Over time, who you’ve become colors your outlook on many things, including who you think you were when you were young. Our projected identity, who we imagine we are to others morphs as we grow older, and if all goes well, into a more honest assessment, one that acknowledges our warts as well as our–perceived–virtues. In a perfect world, we unburden ourselves of the very need to know, or care, what others think of us. In an unforgiving world, it is essential that we are continuously forgiving ourselves, and allow the judgment of others to remain in their possession alone.
It occurs to me that the United States is undergoing the early stages of a psychological breakdown. Its personality is disintegrating. The identity it adopted, that of the noble defender of democracy inside and outside its borders, is finally being exposed for the fraud it always was. Calling itself “united” was always wishful thinking; now the description’s irony has displaced even that small innocence. From the beginning the country’s been riven with pathological guilt over what’s now euphemistically referred to as its original sin. At the same time, it’s refused to acknowledge it any meaningful way. As a result it’s never been comfortable with itself, often fractious, reliably of at least two minds on any given issue. Struggling with its self-hatred, it attempted suicide 155 years ago. It was young then. No longer persuaded by romantic notions of the glories of the warrior ethos, it’s gotten into the habit of inflicting upon itself painful, increasingly injurious incisions. The country’s unwritten history is a steady stream of rebellions and the inevitable massacres they attract. They are the nation’s simmering subconscious, repressed memories silently affecting everything that happens now. The country is sitting, metaphorically, on the floor, staring off into space while cutting itself. It must be careful, though. As it becomes numb to the pain, it will begin to aim for more tender, more vital areas, possibly bringing about inadvertently what it once failed to accomplish deliberately.
The choice between the Biden-Harris ticket and the Trump-Pence ticket is comically stark, almost as if our cultural psyche had decided the only way to smack itself out of its stupor would be to frame the characters and issues in the elemental terms of a Saturday morning cartoon, pitting the forces of sanity against the machinations of greed, dyeing them with primary colors, and arming them with their customary weapons.
Advertisements and commercials are capitalism’s secret agents. More than that, they’re moles. From their inception, they’ve insinuated themselves into the fabric of Western culture, burrowing so deeply we’ve forgotten they’re there. We’ve accepted them into our homes, into our cars, our places of work, our lives, until we’ve overlooked the fact that what once were guests are now squatters, and in exchange for their entertainment value, we’ve suspended our usual habit of demanding compensation for occupation.
The appeal, the allure, the charm of misplaced modifiers: accolades abundant, benefits untold, treasures immeasurable.
We are the masters of minutiae, and the slaves to our appetites.
I’M SICK AND GODDAMNED TIRED of listening to cable news hosts asking their guests to explain the reasons why a mass shooter ripped several lives from some innocent community; to divine the thought processes that led to the erasure of life at so profound a level. The time spent listening and watching might be worthwhile if any useful insights were offered. Instead we are fed lists and chronologies and family trees. But any discussion regarding structural and endemic causes is about as easily found as hen’s teeth. Likewise, motives and motivations are sought out to assuage the shock of such outrages as the caging of children, the targeting of a religious faith, or the bungling of a government response to a global pandemic.
What galls then is the hypocrisy inherent in the reflexive, reactionary aversion to hearing someone try to explain why poor people are poor, or why criminals are criminals. People born on the wrong side of the tracks need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, we are told. Their failure to do so is their failure to understand the essence of the American ethos, which we are reminded is the frontier spirit, the clear-eyed vision of manifest destiny. Suggest that we spend a fraction of what we spend on empire on education and community investments, and the snorts of derision can be heard for miles and miles. By the same token, conventional conservative wisdom tells us, criminals are by nature thugs, and therefore little better than animals, to which they may be occasionally, unfavorably compared. Moreover, the criminals need not have committed or even been convicted of a crime in order to be described as such. Preferable instead, and so much easier, to lump together the accused and the sentenced alike, the better to tar them all with the same broad brush.
God forbid we seriously consider the suggestion that the application of criminality as a description of a despised demographic is a political weapon that’s been in use at least since the dark days of the loathsome Lee Atwater. Long after Nixon’s death, a member of his administration came forward to admit that they were well aware that by criminalizing cannabis and heroin, they were in effect criminalizing American youth and African-Americans. The calamitous and tragic results were, in today’s parlance, not a bug, but a feature. But no defender of the status quo wants to hear criminals explained; they’re criminals after all, you can tell because that’s what we call them. The very thought of perceiving it any other way would be, for those secure in their comforts, like seeing a looming chasm opening up before them.
We all know the why, or can divine it easily enough from the available evidence, whether or not we care to admit it. It’s just that the prospect of uttering it aloud for some is all-too-terrifying. If the idea of seeing the world from another point of view unnerves you, then that’s your first clue your own worldview is suspect. Understanding the why for too many means seeing the world in a different way. It means relinquishing the habit of seeing the world as the inherited preserve of you and yours. Of the belief that life is a zero-sum game. It means treating the act of sharing not as a duty but embracing it as a joy. Living in the world is hard enough without insisting on plumbing the bottomless well of paranoid fears and sadistic and masochistic addictions we’ve created for ourselves. But the likelihood of seeing the preponderance of my fellow citizens embracing that truth? Well, that’s an evolutionary leap I don’t expect to see anytime soon, or during my lifetime, for that matter.
Although hope, at least for me, continues to spring eternal.
Have you ever stopped for a moment to think about why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing, or, how many times a day you do something for no other reason than it’s what you’ve always done, or the way you’ve always done it?
If I wear the collar long enough, after a while I forget it’s there.
I’m a great fan of the rhetorical question. In fact, it may well be my favorite kind of question. It’s more than a question, you see, but also a kind of dialogue, in miniature. Unlike the typical query, it requests nor requires any response, and yet, paradoxically, suggests and embodies an answer uniquely its own. It is the expression of an idea existing in an indefinite, and suspended, state of self-examination.