Friday, September 1, 2006

Weeping and Wailing

There are people who have an appetite for grief; pleasure is not strong enough and they crave pain. They have mithridatic stomachs which must be fed on poisoned bread, natures so doomed that no prosperity can sooth their ragged and dishevelled desolation. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don't know if other countries are getting to be like us, but I hope not, because we have become a spiritless people.

Here we are, living in the one of the most, if not the most, prosperous countries in the world. Despite the best efforts of the current administration, we are still a free society. We have made tremendous strides in the last 50 years in civil rights and gender equity. Certainly we have problems, but rather than working to solve them, we drown in self-pity. We spend our time apologizing and wallowing in self-pity.

Apologizing

The other night, NBC aired the Emmy Awards. The show featured a sketch, which had been recorded earlier, with had Conan O'Brien aboard a jet that crash-landed on an island. It turned out that a commuter flight crashed in Kentucky the day the show was aired. Now Kentucky has nothing in common with a desert island, but apparently the NBC affiliate in Lexington was outraged that the network would air the sketch. NBC obsequiously apologized. Now, had NBC apologized for inflicting Conan O'Brien on the public that might be appropriate, but apologizing for show a humorous sketch which doesn't show a bunch of people being killed and has no relation to the event in Kentucky whatsoever is absolutely ridiculous.

We seem to expect apologies for everything. When the apologies are made, they aren't considered to have sufficient groveling associated with them. Bill Clinton apologized for slavery in the U.S. Unless Mr. Clinton is a lot older than he looks, I don't believe he had anything to do with it. Not only did he sound silly delivering the apology, many groups decided that the apology wasn't enough, beginning demands for “reparations” (which has become a fertile spam scan, by the way).

Mel Gibson makes a complete ass of himself and apologizes. Some people apparently would prefer burning him at the stake. Mr. Gibson is a jerk for doing what he did drunk, and he may be just as big a bigoted jerk when he's sober. But he publicly apologized, so can we please let it go? If you're really that mad, stay away from his movies.

The President admits that FEMA screwed up, and he's oh-so-sorry, but New Orleans still is without power to over 70% of the city. The Army Corps of Engineers thinks the levees will fail again if hit by a hurricane this year. I guess saying your sorry means never having to do anything to make it right.

And that's the point. If we've got a serious problem, quit worrying about apologies and do something about it. Slavery was abolished, civil rights legislation has been passed, so what does any apology do? We need to do more about bigotry and unfairness on all sides, so let's get on with it. The guys who needed to be sorry have been dead for over 100 years. Let's quit apologizing for screwing up in New Orleans and fix it. All the regrets in the world won't do anything about those levees.

As to things like NBC's unintentional faux pas, maybe we should just grow up. In the case of Mel Gibson, maybe HE should just grow up.

Wallowing

Katrina happened a year ago; 9/11 happened five years ago. I don't think a week has gone by since when there wasn't an article in the paper or a TV program wailing about how awful it all was, how our lives were changed forever, and how everything that happens is a consequence of one of those events. If we don't moan about disasters that happened, we're wailing over ones that might happen. Oh lordy, what if a hurricane hits New York City? Saints preserve us, is it true Yellowstone might erupt tomorrow? Omigawd, what if a big meteor clobbers us next week? Global warming or a new Ice Age is going kill us in the next decade, poor, poor us.

What a bunch of crybabies we've become. Katrina happened a year ago; maybe if we quit moaning about it and pitched in to do something, New Orleans would be a lot further down the road to recovery. It's been five years since 9/11. Are we angry because lousy construction caused them to collapse? Have we done anything to deal with the problems that allowed it to happen in the first place? Nope (and, no, killing over 2000 more Americans in Iraq does not qualify as “doing something”).

The fact is that we have become a people who spend lots of time feeling sorry for ourselves. We wallow in self-pity instead of moving forward. Ultimately, the prevailing attitude is, “Gee, that's awful for those folks, but I'm sure glad it didn't happen to me.” Then, when we do nothing to help, to assuage our guilt, we piously look at the events over and over again and feel bad each time. And while we're spending all that time looking back, the next thing comes along and whacks us in the head.

We have become paralyzed. Certainly there are potential global disasters, but we, in concert with the rest of the world, have more than sufficient resources to find ways to deal with these things. But, rather than do that, we kill each other over oil.

The Community

I don't know if the World War II generation is the “Greatest Generation” as it is often called; my vote would be for the Founding Fathers' generation. Both of them, though, went through greater trials and tribulations than any of us have known. There was a sense of community, a sense that we were a national family, ready to come to each other's aid. There was a sense that there was nothing we couldn't do if we pooled our resources and determination. The sense of community is dying. The determination is gone. Both have been replaced by a what's-in-it-for-me attitude of pure selfishness.

There are big challenges ahead, but we're going to have to grow up and face them squarely. If the current population had been faced with two world wars bracketed around an economic depression, I don't think we'd be sitting here doing blogs, downloading music, or watching DVD's. We'd be living in caves, banging rocks together for entertainment.

It's our choice: Come together or suck rocks.

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