April 11th, 2010 10:14 EST
Our Achievements, Not Our Rage, Should Define Us
Sociologists surely examine the warp and weft of American society with scholarly diligence, and I don`t wish to presume on their domain or to popularize a particular view. That said, it seems to me as a newspaperman and poet that our society has become ever more adversarial. In a familiar phrase, het up.
It only turns up the heat to lay blame, but I can`t help feeling that Big Media, lobbyists, the legal profession and filmmakers have all played a role in encouraging a society eager to clutch the other guy`s throat and crow about being right, even at the cost of truth.
The media report on our culture as if it were a Stars Wars battleground. Everything is a clash, a conflict, a horse race. Everyone wins or loses. Nobody does what we actually do every day "getting along and trying to behave decently. What is aberrant is the news, not the way we conduct ourselves every day. Think about this: it`s an odd way to define news, because in the long run of history we are defined by the kind of society we build brick by brick, day by day, not by the pots we stir.
In our current paradigm the peaceable kingdom is for saps. We look forward not to a hillside of daffodils or a picnic but rather to an apocalypse. We look forward not to legislators coming to an agreement about something crucial to our well-being but rather to their strutting and table-pounding and posturing. This is the picture of a culture interrupted in its adolescence by molesters who mean it no good.
Lobbyists poison the culture by bribing politicians. Because they`re pushing services, products and viewpoints, they need scapegoats. They need somebody to be wrong, to make mistakes, to head us in the wrong direction. And this too inflames the environment. Lobbyists not only corrupt the political process and steal it from the electorate, they pollute the culture.
The politicians, doing the lobbyists` bidding, look for windmills to tilt at, people and ideas to blame, culprits. It is easier for them to disagree than to compromise. The result is that little gets done and government as well as society becomes dysfunctional.
The media thrive on this adversarial atmosphere. They ignite fires, set one faction against another. Their idea of news is conflict, dissension. The more bitter the clash, the more dramatic, and the higher their ratings. They regard each idea as a race horse pitted against other horses. Life becomes casino. Everybody is a player, and consensual silence surrounds the obvious fact that the game is rigged.
The attorneys have a vested interest in things being so complicated that only they can untangle and interpret them. They`re out to profit from conflict, not engineer compromise.
After nine terms, a Michigan Democrat, Rep. Bart Stupak, who helped craft a compromise on abortion to pass the health care reform bill, has declined to run again in the face of death threats to himself and his family.
The filmmakers find it daunting to make a film that is neither slapstick nor violent. A beautiful poem or song, the solution of a vexing scientific problem is not considered news. Art, music, architecture, mathematics "all the things that make a society great "are relegated to features and documentaries. Violence and controversy reign supreme. On television the nonviolent films are left to the IFC and Sundance channels. They`re called art films and shown in art houses. "
And only rarely addressed are the questions we would be called paranoid to raise. For example, is it really in the interests of our huge health care establishment to cure cancer? Sure, plenty of money would be made on the cure, but much more money would be lost caring for cancer`s victims. Surely this is an issue that should be as fully explored as Sarah Palin`s latest remark or even an earthquake in Haiti. Why isn`t it?
Under such circumstances, events can wind us up and send us spinning in the wrong direction. Terrorists largely from Saudi Arabia, a putative ally, attack us and we invade Iraq, kill more than 4,000 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis, bankrupt ourselves, and declare a victory. Wall Street, which destroyed the world`s economy in its greed, gets bailed out by American taxpayers. Now the taxpayers get so infuriated that they blame government and taxes for everything when in fact it wasn`t the government that screwed them, it was the corporations. Hence, the Tea Party repeats the Bush-Cheney performance and heads off in the wrong direction.
I suspect this is what an adversarial society is by nature prone to do. Get mad at the wrong people and the wrong things, tie its boots together and fall on its face.
What is the future of a society addicted to poking its dragons and getting apoplectic at the very thought of a fairer, more equitable world? I don`t know. I don`t even know if I want to know. But I think there is more than enough cause for concern.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
The pioneering Online Originals (U.K.), the only online publisher to receive a Booker nomination, published his novella, Alice Miller`s Room, in 1999. Recent fiction appeared in Prima Materia (Woodstock, NY), vols. I and IV, and Breakfast All Day (London, U.K.).In his younger days his poetry was published in literary journals including Solstice (England) and Beyond Baroque and Phantasm (California). Recent poems appear in Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review (www.arabesquespress.org), Perpetua Mobile (Baltimore), and Attic (Baltimore). He is the English language editor of Arabesques Literary and Cultural Journal (www.arabesquespress.org).
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
For More Information: www.djelloulmarbrook.com
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