Saturday, February 24, 2018

THE THREE THINGS THAT MATTER

Faith, hope, love. Those are the things that last forever — or so said Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians, a book that’s still being sampled after a couple thousand years.

OG Paul knew how to turn a phrase. It’s almost impossible to go to a wedding without someone dropping the “love is patient, love is kind” riff. When the unexpected happens people say it’s “in the twinkling of an eye.” When something is unclear it’s seen “through a glass, darkly” (a great Bergman movie, a decent episode of Outlander).

But it’s Paul’s “faith, hope and love” line that’s the kicker to his best-known words. Strip away everything else in this world and these three things endure — the inference being, I suppose, that without them all is lost.

I don’t think you need to be a Christian to believe Paul’s truth. You only have to believe in the better angels of humanity, and hope for dawn after every darkness and some sunshine through the rain.

It’s that sort of relentless optimism that has animated civilizations for thousands of years. The Minoan and Mycenaean. The Sumerians, the Akkadian, the Assyrian, the Babylonian. The Hittite and Harrapan. The Mauryan and the Gupta. The Romans. Empires all, mighty civilizations that once ruled everything under their suns. They had faith that they would endure, world without end, amen. They probably believed that right up until they collapsed and were swallowed by history.

The known reasons they died are varied, but the cycle of rise-and-decline usually spans a few hundred years. Which puts our American experiment in the sweet spot for a reboot, and maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing right now. Maybe it’s just time.

We have become increasingly comfortable entertaining ourselves with the familiar, the recycled. Believe it or not, someone apparently said cool to a revival of The Greatest American Hero, a TV show from the '80s that sucked so hard we apparently just have to have it back. The top box-office draw in two of the last three years has been a Star Wars movie. Sequels, prequels and connected universe stories have been the top grossing movies in seven of the past eight years. We like our entertainment like we like our food — franchised and fried. That can’t be healthy.

We seem more willing to believe everything — every crackpot meme, every batshit-crazy theory. Thoughtful people are thinking about false flag operations, crisis actors, a fanciful Deep State (presumably ensconced in a Ministry of Truth). They see evil people behind every vaccine, GMO crop and police badge. We’re living in strange times, they say; everything is possible and nothing is real.

We seem more willing to believe nothing. It’s all Fake News. Witness the hollowing-out of the nation’s only constitutionally guaranteed business. Yeah, I’m biased. I’ve known hundreds of reporters over three decades in the business. I’ve never met one who deliberately made up stories. This notion of reporters concocting stories because they’re against the president (or Bernie Sanders, or Jill Stein, or the Republicans in congress, or Hillary Clinton) is simply bullshit. God, give journalists a break. They’re endangered. Media consolidation, shrinking readership and viewership (but they love us on Facebook!), more demands dumped on people who don’t have time to make up news, they’ve got to post an update to social media and forward tease the next newscast. There aren't many of them left but they're heroes.

We lose the mainstream media, the straight shooters, and we lose our only chance at keeping the powerful in check. It’s really that simple and that profound and if we’re not careful we won’t realize it until it’s too late. If we’re not careful we’re going to disbelieve a free press into oblivion and that’s when the real trouble starts.

But no one wants to believe that now. Everything seems sketchy. The midterm elections loom. Imagine a Democratic wave. Isn’t it obvious that the Republican response will be disbelief? Rigged election, voter fraud. Imagine a GOP hold. Won’t the left simply scream foul? Collusion, hackers, Russia.

Sure sure, there’s always been partisanship. Name-calling and petty stupidity. We have witnessed plenty of weird shit on this little jaunt atop our spinning rock. Arguments about the most ludicrous things. Hey Olds, remember when people said “freedom fries” because they didn’t like the French position on the Iraq War? Yeah. Or how about that time when people were all “Obama was born in Kenya or something” and you were like wow, O RLY, I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.

Awkward, yes, and I’m sure some friendships were lost in these baloney battles. But most everyone shrugged them off as useless noise because we knew it was bullshit. Logic and common sense still held sway over much of the populace. Only kooks on the fringes believed the kooky stuff.

But now it all feels mainstream mean. People we thought we knew are acting like they’ve been infected with some kind of rage virus that’s affected their ability to think without snarling. They think vile thoughts and post them on Facebook and god forbid you try to debate them because that means you’re the enemy and you must be destroyed.

This virus respects no obvious boundaries. Men and women, liberal and conservative, young and old, smart and ignorant ... every demographic seems down with the sickness. You would think there might be safe zones within the dispassionate, among the trained observers, but no. A former reporter posts about the Super Bowl halftime show being a satanic celebration. A citizen journalist tells people who disagree to all-caps SIT THE FUCK DOWN. And these are the good people.

For a while I toyed with the idea of engaging them, but then I read the comments on their posts. Reason wasn’t going to work; there were too many of them, all of them pissed off and ready to fight — bring it, fucker, I dare you, I double-dare you. Say another word and I will cut you (and then block you on Facebook and report you on Twitter and that’ll learn your ass). It’s rather disconcerting. They’re ready to throw down if you challenge what they say but if you show them the truth they put their fingers in their ears and run away. There’s a lot of talk about snowflakes. They all seem rather fragile in their rage.

The worst of the lot … I’m afraid they’re gone. I don’t know how you bring them back because they’ve seen some shit, man, they’ve been out in the desert and got their brains fried on some righteous alt-right antifa Nazi communist socialist racist stuff. The real stuff, the real news they’re not showing you on the corporate liberal conservative mainstream media. You gotta look for the truth on YouTube. People are telling it like it is, there’s proof and I’ve seen it — they’re using chemtrails to enslave people and the Las Vegas shooter was an ISIS/MAGA remote assassin, and there are FEMA camps ready for people like you, so you better wake up or get woke or whatever before they come to take your guns and if you don’t have guns they’re gonna take away your right to vote and you won’t see that on the news because you’ll be in a camp with the rest of the sheeple.

It’s funny but it’s true so it’s not funny. Everyone’s coming down with this shit. It makes me want to scream but that’s one of the secrets to not getting sick. The virus doesn’t seem to kick in until the infected person loses it and starts screaming. Gotta stay calm. At least try, dammit. As long as we keep our heads we can make it out of here. We're gonna make it out. We're gonna be fine. Gotta ditch the Facebook and Twitter. Instagram’s not too bad yet except for that one horrible person who keeps posting pics of her skinny ass showing off some great bargain on a size zero dress she’s wearing on the news and God that pisses me off doesn’t anyone have any ethics —

Stop. Calm. Om. Maybe ditch the Instagram, too.

Once all this rage plays itself out we might be able to keep the center together. Keep civilization from spinning out into splinters. Keep the stars from falling to the earth. We may lose some winter fruit from the fig tree; the gales have been ferocious.

It’s not going to be easy but I think we can do it. Stupid Pollyanna thought but it's better than giving up. Everyone who’s still here will have to do some heavy lifting. But if we have faith in that then maybe there’s hope. That’s two out of three. Good enough. Don’t ask me about the love part.

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