As I indicated in my introductory posting on Seductive Peach, one of the features of the blog would be the inclusion of an occasional essay. In that bleeding vein, the following piece is offered. Comments on the piece are welcome, but no flaming rants or death threats, please. All submissions will be reviewed, with the most reasoned and intelligent being posted…maybe.
On a certain corner near where I live in Southern California, in the parking lot of a fast food chain restaurant, there stand three flagpoles in a row. The tallest, in the center, sports an American flag. To one side of this is the California flag and, to the other, the distinctive red and yellow flag of the eatery.
This, of course, symbolizes what America has become. A nation of fat patriots, super-sizing itself into morbid obesity with hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and doing so with flags flying proudly. We are not only eating everything on our plates, we’re being eaten back. But we’re Americans. Exceptional, we’re told, and immune from the problems of the rest of the world. To quote Joe Walsh, “My Life is Good.” So, let’s all wave the flag in support of chauvinistic gluttony. But this essay really isn’t at all about fat, overindulging America, per se. It’s about the arrogant ignorance of delusional certainty.
There are at least two types of this sort of ignorance. First, there’s the type manifested by the world’s predators. These are the Tea Party, tax cut for the wealthy, sock it to the poor, run up the national debt while screaming about the deficit kind of folks. They’re the folks who have gold-plated health care coverage, think global climate change is a hoax, and can only exist by creating a clear demarcation between an “us” and a “them”. Think this is an exaggeration? If so, just recall Mitt Romney’s 47%. Or ask your local Tea Party “Patriot” whether health care in this richest of all countries should be a humanistic obligation. These folks are completely immune to arguments of reason. Trying to educate them is a total waste of time and energy. Of course, individuals may suddenly make an exception when one of theirs is involved. To wit: Dick Cheney and his lesbian daughter.
Then there’s the ignorance typified by those who are simply too stupid or educationally deficient to realize that the “haves” are screwing them right and left, but who support them anyway because, well, this is America, God’s country, where everyone has an equal chance to be filthy rich and famous. These people have the mindset that, no matter how downtrodden and abused they may be, they’re somehow empowered and, even, chosen. They know they’re superior to godless atheists (who are condemned to hell) and undocumented immigrants (who might as well be). These are the folks who push creationism, a type of godliness right out of the picture book of ignorance. They’re the folks who give thanks to God instead of the firefighter when a baby is saved from a burning building, and who somehow manage to ignore the fact that 50 others died in the inferno.
And so, as I get older, I find myself living out a contradiction. As we age, we’re supposed to become more conservative. In my case, however, I am moving aggressively toward the opposite extreme. With each sunrise, with each day’s satisfied realization that the mirror still fogs, that I’m not yet wearing the green toupee, I am ever more the unreconstructed, unapologetic, card-carrying, left-wing, secular humanist and liberal.
“So, let me get this straight. You say that, even though I don’t believe in God, I’m still going to heaven, right?” I’m in conversation with my highly religious friend, Ralph, one of the brightest, most congenial and good natured people I know, a physician I’d trust with my life if I were in crisis and needing brain surgery.
Scratch the surface and he’s a total lunatic.
“But ,” I add, “not to the same level of heaven as you, right?”
He demurs, looking uncomfortable. “Well,” he says, “You’ll go there because you’re a good person.”
In other words, he isn’t going to answer my question, although it doesn’t matter because I know the answer. For him, it’s a celestial heaven on his own planet. For me, a more mundane eternity.
“And so,” I ask, “tell me about heaven. What’s it like?”
The detail he now provides is shocking in its elaborate precision. I learn that it’s much like it is here, on old terra firma, but sort of more glow-y, doncha’ know? And we’ll all look just like we did when we looked the best we ever looked in life. Specifically, Ralph asserted that our wives would look just like they did on the day we married them, when they were, say, twenty-six.
“How do you know that God will think that’s when she looked her best? I mean, maybe He’ll think she looked best at age four.”
