Thursday, April 20, 2017

"What Have We Become?"

I feel like we are losing the thread a bit. Trump's not a cause he's a symptom. These are not original thoughts, I'm just echoing those that are paying attention. We are losing the thread, the thread of our sense and purpose. I am losing my own thread: technology is too much, I have too many choices, I have too many necessary items to consume. I can't watch my kids play because I need to curate the moment it, tag it, post it.

We're getting uglier, courser. All of us, most of us. The political bubbles, the feedback loops—we are receding from common ground and common space, going to the warm places we know—it's getting too easy not to. In the year 2000 we looked around and said, "hey, look at us, we're pretty divided." We didn't think we could get more polarized—how quaint.

This computer in my pocket ensures that my brain is kept as a scattered slop house—endlessly flitting from Hot Take to Hot Take, reading the latest on everything under the sun, taking in the point and counter point, trying to do it all justice and therefore feeling that for sure I know nothing. "Well yes, but what about what he said..."

But I've come across three pieces in the last 24 hours, and they were different. As I read them I felt this sense of being re-membered...humanity being restored. In these pieces I felt like I was reading something from the old country, the old days; not the "good old days" that never were, but maybe a time where civility fetched a higher price at the social stock market than the "thanks for nothing" it can get you today.

Once I had read the third one I knew that I was going to need to do something to preserve them. Preserve the pieces, preserve the sense of restoration, and dare I say, hope, that they provided. They all spoke with eloquence the vague strings and inklings floating around in my mind; the notions that insist that there has to be a better way. Maybe we don't want to hate each other, maybe we don't want to hand over our best hours to our devices, our Netflix, our cult classics, three complete runs through Breaking Bad, periodic viewings of the improbable 2004 ALCS.

So I share these pieces with you. I plant them in this little home, mostly as a reminder for me, but there for anyone else who would like to benefit—we are not our best selves when wrapped up in the cocoon of our technology, or in the soft bosom of like-minded confidants who are more than eager to assure you, "it's ok to hate them, we've got each other." And with each assurance that this is so, our oasis of common ground shrinks a little more.

Piece one: In the age of Trump, can Mr. Rogers help us manage our anger?

"We demonize people when we feel powerless. We demonize when we do not know what to do with our own despair. But mad, we noted, is ever a form of sad, and our channels for engaging it thoughtfully cannot be controlled by nor are they dependent upon any elected official. We can make our own moments of pause together with others whenever we like. Let’s not let the outbursts of one man dictate our emotional lives or the way we address one another. President Trump’s chaos need not be our own. We can choose what we take in. And as we have to do with anyone who would try to reduce the whole world to the size of their own fear, we can respond with thoughtfulness at every turn. We can make of our own speech, our actions and our thinking a neighborhood expression of care."

Piece two: How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump

"Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps."

Piece three: Don’t Root for Suicide

"It is very easy to crack jokes and feel superior in the wake of Hernandez’s death. I know this because I am a professional Internet heckler. But there is something deeply fucked-up about a bunch of people cheering for suicide, especially a prison suicide. Not only does it reduce human life down to a tax burden (that, again, will not be relieved), but it suggests that the worst of us can never possibly be redeemed and are better off discarded. And then where do you draw the line? How can you tell which prisoners will turn the corner and make some amends for their crimes—leaving a trace of good in the world before standing in judgment before God—and which never will? Who else passes the Suicide Test?... Because when you reduce the worst of us down to mere animals, you become a bit more of an animal yourself."