He was a longtime friend of mine. This was almost twenty years ago. He was an ardent man of the Left. And I remember the time I saw through him, through him and into the abyss with something akin to a sense of vertigo.
He was visiting me, and we were talking, as for many years we had been wont to do. And I happened to remark, just in passing, how I had noticed that people who were into ecology often used the word "planet." You know, in referring generally to the earth, and also sometimes in certain set phrases such as "save the planet."
I said, "Haven't you noticed that? How some people will often in connection with ecology use the word 'planet' a lot, or use phrases like 'saving the planet' or whatever?"
His brow furrowed, his face went pale, and with the air of one who is treading very, very carefully on eggshells, he said, "No, no I haven't."
And at that point I saw through him, saw through a transparent man, as if looking down from forty stories up. Because it was horrifically clear that I was witnessing a man who, for whatever reason, was engaging in a very, very careful act of ideological self-protection. Denying to himself, or denying to me, or denying to me in an attempt to deny to himself, something that for some unfathomable reason he dasn't admit to himself.
Ecology. "Save the planet." Haven't you noticed how they use the word "planet" a lot?
What odd chink in his armor had I accidentally struck, that he went all pale and felt driven to such transparent naked rationalization in the face of such an incidental point? What would he have risked, what would he have forfeited had he admitted to himself that yes, he had noticed?
He stood there, all pale and shaken, looking like a man who had just seen a ghost.