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EXTREEEEEEEEMERICA!!!! or, How Do You Goose Step? Left, Right, Left, Right….

If there is anything I can say about the tastes of the American people, it’s that they run to the extreme. I don’t just mean extreme, I mean !!!!!EXTREEEEEEEME!!!!! We don’t seem to be satisfied with anything unless it is so absurdly, ourtageously beyond whatever came before it. Our television is a fantastic window into this cultural quirk of ours. There is a show on cable in which a man travels the states and goes to restaurants that serve ‘challenges’–Eat this nine pound burger and fries in under an hour and get your name on the wall!  Even our smaller fare runs to extremes via insanely jacked-up artificial flavorings. We have hot nacho chips that will burn the enamel off your teeth. We have sour candies that will make tears roll down your face. Americans have an almost masochistic relationship with food.

From the waistline of the average American, it’s no secret that we like our food extreme, both in flavor and portion. We feel the same about our entertainment. A fifty-inch television screen is laughably small now that they’re regularly found in 70-plus. If a film’s ticket sales are counted in tens of millions of dollars instead of hundreds of millions, it’s considered a flop. And it’s no wonder; the production costs of such orgiastic star-studded gluts are in the tens of millions before shooting is even complete.

Automobiles? Forget it. America will always be king of cars. The streets are crammed with huge, rumbling SUVs on 26 inch wheels with lift kits and stereos loud enough to shake the windows five stories up. The reflex is to pooh-pooh at our crapulence, but I’m not going to. As much as I bemoan our extravagance and gluttony, I can’t help but feel a little endearment towards it. We are rather unique that way, and our ostentatiousness has kept us right in the center of attention for a good many decades.We just do big and loud and in-your-face better than anyone else, and a small part of me is proud of that.

For every big, loud stereo, there is one bigger and louder that will be made the next year. For every smart phone, there’s another one coming that’s smarter. If there’s a nine-pound burger challene, someone will top it with a twelve pounder. The trouble with !!!!EXTREEEEEEEEME!!!! is that there really is no end point, only endless jumps to next big thing. And as our appetites have been whet for the next hot pepper that will cause your spleen to leap out through your navel, so have our desires for extremely polarized politics. Gone are the days where anyone on either side, and by side I mean you, Democrats and Republicans, might reach across the aisle on an issue. The calmly moderate candidate is the punchline to a joke about debate airtimes. The candidate who doesn’t ride the waves on a raft of cruel, barbed sound bites is dead in the water. Political ads are nothing but a venomous string of character assasinations. Ironically, they’re pointing out how wrong a candidate is based on !!!!!EXTREEEEEEME!!!!! viewpoints, while touting the awesomeness of their own  !!!!EXTREEEEEEME!!!! viewpoints. If I was 7% less cynical, I would pee myself laughing every time I saw one of these ads. Instead, I just see a pissing contest over who is the hardest of the hardline.

There seems to be a contest withinthe parties to see who can be the most extreme right Republican or the most extreme left Democrat. And if you’re not trying to win, they don’t even want you around, stinking things up with your moderation. Moderation is for sissies! You gotta take every gun from every person in every town and burn ’em all in a huge fire!!! You gotta run them dirty homos out into the ocean and free America of this scourge that is warping children!!! If you don’t like this candidate, you’re a RACIST!!!! If you don’t like that candidate, you’re a TERRORIST!!! VOTE FOR ME OR THEY WILL ALLOW NINE-YEAR-OLDS TO GET ABORTIONS AND SMOKE CRACK!!! VOTE FOR ME OR THE KKK WILL RIDE IN ON THE HINDENBERG AND BURN ALL THE LIBRARIES TO THE GROUND!!!!

