The Cheapening of America’s Polarized Culture

As this hellishly long election process grinds painfully to its conclusion I, for one, am both disgusted and exhausted by the process!  Not only has it already been underway for more than a year but the overall atmosphere of the campaign continues to mine new levels of repugnance and revulsion.  Civility is nowhere to be found nor is a substantive discussion of truly pertinent topics like the economy, terrorism, immigration and entitlement reform.  Instead, the candidates of both parties would rather sling mud and bait each other with abhorrent personal attacks; in addition said attacks are now targeting family members!  Just what has happened to the concept of gathering to discuss issues employing decorum and respect?  Apparently this approach has been discarded in favor of rancor and vitriol.

Without question there’s plenty of blame to go around starting with the candidates themselves.  Somewhere along this process the need to be truthful in one’s dealings fell by the wayside; indeed, the need to be truthful at all seems a lost concept.  Apparently it is much more important to make a large impression with one’s ego and bravado than be truthful.  And the lame-stream media fuels this fire by affording the most coverage to the most outrageous actions and comments.  In a culture where few have an attention span longer than 30 seconds and most want information spoon fed to them along with how and what they should think the media willingly panders to such guilelessness as it generates ratings.

But neither of the aforementioned are honestly the root cause of this heinous situation; no, sadly the main reason we’re seeing such coarse and childish behavior is ‘we the people’ want it.  Over the past sixty years there’s been a steady decline in morals and values within the American culture all in the name of ‘social progress’.  Progressives point to this with pride as examples of the advancement of the American people while all the while continuing to willing chip away at so many of the virtues which allowed this country to both grow and prosper.  They view conservatives as Luddites clinging to past behaviors rather than embracing new social miens.  Yet without continued social development and growth our culture will definitely become stagnant and eventually fail.  Conservatives all too often view progressives (aka ‘liberals’) as crazed, morally bankrupt maniac’s hell bent on destroying anything ‘good’.  Those of a more conservative bent will not at least consider, let alone embrace, the idea that as we evolve we must continue to adapt and that implies change.

So our culture has reached a point at which we are fundamentally polarized to extremes.  Neither faction appears willing to just try to undertake a civilized dialog with the other regarding even the most basic of concepts like immigration.  This, by itself, is a recipe for deadlock and thus we find ourselves embroiled in our current situation.  Far too many people have embraced the ultimate lunacy of ‘political correctness’ which is a guaranteed killer of honest, open communication at a time when we truly need clear, concise conversation.  But there’s more as well; it seems that with the advent of electronic communication in the form of email, tweeting and similar we lost the notion of civilized communication.  It’s almost as if because we do not have to face someone we feel we are free to say anything regardless of how disgusting or vile.  Just visit virtually any chat room or forum and you can see endless examples of a total lack of common courtesies and civility.  Apparently many folks have taken the old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me’ to a new and despicable low.

Given all this I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise we have candidates willing to stoop to crass, bathroom humor and insults the likes of which most of us left behind on the grade school playground.  In a very real sense we are getting exactly what we asked for or at least what the majority of Americans appear to desire.  But does this do anything constructive for our political process let alone our culture?  In a sense it really does seem to be one of the polar opposites that defines today’s America; we have this willingness to forgo all aspects of civility and politeness in favor of crass, boorish behavior juxtaposed against the prim and proper miasma of political correctness.  And this is but one example of how polarized American culture has become.  At this point I have to ask; “Is this the kind of ‘social progress’ we desire as a nation?”.

My sense is most folks would prefer not to continue down this path but are either unsure how to redirect our ‘advancement’ or are too overwhelmed by what it takes to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle to care.  But regardless, we are experiencing the unfolding of this situation so we shouldn’t be surprised when our political race turns into an all-out free for all with the candidate most willing to plumb the lowest depths of acrimony and rancor most likely to get the most media attention and, hence, come out a victor.  Yet there is a relatively simple ‘fix’ for this situation; if ‘we the people’ refused to sit enchanted in front of our media source of choice vapidly soaking up such behavior the media outlets would soon stop running the imagery on an almost 24/7 basis.  If we all chose, instead, to read about the campaign from the outlet of our choice as versed with being spoon fed the mindless video superimposed with some equally mindless talking head providing foolish and irrelevant commentary we could affect an eventual change for the better.  But for most people this would mean unplugging from the continual information bombardment of our technological time and instead investing in reading and making up our own minds.

With respect to the larger issue of a dramatically polarized population the answers are not so forthcoming.  Obviously we need compromise but this cannot happen until we are amenable to conversing in a civilized and cultured manner.  And we must put aside past issues and grievances!  History can and will be an important part of any such discussions but a desire to dwell on perceived past wrongs and/or injustices will only poison the well of good intentions.  But perhaps most importantly we must communicate in an open and honest fashion and this means dropping any use of political correctness.  It is far too important to resolve this issue rather than allow such efforts to be torpedoed by concern for a few people’s overly sensitive perceptions.  We have the power and means to begin bridging this polarization but we really need the will!

