Since my last post in April of last year, I have been writing and involving myself in some form or other with words, but I have chosen to do it in the private forum of a journal and other projects. These alternative outlets have given me the freedom necessary to work through troubled thoughts and feelings without the worry of criticism or judgment, in hopes that the words, once I was able to spit them out via the keyboard, would enable me to confront and, therefore, understand certain truths – good, bad or indifferent – about myself and the world. These truths, in turn, would inform a personal philosophy to guide me in my way through a world that increasingly makes no sense or diverges so far from my sense of common decency that I’ve wondered if I might be losing my goddamned mind.
A large part of reclaiming a narrative is reframing or discrediting language that historically has been used to demean certain groups and diminish their power in society. Authoritarians, especially Trump, bristle at the notion of political correctness, which is to say a call for greater sensitivity in the language one uses publicly in mixed company. And in today’s always connected and increasingly global society, there’s rarely a time when we’re not in mixed company.
As someone who orientates himself and makes sense of the world primarily through language, I consider words to be nearly sacred in their power. In my younger, more idealistic years, I attributed even greater power to them, believing to my core that a right and true combination of words could solve any predicament or right any wrong. Though I no longer believe such a romantic notion, I still believe that words, carefully chosen, have an undeniable power. Given this, one would think, even in this Land of the Free with the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment, that we would hold those responsible and accountable for the language they use in public discourse. To enforce such accountability, however, we must agree that language does, indeed, have power, and thus carries consequences with its use. One need only sample the vile rhetoric flatulating from the bowels of this year’s presidential election, predominantly on the Republican side where personal attacks abound and lie upon lie stands uncorrected, to see that accountability has gone out the window. The inflammatory language flung like shit by the media zoo monkeys and the politicians they cover amounts to a cacophony of noise and nonsense that only serves to isolates us from each other and tear us apart.
As anyone with a teenager knows only too well, they can be exasperatingly obstinate creatures, but for the life of me, I can’t think of any justification for the brute force Richland County Officer Senior Deputy Ben Fields used to deal with a female student who refused to give up her cell phone or leave the classroom. The officer otherwise known by the students of Spring Valley High School as “Officer Slam” clearly lost his shit, and the force he used was all out of proportion to what the situation required.
Uncertainty is anathema to human nature. Evolution programs us to assess our environments as quickly as possible in order to distinguish foe from friend, danger from safety. However, modern life has become far more complicated than just matters of food, shelter, safety and survival of the species. We are offered choice to the point of noise, and this only compounds the uncertainty and the feelings of anxiety it conjures. Any period of transition, such as I’m currently experiencing with the preparations for my next “career” move, is bound to be fraught with conflicting impulses that exacerbate uncertainty. That’s to be expected when shifting one’s context, the point between losing the frame of reference of what came before and when future possibilities appear limitless and, thus, simultaneously enervating and paralyzing. Ultimately, we must all come to grips with the fact that life offers very little solace in the way of certainty and resist the temptation to manufacture certainty where it doesn’t exist.
According to the book Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, the United States has been waging the so-called War on Drugs for going on a century. From the beginning, the intent of the war – complete with actual armies, battlefronts, bullets and casualties – has been to eliminate the scourge of intoxicants from the world. The enemy in this war has been alternatively the “evil” substances themselves and “those people” who out of weakness of character and will power come under the sway of that Demon Drink and wreak a particular brand of havoc, starting at the epicenter of their own personal lives and rippling out to their families and beyond, that exacts a dear cost on society. Since we “civilized” people don’t consort in alleyways, we don’t claim to actually know any of these junkies, or so we rationalize in order to convince ourselves the war is as justified as if Hitler himself was capturing innocent people off the streets and forcing illicit substances down their throats and needles in their veins. We further marginalize these individuals, many of them already marginalized by race and socioeconomic status, in our slums where they can kill each other all day long in their scramble for their daily fix or domination of a certain street corner. Or we lock them up in our prisons and throw away the key, thereby reassuring ourselves that none of their influence can leak out and infect us or the places where we, the civilized, live our staid and orderly lives. Only, as Hari’s book persuasively demonstrates, the enemy is not some alien being taken over by chemicals. The enemy in this drawn out, costly and futile war is us.
These days, for my sole vote to represent the sum total of my political power seems a fairly bleak prospect. Goodness knows, I don’t have enough money to buy off candidates to do my bidding, I can’t buy the amount of TV ad time that sways undecided voters to my side, and I can’t fund the kind of operations that hire people to get out the vote for their side and to suppress the vote of their opponents’ side. When up against these forces fueled by people with money and power I can’t even imagine, my vote really doesn’t amount to shit. But is it the end of the world if our votes are meaningless? Is it the end of Democracy? We’ll still be able to buy our flat-screen TVs, Happy Meals and Big Gulps, won’t we? Look, I’m not asking for much, I just want to know that my vote, which is my voice in the political arena just as my dollar is in the commercial one, MEANS something. Sure, it’s just one vote among however many (only a few thousand in my local elections), and the candidate I vote for doesn’t always win (almost never does in my local elections), but I just want to know that my vote joins with others to support a candidate who truly speaks to the issues I care about and that affect me and my family.