at the keyboard.  I do so love my friend.  Ruthlessly but tenderly.

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

Nick Danger, Third Eye (from Firesign Theatre):

He walked ruthlessly down the street.

"I wonder where Ruth is?"

And into a building.