The largest tax on life.
Today I am going to tell you about betrayal.
Betrayal is something that has weighed increasingly on my life. Initially the seed for it began in my earliest memories, where I was constantly let down by the world around me – this was honest, but it would dispose me terribly to the dishonest variant of the experience which people call betrayal.
I have been betrayed by a lot of people in my life, or at least what feels like a lot for someone who is only 25. I have also seen others betrayed quite a lot, even as they aged, and it evokes in me a deep disappointment in humanity.
As one of my closest familial relationships comes to a splintering close, my husband and I having expended every avenue of rescue possible, we are pressed to answer a question: what exactly constitutes betrayal? To answer this, I posit that the conditions for betrayal are twofold: first, a person must have a shared interest or bond with you, and second, that person must also have fostered an aspirational ideal about that interest or bond that they have with you.
These two conditions are foundational pieces of any relationship, and by themselves don’t imply any need or likelihood for betrayal. The friendships and family ties we have in life are aspirational and idealistic, because they need to be in order for us to advance and carry on in good spirit. The problem arises when that aspirational ideal begins to take precedence over morality and even the reality of the relationship.
Once this happens, the stage is set for betrayal, and only an urgent and genuine intervention can prevent it, as left unattended the relationship will circle its gravity and fall into the clutches of betrayal sooner or later. The moment comes when the relationship has been stressed to its absolute limits by the pressure created by that ideal and the person’s insistence on it regardless of reality, and they are forced to make the conscious choice in favour of that ideal delusionally at the expense of the real relationship. That, in a nutshell, is betrayal.
Betrayal can happen with all sorts of relationships, big or small. No matter the stakes or the circumstances, betrayal can sting all the same when people simply choose the fiction in their heads over the real person in front of them when push comes to shove. In fact, I think that is the original meaning of that very saying: the ‘push’ of the relationship gives way to a ‘shoving’ out of it entirely, since it is in the way of what they perceive as good and sensible, or even what the entire predicate or premise of the relationship was.
There is no coming back from a betrayal. Of course, those who betray often believe in such a comeback, and fervently scan material reality for confirmation that they survived their bad decision and nothing actually came of it, but this is a lie. At the very least they have, in a sense, killed themselves in the eyes and minds of the people they have betrayed. At the worst, you get situations like Prighozin and Putin after he attempted to march on Moscow. But more often it just looks like someone who won’t answer your calls.
Some people, especially those who recognise such hallmarks of betrayal, attempt to pre-empt them by acting out such responses first so that they can feel as if they are the ones who were betrayed. I found this kind of failure mode more often in professional contexts, where people were so cowardly in their rejection of my assessments that they would cut me off and block me out, no doubt because they have gossip to share which would not fly if it had any accountability to me in public. They still feel hurt by the loss of the relationship and need to tend to that self-inflicted wound somehow, and deflection is all around a pretty good dope for it. “I won’t answer his calls, because he betrayed me by refusing to go along with my idea about us that he doesn’t agree with! That’s all his doing, I’m the real victim!” It would be catatonic if I ever had the chance to rebuke that, so yeah. It’s still pretty sad.
I don’t enjoy talking about betrayal but I feel so compelled to at this stage given how much damage I have seen it do to people. The reason I am still sharing the one car with my husband after all of these years is because so many of the people him and I were closest to betrayed us at our most vulnerable moments, and the very same happened to my mother-in-law during the same time frame. Him and I alone have lost tens of thousands of dollars in rent hikes and car repairs thanks to the selfish, delusional decisions of a few people we believed in and were counting on to do basic things that they had every intent and reason to keep doing, but didn’t. You might think we were taking chances, but I have to ask, how unreasonable is it to expect someone to continue paying their rent at a place that is $1,000/month cheaper than anywhere else they could strike a lease at ever? The bar was always so low, and that’s why it hurt so much more when they nonetheless failed to meet it.
Perhaps I feel that people don’t take betrayal seriously enough. Divorce is a classic, perhaps even canonical instance of betrayal, and yet so many people joke about it or immediately jump to rationalising or coping with it, completely disregarding how materially selfish and evil the premise of it is, especially in the presence of children. So many women continue to dote toxically on their fellow gals, telling them always to “dump his ass” over anything at all, and so many men become absolutely cold and bitter to a fault with women about this since they have no legal or cultural standing to combat it.
It’s hard to become vulnerable to betrayal, but you have worse problems than betrayal if you have made up your mind to never even try. I think that’s where the picture starts to get more complete, as it circles back once again through introspection of morality, or really the lack thereof. You don’t get a happy marriage if you can’t have the vulnerability necessary to build that deep trust. I guess that’s why I’m underscoring how it’s not taken seriously, because giving betrayal its due weight is, in my view, the ultimate solution to it. The solution is not to avoid being vulnerable or “relying” on anybody (and unless you are obscenely rich, that is also a bald-faced lie).
I’ve seen betrayal play out over and over on the Worldwide Web, too. Countless communities infected and killed by the disease of drama driven by burgeoning mental illness, and for what? All so a few people could put the fictions in their heads over the real people they’re collaborating with, until the whole community is dead and they fuck off back to a new chatroom where nobody sees them anymore.
Corporations have a lot of lies that they foster, too. Many political initiatives, like the push for diversity for example, have taken mindshare and attained primacy in the company over its missions with product, marketing, sales, and even financials in extreme cases. This happened despite the fact that it is a flagrant violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. People really like their fictions. This is a betrayal of a nation, and even humanity itself.
Where do betrayers think the consequences of their actions go? Once they’ve finished ripping all of society and their social world apart, they all seem to think that at last, they will finally get back to business, as they always intended. What’s in store for them by then is absolute loneliness, where everyone else will by then have no choice but to let them wither away, even literally if it comes to it. Ever heard of the homeless crackhead who once had a family? There’s no floor that Earth doesn’t give you…