(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2012)
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Abraham Lincoln
I was on the phone with my old pal John Grimes, a cartoonist with funny and provocative insights about American society, and John said, “It’s 1850 all over again. The nation is as deeply divided as we were right before the Civil War.”
My initial reaction was to agree with John—visions of red states versus blue states dancing in my head—but the more I thought about his idea, the more I disagreed. I don’t think America is divided, except that six people with my last name (no relations) have more money than forty-two per cent of all the people in America.
If we were a nation divided, half the people would vehemently oppose our ongoing foreign wars and the maintenance of hundreds of military bases around the globe that cost us trillions of dollars we might better spend on culture bases here in America. But there is no anti-war movement to speak of today, and the candidates representing the supposedly opposing political parties have identical foreign policies, except that the Democrats traditionally spend a pittance on family planning programs in Africa while the Republicans abhor helping women anywhere plan the size of their families.
If the nation were divided, half the people would oppose Single Payer healthcare, otherwise known as Medicare for all, and half would be in favor of such a marvelous thing. But poll after poll shows a vast majority of Americans in both blue and red states would love to have Single Payer Healthcare, yet for some inexplicable reason we keep electing boobs who won’t give us that boon.
If the nation were divided, half the people would want to increase taxes on the wealthy and half wouldn’t, but poll after poll indicates that the vast majority of Americans would love to increase taxes on the wealthy, yet for some inexplicable reason we keep electing boobs who won’t give us that boon.
No, I think Americans are remarkably undivided, certainly compared to the Italians or Greeks or French or Russians. When was the last time we elected a socialist president or dissolved the government for lack of confidence or marched in the streets to protest unfair austerity measures (let alone to protest elections decided by politically appointed judges)? The difference between the Republicans and the Democrats today is infinitesimal compared to the differences between the top two Greek parties, or the top two parties in any democracy, which we most definitely are not.
Imagine the French putting up with a trillion dollar student loan debt. Wouldn’t happen. Their nation would be shut down in a trice by protests and roadblocks and huge crowds of furious former and current students, and France would stay shut down until the student debt was forgiven. But Americans, blue and red alike, fit ourselves to the yoke of debt to the same bankers who bankrupted our nation and then helped themselves to a few trillion more. In a nation divided, half the people would demand that those crooked bankers forgive the student debt, yet there is no popular support for such a good idea.
The thing is, we Americans are fanatically undivided in our love of cars and computers and television shows and 3-D action movies and comfortable living. Oh, and in the absence of royalty, we worship celebrities. We know more about celebrities than we do about our government. In fact, we know almost nothing about our government. Come to think of it, we know almost nothing about anything except celebrities and television shows and cars and apps (whatever apps are), and our ignorance, to a large degree, is what unites us.
And the rulers of our nation know very well that ignorance unites us, so they make the continuance of our ignorance the focus of their governing and educational policies, while keeping us stuffed with up-to-the-minute information about which celebrity was recently driving drunk or in possession of an illegal substance or cheating on his or her wife or husband with another celebrity, and whether or not his or her cheating will help or hurt the box office numbers of his or her next incredibly violent 3-D action movie or sappy heartfelt romance or bloody police drama.
I tend to think that a celebrity having an affair with another celebrity would, in general, help that celebrity’s box office numbers. Don’t you? I mean, people (at least half the people) will be curious to see if the celebrity seems different now as a result of his or her affair, so I would think our collective curiosity would bring us to the multiplexes in greater numbers than if he or she had not had an affair. No?
Okay, so I’m being cynical, but factual, too. I think the ruling puppeteers use the idea of a great divide to distract us from our cohesiveness and to keep us from discovering how easy it would be for us to overthrow the puppeteers. Indeed, we are an extremely united people, and that’s one of the main reasons we don’t revolt. We feel the solidity of our union and we like the feeling. And though we may think we disagree about Romney and Obama, in our collective heart of hearts we know Romney and Obama and Clinton and Bush and on and on ad infinitum are all superlative representatives of the ruling elite and never deviate from the orders of their overlords. In our ignorance, we do not know who those overlords are because overlords are masters of invisibility, which is one of the prerequisites for becoming an overlord and keeping your job.
Oh, what do I know? I don’t even have a cell phone or an app, whatever an app is. Where and how I get off commenting on American society when I don’t belong to even one social network, I don’t know. Forgive me.
“The people will save their government, if the government itself will allow them.” Abraham Lincoln
Speaking of great divides, I was living in Seattle in 1977 when Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall came out. I was a big Woody Allen fan back then and remained a Woody Allen fan until around the time he married his daughter. I didn’t stop going to his movies because he married his daughter. Woody marrying his daughter just happened to coincide with his movies becoming redundant and annoying and pointless, as far as I was concerned. But I loved Annie Hall, saw it several times, and was vociferous in championing the film. Today I won’t watch Annie Hall for fear I will find the film retroactively pointless and redundant.
So…at the height of my infatuation with Annie Hall I went to a party and fell into conversation with a man who thought Woody Allen movies were stupid, especially Annie Hall, which he had walked out of after twenty minutes. He said he found the movie pointless and shallow and badly acted and horribly written. “Anyone,” said the man, shaking his head, “who likes that movie has a screw loose.”
“I love that movie,” I said, trembling with sudden rage. “Anyone who doesn’t like that movie is a shallow doofus.”
“Touché,” said the man, clutching his heart as if stuck by a rapier. “So does that mean you loathe Monty Python?”
“I love Monty Python,” I said, trying to dislike the man but finding I liked him. “Especially The Cheese Shop.”
“Then we can be friends,” he said, holding out his hand to me. “The truth is, my ex-wife loves Woody Allen and I associate his movies with her, which is probably why I walked out of Annie Hall because I kept thinking about how much she would love the film, so…”
We shook hands and he told me a joke I still have in my repertoire.
So this guy goes to a psychiatrist. At the end of the hour, the psychiatrist says, “I think you’re crazy.”
And the guy says, “Hey, wait a minute. I want a second opinion.”
“Okay,” says the psychiatrist. “You’re ugly, too.”
“These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.” Abraham Lincoln
I am fascinated by how passionate you and I and most Americans are about books or movies or music or celebrities or Youtube videos we love or despise, yet how dispassionate we can be about the ongoing crimes against humanity perpetrated by our government in concert with the fleecing capitalists, the ongoing social inequities, the ongoing environmental degradation of our planet, the ongoing criminality of our healthcare system, ad infinitum. Of course, it is that ad infinitum that renders us dispassionate, for we are overwhelmed and benumbed by all that is wrong with our society even as we participate in that wrongness by using electricity and driving cars and surfing the interweb and buying groceries and widgets and whatnots.
We, the people, are not divided in our culpability or in our desire not to feel culpable, yet we need and desire ways to express our outrage at feeling compelled to be culpable. So we blame rich people and politicians and pretend there are huge and important differences between Obama and Romney; and we passionately defend the only things we feel we have any control over: our taste in books (if we read) and movies and music and celebrities and web sites and apps, whatever apps are.
Or as a big scary drunk guy said to me in a bar in Los Angeles, “Far as I’m concerned, anybody who don’t like Country music might as well be dead.”