A somewhat shocking thought occurred to me as I drove to work one morning last week: if I died—suppose that I was shot at school, as seems to be in vogue among crazy assholes with guns these days (thanks NRA)—would it really change anything? Yes, I realize this sounds incredibly self-centered, but hang with me—I promise I’m going somewhere with this…
Anyway, I realized, no—if I was gunned down in my classroom, it’s likely nothing would change. Sure my family members and friends would make noise and advocate for gun safety for a period of time, but at some point, they’d be overwhelmed by the immovable issue that is gun control in America, have their character attacked by crazy gun nuts (thanks NRA), and eventually be forced to move on with their lives without accomplishing anything.
The thing is, I wouldn’t blame them. And yes, in the grand scheme of life, I realize (even as wonderful as I think I am—obviously) that I’m just one dude, and there’s a hell of a lot of better, more influential and/or inspiring people than I to catalyze a political or social movement.
But still, it’s troubling… think about it: the same is probably true for you, dear reader. And again, as small as we might realize we are, it’s at first scary, and then perhaps, even a little puzzling. Why indeed, should a life taken unnecessarily matter so little? The answer is actually quite simple: we get the society we deserve.
Think about it this way: if America looks itself in the mirror, as Michael Jackson famously suggested, what do we see? I’d argue that the first image we see is a bottle of cheap liquor in front of a television, for we are a society dominated by entertainment and creature comforts. We’re talking booze, pot, prescription drugs, hard drugs, sugar, caffeine, food, television, movies, music, the internet, video games, sex, sports, religion, etc; all easily gotten and affordable to just about everyone.
The problem is not that there is something particularly wrong with any one of the above devices, but that they’re all we do—they’re all that matters in U.S. society. And it’s awfully hard to care about politics, to examine or discuss the important problems of our times, when instead, we can simply drug ourselves with our choice of recreational, hedonistic pleasures. More to the point, why would we expect family members of shooting victims to continue fighting for gun control when they can just forget about their pain and move on with enjoying their lives?
After all, there are football games to watch, beaches to lay on, wines to drink, and more ways to waste time on the internet than can possibly be conceived. Why think about gun laws or tax policy when you can go to Costco, pork down on cheap hotdogs and pizza, and then go sit off your food coma on a lazy boy watching any number of things on TV, while posting self-aggrandizing shit on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram?
Look, it’s not that some people aren’t beyond this, but the problem is, the inertia in our society is too powerfully flowing in the direction of instant gratification and constant entertainment to ever build much of a political or social movement for anything, even issues as important as gun control, education, tax policy, or job creation. And so we get what we deserve: a government that is incapable of solving the problems government’s should solve, because our citizenry is too busy consuming the excess entertainment they’ve been sold to forget about those very problems.
The second thing we’ll see if we look at ourselves in the mirror is a stinky asshole mooning us. Why? Because we’re a nation that whines and bitches, sues and prosecutes, repeals and restricts; a nation that slanders, libels, challenges, argues, and raises holy hell against anyone who tries to change anything for the better. Look at our press. They couldn’t be bothered with reporting accurately what’s in Obamacare, but as soon as there were problems with the website they piled on like it was a fraternity gang rape. Indeed, anytime anyone or any organization does anything less than perfect, the press is there to say how awful and shitty everyone is.
Unfortunately, this manner of thinking has pervaded our entire society. Reality TV is an absolute cesspool, but Americans just want more and more of it. Hicks, rednecks, pawn shops, house wives, it really doesn’t matter as long as it looks like it’s real, the people are the worst kind of human beings, and the shows are as petty and trivial as possible. Sure, for some it stops at being a TV show, but a lot of people embrace the “too big to fail”, asshole, contrarian, “I’m always right and perfect” mentality. And somehow those people get more of a voice in this society than the rational, considerate, intelligent, and honest people we ought to be hearing from.
The most appalling thing about the stinky asshole that is American society is that it puts on airs and judges the world from this assumed ivory tower of purity and privilege, saying things like, “I would never” and “that’s beyond the pale,” even as we’re staring at the asses of 18 year-old girls in the skank skirts, stuffing our faces with cheap, greasy, fast-food hamburgers, and listening to the filthy mouth of Rush Limbaugh. I mean, I feel awful just writing that sentence, but what’s incredible is that so many Americans live hypocritical, broken lives where this kind of filth is not only possible, but embraced.