Great googly moogly, everyone, calm down for a second here. Let’s all take a big huff of some sooty American air and look at what’s going on here. The problem with extremely polarized societies is that a good chunk of people end up getting screwed hard so that another chunk can be somewhat happy. And it doesn’t matter which way the scales tip; when they tip all the way left, or all the way right, a good chunk of the population gets its head stepped on. In the interest of a free society, everyone needs to be a little bit flexible and must agree to disagree. Everyone needs to realize that we’re not all going to get what we want all the time. That goes beyond politics, that’s life.  Therefore, we need to realize one important thing: in our quest to get to our !!!!!EXTREEEEEEME!!!!! personal contentment with the social climate of America, we are voting in politicians on the promise that they will give an !!!EXTREEEEEEME!!!!! beating to the things and people that we tend not to agree with.

Witholding something from, or taking something away from another doesn’t make you more free. It makes us all less so. Voting in someone on the intent of having them withold or take something from someone else is at best, juvenile, at worst, sadistic. The price you pay for living in a free society is that you often have to tolerate things you don’t like in order to freely engage in the things you do like. And I don’t mean we all have to suck it up and accept the presence of the TSA, because that is a hidous cancer that I’ll get my hooks into later. I’m talking about lifestyles, about preferences, about interests and choices.

Let me remind you again that I do my damndest to walk right down the middle. There are traditonally ‘conservative’ opinions that I agree with. There are traditionally ‘liberal’ opinions that I can agree with. I don’t agree with such things in that I want to align myself with one or the other, I do it because I love freedom. Freedom is total. Freedom is absolute. Freedom has no contingencies, no clauses, no ifs, ands or buts. Freedom for one does not come at the expense of the other. The fact that it is acceptable to stand behind a candidate who gleefully squashes the freedoms of other groups because it is a party of ‘values’ makes me sick. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans understand values, nor do they understand freedom. They undersand this: “We’re good, you’re bad, and we will do whatever we can to force you to be like us. And then we will also screw over the people who voted for us, because we don’t give a toss about anyone’s freedom, we just want your tax dollars so we can do some !!!EXTREEEEEEEME!!!! pork barreling and possibly get hookers.”

Example: The left typically seeks to disarm America. As if stripping away a Constitutional right will make us more free, I assure you, makes us less so. It also does not make us more safe, more happy, more attractive or more successful. And the Democratic party pursues this issue with great fervor, screamingt that this will save millions of lives, despite hard evidence to the contrary. And anyone who wanders into the Dems’ clubhouse that isn’t on board with this gets stuck at the kid’s table. There have been a great number of good Democrats who respected the Constitution and were able to take a less extreme approach. Can the average American, including myself, name any? Not really. I actually would have voted Democrat in 2008 if Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) hadn’t been swept under the rug with his near-libertarian platform. He loved freedom, moderation and compromise. Therefore, he was not interesting. If they’re not able to foam at the mouth on television, nobody wants to listen. Moderation and critical thinking? Bah! Gimmie my ten-pound bacon burger, NOW!!!!!

The Republicans have been in a tizzy over gay rights for ages. Despite all the heterosexual divorces and affairs and unwed mothers and the Kardashians, they bewail the death of family values, and how it’s the fault of those damn dirty queers. They vote again and again to keep gay Americans on the second tier, as if they weren’t human beings or real citizens like the rest of us. They’re less legally entitled to the rights we give to everyone else because they don’t fit the Bible’s description of an acceptable coupling. I’m not knocking the Bible, I’m Catholic. However, last time I checked, the supreme law of the land was the Constitution, not the Bible. And so the Republican Decency Officer of the week(tm) takes a break from banging his mistress screams and carries on about how gays are destroying the very soul of the American family. Despite overwhelming evidence that the increased divorce rate is unrelated to people coming out of the closet, the Republicans are sure they’ve nailed the problem. And heaven help the Republican who wanders into the clubhouse thinking that, instead of treating gays like a disease, treat them like Americans instead. Can you name any like that? Offhand, I can’t, because they get stuck working the coat check. No one wants a Republican that isn’t a loony Bible thumper anymore. The calm and measured approach isn’t exciting enough. Gimmie my damn 26-inch rims and 1,000 watt kickerbox NOW!!!!!