Okay, moving on. “So, let’s talk about biblical history.”
“You mean, like, Father Noah?”
“Sure, that’s a good place to start. Tell me about Noah and the ark.”
“Well, it’s all in the Bible.”
“Yes, I know. But, I mean, do you believe in the Great Flood?”
“What do you mean? It’s in the Bible. It happened.”
“And Noah gathered two of every living animal: giraffes, hippos, houseflies, tapeworms…?”
Rush Limbaugh said he’d leave the country if health care reform legislation passed Congress. It passed. He didn’t leave. Why is he still here?
Now, I do know that there is such a thing as innocent, if not blameless, ignorance. For example, we are all unintentional bigots, victims of our upbringing, inculcated with prejudices we do not even know we have until, if we are lucky, something happens to make us rub our faces in our own dishonor.
I have a friend, a good friend, one of the most generous and well-intentioned people I know. He spent his youth in a small town, isolated and religious. Thus it was that when we attended a swap meet together one sunny day in May in the early 1990s, he saw something he wanted, looked at me, and remarked, “Let’s see if I can Jew him down.”
My friend is not anti-Semitic. It just never occurred to him that this was a religious slur.
I did it once, too, that I can recall, referring in front of a close Asian friend that I thought some unlikely occurrence had a “Chinaman’s chance” of happening. It hurts to this day, because I never before had paid attention to what the phrase implied beyond the simple indication of improbability.
I am not a proponent of rigid political correctness. Nor, however, do I believe in unthinking and gratuitous promulgation of insults that have simply become ingrained without consideration of their underlying bigotry and implications.
So, I cite the two examples above as being totally inappropriate because they were uttered without thought or malevolent intent, yet they were malevolent precisely because of their absence of thought.
The conclusion is that if you want to be politically incorrect, at least understand what the hell you’re saying. And if you don’t even realize that you’re about to be politically incorrect, you probably haven’t given it enough thought.
“I know you’re a good person, but how can you be good without belief?”
I ponder this for a moment, wondering just how indoctrinated some people can be. So I ask, “Do you mean to imply that the only reason you behave in admirable fashion is to keep from going to hell? The fear of some eternal punishment?”
“Hell is a terrible place.”
“I would imagine so, if I believed in it. But you didn’t answer my question.”
“Well, I guess that’s part of it.”
“And the rest?”
Now it’s Ralph’s turn to ponder. “Well, there’s the ten commandments, God’s directions to us for moral behavior.”
“But isn’t that just another way of avoiding punishment?”
“No. It’s a code to live by.”
“Same difference. And it’s a lousy code.”
“Well,” I say, warming to the topic, “Let’s consider them, one by one.
“Let’s not be tedious.”
“Okay, how about just a few of them? Say, the one about honoring your father and mother? Even if they’re physically or mentally abusive? Or the one about lying? Did you ever lie? Even a teensy weensy one? Or, how about the thou shalt not kill thing? I believe you support capital punishment, right?”
“You’re not being fair. There are exceptions.”
“What? When did God make exceptions to His commandments?”
“Well, we all know there are exceptions.”
“I give up.”
There is simply no way to impress someone with logic, reason, or even facts when a wall of self-deception, ignorance, or defensive denial is in place. And that is why, for example, some people cannot be convinced that President Obama was born in the U.S., that our planet is more than 6000 years old and that, the Flintstones notwithstanding, humans didn’t coexist with dinosaurs. It is, finally, arrogance born of indoctrinated ignorance.
It’s enough to make a rational person cry.
Today’s Annoyance – People who don’t know the difference between nominative and objective cases: To wit, we hear all too often something on the order of, “He gave the tickets to you and I.” This type of error appears very commonly in pop music. For example, Elton John makes it in Daniel: “…Daniel my brother, you are older than me…” Arrrgh! If you don’t know what’s wrong in these examples, you may need to review elementary school grammar.