America in 2016 is about the individual to the detriment of everyone else. You’re too “politically correct” if you care about anything beyond yourself, if you believe that the emotional safety of others is just as important as their physical safety. This is a pussy move in 2016. And, more and more, we’re seeing an overwhelming amount of “strength” that is born from weakness — the kind of bullshit strength that believes the less you care about others, the stronger you are.
To believe in the power of love in 2016 is to be delusional — we need GUNS to protect ourselves, not love. We need racism to keep our streets safe, not tolerance. We need Islamophobia to keep our country secure, not acceptance. We need sexism to restore the “natural” order of things — those females are getting out of control now, time to put them in their place. We need hate to bring peace. We need aggressive strength and ceaseless violence and rhetoric that puts this country back a hundred years in order to prove that WE. ARE. STRONG.
But, hate is not strong. That’s what too many people do not understand. They think their intolerance and lack of common decency (or, as they say, “political correctness”) is what strengthens a people. We’ve come to a point in time when caring deeply about our neighbors and fellow humans is being seen as weakness. That to think of the implications of our words and actions — on the internet, in the schoolyard, on a magazine cover, anywhere — is to show fragility. That to think rationally and thoughtfully about what we say and do and put out into the world is to reveal a chink in the armor — and this is not a time to appear frail. Not even a Presidential candidate can get sick. Erratic, irrational, insensitive, reckless “strength” mired by a lack of integrity or consideration for others is what wins in America in 2016.
To care about the value and quality of a person or product is a burden now. Attention reigns now and if you’re not willing to do whatever unsavory, tactless thing to get it, then you lose. If you’re not willing to flay your opinions out like fodder, exploit your life for clicks, or say whatever it is will get you the most notoriety — no matter how offensive or cruel your words are — then you can drift off into obscurity with the rest of the principled, sensitive people who realized that unfettered coldness isn’t strength. And that rabid patriotism isn’t love of country; it’s fear masked as adoration.
If you’re someone who takes time to form an opinion, who thinks thoughtfully with nuance and rationality and compassion and empathy, then 2016 has likely not been your year. Maybe there has never been a year or time period when nuance, compassion, empathy, consciousness, and love have reigned. Maybe I long for a time that has never existed. Maybe it has always been a burden to care, that perhaps that’s why so many choose to be numb, to be apathetic, or to be filled with unchecked, thoughtless rage. These paths are easier. They are thoughtless. Hate takes no critical thinking skills.
It’s far easier to be racist and to believe that your problems can be shifted onto the backs of anyone who doesn’t look and sound like you. It’s far easier to condemn an entire religion out of fear than to face that fear head-on, to bring those dark thoughts into the light, to stand deep in the muck of your own scared, fragile, pained mind — and rise into a more loving state of mind. It’s far easier to demand superiority and dominion over others, because then you don’t need to do the emotional work of knowing, vulnerably, who else we share this planet with. To intimately know people of different cultures and backgrounds is to realize that we are not chosen or special or unique — we are simply living out an indeterminate lifetime on a planet that’s spinning in one of many immeasurable galaxies. This type of nihilism is not something people want to face.
We all really want to be special. We want so much to drink the Kool Aid of our own greatness that we must demonize everyone else. We believe in our hype too much, unaware that so many cultures have existed thousands of years before ours, are steeped in tradition, and don’t need us to arrogantly tell them how to live. The Greatest Country on Earth has feasted off its own bravado — believing, truly, that a trophy you give yourself is the same as a trophy you’ve earned.
We are not the Greatest Country on Earth and maybe the first order of business is to stop ranking human beings on a hierarchy and, instead, learn some goddamn collaboration, some true openness and multiculturalism. Learn from each other, instead of trying to best each other. This American need to assert dominance is killing us and killing the spirit of the tolerant, open, free country we keep trying to convince ourselves we are.
Americans so want to be justified in our entitlement to the resources and traditions of other countries. We don’t want to face the reality that other people in the world suffer at the hands of our bloated comfort. So, we become victims in our own victimless stories. We are ungrateful and spoiled and almost completely unaware to how the rest of the world lives — and how our need for more, more, more contributes to their less, less, less. Man. Fuck us.
It’s easier to act as though our words and actions do not affect others, because if we did become aware of the trickle-down effects of the things we say and do, we’d have to change. And change is work. Change isn’t sexy. Change is a real daunting process. And, changing an identity, facing guilt about one’s actions and words, having to rearrange the pieces of who you are by acknowledging that who you are has hurt others in small and big ways, well, most people do not have the desire to do this. They’d rather tunnel further into their beliefs, no matter how misguided or inconsiderate or dangerous those beliefs are.
To become aware of your own beliefs and judgments is scary, I get it. You see the world through a different lens — and it can be jarring, uncertain, terrifying. To suddenly become principled, compassionate, socially-conscious when you’ve been championed for not being those things, when life has been easier by way of avoiding that singular responsibility, then who would willingly choose to educate themselves? Love can be a burden. Awareness can shift a life and sometimes not in a good way.
If there’s a question as to why so many people in this country do not seek out more tolerant views, it’s because with tolerance comes responsibility. Once you realize how fucked up the world is, you are burdened to fix it. And, hate seems like the easy way out. The shortcut. What you can’t see can’t hurt you, right?
But, love is not a word you can throw around — it’s an action. Same with compassion, integrity, empathy, tolerance, acceptance — these are not demonstrated by words alone; they are felt. I can’t read about compassion, but I can feel it when it’s given to me. I can’t contextualize love on the page, but when I am loved, I feel it in my body. And, in 2016, to feel and to care is to be weighed down by a heaviness that is unrelenting. But, there’s no choice to be made. Once you become aware, you can’t un-know what you know. You are burdened by the need to fix, help, to not put even one more piece of anger or hate into the world. And, we need that love even when it’s difficult to give. Perhaps, especially, when it’s difficult to give.
We must fight the good fight. Even when we’re broken and burdened. Somebody has to.
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