Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Any Excuse to Pontificate....

Birthdays in middle age are, we are often told, supposed to be a time of reflection (or, if we believe the messages inside half the cards we get, a time for wild bacchanalia before we no longer have the energy for more than choking down a little prune juice).

This year, as with so many years in the past, my birthday has coincided with war. For a "peace-loving" people, we end up doing a lot of fighting, and, often, for some very specious reasons. As my 21st birthday approached, I was sitting in an army barracks, ordered not to leave from 8am to 5pm, while I waited for orders to Vietnam (fortuitously, those orders came and then, inexplicably, were cancelled--not until many years later did I realize that I was just one of Gen. Westmoreland's 200,000-odd man "contingency force").

I say, "fortuitously," because it was not an easy thing to acknowledge two competing forces in my psyche--a profound disbelief in the war in Vietnam as an urgently necessary war and the concurrent requirement, as a member of a military family, to accept one's then-current civic responsibility of military service when called.

I see my military service in that context--I succeeded in grudgingly doing what the army, in all its obscene stupidity, told me to do (thereby fulfilling the minimum requirement of military service), and I managed, somehow, not to kill anyone in the process.

But, nearly forty years later, I still think about the ways in which that war and succeeding wars have defined this country. The Age of Aquarius ended up being very, very short, indeed. The influence of the authoritarian right has become, in the intervening years, all-pervasive. We're told the country has become ever more conservative over the decades, and, as a result, we're inclined, as a nation--if we believe the mainstream press--to overlook our government's fundamental violations of civil and human rights in order to secure our safety.

Mostly, that received wisdom is bullshit, and always has been. The ordinary man in the street is happier living in a state of peace than in one of war, despite the general tendencies of the right to foster flag-waving nationalism in the public. True, fewer people understand the ramifications of attacks on their civil rights (since so few people understand their civil rights in the first place, and are, therefore, unable to quantify that loss from a personal perspective), but that's a matter of education, not natural inclination. Acquiescence is not directly equatable with informed acceptance.

Now, some of that reflection. Even after living through the Vietnam War, Nixon's excesses and the rollback of the New Deal and the governmental adulation of the multinational corporation that came to fruition in the Reagan years and continued through the administrations of Bush the Elder and Clinton, the Bush II years have been, overall, the worst time of my life. The sheer, brazen, bald-faced gall of the Bushies never fails to astound me. Equally, the realization that I'm not going to be able to do much more than resist that Bush Leviathan is frustrating.

It's for that reason that, these days, I often rely on the words of an old acquaintance who said, "nothing lasts forever--not even the bad things." Resistance (as a means of fixing in memory older and more enduring values and ethical bases) may be all that is possible when the cumulative political power of the citizen has been diminished and adulterated by programmatic misinformation and disinformation campaigns.

It's important to me that I keep in mind that George Bush and his cronies will not be in power forever. We have 2-1/2 more years of stupidity, arrogance and extremist ideology to endure. Uncurious George will continue to say truly stupid things, will continue to embody the Ugly American overseas, will continue to monger war in the name of Christ, peace, terror, strength, his Aunt Fanny twice-removed, whatever. Cheney will continue to play Rasputin in the Court of the Clown. Rove will continue to be Bush's Svengali (even Reagan had his astrologer).

But only for thirty more months. One of the things about impending old age is that time seems to go by more quickly than one might wish, and in the process of expectation about Bush's departure from government, along with his myriad idealogues, that's somewhat a good thing.

What happens in 2008, in the elections, however flawed they may be, can't be known as of now, but it's difficult to imagine a worse set of circumstances arising from those elections. The government won't suddenly be inhabited by sensible, progressive wise men and be bursting with great expectations, but, at least, it will no longer be occupied by the likes of the current crop of dunces and moral eunuchs, the rabid Christian right, snake-oil salesmen, Sauron's army and corporate procurers all at once.

To age gracefully is to live in hope for those who follow. One day, there will be a cure for AIDS/HIV. One day, some bright man or woman or collection of same will find ways to solve the energy/CO2 imbalances that plague us today. One day, we may achieve a means of governance which will not enable the strong and wealthy to exploit the weak and powerless. Maybe not instantly and all at once, but eventually.

These past years have been--and will continue to be in the near future--dark times, when reason has fled and appeals to base instinct have reigned, but, it need not be so forever. We will never achieve any utopia, of any kind, but we can and should expect better. We may even have to suffer more travails prompted by avarice and stupidity and blind ignorance before conditions improve. But, improve they will, with a little luck and more than a little perseverance.

Why do I think that? I'm not sure. Perhaps, it's only because the alternatives are too depressing to contemplate, even for the most jaded of cynics. Perhaps it's because of one realization--if our general situation doesn't improve, we're fucked--no matter what the minority right-wing crazies think about their ideal world under their Dear Leader. It's kind of difficult to generate much enthusiasm for the future when imagining Ann Coulter as the Minitrue minister and William Kristol as the Inner Party planner of faith-based warfare, so it's easier on the psyche to imagine them, one day, being relegated to the margins of society where they belong. Some possibilities are simply too ugly for even passing consideration, and to consider them seriously denies the mind the freedom to explore greater opportunities.

So, my advice to those of faltering hope, in a time of reflection. Take heart: nothing lasts forever--not even the bad things.

(the graphic is of the "Family of Man" sculpture in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which was originally part of the British exhibit at Montreal Expo `67)


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