For as long as there had been homes and howler monkeys, it had been a sad fact of life in Mansville that howler monkeys sometimes invaded homes, often causing damage to the home and always traumatizing the homeowners when it happened.
And it had been an even sadder fact that over the years some had attempted to explain why howler monkeys sometimes invaded homes. As if there was a way to make sense of it. As if there were any way to explain it other than it being tragic evidence that we lived in a broken world.
And it was an even sadder fact still that these explanations often—intentionally or unintentionally—seemed to blame the homeowners for the howler monkey invasions. “Howler monkeys are naturally curious creatures with opposable thumbs—if you leave your doors unlocked, well…”, they’d say, or “Howler monkeys are attracted to the color blue, so if your home is painted blue…”, the dot-dot-dot always seeming to imply “YOU’RE ASKING FOR IT”, ignorant of the fact that NO homeowner asks for a howler monkey invasion.
It was a sensitive issue to be sure, this one of howler monkey home invasions, compounded by the fact that historically it wasn’t always handled with the appropriate amount of compassion or tact.
And one day, Rep. Ignorance Bliss, an absolutely graceless politician and human being in general, who just so happened to represent the Congressional District in which Mansville resided, stepped about as clumsily as one possibly could into the discussion.
To be fair, no one had ever considered Rep. Bliss any kind of authority on howler monkeys or homeowners, and he was led to the subject indirectly by his interviewer, who had asked him about howler monkey squatters, and more generally, unwanted animal exterminations of any kind.
(It seems appropriate here to offer a brief explanation of unwanted animals and howler monkey squatters.
One of the oldest, most controversial, and most emotional issues in the history of politics in Mansville was that of the extermination of unwanted animals.
There were two general sides: Pro-extermination and pro-animal life. The pro-extermination side felt that homeowners should be allowed to make their own choices about what happened in their homes, and that if there was an unwanted animal living in the home—say, an invasion of mice, or cockroaches—homeowners should have the legal right to call an exterminator and have the unwanted animals removed.
On the contrary, the pro-animal lifers believed strongly in the sanctity of ALL life, unwanted or not. They would sometimes advocate for homeowners to keep their (originally unwanted) guests; this argument often contained a religious element—the argument being that, although the animals in the house were unplanned, it was God’s will that the rats, termites, whatever, had arrived and that His plan was also that they be kept alive and embraced, even if it meant a drastic change in the homeowners’ lifestyles.
Some pro-animal lifers also advocated for unwanted animals in homes to be given to local zoos or nature preserves as an alternative to extermination. Sure, the homeowners would have to live with the unwanted animals for months until arrangements could be made to ship them wherever they were going to go, but this was considered by its proponents to be far more compassionate than extermination.
However, among both sides there seemed to be consensus, more or less, that the extermination option should always be available to homeowners whose homes had been affected by animal invasions caused by homeowners’ family members, invasions where the lives of the homeowners were in danger (e.g., an invasion of bears), or in cases of howler monkey squatters.
When howler monkeys invaded homes, they would often quickly do damage to the home and then leave (although the attack would obviously have a lasting emotional impact on the homeowners, if nothing else). But in some cases of howler monkey invasions, the monkeys would end up squatting in the home—in other words, they’d invade the home and then just not leave.
In these instances, most agreed that extermination of the howler monkey squatters should be an option for the homeowners. The argument was that it was adding to the trauma of the initial howler monkey invasion if the homeowners had to then live with a constant reminder of the attack, and more traumatic still if they were forced to care for the monkeys just because they decided, for whatever reason, to stay.
Some still advocated donation of the howler monkeys to zoos or nature preserves in these cases, but others thought it was asking too much of the homeowners to host the monkeys—who were there as the result of a violent attack, after all—for even a few months).
And here is where we return to Rep. Bliss. There were some in the pro-animal life movement—and Bliss was one of them—who felt strongly enough about the sanctity of life that they did not support ANY exceptions allowing for animal extermination: No exceptions for invasions caused by malicious family members, no exceptions to spare the lives of the homeowners, and no exceptions for howler monkey squatters.