And so, in our appetite for the extreme, we have sought out those who are farther and farther from the sensible, center ideal, and closer to the totalitarian ends. And no matter which side you align with, you are someone else’s bad guy. In search of the magical man or woman who is going to transform America into your personal utopia, you have screwed someone else out of their right to Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Don’t like guns? Don’t get one. Hate gays? Don’t be one. Don’t like smut on TV? Change the channel. Can’t stand hearing the national anthem? Don’t go to the baseball game. We’re so busy trying to make sure that no one else doesn’t do the stuff we don’t like, we’ve lost sight of the fact that we’re just screwing ourselves out of our overall freedom.

And to those who huff and puff that their side is still better, riddle me this: Why can your team never work with the other team to balance our budget, yet they had no problem joining hands with the enemy to pass the Infinite Detention Bill? Totalitarianism wears both a left boot and a right boot. On whose throat will your favorite candidate’s boot rest? Are you voting for a better, freer America, or are you voting to keep ___________ away from the ___________s? I don’t write this to urge anyone to vote for anyone in particular. I’m only urging you to take a look at what our offerings are, and consider how your choice affects the greater good. Your awesome is someone else’s misery. Could you find it in your heart to forego awesome and settle for good, if it means someone else gets to move up from miserable to good? We’re not always going to get what we want, all the time, and if you’re big enough to read stuff like this, you’re big enough to have figured that out. At least I hope you have. But do take to heart that we are all here, we are all Americans, and the choices we make don’t affect only us. Because, as you’re busy arguing about the moral superiority of your team, they’re working with the other team to build a state of !!!EXTREEEEEEEME!!! martial law. No one is going to care who you voted for when you’re in the gulag. There will be no arguing about it on the internet when you’re breaking rocks. By then it’ll be too late to wish you’d voted for someone a little less hardline, and you’ll see how snatching freedom from others only made all of us slaves in the end.

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T-Rex Versus The TSA

I got into an internet argument the other day. Yes, I know, fighting on the internet is like competing in the Special Olympics. But this wasn’t an argument about which is the best rock band of all time or why your SportsBall(tm) team is stupid. I was arguing against the TSA. I didn’t win, I didn’t lose. I presented somewhat well, I managed not to be too much of a jerk, and I made my case as well as I could. But there were still plenty who weren’t interested in hearing it, they insisted that we need the TSA and that this all keeps us safe, and don’t I remember 9/11? Of course I do. I even remember what I was wearing. And it was a Tuesday.

Anyway, I was on Facebook having this argument. I know, on Facebook, even worse. From the profile pictures, it was clear that I was arguing with mostly people in their late teens and early twenties. There were a few in there my age, who I figured would know better, but had the appalling attitude that we needed to “man up” and accept our gropings. Either way, when I got home that night and started going over the whole thing in my head, something occurred to me. In 2001, I was 27 years old. Someone who is 25 now would have been 14.  Someone who is 18 now would have been seven.  That got me to thinking.

When I was about 12, we were shown old news footage in History class about the Berlin wall. I stared in horror at the people making a beeline for the barbed wire as the guards opened fire.  Even in that grainy, gray footage, I could see the contorted face of the woman being dangled from a window as she tried to leap to safety on the western side of the wall. I was terrified. I watched the people walking past the guards with their heads bowed, clutching their children’s hands, afraid to look up.  That night, I laid in my narrow bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering what I would do if I were there. Would I try to escape? Would I go for the fence, even if it meant death? On the bus to school the next day, I brought it up and my friend scoffed and rolled her eyes. “It’ll never happen here, dummy, this is America.” And sure enough, in class the next day, we discussed why what happened to those people in Berlin could never happen here, and it was because we were a free country and we had the Constitution, which protected us from such things.

