What an intensely ugly weekend we endured this past week. The hideous presidential campaign was interrupted by one of the very few things on earth that could incite rhetoric even uglier than that to which we have been subjected since the first hopeless presidential hopefuls declared their candidacies last year: the sudden death of a Supreme Court Justice. I suppose, theoretically, things could have gone two ways at this juncture. We could have taken a national time-out from the escalating shit-throwing contest of the presidential campaign...could have paused for a few days, at least until the man was in his grave, out of respect for the man and reverence for his position.
But...seriously? Of course, that couldn't happen. Respect and reverence are two words which no longer have any kind of meaning in our society. We couldn't be expected to waste even a few days of opportunity to trash, bad-mouth and inflame the "other side." No..not even one day. Not even eight hours. The temptation to pile ugliness on to ugliness, accusation upon accusation, hatred upon hatred, was just too great. Within hours of news of his death, Antonin Scalia and the concept of his replacement had been grabbed up and used as a cudgel by those at both ends of the political spectrum. So much for reverence or respect.
In the midst of all the blood and spit and poison and horror filling the airwaves, this article sneaked on to my Facebook feed, like a slight puff of cool breeze:
Antonin Scalia was not evil. He was not the devil. He was a learned jurist who had strong beliefs, the tools to clearly and concisely present those beliefs, and a platform from which he could use them to influence the course of a nation. His colleagues--both those who embraced similar ideology, and those who didn't-- possess that which the general public (and unfortunately, the great, bumbling beast that is the 21st-century American Press) lack--the grounding in ideas and abstracts that allows them the grace to oppose a man's opinions without de-humanizing the man.
Ideological differences are going to occur in a nation as geographically large and culturally diverse as ours. For two hundred years, we endeavored to celebrate those differences, to craft them into a yin and yang, give and take relationship that would help our nation become the stronger for the diversity. It was a hard road, strewn with pitfalls and dead ends; but each time we stayed the course and fused a tangle of loose ends into a coherent and just policy, we rose. And we shone.
Apparently, over the past few decades, we have begun to seek a simpler policy. For whatever reason, we've devolved into a lazy, spoiled and under-educated people, one which has decided that our former road to glory is, at last, too difficult to navigate. We don't want to look for common ground, we want OUR way. We don't want to solve problems, we want to scream about them. We don't want to work with those whose ideas differ from ours, we want to destroy them.
What has changed? What has turned us into a nation of savages more attracted to ripping out each other's throats than attempting to live peacefully as a diverse community? Is it our schools? Has our educational system deteriorated so greatly in the past forty years that we no longer emerge from the classroom with a grasp of the concepts we need to hold our beautiful hodge-podge of cultural diversity together in a society that honors all its roots? A people with a proper base in a solid education will argue the worthiness of ideas, not of those who hold them. Without that grounding, we demonize each other. Anyone whose life view differs from ours--a neighbor, a schoolmate, a preacher, a legislator, a judge, the president--becomes 'the enemy,' to be viciously attacked at any and every opportunity. We disagree, but haven't the intellectual tools with which to coherently express our own values, much less to understand and honor the values of others. So we just...hate on each other. Loudly, and with as much violence and venom as we can muster. Is this not just the chicken's--and the fool's--way out?
Or perhaps it is the media--those forms of mass communication that have expanded so rapidly in the past forty years that they have far out-distanced both our understanding of their function and our ability to harness them for good--which have led us to this place of hatred and ugliness.
Thousands of channels of airwaves wait--need--to be filled, 24/7, with something...preferably something that will cause viewers/listeners to choose one over all the others... And so we have filled them. With garbage: Fear. Hatred. Contention. Sarcasm. Bullying. Violence. Ugliness. And, most recently, an anonymous forum from which anyone with a grudge and an electronic device can spew the most repulsive droppings from the bottom of his soul. Apparently, the well of good and positive things to send out there into the general airwaves ran dry a long time ago. And, in a clear demonstration of why it is that mankind needs rules and structure in order to remain civilized...ugliness sells.
I can't be the only human being in the world that is sick to death of this constant conflict we have inflicted upon ourselves. I can't be the only person who needs peace, craves calm, pines for clarity and level heads.
And am I the only one who wonders exactly who it is that continues to shovel from the apparently bottomless pile of fuel into this hell in which we find ourselves? And why?