It Will Not Be Okay and We Can Not Get Along
“What’s the worst that could happen?” is one of the more grating things I hear at least once a month. Let’s settle this. Here is the worst that can happen:
- The universe ends.
- Somebody else’s religion turns out to be true.
Those are the absolute upper bounds of badness. Both include the utter cessation of the contents, meaning, and fact of your life. One or both are definitely going to happen to all living things in the universe. The worst that can happen almost certainly will.
So it’s not going to be okay. On a more relevant timescale, everybody dies, and the same two worst case scenarios apply just in or precisely after your lifetime. “It’s going to be okay” means “You have to stop crying eventually, so could you hurry it up?”
When Bush was elected, half the country sucked it up, asked what’s the worst that could happen, and watched him start two wars. For many people, war was the contextual worst they’d come up with, and it happened twice. During Obama’s term, homosexuality moved closer to social acceptance and the whole country moved a little closer to socialism. For many people, that was exactly what they were afraid of, and it happened. For some people, just having a black man as our president was their current “worst.”
Every time Bono claps his hands, the worst happens to somebody, and it’s not okay.
Some rifts can’t be fixed, because nobody on either side thinks they should be fixed. Here’s another list:
- Homosexuality is curable.
- Abortion is murder.
- There is no God and it’s stupid to think otherwise.
- Skin color indicates unalterable personality traits.
- Men and women have specific roles that shouldn’t change.
- Everyone should be treated as equals.
- Satanism is acceptable.
- Having multiple sexual partners at the same time is acceptable.
- It’s okay to hurt or threaten a stranger for pleasure.
- Rape isn’t that bad.
There is no compromise in these ideas. You can try not to care, but if you do care, there’s no reaching across the aisle. There’s no kind-of-murder or sort-of-rape we can both be happy about. If you believe abortion is murder, then I support murder factories. If I believe homosexuality is genetic, you support torture.
If climate change is real, there is catastrophic destruction in the very near future, and there’s a powerful cabal of oil and coal businesses who don’t care as long as they get payouts in the next ten years. If climate change is a hoax, then there’s a powerful cabal of scientists and fake businesses trying to take money from half the working class.
At the polar extremes each side thinks the other is plunging the world into a thousand years of darkness. These are intractable discussions, because they are about first principles or as close as makes no difference. To paraphrase a dead philosopher: once you have established first principles, further discussion is either impossible or unnecessary.
My Facebook feed is unnecessary. Yours is impossible. Twitter is both.
Through stereotypic Google glasses urbanites see tumbleweed towns full of toothless racists, and rural towns stare back at decadent perverts and black violence. Everybody thinks they’re voting Volcano while the other side is trying to get the One Ring back to Sauron.
It’s not that simple, but it’s not complicated. I grew up in a 300 person rural outback. I played pool with a bunch of old fishermen who’d never met a black person and whose way of life wasn’t going so well. When my black cousin came to town, most of them kept complaining about the weather, and one of them grounded his daughter for “talking to a nigger.” Guess which one stopped being my friend.
Don’t send me articles about the plight of the working class. I’m not conflating calloused hands with burning crosses. I have compassion for people whose social and professional spaces are collapsing. I have none for those who respond to their plight by joining the Klan. I have none for those who would take a tax cut at the expense of every Muslim on Earth.
People say they’ll work with Trump “if.” Yeah, of course. Everybody works with people working for the same things they are. I’ll work with Trump if he apologizes for everything he is and disavows everything he represents.
When you post a few dozen violent acts following the election as if it’s news, I taste copper. It implies some brand new wave of hatred is sweeping the nation. Bring me a thousand an hour and I’ll be nonplussed. Remember 9/12? I’ve been watching violent hate play itself out since I was old enough to turn on a television. Progress in this fight has been hundreds of painful years of forcing xenophobia away from public acceptability.
Now a prodigal son preaching this xenophobia holds the highest office in the land. The fight didn’t take two steps back: It was clubbed, choked, handcuffed, locked in the back of a car, and maced.
Casual misogyny and racism were normalized into the news like a knife slipping between the ribs of a coma patient. Then they were vindicated. It’s not surprising. It’s never been safe for minorities and women in this country, but hey, at least we could make a few grand gestures and feel good about empathizing with the nearest few dozen like-minded people.
“Not all” doesn’t mean not a whole lot of racists decided it was okay to paint swastikas on people’s doors. “Not me” doesn’t mean you didn’t enable and condone them by voting Sauron.
The public political spectrum discussing our future as a country now includes thousands and thousands of violent bigots, and millions more who were okay with electing one.
Accept, love, move on and normalize?
Listening to optimistic, semi-ironic cheers from a crowd that was already toasting victory last Tuesday at 8pm, I stared at Florida. Over the last twenty years, people my age learned two things: Hearing “Florida Man” means someone just did something more insane than eating another person’s face, and when you’re worried about an election, stare at Florida.
Seven hours later, I was numb and drunk, and within twelve hours of that I’d already flipped out twice in public. I did the usual “I’m getting out of here” mantra because I never really liked this country, and I have money from a portable job.
I’m not leaving. New York City just became the safest place in the world for soft-handed elites. Plus we get lots of perks from the banks and rich people draining money from the working class and dodging taxes. The food here is for other people to die for.
I’m also in a position to help the people in my life who can’t leave, and for whom the country became slightly more dangerous than usual.
Every four years, the winners and losers ask everybody to put the divisiveness behind them and unite under new leadership. It’s a patronizing message at best when they spent a year tending the rage hearth, then can’t even get along well enough among themselves to consistently keep the government running.
Stop pretending we’ll work it out. People on opposite sides of idealogical chasms will get along when one of them changes their mind or dies. Saying we’ll all get together in the end is advocating mind control or genocide.
Amorphous, perfect compassion doesn’t do anything besides waste calories trying to accept the unacceptable and forget the issues that are common to the species. It doesn’t work. It never did.
Action works. Money works. Double down on extremist agendas like access to birth control and the right to not be attacked in the street. Don’t accept that we have to listen to an idiot spew nonsense from our capital: clog the roads to demonstrate our lack of respect. Don’t accept that our only way forward is to show compassion for trolls and racists and misogynists: show them we’ll finish the fights they start. Don’t accept an invincible plutocracy eliminating the working class: fight in every corner of the system to stop the upward funnel of money and power they’ve created.
Make them understand we’re not locked in here with them. They’re locked in here with us.