What Slouches Towards Bethlehem

I spent some time reading the news over the last few days…

I think I need to repogram my browser’s ad blocker to be a news blocker, too. Just one day on a news aggregation site — just one day — read like some freaking end-times prophecy. Honestly, we’re gonna have to name this the “Yeats Era”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Remember that civil war that I said was coming? Yeah, apparently I’m not alone in that cynicism. Rasmussen did a poll on the topic (here’s a link to their article on it) and found that almost a third of the US thinks a civil war is pretty damned likely…

11260C46-9429-4BEF-907D-D8D0AFF3A5CCWonderful. I don’t know if a poll like that is enough to turn cynicism into self-fulfilling prophecy, but I don’t particularly like where the odds are going on this one.

I understand the passion of protestors, and the deeply held beliefs on both sides. But both sides have crossed the lines that help us to function as a stable, rational society. Both sides are pushing us into confrontation and vitriol and hate that, honestly, has only one end.

When your opponent becomes an adversary that’s survivable. It ain’t great, not in any nation that was to find some form of cohesion, but it’s not Armageddon. When your adversary becomes an enemy, however…

Enemies are nefarious, they’re evil. Enemies cannot be overcome, they must be utterly defeated. Enemies must be killed and all vestiges stamped out.

The fringes of American politics are already well past the stage where any who disagree are enemies. The main body, so far, has resisted following the whackjobs into that particular madness. From the mainstream left to the mainstream right, we have been stuck at the adversary stage for several decades…and that’s something that has helped to keep us together as a nation.

Unfortunately, the numbers of those who are willing to hold back from insanity are shrinking. Ten years ago, it was maybe 10-15% of the political spectrum that was fixated on enemies and conflict. Nowadays? Now, it’s more like 50-60%.

How long until people are killed for “believing the wrong thing”? How long until people are killed for who they vote for? Or what policies they support? Once we cross that line, that path to civil war is unstoppable. Plain and simple, the descent into rage and blood will come.

Is there a way to step back? A way to stop this before we fall into that “watering the Tree of Liberty” thing?

The writer in me says, well, of course there is. There has to be a choice…it’s the only way to give your protagonist agency, and to have a plot worth following.

But the historian in me?

The historian in me is looking for somewhere to hide.

By the way, do you have any idea at all how much I regret NOT heading up to Yellowstone again this summer? I could have hidden away from all this shit…I could have lived in happy ignorance.57FC8202-0BB6-40F7-89AB-6BE185F1ECC6

Hey, look, make fun of ostriches all you want, but there’s something to be said for the occasional insertion of one’s cranium into a convenient hole.

Antagonism vs. Aspiration

Oh, what the hell…it’s “news” right now, so why not jump on the bandwagon?

The NFL anthem controversy.

Again.

Crap, will this thing never go away? It is, perhaps, the stupidest and most pointless “controversy” on the face of the planet right now. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence someone sits, there are bigger things to worry about than this.

Now, first off, one thing needs to be said — it doesn’t matter on which side of the kneel-or-stand debate you are, Trump’s comment the other day was the most moronic, asinine and stupid thing in the world:

“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

No. Just no. Actually, not just no — hell no.

Leaving aside the NFL crap — I’ll get to that in a moment — any act of respect or honor, just like any act of faith or gratitude, must be heartfelt and self-initiated to have any worth whatsoever. That is why, by the way, I don’t like the mandatory Pledge of Allegiance in schools. For such a thing to have any meaning, just like standing for the anthem, a student/kid/person must willingly choose to participate. Anything else is just empty symbolism.

Okay, that being said…what about the NFL?

I wrote once before about this, when it was picking up steam. My point then — as a guy who has played team sports all his life — was that the “kneelers” were being selfishly individual in what is, honestly, a sport where team has to be everything. I thought teams should act, one way or the other, as a team. The decision belongs in the locker room, and especially with the team leaders.

Of course, that was a year ago. I thought then that this whole thing would soon die out. How naive.

The whole issue has, sadly, become conflated with the current cultural and political divide tearing us apart as a nation. And that is just stupid. Must everything be about “beating” the other side?

Sadly, I know the answer to that.

*sigh*

It is important to note that, in spite of all the rhetoric and vituperation — on BOTH sides — this is not an argument about patriotism. This is not an argument about love of country, nor is it about who is a “better” American. There is no such thing as a better American. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are any more or less American or patriotic than the other, and anyone who thinks they are “better” — anyone who wants to use patriotism as a weapon — is helping only to bring us down.

