I can’t speak for the rest of the world. At the rate this pandemic is going, I might never be able to travel internationally again, so I’m losing perspective. But I certainly have ample opportunity to observe my fellow Americans from my exclusive perch in the tower of my drawbridge, and I also read enough of the news to believe this to be true: Americans, in general, are getting increasingly cranky to the point of being really terrifying.
I get it. This pandemic has us worn out. The state of politics, especially since Trump came along, has our nerves shredded. And the way that we have all been forced to answer certain moral questions of late is revealing that a lot fewer of us are decent human beings than I previously imagined.
Even though this post is not strictly about masks and vaccines, I do have to say that it seems like a no-brainer to me: If I’m asked to do something that I’m not thrilled with, but that thing will potentially help to prevent someone from dying, I’m going to do that thing. I got vaccinated. I wear a mask. But there are people out there who genuinely believe that they should not be personally inconvenienced just so someone else might live. It astounds me. Public health isn’t about just you. If the golden rule means anything at all, it means, hey, maybe I shouldn’t have a hand in bringing about someone else’s demise.
The whole mask and vaccine thing is just the tippy top of a huge iceberg of cruelty that is becoming increasingly evident. I’m seeing more people shouting at each other from the bike lanes and out of car windows. More horns are blaring. The schizophrenics among our homeless people, who I view as the human equivalent of canaries in coal mines, are starting to rage even more as tensions increase. It’s like we are now in a constant state of full moon. All bets are off. It’s impossible to predict who will lose it next. All that you can do is hope that you’re not anywhere near ground zero when it happens.
My friends who work in the medical field are being screamed at more often, and sometimes even assaulted. Here on my drawbridge, more pedestrians are refusing to cooperate every day. To hell with the 3000 gross ton gravel barge that’s bearing down on us. They have places to go and people to see. Screw the flashing lights and warning gongs.
More people are cutting in line in general. More people are blowing through red lights. The other day I saw two guys engaged in a fistfight on a street corner in broad daylight.
I can’t emphasize this enough: There is NO EXCUSE for yelling at and/or assaulting someone for doing their job. You may not like the policy they’re having to enforce, but they’re just trying to make a living. You want to shout, shout at the rich person who probably owns the company. Rich people should be shouted at a lot more often, if you ask me. They certainly deserve it more than cashiers or wait staff do.
It’s getting so I’m afraid to ask anyone a question, even one as innocent as, “How late are you open?” because responses to any type of question seem to be hostile these days. I spend a lot of time wondering what I’ve done to people. But it doesn’t just happen to me. Not that that’s any comfort.
I just read a fascinating opinion piece by Umair Haque, entitled, “Why America is the World’s Most Uniquely Cruel Society.” It really made me think about how America is set up to operate. It also made me think about how this country came to be the way it is.
In that article, the author posits the theory that we have a very unusual origin story, even for a colonial country that has been trained to utterly ignore the native people who were here first. Throughout colonial history, America has been colonized by people who were leaving home because on one level or another they were not wanted.
Everyone’s immigration story is different, of course, but we didn’t tend to attract the rich upper classes. Royalty wasn’t trying to move here. Some common reasons for coming to America included getting away from religious or political persecution, or avoiding violence at home, or desperate poverty and no opportunities in their homelands, or they were criminals. Let’s face it. There’s no need to pursue the American Dream unless you’re living a nightmare.
One thing that all desperate people have in common is the desire to no longer be at the bottom of society. They want to experience dignity, respect, and a sense of belonging. Who doesn’t? But in order for you to rise up in the hierarchy to the place where those things are obtainable, someone has to be below you, and that person doesn’t want to be there either, so it becomes a fight. And as more and more waves of immigrants washed up on these shores, more people had to get stepped on, and, the author suggests, this cruelty has since become a habit that has been passed down through the generations.
The English settlers hated the Native Americans. Then they had to hate all the people that came after them and threatened their place in the societal pyramid. So the English hated the French, the French hated the Germans, the Germans hated the Irish, who hated the Italians, and on and on. And of course, slaves got to be the scapegoats for everyone even though they never asked to be here in the first place. Then came the Asians who did the great service of also not looking like us, so they, too, were easy to spot and be cruel to. When we took the West from the Spanish-speaking people who had taken it from the Native Americans, we hated them too.
And through all of this, which is still ongoing, we have learned, consciously or unconsciously, that you have to be cruel to survive. You have to be violent to get ahead. You have to eat or be eaten.
Over the centuries, the cruelty has become institutionalized. Homeless? What a shame. Glad I’m not you. Less than desirable as a neighbor? Lock ‘em up and throw away the key. You don’t deserve universal health care. Higher education is only for those who can pay for it. Can’t get a job? Well, then, join the military and become cannon fodder or the good of the country.
We have one of the lowest life expectancies of any rich nation, and while that’s embarrassing, nothing need be done about it unless it starts impacting ME. We have the highest rate of mass shootings in the world, but hey, that helps decrease the surplus population. The only country that has a higher death rate per capita due to drug use is the Ukraine, and yet we put very little money into our substance abuse infrastructure. Let ‘em eat cake.
Based on this hierarchy of ours, the conservatives should encourage immigration, not attempt to squash it. Because if they are successful in their policies of exclusion, one day they may look around and realize that they no longer have anyone to step on, and it’s awfully lonely at the bottom.
We need to find a way to break this cycle of cruelty and hate. We need to lift each other up if we want this country to succeed. We need to realize that our current behavior is not serving us well.
But most of all, I think we all need to take a deep breath, pause, and grow the f**k up.
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