Friday, April 15, 2011

Freak Out Nation

What feels like an eternity ago, I wrote a short piece on Facebook called Freak Out Nation, back when my whole blog was confined to just a few dozen of my friends who happened to comment on it.  I don't know who reads this blog now, but I feel like a lot of things happened since then, and I want to revisit it.

I think it goes without saying that I'm not terribly pleased with the state of things in both my home country of the United States and the world at large, but especially here in the U.S.  I've had a difficult life that hasn't terribly pleased me either, but eventually I came to terms with it by coming to understand it -- and myself -- and the situation is no different with society at large.  Needless to say, there are some pretty huge parts of our society that are highly dysfunctional right now, and I want to help.  Maybe this is all an exercise in futility.  It probably is.  But I can't change how I feel, and so I'm stuck.  I never really started out in life wanting to be political, but that's how it happened.  So, with that in mind, let me get straight to the point.
An hysterical woman, presumably liberal based on the haircut.

America, we need to talk about our feelings.

I'll be the first to admit, I've been part of the problem.  Passion is an all-too-human emotion.  One could even argue that it strikes right at the core of who we are as a species.  A lot of what I see around me makes me very angry.  What's to be angry about?  Lots.  According to pretty much everybody it seems to be the end of America as we know it, though the operational definitions of what exactly that means vary depending on who you ask.  Government is dysfunctional.  The media has abdicated any and all responsibility to service the public good.  The apocalypse is nigh.  Perhaps the question should rather be "What's not to be angry about?"  But if one thing has been made abundantly clear to me in the past year, it's that anger is part of the problem, not the solution.

I've arrived at the point as a blogger and an observer of human behavior where labels are starting to mean less and less to me.  The fact of the matter is, so-called liberals and conservatives are behaving in exactly the same way right now, from Glenn Beck and the Tea Party to Jon Stewart and progressives.  We're all stark-raving mad with hysteria.  For a while, because of the social dynamics, it seemed to me like this was much more of a conservative thing than a liberal one.  I was wrong.  At this point, I feel like it almost doesn't even matter who gets elected anymore.  It doesn't matter how good Democratic legislation is if they can't articulate it.  It doesn't matter how well Republicans articulate their policy as long as it's dysfunctional.
A hysterical man, who I presume is conservative because
he's wearing a tie.
There is a bizarre belief that has come to permeate American society, particularly endemic to my parent's generation, however by no means limited or exclusive to it.  It is the belief that unless one gets everything one wants exactly as one wants it, one might as well not have anything at all.  Put another way, it's all or nothing.  One side or the other will be very quick to accuse the other of this, but I have yet to find a partisan of any stripe who's willing to recognize it in themselves.  Frankly, I'm flabbergasted that it's even come to this.  For one thing, an all or nothing attitude in life is at best unrealistic, and at worst incredibly damaging and potentially even lethal.  All or nothing is an attitude of entitlement, of dashed hopes and broken expectations that guarantees disappointment.

Conservatives wanted to undo the 1960s.  They didn't get it.  Now they're freaking out.  Liberals wanted essentially a revival of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.  They didn't get that either.  Both might as well be logical fairy tales, but that hardly seems to matter.  There is still the expectation that they'll get exactly what they want.  Surprise, surprise, the politicians they elect, who come from the same pool of imperfect, flawed human beings that they do, fail to deliver upon their superhuman expectations.  Starting to sound familiar?

There is this idea in our society that our public figures, by they religious, political, or social leaders/celebrities are somehow superhuman and therefore flawless.  We elect and support ideals, represented by people.  Yet we're always both shocked and dismayed when those same leaders fail to perfectly embody the ideal.  A lot of people like to argue that it's always been this way, but I'm not so sure.  Even if it were literally true, the context in which it happens -- under the glare of the self-empowering and self-validating internet and a self-absorbed and irresponsible, dysfunctional media -- changes its meaning, and thus the results.  A society which has historically relied on its emotions in public decision-making has now been deluged by an avalanche of opinions and facts to support whatever position they desire.

That to me would seem to indicate a realignment in our we view ourselves, and thus our leaders is in store, but instead we've collectively chosen the path of short-term least resistance, which is to remain in denial and grasp at whatever we can find to support our now-challenged beliefs.  Which is not to assign blame or pass judgment -- I certainly can't say I would do any better in that position.  I only come at this from the position the lesson learned as a matter of survival.  Without motivation like that, confronting that kind of emotional vulnerability is next to impossible even in the best of circumstances.  Yet soon, millions of die-hards of all walks of life are going to have to for the reason I did: to not will be kinetic death, if not literally than figuratively.  When that finally does occur, who knows what could happen?

As this drama unfolds, I've watched something truly remarkable: the actual message of both sides has degenerated to the point of nonsense.  This happened first with the Democrats in 2009 and early last year, and it's happening now with Republicans.  The only difference is that the Republican true believers  currently have the megaphone of Fox News to create the illusion of coherence, and thus effectiveness.  Jon Stewart wonders why Democrats can't articulate the role of government anymore, it's because the message has broken down, and they haven't done themselves the courtesy of self-righteous delusion like the Republicans have.  As for the Republicans, both their policies and their message has become little more than a string of cobbled-together ideological buzzwords and concepts with little meaning  beyond the surface.  What has the progressive response been?  Panic, defensiveness, and a particularly sick strain of nihilism.  Which, by the way, was exactly what was playing out among the Republican base two years ago.

So what do we do?  For one thing, we need to calm down.  Then we need some new ideas.  So long as the Baby Boomers maintain a stranglehold on the jobs market and politics, that's not going to happen.  Which will only make my generation all the more irresponsible when it finally does take power.  The problem is not one of policy, or even really articulation.  It's purely timing.  You can have the best ideas in the world, but it matters jack shit if no one's willing to listen.  In the meantime, the truly bad people out there in this world can hijack the system almost at will, and they're doing their damnedest to do just that.

I'm not an idiot, so I know that this is, as I said in the beginning, mostly an exercise in futility.  Things will sort themselves out, eventually.  The policies we need are logical inevitabilities -- it's just a matter of when.  But I can at least take responsibility for my own part in all this.  I'm done trying to bring people down.  We have enough of that.  Let's lift each other up, again.  We can do this.  I'm not going to pretend like I can do this on my own, but at least I'll have tried.  We're all responsible for this mess, and it falls to each of us individually to do our part to clean it up.  So enough histrionics.  Enough nihilism.  Life is what you make it.  Stop worrying and go out and live.

It's all any of us can really do.

1 comment:

  1. That first picture is actually of a man. Who I assume is liberal on account of him not conforming to traditional masculinity, and the lack of a tie.

    But, yes. To everything.