What this whole thing is about is money, and the currency of power.

From the NFL’s point of view, it’s quite simple: this is purely a question of marketing. Roughly forty percent of their fan base was upset, for one reason or another, with the anthem protests. No business can afford to offend that large a portion of their customers. The league had to do something…unfortunately, they screwed the pooch from day one by trying to play to both sides. They didn’t “solve the problem” in the first place, which irked the first 40%, and now they have backtracked on their “promise” to allow the players to choose, which alienates another 40%.

Congratulations, NFL, for once again kicking yourself in the balls.

The league does, by the way, have every legal right to dictate the players stand during the anthem. That is a fact, whether you “like” the protests or not. It is a workplace environment, and the employer can dictate workplace rules. And, no, those rules do not apply to the league’s customers (the fans). Anyone arguing that the new rule applies to fans as well is just putting up a pointless strawman.

The NBA, by the way, requires their players to stand, on pain of suspension, yet there is no brouhaha surrounding that league…

Now, for the player’s point of view. I can understand the impulse and reasoning…understand, at least, those players who actually have considered and heartfelt positions.  Players like Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. He knelt, but that was just the beginning for him. He went on to sit down with Denver police officers. He participated in ride-alongs. He took part in some of their training scenarios on shooting and violence. He articulated what he saw as problems, and worked with others to come up with solutions. That is legitimate, respectable and honorable. That is the kind of thing we need more of if we are to solve, well, anything.

Unfortunately, Marshall’s attitude and actions are not the rule. Many of the “protestors” had/have no clear message, and instead offer only the vaguest generalities and broad-brush attacks on others. These folks are just as guilty of politicization and divisiveness and useless antagonism — and are as worthy of scorn — as those who want to turn overt, ostentatious “patriotism” into a political weapon.

Others have no plan or goal, other than one of protest for the sake of protest. For that group, kneeling WAS the message, rather than a tactic to bring attention to any particular problem. This is the group — players, reporters and fans — who are most virulently up in arms right now about the new rule. They are not talking not about the ostensible reasons for the protests in the first place — racism and policing — but are talking only about…protesting.

Folks, if the tactic becomes the message, you are doing something wrong.

On a personal level, I should probably say a couple of things. First off, as much as the league screwed up in their initial handling of this issue (and in all subsequent efforts to “handle” it), the players screwed up just as badly. There was no plan, there was nowhere to go, there was just…protest. When this thing first came to a head, then was the time for a real message. Then they had the real spotlight and soapbox, then was the inflection point for action. Now? Now, positions are so bitterly entrenched that neither side can even hear the other. Decisions and judgments have been made, and the bitter reality of political “teams” has taken over.

Secondly — leaving aside the team-versus-individual dynamic of football — I was not a fan of the kneeling. To me, on a personal level, the flag is a symbol. Not a symbol of the US as it is, and not a symbol exclusively of the military and those who have sacrificed, but a symbol of aspiration. It is a symbol of what the nation could be. It is something to rally around as a higher ideal, something to unify us and give the common identity and purpose we need to make things better.

The US is far from perfect, in any sense. Culturally, socially, politically, economically, and yes racially, we still have a lot of ground to cover. But we cannot even begin to cover that ground if we cannot agree on a common identity…and the flag is, to me, the symbol of that identity, and of the aspiration to be better.

That being said, I may not have liked the protests, but I do not question the hearts of those who protested, nor their motives. I am a white man, I only know the realities and problems of racism through conversations with minority friends. I have no personal experience. Now, I’m not going to even try to tackle racism in this post, but I have heard and learned enough from those friends to understand…a bit.

In the end, it is that message that matters. It is neither the protests, nor the politics and bile currently taking hold, that matter. The answer is not to kneel, nor to attack the kneelers. The answer is for every player to be a Brandon Marshall…and for every fan to be a Brandon Marshall. The answer is to understand, and to aspire for more.

Ten Years Ago

I want you to think back ten years. Think back to where you were, and what you were doing. Think back to what you believed, and what you thought, and what you knew to be true.

Now, I want you to talk to that younger self. C’mon, c’mon…just do it. If I can talk to my (fictional) characters, you can at least talk to yourself!

