A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Profundity on demand is a skill residing somewhere outside my daily job description. Incisiveness takes time and sobriety, neither of them allies in my present configuration.
So it is that with a presidential election to be decided next week – the 2016 campaign promptly begins on Wednesday morning, folks – there is nothing I conceivably might write that would close any books, rest the case or knock “it” out of the park. That’s because you made up your minds a long time ago, as far back as early childhood, and what actually happens to determine a “choice” when the ballot is pressed into your hands as an adult is a phenomenon far more Pavlovian than Republican or Democratic.
With all the arguments having been made ad nauseam, or better yet, advertising nausea, my observations today shall be confined to the personal and immediate.
It is by no means an original thought that Americans have divided themselves into increasingly agitated camps, the likes of which we’ve seldom witnessed since pre-Civil War times. This is an unsettling omen, considering the improved modes of murder enthusiastically developed during the 147 years since Appomattox. A recent article in the New York Times attempted to provide an explanation, geographically.
Broadly speaking, the Southern and Western desert and mountain states will vote for the candidate who endorses an aggressive military, a role for religion in public life, laissez-faire economic policies, private ownership of guns and relaxed conditions for using them, less regulation and taxation, and a valorization of the traditional family.
Northeastern and most coastal states will vote for the candidate who is more closely aligned with international cooperation and engagement, secularism and science, gun control, individual freedom in culture and sexuality, and a greater role for the government in protecting the environment and ensuring economic equality.
Nature or nurture? It’s a question that won’t go away. Since we don’t talk any more, my guess is that it will remain on the table. The Bookseller recommended a book, and when I’m finished reading Chuck Thompson’s “Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession,” there’ll be a report. Until then, homework for those pulling the Romney lever is to view Ken Burns’s videos about the Civil War, and refresh your memories as to what brought us here. You badly need it.
I refrained from watching the presidential debates, preferring to monitor their inevitable regress in the post-modern way, through Twitter. Once there, it was heartening to find virtually everyone I follow was in perfect lock-step agreement with my own point of view.
Hmm, I wonder why?
At any rate, once each debate concluded, each of us proceeded directly to our favored blogs and the shambolic remnants of what used to be called “news” organizations, where we absorbed which candidate “won,” all the while absolved from examining any pre-conceived notions with respect to ideas that accidentally might have strayed into the game show format.
Let’s face it: Those participating in campaign set pieces find exactly what they need to buttress what they already believed, anyway. Few humans past pre-school experience epiphanies out of thin air, because there are so many more subconscious influences layered beneath the surface than rational ones requiring patient thought, and as yet awaiting clarification.
Of course, we’re periodically capable of incredible feats of transcendence, pole-vaulting deep-seated, ingrained behaviors amassed during early periods of our development -- just not very often, and seldom convincingly.
As this seemingly endless election campaign has approached its temporary conclusion, I’ve thought quite a lot about my own process of socialization. How was I raised? Educated? What were my formative experiences? What was learned? Forgotten? Which bits inform my everyday life as an adult, and which of them are hidden? How much of it did I accept, and reject?
Indeed, I’ve tended towards a certain qualified rebelliousness. I look out into the world and locate persons and ideas that annoy me, often after first exploring them from the inside, and then find or formulate whatever is necessary to irritate them in due measure. If you don’t believe it, just ask Develop New Albany.
For the longest time, I underwent an ongoing, internalized existential debate: Which condition offends me worst, the powerless among us being exploited by the powerful, or the powerless accepting exploitation without fighting back?
The current presidential campaign wasn’t necessary for me to arrive at an answer, but it has confirmed my verdict: In America, power is money, and neither power nor money is on the side of those angels I prefer to call my own. Like hamsters on a treadmill, the exploited are kept constantly running. It isn’t always possible for them to fight back, or to lift themselves by Ayn Rand’s bra straps. Equal opportunity and Bain are antonyms. And so on. But it still strikes me how few of my brethren have reached the same conclusion, when unlike me, they still dabble at being Christian.
Jesus as a one-percenter? Give me a break.
In terms of my cohort, in the sense of a regional demographic pattern, it seems that I’ve turned out quite differently. As a secular humanist, I shun religion. As a European-style social democrat, I embrace the prevailing pejoratives; like FDR, I welcome their hatred. Foreign films, espresso, stinky cheese, better beer and novels with words, not pictures, continue to intrigue me.
My idealized version of Americana is small, unique and localized, and it comes without Wal-Mart, Chick-fil-A or Amazon. Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and those who’d consider them their champions indeed reside somewhere on the other side of a fundamental divide, either of my own making or theirs. They pluck, pander, pave and profiteer. I just want a community based on knowledge, not knee-jerks.
Most of the 52-year-old white males that I know feel very differently than I do, especially the ones with whom I grew up in that sort of rural Jimmy Stewart, small-town, countryside setting that always prompts nostalgic elegies of bygone days.
But among the chief characteristics of this presumably golden, unspoiled upbringing, which my fellow survivors regularly enjoy forgetting, are these: It was superstitious, stiflingly mono-cultural, permeated by casual (at best) racism, and with malignant varieties of overt cultural prejudice always present for absorption by youth, as openly displayed by the adult community’s supposed role models, movers and shakers.
It sickened me then, as now, and this is why whenever I hear fellow white males of my approximate generation spluttering and pontificating on the topic of Muslim Obama this and unpatriotic Obummer that, all the while denying that their “ideas” emanate from racism, I look at them and say just one word.
C’mon, guys. I grew up with you, played sports with you, drank beer and chased girls and cheated on tests with you. In reality, the halcyonic places where we grew up were unceasingly stupid, racist places, even if the racism wasn’t overt – hell, it didn’t even have to be; why do you think it was 98% white there in the first place?
You enjoy denying that any of the oozing, pestilential, stultifying hatred you unthinkingly spew when challenged has anything to do with racism, or by extension, with the absence of any semblance of diversity or choice in our respective upbringings, and while I’ll concede that the contagion is buried so deeply that it probably is genuinely subconscious at this juncture, it does not permit you to dismiss it.
Don’t kid a kidder, fellows, and stop embarrassing me. I gotta live here, you know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a vote for Barack Obama to cast. I hope you choke on it.