Aside from 9-11, there were some 15 skyjackings in my lifetime. There were bombings. I can still see the scattered bits of Pan Am 103 spread over Lockerbie, Scotland as if I were watching the news footage right now . And yet, we never had to endure then what we do now before boarding a plane. We were given the benefit of the doubt that we were not all criminals and terrorists because this is a free country and we are all innocent until proven guilty. And as I tried to argue this in that internet thread, people responded to me as if I were nuts. They reacted to me like I was some old coot screeching about how music nowadays is a bunch of noise and these damn teenagers need to get haircuts. When I got home that night, I started putting the pieces together about those people, and their ages, and something very upsetting occurred to me: To them, this is perfectly normal. To someone who was seven at the birth of the TSA, there has never been a time when going to the airport didn’t mean a strange adult’s hand down their pants. To someone who was a little older and may not have flown until they were teenagers, same thing. To them, this is perfectly normal and they’ve never had it any other way.

I suppose it’s similar to how those who are born blind don’t lament their lack of sight. They never had it, they don’t know what they’re missing, they’ve gotten along okay, and that’s that. Yes, things are harder for them than they would be if they could see. But since they’ve never known our sighted easy, their blind difficult is just their normal. Even if I were to passionately explain sight to someone born blind, I would never be able to make them understand what’s so great about it. They would be unaware of color, of perspective and depth. That ‘I’m crushing your skull’ gag? They’ll never try it. Seeing a movie? Forget it. And I could go on and on about why sight is so wonderful and so important. But to someone who’s never had it, they’re not going to see what the big deal is.

So then I thought about those stern-faced kids in the old news footage from Berlin. Those who were five years old when the wall went up would just stop noticing it after a while. Especially if they had parents who urged them not to look, to hurry past and don’t ask questions. And once those kids turned 20 and became parents, that wall had been there for fifteen years and to their babies, the wall was always there. And when those babies were twenty and became parents, that wall was still there, and to their babies, it was always there. For three generations, going to the market under the stare of armed guards was perfectly normal. Rolls of barbed wire were everywhere like trees would be. And that big wall split the country and no one asked what was on the other side.  Until one day, when that last group of babies was eight years old, people took to the wall with hammers and trucks and tore it down. And  thousands of people laughed and cried and danced and kissed on the rubble. The Scorpions were on the radio 24-7, and the world rejoiced as the bells of freedom rang in Berlin. And I sat in my parent’s basement and watched with the casual detachment of a fifteen year old.  I had forgotten about those sad gray people in the old footage and was smugly assured that such things didn’t happen here in America.

I realized that in my anti-TSA ranting in that internet thread,  I was arguing to that first set of kids who were there when the wall went up. I was arguing about why their normal was wrong and why things were better before. I was urging them to look,  don’t hurry past, do ask questions. And they didn’t understand why this stranger was so agitated about something that seemed normal to them. I realized I was explaining sight to those who were born blind. While it sounded convenient, they were doing fine under their burden. What good is it to wave my hands and scream about the loss of freedom to those who have never had what I’ve experienced? To them, it’s normal to get groped at the airport. It’s normal to have cameras on every corner and in every building and in their own hand, 24-7. It’s normal to tell the world every time they have a bowel movement, and to have the entire school see photos of them nearly naked.  They don’t feel the weight of the noose on their necks because they’ve never lived without it. I’ve come screaming into the Orwellian construct that we need to escape while there’s still time,  and they can’t understand why I would want to. In here, we’re safe from terrorists.

So, perhaps I should give it up. My generation will get old and die, and the one after us is already growing up with this as their normal. And so will their children. And each new measure that is implemented, each loss of their freedom is met with a shrug of the shoulders and a bowed head. And the loonies like me who screamed for it to stop get lost in the dust, and the old way is forgotten.

But hey….Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are dating now. The press is calling them ‘Kimye’.

Damn.

My toe can’t reach the trigger.