Okay, now that you’re talking, I want you to tell yourself a couple of things:

1) Bill Cosby is going to prison for rape.
2) Donald Trump is president.

Congratulations, you just gave your younger self an aneurism.

Look, in all seriousness, if some physicist discovered time travel tomorrow and sent3C6C2F46-2C1E-4CB7-9DF0-B691D26A89C8 a note back to his younger self, who the hell would actually believe any of that? Idiocracy was NOT supposed to be a documentary!

I’ve been asked about the “predictions” and assumptions I make in my writing. I’ve been doubted and debated about them a great deal, in fact: about endemic poverty and exploitation, about drugs and sex, and about hopelessness and despair. The future, folks have said to me, is going to be different, it’s going to be better.

E67DAEED-FFE6-4200-91F0-546E04C7F8B5So, just which of my assumptions are in any way less likely than #s 1 and 2 above?! Reality is — always has been, and always will be — far stranger than fiction, but humanity…humanity is even worse.  We always find new and improved ways to screw things up.

One day we will have spread throughout our solar system. One day we might travel, even, to the stars. Hell, one day we will very likely beat the diseases and disorders and problems that so plague us physically today. But even with all of that, even with all of the technology and advances, we won’t change one bit just who we really are.

To refer to a previous post, we humans will always bind ourselves with Marley’s chains. Whether our chains are those of greed, or of ignorance, or of hate and intolerance, that clanking and clinking will follow us not just for the rest of our days, but also for all the days of our children and grandchildren…because, like every generation before us, that is the legacy we have left them.

And people wonder why writers drink…

Back To Kindergarten With You!

I made a mistake this weekend.

Umm…

Okay, so that particular opening ain’t terribly helpful, let alone surprising.  Maybe I should elaborate: I read the comment section on a news story. And not just any news story, but one about Barbara Bush’s funeral.

Now, look…in many cases, I like comment sections. I’ve mentioned before that they are far-and-away the most entertaining part of any story about “flat earthers” — or any conspiracy story, really — and they can be seriously fun to peruse at the end of sports stories.

B39BD0E7-46E5-43D8-B357-D8F7E46516C3They can also, from time to time, provide a counter-balance to the biases and editorial slants that all writers bring to their stories (whether consciously or not). Unfortunately, those same comment sections can also be the worst cesspools of hate, anger and utter vitriol on the face of the planet.

They are also a pretty damned good barometer of just where I fear our society is headed.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter who you like or dislike. Just as it doesn’t matter how much you like or dislike them. That’s your business. Liking someone who I don’t has no bearing on your worth as a human being, nor on our ability to be friends. That’s just plain common sense…or at least it should be. Any person who decides another is stupid — or evil, or malfeasant, or any of the other insults folks like to throw around — based solely on their politics and who they like, however, is the problem.

I can hear what you’re thinking right now: but those are online comments, those are the anonymous posturings of weak, vicious people who would never have the “courage” to utter anything like that in real life…

Maybe.

Cute siblings teasing each otherSadly, I know far too many people — good people, in general — who fall into that very same trap to have any real confidence in humanity. I know far too many people who can watch or read a news story, and attack one side or the other in the most virulent, personal manner. I know far too many people who do judge the “worth” of others based on who they voted for, or who they read, or who they support.*

*Do I REALLY have to mention again that this is in no way absolute? David Duke, Louis Farrakhan, and the rest of the dangerous psychos, have no part in this discussion. See my posts about Roy Freaking Moore if you want insight into my limits…here, here and here.

To give this an anecdotal, personal slant (since this is a personal blog): I have more than once mentioned my own libertarianism, and the fact that I voted for neither “side” in the last election. Yeah, I’m that guy, the one who “threw away” his vote on a third-party. If you think I don’t get judged and attacked by both sides because of it, I want some of what you’re smoking…

The bottom line, to keep this on the topic I started with, is that a person is neither evil nor insane simply because they believe differently. Barbara Bush was not a Nazi, nor was she the wife and mother of mass murdering war criminals. She was a woman of dignity and strength who tried her best to reach out to all Americans, and to be a wife, mother and grandmother with whom we could all find some common ground.

To those who DID post the comments: whether you like her or not, whether you agree with her or not, dehumanizing and attacking a 92-year-old who just passed says far more about you than it does about her.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that it’s time for our entire society to go back to kindergarten and start over…