The more things change, the more they stay the same… we are living in a turbulent and fractious time, one that mirrors in some ways the end of the great Roman Empire. Except without the cool modes of dress, orgies, gladiators and problems with drinking water… hold up, wait… dammit we do have those things. So yeah, kinda like the end of the great Roman Empire.
How long before the barbarian invades? We fiddle while everything burns down around us…
Hold on a second, let me give some background first.
Now, before you pass this off as some angry rant about the government – it’s not (maybe just a little). It’s about my no longer being able to care or comprehend it. It’s about a loss of faith.
Maybe I’ll regain it by the end if the post. Maybe the music will swell and I’ll stand tall and declare that I won’t give up, no matter what… that I’ll stand proud and American.
I was born the year Kennedy was assassinated and grew up in a time when America was throwing off the heavy overcoat of convention and post-World War 2 patriotism. I was too young to be a part of the hippy movement, too young to be counter-culture. I missed the Summer of Love because I was only four and as I got older, became more and more confused and puzzled by all the hub-bub about Vietnam and things like the Watts Riots and Watergate. To be honest, I wasn’t really that aware of what was going on, just that my parents would watch stuff about these things on TV. The words and place names stuck in my head – but I really didn’t have a clue to what they meant. I was too wrapped up in Playing with toys or putting model kits together or reading comic books. I remember having the thought I was glad my name started with a letter that was at the front of the alphabet, because anything after the letter Q really seem to be about bad stuff.
As I entered into my middle twenties I started to look back at the time I grew up in, to examine it, because I was wondering what was so important about the late 60’s, why was there such a concentration of nostalgia about it… And I learned a lot.
The old guard had spewed poison at the new youth, the youth stuck the finger at the man.
Same old story. Your generation just doesn’t understand…
Hate and racism were pretty out in the open, Polish joke books flew off the shelves, the only black kids I knew were the Jackson Five and the deep South was some foreign country I never wanted to visit – why would I? They beat people with clubs or hung them from trees or blasted them with fire hoses and sicked dogs on them.
One of my clearest pre-teen childhood memories was thinking about something that scared me. And by “clearest memory” I mean, a memory I can actually recall analyzing, lying in bed at the end of the day and wondering about something that what was going on outside of myself, rather than just paying attention to my own wants and needs (which were at that point pretty much focused on playing with friends and reading comic books) .
I remember thinking how scary high school kids were.
I had probably had an encounter with some of them or with some Junior High kids one afternoon. We were living on the Air Force Academy in Colorado and we walked to school, so chances are I had walked through some cul-de-sac where teenagers were hanging out. I don’t have a distinct picture of it in my head, just an impression really but it was a real Kelly Leak type moment, the kind of subtle bullying that was pretty normal and that every kid experiences. You get called out for a shirt you are wearing or your pants or haircut, because you are alone and they are in a group… can’t really remember what was said, probably something like, “Hey kid, do you suck it?” which was creepy and confusing, but whatever it was, they’d laughed about it. Happened all the time.
Plus, there were lots of ‘cautionary’ tales being broadcast at the time, tales involving bad things that teenagers would get into, or that would happen because they were rebellious and dis-respectful, or confused and wanted to ‘grow up’ too fast. “Go Ask Alice” and Sarah T come to mind…
So pretty much daily I had this vague uneasiness about anyone between the ages of 16 and 20. But it really wasn’t the kids in grades higher than me I was concerned with… what I was really dealing with, was what my parents and teachers and what was on TV and what everyone around me was conditioning me to be: I should be scared.
I had to be AFRAID. I had to FEAR things.
So, to me being in the fourth or fifth grade, high school existed in that place on the edge of the map that was marked with the phrase: HERE THERE BE DRAGONS.
High School kids listened to Zeppelin, Captain Beefheart, Alice Cooper and Jefferson Airplane (compared to the stuff that was played in my house: Buck Owens, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, and Sammi Smith).
