“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
I had a long discussion yesterday with some friends over Facebook about the nature of public discourse in America and how it seems to devolve into nothing but name-calling and finger-pointing. Just about everyone agreed that the proclivity for degenerating into the equivalent of two groups of chimpanzees flinging their own excrement at each other is something that is encouraged by not just our political system but also the 24 hour news cycle as evidenced by CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, where the vitriol flows like ambrosia and the sneering condescension is so thick you could cut it with a doorstop.
Inevitably I asked myself what exactly created this vile, lumbering beast, as if trying to assign blame will really help in any way. It doesn’t matter who pieced this Frankenstein’s monster together out of Piers Morgan’s abusive sneer and Bill O’Reilly’s bristling rage, but the fact remains that it’s alive – and it’s rampaging through the countryside, devouring small children and shitting in my hydrangeas.
Pointing the finger is a favorite pastime in modern American culture. We seem to be rather keen on fixing the blame instead of the problem, and it usually takes the form of the three-second sound bite that can be endlessly played and re-played on television for the purpose of apparently driving advertising revenue through television ratings and market share. Between Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch (and the assholes that run MSNBC for Comcast), the majority of Americans get their news from sources owned by corporate media moguls with ulterior motives and decrepit moral fiber, yet there’s no outcry that these so-called “news” organizations and their employees are being financed either wholly or in part by people and corporations that are not above promoting their own agendas through the judicious application of massive sums of cash (thanks, Citizens United!).
Of course, our own complacency as a culture most likely led us down this particularly dank and decrepit rabbit hole. There’s a distinct lack of curiosity or interest in how the world works in American society at the moment, which has been blamed on everything from failing schools to violent video games, but unless we turn our scrutiny inward we’re never going to escape from the fate we’ve written for ourselves.
When it comes down to it, the majority of choices that we can make in our daily lives have been markedly reduced while at the same time presented in such a manner as to give us the illusion of choice. Over-simplification has led to a world where the Manichean binarity is king: the only choices we have are presented to us as black and white, Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, Red or Blue, even though there’s a whole spectrum of thought (and colors) out there that are being ignored because they don’t provide a convenient or easily understood (or refuted) platform; it’s as if the average American mind has become incapable of acknowledging the fact that there are more than two points of view any more.
Unfortunately, the only way this will ever change is if each of us alters how we react to the world on an internal level. We have to throw out the easy answers and instead go looking for the best ones, all while avoiding the trap of falling into one camp or another and spending more time trying to personally or ideologically discredit our opponents than working to find a solution that leads to the most good and doesn’t compromise the things that are the most important, such as our personal safety and our civil liberties. Any answer that sacrifices one for the other is never, ever going to be the best solution; I simply hope that enough people will come to realize that before we’ve given up all of one for the illusion of the other.