If you’ve been following politics lately — and that would require ignoring the larger stories (including the gnarly potential of skewed weather to turn our lives into a bad sci-fi film sometime over the next year or so) — then you must be aware of the heated battle currently going on in Washington for our souls.
I am no longer surprised by the aggressive stupidity, unabashed greed and sniveling cowardice of the scurvy mob pretending to run this country. Both parties and their leaders are deservedly getting historic low approval ratings from the populace. (This crop of politicos are making used car salesmen and lawyers look good.)
But I AM surprised — and very much depressed — by the “whatever” attitude of voters.
I’m a fool for doing so (because it eats at my gut), but I’ve been a lifelong reader of “letters to the editor” of local news rags. I’ve moved a lot in my life, living in both major metro areas and isolated little burgs… and the best way to judge the local zeitgeist is to see what the letter writers have to say about things.
It’s a slow process, because the most motivated people to write are harboring deep simmering rage against humanity and city hall. The wing-nuts will dominate the letters section on any given day. You have to be patient — sooner or later, they will trod on someone’s sense of fair play or justice, and then the less neurotic folks will chime in.
Over a few months, you can get a good read on the temperment of the locals.
The genius of the Founding Fathers comes to light when you get a full frontal taste of what some of your neighbors consider good public policy. Back when I was in college, we used to regularly offer people a copy of the Bill of Rights (freedom of speech, restrictions on search and seizure, etc) — minus any identifying titles, and ask them if they thought Americans should adopt these kinds of rules.
Almost without exception, very likeable and very nice people would insist that everything in the Bill of Rights sounded like a communist plot, and the country would collapse if such rules were instigated. Even other college students didn’t recognize their own Bill of Rights.
It was scary.
And it hasn’t changed.
I’ve been reading newspapers from several different cities over the past few months… Washington DC, San Francisco, New York, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Miami… and I see a thread of common thought that sends fresh chills up my spine.
This surveillance thing the government (through the NSA) has been conducting on citizens? Tapping the phones of millions of people (and possibly a lot more than “just a few million)? The general reaction of the populace reminds of what we heard over and over again as hippies back in the late sixties/early seventies: If you’re not doing anything bad, then you have nothing to fear.
Surveil away, FBI man!
All this leaves me severely disgruntled.
I no longer wish that, one day, a wave of honest patriotism will sweep the joint, and droves of regular people will take a curious peek at the Bill of Rights. Just a peek.
It’s not gonna happen. The majority has been opiated into walking slumberland with bad TV and computer-generated isolation. (There has never been a time like now in our history where most people live where every single neighbor thinks and votes exactly like them. The creation of gated communities and gerrymandered subdivisions in the suburbs has turned us into a nation of tiny islands, where dissent is muffled and rare.)
And it’s true that the FBI would be bored shitless tapping most people’s phone lines.
But here’s the rub: The “red meat” that motivates the most active political movements are not restricted by any kind of common sense.
The majority — the bored, clueless masses whose worst crime against the state is occasionally speeding on the freeway — neither understands nor appreciates why some people just cannot conform and “go with the flow”. The laws that restrict the rebellious souls among us seldom affect the contented middle class.
And yet… protecting the rebellious and the non-conforming minorities was exactly WHY the Bill of Rights was created. It’s what makes this country work. It’s why we’re the place people wanna migrate to.
For cryin’ out loud, it’s the reason entrepreneurism thrives here.
I refer to my college-era self as a hippie, but really I was just a long-haired slacker. We were unmotivated by money, mostly because our long hair prevented us from securing a real job. Hard to imagine today, when you’re being served fast food by kids with mohawks and tatoos… but back then, you needed a crew cut to get a gig at Radio Shack.
The national mood was: Conform, or starve.
We found ways not to starve — communal living helped — and actually enjoyed living outside the mainstream. I didn’t watch television for ten years, and didn’t own a car for five. When I did own a car — a beautifully beat-up ’62 Impala, with bench seats you could camp out on — I learned to build in time each weekend, while on a date, for being pulled over by the cops. The grubby car, long hair, and insouciant attitude they expected (and got) was enough to warrant a warrantless search.
My “straight” friends found this difficult to believe. And actually refused to believe it, in fact. I knew African Americans back in Los Angeles when I was a rookie writer there who talked about being pulled over for a DWB — “driving while black”. Most white folks insisted on believing they were kidding, or exaggerating.
And yet, for most Americans, the concept of being harrassed, searched, and bullied by authority merely because The Man doesn’t like the way you look… remains an absurd notion.
If we weren’t doing anything wrong, why should we fear a quick, friendly rousting by the constables?
Look — maybe you’re the type who is so vanilla that you wouldn’t mind the government putting a camera in your bedroom. You have nothing to be afraid of, because you’re “normal” and content to conform to whatever social norm Dr Phil says you should conform to.
So look at it from a business point of view: The large corporate powers love conformity. In their perfect world, every soft drink machine dispenses only Coke and Pepsi products, every store is a Wal-Mart or Target, and every radio station;s playlist is dictated by headquarters.
Pirates and ne’er-do-wells and rebels who make waves are not welcome or tolerated.
Tyranny begins when a frightened populace cedes freedoms in exchange for security. The Founding Fathers knew this, and did their best to cork that bottle tight. With the Bill of Rights.
This NSA surveillance program is bullshit, and a naked power grab by a government who can’t balance a budget.
This nonsense goes hand-in-hand with efforts to rein in the Web and put it under corporate control — so it’s “safer” and doesn’t frighten the grandmas and horses.
I am disgruntled, disillusioned and just irritably hot this summer. I don’t want to live out a bad sci-fi movie where The Man controls everything and the world disintegrates into nightmare.
Sometimes you have to stand up and risk getting pulled over for not conforming.
Sometimes, real democracy requires waking up, and finally telling the Bozo’s “No — you cannot get away with this bullshit any more.”
Sometimes, the need for action comes at very inconvenient times, and harshes your mellow.
This summer — whether you’re a conservative, liberal or independent — if you’re not riled up, you’re not paying attention.
Okay, I’m done.
Thanks for letting me rant.
Try to stay frosty.
P.S. Need help finding a copy of the Bill of Rights? Try www.constitution.org.