They wore bell bottoms and chinos, puka shells and they smoked cigarettes and spent a lot of time sucking face and sneaking out of the house. High School kids were rude and sullen and dangerous and were one step away from joining the Manson family. They appeared in after school specials as drunks and drug users and were always ‘bucking the establishment.’
It didn’t help me at all, on Halloween in ’72 or ’73, that the local high school was turned into a haunted house. And so my first impression of the halls of higher learning was one where classrooms had been transformed into a series of dimly lit, odd smelling chambers, filled with bowls of peeled grape eyeballs, half-cooked spaghetti guts, jump scares, scratchy record SFX screams, howls and creepy noises.
So I had this nagging, daily worry that at some point someone older than me – not an adult, but someone who was still considered a “youth” – would harass or pick on or threaten me.
But there was also this hazy sense that at some point, as I got older and more developed, that I’d deal with it best I could — because, that’s just the way the world works. I mean, we live on a planet where just about everything can and would potentially kill you, were it not for hundreds of thousands of generations of learning and adjusting and changing and adjusting the environment to make it better suited to our fragile existence.
Suffice it to say, I came through my childhood, youth and teenage years pretty much unscathed and no worse for wear. In fact, I’m sure that ‘fear’ I was feeling was quite beneficial in the long run. It’s kept me out of trouble, out of jail and fairly healthy. And in fact, I don’t look at people with the same sort of trepidation I used to growing up.
In fact, I go into most interactions with people with the idea that the person isn’t out to hurt me in the slightest.
Except when I’m in city traffic and everyone loses their minds and behaves like the rules don’t apply to them. Then I’m pretty sure they are out to hurt me, because let’s face it… suddenly turning left across three lanes of traffic because you need Chipotle right that second is perfectly acceptable. And f**k the other guy for honking at you. The nerve of some people, coming between you and that tortilla-wrapped goodness.
Fear also prevented me from taking some risks I should have, made me question tings I shouldn’t have and to turn down one path when I probably taken the other… Fear is a necessary curse.
Where was I? Oh yeah – Everyone is looking out for themselves. So, all of those notions we develop, of someone being rougher or more willing to treat you unfairly – either because they want something or because they get a kick out it – never really go away.
There’s always going to be someone or a group of ‘someones‘ that will exert force and establish their version of right and wrong in order to justify their place in the world. Because… they’re afraid.
Is it any wonder why we sell so many guns in this country? We are ruled by fear – it’s not about the right to arm ourselves or to ensure our safety or promote the general welfare… its the simple “you-can’t-convince-me-otherwise” kind of mind-numbing fear that drives so many of us — that someone is going to come and take what you have. For whatever reason they will break into your house because they don’t have the ways and means to get things themselves… or because they are mean and see you as simply weak and useless.
As I’ve gotten older, as I’ve moved through each decade of my life, from teens to 20’s to 30’s, 40’s and now my 50’s… I see the US more and more as a country and a society ruled by fear. We are really slipping closer and closer towards a parody of what we should be – we are one dystopian step away (it seems) from the bizarro U.S. depicted in Escape from LA.
It’s easy to understand why fear is such a driving force in our lives. We live such short ones, a mere 70 or 80 years, maybe 90 if we are lucky. We are around so briefly and experience things for what really amounts to a eye-blink of time… that its easy to understand why so many are afraid. And given the state of affairs in the world since the mid-70’s (that’s almost 40 years now – but in truth it’s much longer, we’ve been dealing with it pretty much forever) we are on a daily basis confronted by the threat of terror.
It’s thrust in your face anytime you click a news website or watch a news program. Or pick any entertainment – movie, TV show, video game or novel. It’s struggle and fighting and death and on and on and on…
You would think that after thousands and thousands of years a species we could figure it out. But we can’t. And maybe we’re not meant to.