When asked why he would not make an exception allowing extermination in cases of howler monkey squatters, Rep. Bliss replied that he thought howler monkey squatters were “rare”, and that, in cases of “legitimate” howler monkey invasions, “homeowners have ways of shutting that whole thing down”.
The reactions to his comments were swift and fierce. There were those who expressed surprise that such categories as “legitimate” (and therefore, Bliss’s implied “illegitimate”) howler monkey invasions existed; these people were quick to point out that it was their understanding that a howler monkey invasion was a howler monkey invasion—end of story, and bristled at the idea that such a traumatic act should be categorized as better or worse, real or not-so-real.
There were those who took offense at how insensitive the comments were to ALL homeowners, but in particular to those who had been victims of howler monkey invasions—how the comments seemed to imply that homeowners had some magic control over creatures like howler monkeys and that howler monkey squatters were evidence that they had failed to exercise said magic control, so the whole thing was really kind of their fault.
There were those who pointed out the monumental stupidity and ignorance of the Representative’s statements, how they seemed to be based on absolutely no—to use Bliss’s own word choice—“legitimate” knowledge of homeowners or howler monkeys.
And all of those people were right. Rep. Bliss’s comments were hurtful, insensitive, and extremely ignorant, not to mention plain old idiotic.
But Ignorance Bliss was an American, and as such, enjoyed the right to free speech, which included speech that was hurtful, insensitive, ignorant, and dumb. Heck, he was a politician—such speech was practically a job requirement.
And when everyone started to turn on him—including prominent members of his own party—urging him to step down from office, he refused, and that was also his right. He was running for higher office, and it seemed fair enough to allow the voters in his state to decide if they wanted him speaking for them in Washington, not other politicians worried in the heat of the moment about how bad he might make them look.
No, when all was said and done, the worst part about what Rep. Bliss said wasn’t the initial words themselves, although they were awful. And it wasn’t his refusal to go away forever, although it would’ve made a good number of people happy had he done just that.
The worst part of the whole situation was, oddly enough, the “apology” Bliss offered up after the original comments and the uproar which followed them. For at the moment of truth, when Bliss should’ve thought long and hard about the perfect thing to say to at least start to make things right, he instead offered a concise statement saying he’d “misspoke”, followed by a tone-deaf attempt at changing the subject, angrily affirming he was staying in his race and offering to talk about fixing high unemployment or anything else that had nothing to do with homeowners or howler monkeys.
“Misspoke”—nowhere did his “apology” statement use the words “I’m” or “sorry”—just “I misspoke”.
“Misspoke”—as if what he said would’ve made perfect sense if only he’d changed a word or two.
“Misspoke”—as if he were giving someone directions and told them to go right at the second stoplight when he meant to say right at the third one.
“Misspoke”—as in, it’s pretty much your fault if you’re upset about what I said, because you just misunderstood me.
“Misspoke”—as in a euphemism for “Well, I guess I need to say I’m sorry or something because apparently you people are angry for some reason so I’m sorry, I guess, if it’ll get all of you off my back”.
Not a plain-spoken, qualifier-free, non-followed-by-canned-stump-speech “I’m sorry”, or “I never should have said that”, or “I understand my words were hurtful and unfair and insensitive and I deeply regret ever saying them and I am asking for your forgiveness”.
Nope—just a nonsense, non-apology, half-assed “I misspoke”.
And THAT is why that part of the whole mess was the worst part. Because it showed everyone, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Rep. Ignorance Bliss—a man who had never been a homeowner himself and therefore couldn’t POSSIBLY know what it was like to have one’s home invaded by howler monkeys, yet still felt comfortable expounding on the subject as if he were some authority—didn’t seem to change, even after all the uproar caused by his words, even though it was clear to everyone except him that he had crossed a line. The worst part was that, after all that, he still—unbelievably, STILL—just didn’t get it.