True 21st Century Heroes

After having lived what, in hindsight, was an insanely healthy life across my first 61 years I was ill-prepared when aging finally caught up with me.  Sadly, I had come to take good health for granted and, as such, was not at all ready to deal with what was headed my way.  Oh sure, I dealt with the usual things like very infrequent bouts of flu, occasional food poisoning, sore/stiff muscles from overdoing efforts and similar but really I was very healthy.  Nothing every knocked me down for long; in fact, the worst physical health issues I endured were my annual bouts with hay fever.  I really struggled with these as a child and not until my 35th birthday did the affliction suddenly disappear; surprisingly, this coincided with the remission of what I came to understand had been chronic depression.  I can only speculate I must have undergone some biochemical shift at that time, probably age related, and whatever allowed me to ‘outgrow’ the hay fever also caused the depression to slowly disappear.

But, as followers of this blog know, March of 2015 brought about a silly accident which had a huge impact on my physical and mental states of existence.  Stuffing my boot laces into my boots rather than tying them caused me to manage to catch one short length of exposed lace on the left boot around an eyelet on the right and brought me crashing down upon the black top in front of the Talkeetna PO.  This resulted in a severely fractured left radius and ulna ultimately requiring orthopedic surgery and the equivalent of an artificial elbow along with a plate and six bone screws.  But I’ve blogged about this earlier on and is not why I’m writing this today.

Rather, I’m writing about my recent experience with having all four wisdom teeth removed.  Again, I’ve had almost no previous dental issues having inherited Mom’s incredibly hard teeth.  I’ve only dealt with six cavities across my life one of which required a root canal (my fault).  So when I started feeling some pain well back in my mouth in late August I at first ignored said pain.  It mainly appeared only briefly and then disappeared for weeks so I wasn’t worried.  Yet, by mid-October, the pain was becoming more noticeable and beginning to impact my eating so I scheduled an appointment at the Sunshine Clinic is early November.  There I learned my wisdom teeth needed to be extracted with the first two scheduled for December 28th which was the earliest opening.  Said appointment went fine and I was fully recovered within four days.  The next appointment for the last two was January 18th but ‘Mr. Murphy’ had other plans as I came down with a bad case of food poisoning the evening of January 17th and cancelled my next day appointment.  The next opening was March 8th and that almost seven week period was an incredibly long time to wait.  Both teeth gave me regular pain but the lower wisdom tooth was very temperature sensitive and forced me to eat and drink nothing cooler than maybe 80°F unless I wanted to deal with sharp stabbing pain.  It produced almost continual low grade pain which was with me day and night.

Come March 8th I was so ready for the procedure; once again, both teeth were removed with no issues and now – two days later – I am feeling no pain nor suffering any related issues to the removals.  But I have noticed something which still amazes me no end; I can hardly measure the joy I feel now that the wisdom teeth are history!  I awoke the morning of March 9th feeling better than I could ever remember feeling; at first I wondered why but very soon understood it was because I hadn’t slept – and awakened – with that same low grade dental pain I’d endured across the previous seven weeks!  This has carried over into today as I still feel so very good.  And, these realizations started me thinking regarding the human body and pain.

It still boggles my mind just how amazingly well the human body can manage pain!!  Granted, my dental based pain was hardly extreme – on the well-known pain scale of 0 to 10 I’d say it averaged maybe a 3 with infrequent jumps to maybe a 6 – but it was almost continuous.  In hindsight I believe I stopped being ‘aware’ of its continual nature a few weeks into that stage although when I accidentally bit down wrong the resultant pain would make me see stars.  Yet I continued to function about ‘normal’ for me with the exception of eating/drinking only ‘warm’ substances.  But now, with those nasty teeth gone for two days, I can start to appreciate just how wearing that continual pain must have been upon me.  I feel twenty years younger now and have a whole new, incredibly positive outlook on life!  That’s saying quite a lot given I’m still dealing with fallout from the aforementioned left elbow ‘incident’.

But it also made me ponder all those poor souls out there for whom daily pain that would make my dental issues seem like a walk in the park is their ‘norm’.  How do such brave beings find the strength, and more importantly, the perspective to get on with life?  Do their bodies manage to conceal or otherwise mitigate a large portion of their pain?  We’ve all known people who suffer from chronic pain; after enduring the tiny bit I did I cannot imagine how such noble souls can face each new day!  My brief experience highlighted just how wearing and grinding daily pain can be; it saps one’s energy, destroys one’s optimism and is always there with its slow, steady drumbeat of torment.  And I dealt with my meager pain for less than two months; what must it be like to endure such constant torture for years let alone a lifetime?  Even if their bodies are capable of greatly mitigating such misery how do they find the energy and the perspective to endure; let alone do so with dignity and grace?

These are questions I cannot answer and I recognize this is good because it means I’ve never experienced such circumstances.  But I also now understand such individuals are indeed heroes…heroes who walk among us daily.  Noble beings whom endure and, indeed, even aspire to greater heights despite being drained and crushed by daily torment.  In a time seemingly bereft of role models I believe such beings more than qualify for that title; they shine forth as amazing examples of the human will!  So the next time you cut your finger or wrench your back or struggle with a hacking cough and feel like you cannot handle it any longer remember those who live with intense misery day in and day out.  You know you will eventually heal but those amazing souls who live with daily pain have no such luxury yet they persevere and even rise above…  Truer heroes I cannot imagine!