We certainly don’t seem to know how to govern ourselves – outside of imposing rules and laws that are designed to benefit a few, not the whole. Actually – correction – we do know how to govern. We do know how to control.
Only its never been about what’s right or what’s fair.
We are not living in a democracy, and never really have been. We want it to be, but it isn’t. What we have is a plutocracy that passes itself off as a democratic or republic form of government. And whats worse, we have a populace that agrees to it.
We want things to be fair and balanced, we want to believe the system works to the benefit of all… but humans by nature, aren’t concerned with the welfare of all. We live in a world that’s trying to kill us, remember? You don’t fight back, you are going to cease to exist.
Think that the governments of the ancient world were archaic, corrupt and terrible? Of course they were – it was the olden times, people were dumb and stupid then! Surely we live in a time so much more enlightened than that of Rome or Egypt! The silly governments were owned by the wealthy and powerful, the royal and the ‘chosen’ few – not like ours, we have free elections! They were decadent and Byzantine, they exploited a destitute lower class, engaged in slave labor and distracted the poor with eye-popping spectacles and ephemeral (who is gonna remember it ten years from now?) entertainment … and we’re right back to the top of the post again aren’t we?
Look around and tell me that we aren’t embroiled in the same type of governance. Tell me we aren’t … The more things change…
The definition of our supposed government – democracy – doesn’t have anything to do with what’s fair. By definition, it will never be balanced. Because no two people ever really want the same things… we’ve agreed to some systems we can tolerate and live with, all the while hoping or striving to make sure we stay just ahead of the other guy at the expense of another guy.
And some will puff and preen and say, that’s freedom baby! Capitalism rules! It’s better than the alternative! What are you, a Communist? A Socialist? You’re anti-American son!
And we are right back to me walking by a group of shady looking teenagers who are taunting me because – I’m not part of the group.
Democracy isn’t a system designed to be one that’s fair and it never will be – it is swayed by fear and jealousy and petty human greed. Because the people that its of and by and for, they are afraid and jealous and petty and greedy.
What’s it all for?
And so, when I surf over to CNN or HuffPost or see the twitter feed blasting out more vitriol and posturing from my supposed leaders and officials, I just simply can’t bring myself to care… and that’s on me.
The answer I will mostly likely get to that assertion is: if you want to change it, then get involved. Do your part to make the system better.
But how can you make something so broken and so hopeless, better? Especially if, even if positive change takes place… someone else, someone younger than me or more ambitious than me or more desperate than me, comes along and does everything they can to undo it. Or what’s more likely is that someone richer than me will spend way more than I ever could to make sure that… nothing changes.
Distract and misdirect, posture and bluster… and round and round and round.
Can you start to see the ugly and vicious circle we are all trapped in? The one we trapped ourselves in? How do we even begin to start to fix it?
The answer of course, is to stop being afraid. Stop hoarding things. Stop trying to be the richest SOB on the planet. Stop thinking ugly about people you don’t know.
I want to be Zen or Buddhist about things. I want to Just Be. It’s a great concept, one that speaks to me and which I strive for… and fail more often than not.
But because I was raised as a Westerner, the idea of just Being is hard to grasp. There are things to do, things to write and things I have to deal with.
And when it comes to politics and governing, try really hard to be Zen. But then things get thrust in front of you and you just have to respond.
I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, I don’t expect anything to change.
What I do expect is that things are going to get worse before they get better. What I expect is that I will be disappointed about this country’s lack of fairness and self-righteous sense of privilege. Greatest country on earth? Once maybe… do I agree with everything that Sorkin says in that scathing bit of writing? Most of it, yeah.
And it was written in 2012. Four years ago.
Has anything changed? We have candidates on both sides of the fence (which is a whole other issue – why are we still mired in this idiotic two party system?) – who claim they can make America great again.
How? How can you make the US great?
Stop making us afraid. Start making things fair. Stop being so petty and ugly.
Start being kinder.