Go to a Tea Party rally or listen to right wing radio if you need more proof. The amount of vile, disgusting, unmitigated hate you will see and/or hear spewed from the foaming mouths of angry white men in just a few hours, would be enough to satisfy Satan himself. It’s appalling, but what is more appalling is that we, as a society, tolerate it.
The third thing in the mirror is an empty stripper’s platform, complete with pole and dollar bills littering the floor. That’s because we’re a society of shameless sellouts and corporate prostitutes. We’ll do anything for money—ANYTHING. It is the American god.
Again, look no further than the shills on right wing media. They know they’re lying. Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly know they’re lying. They know they’re leading their followers to vote against their best interests by manipulating deep seeded fears and prejudices. But they’re rich, and that’s apparently so important that they’re willing to be 180 degrees from the truth almost all the time.
But the left isn’t guiltless either. In fact, compromising morals for money is the single biggest reason the Democratic Party fails its constituents on a regular basis (and also precisely why Democrats are unreliable voters; there’s always that doubt that the person they’re voting for is going to turn around and act like a Republican in office). It’s why Obama didn’t give us a single payer or public option on health care, and it’s why Democratic senators are right now begging him to water down the Affordable Care Act so that they can win re-election: they’re cowards who prefer to cozy up to lobbyists and big money to keep their jobs rather than represent their constituent’s best interests.
More frightening is the fact that behind both right and left are the uber-rich, willing to ensure that the poor stay poor (cheap labor), that their tax breaks and subsidies remain in place, and that justice is bastardized time and again (see the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court), so that they can own dozens of homes all over the world at the same time as they hoard its wealth. The rich have, over the past 20-30 years, been systematically dismantling the American dream. Why? So they can get even more money than they already have. Greed, pure and simple.
But again, even more amazing is that many Americans defend the rich and their system of privilege. They worship them like kings of old: “please create jobs, we’ll do anything,” they say. Evidence? In the past two years alone, the governors of Oregon and Washington have called special sessions of their respective legislatures to pass tax breaks for… no, not the poor, but poor old Nike and Boeing, lest the Masters of the Universe decide to up and leave for China or some other sellout state. It’s all done in the name of jobs and revenue, but when we pull away the window dressing what we see is legalized extortion that benefits the few at the expense of the many. We will do anything for money. Anything.
So that’s it: a bottle of booze in front of a television screen, an asshole, and a stripper’s platform littered with money. That’s what America is today. Those are the true symbols of our society.
But they don’t have to be. Instead of hibernating from our problems through entertainment, we can choose to stand up for what’s right and face them head on—hell we don’t even have give them up entirely. However, that means instead of ignoring that stupid comment our uncle makes, we have the courage to confront him. Instead of hiding our political beliefs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we put them out there. And finally, instead of pretending like politics don’t matter, it means we have the tenacity and integrity to fight for our causes, without wavering, without failure. It means getting involved instead of sticking our heads in the sand.
To do that of course, we have to stop being the stinky asshole, and that means admitting we’re wrong when we’re wrong. That means finding solutions instead of desperately digging for problems. And it means getting together to pitch in and help, or getting the fuck out of the way. We have to start looking for common ground and ways we can make things better. If there’s a problem, we need to fix it, not fixate on it.
Lastly, it means that we have to find our soul. We have to stand up for integrity, principle, and truth, even if it means making less money. More importantly, we have to become a society that values social mobility, opportunity, and demands a political system that isn’t wholly driven by money. That means that the rich pay their taxes and aren’t allowed to hoard or offshore wealth that’s created on the back of American laborers. And no, that’s not socialism: it’s called a functioning capitalist democracy.
But until we, as a society, make those changes, we’ll be what we are: a dying, hedonistic aristocracy, where the public has so little backbone that we allow crazy fucking idiots—people that are clinically psychotic—to have guns. Regrettably, this means that you and I could die, at any moment, because some insane asshole wants to throw a fit and get attention before committing suicide. It means our lives mean nothing.