April 21, 2012

'In Nothing We Trust'

Oh, a perfect scrambly brains morning. I left my bedroom window open last night, which is iffy this time of year. I know there is a chance I'll be awakened really early, usually by a bird. I used to have a bird that nested each year in the tree just outside my window. So I cut down the tree.

Realizing it was Saturday, and that it was raining, and that Christer had taken my car to work, I just lay there for awhile. Can't do yardwork, can't do groceries. The cats are cool with this; Maggie will stay in bed all day, and JoJo does not know night from day anyway.

The fact is, I feel incredibly guilty if I'm not doing something. I know my mental in- basket is always overflowing, and the coming weeks are nuts. But after a week of pinging off the walls doing writing, editing, TV, working out, tango lessons and speech writing, I needed a rainy Saturday. I always spell 'rainy' wrong, because I get called Rainey, and that requires an 'e'.

I came across an excellent piece via Salon called In Nothing We Trust by Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton in the National Journal. It's a great read for a lot of reasons, but I think it's important to go read about Johnny Whitmire if you want to better understand the state of the American consciousness. We all are tired of hearing about the mortgage debacle. We shouldn't be. For years now, we've heard of people buying houses with crazy mortgages only to find themselves under water and owing far more than those houses became worth. Human nature makes us want to find some reason why that could never be us. And it was easy.

The ever helpful media kept showing ghost towns of new surveys, stockpiled with fancypants 4 bedroom homes and double garages. Well, hell, I can't afford that, I could tell myself. Why would some idiot believe they could afford it with no money down, and balloon payments that would hit the stratosphere in a year or three? I mean, I'd never be that stupid. Interviews would be played out with people who looked more like the proverbial deer in the headlights, and we could reassure ourselves that we would have seen that coming.

I found myself becoming that person I despise: a judgmental asshole. Without exception, the most judgmental people I've ever known are the most ignorant. No exception. And here I was, veering down Stupid Alley at full tilt.

Go take a boo at Johnny Whitmire again. He bought a house for 40K. 4-0. Mortgage payments were $620 a month, and he and his wife both worked. Wow. Greedy much? Of course not. I'd be high fiving myself every time I passed a mirror if I'd worked that deal.

I'll never forget my dear old Dad's take on these things. He would get blistering, spitting mad - really, spitting - when at the end of each month, he'd see some guy at the beer store loading cases into a cab. "Goddamned freeloaders, waiting for their cheques each month to go buy beer and cig-rets," he'd fume. That's how he said cigarettes: cig-rets. Used to make us crazy. But this is what he saw, and that is what he presumed. He was paying for some lazy ass to take his money and buy beer and cig-rets. Was he right? Sure he was. But he was also wrong. There's a reason political advisers practically scream 'optics are everything'. If you get the right optic, you can convince people of almost anything. That was my Dad's optic. We talked about it a lot. My Dad was of a different era, but I like to think we broached common ground with the help of actual numbers, decent people more representative of whom his taxes were helping, and the understanding that optics are, in fact, not everything. Sometimes they're worse than nothing.

Bad things happen to bad people. We cling to this. We know it's not so, but we cling to it like a life-raft.There is a reason Whitmire is living in a trailer and I am not, and that reason is that I am smarter/kinder/more industrious than he is. Bull.

We head to the polls (well, some of us do; more and more of us don't) to voice our displeasure with the lying, cheating, stealing wastes we call our leaders. Funny thing, though. Check out approval ratings in any country during such a ravaging recession: we hate everyone. It's fun to watch here in Ontario. Extreme right-wing mayor Rob Ford is pretty universally summed up as a lost cause. Man can't lead, can't unite, can't keep his promises, can't follow through. People are demanding his head on a platter most days. Left-wing premier McGuinty is accused of about the same things, and people are demanding his head on a platter most days, too. And federally, our right-wing PM is called all the same things, and many want his head, too. Left, right, whatever. We don't know what the hell we want, because there is actually no offer on the table that makes any sense.

Every single political party has been complicit in adding to the pile of laws, deals, secrets, and lies that got us to here. All of them. Politicians remind me of an upper crust snotty Brit back in the 1800s pretending there wasn't a chamber pot under her bed.

When jobs get scarce, people get mean. They circle the wagons to protect what's theirs (go check out any of those websites of people preparing for the apocalypse -  be it nuclear, biblical or zombie -  and have a hoot), and eventually start shooting their own wagons if they think their brothers are wasting precious resources on beer and cig-rets.

We get cruel and punitive and patriarchal with people we decide have just earned their hard times. We vote right, we support pull-up-your-socks governments, not realizing it's kinda hard to do if you don't even have any damned socks.

And then when the thrasher catches us, we switch gears, wondering where that damned government is when we need it. All these years of self-sufficiency rewarded with a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. We forget we were wielding that stick, back when we still had a stick. And so we swing left.

The National Journal link is interesting in another way: lots of references to sociologists, which most dismiss as a soft science, if they consider it anything at all. I studied sociology in university; I'm just a few credits short of a degree, understanding in my infinite wisdom that an English degree would vault me to financial security. Anyway. I'm glad they're discussing the sociology of all of this. It matters. It goes hand in hand with history, which is the most important thing to study, period, if you ask me. But who we are, how we are, and where we're going is all sociology.

Unlike economists and financial planners, they don't tell you what to do. We agitate for action, dammit, not understanding that we also need spectators. Note- taking spectators to reflect our true selves. It's like an animal kingdom show where a hyena jumps on a bunny and eats it. You want to grab the bunny, cuddle it, take it home and punch the hyena in the nose. Well, I do. But to the person filming it, the importance is observation. Nothing else. If we only ever witness interference, we will never live more than a lie. Someone has to let the bunny get eaten, so we learn everything we can about the true nature of the hyena.

No, I have no clue if hyenas eat bunnies.

The problem is, we keep putting more stock in the number swirlers and pontificaters who tell us up is down and black is white. We see the world through our own true eyes (we are all sociologists, frankly) but we dismiss what we see to be true to grasp for something we know is not.

Assistant Sociology Professor Laura Hansen is quoted in the link saying we've lost our gods. Our faith in all our institutions, our leaders, those who might have inspired us. It's interesting to note one of the causes: we know too much about all of them. I often scratch my head at half the people noting the power of social media: Facebook and Twitter et al have the power to unite and unleash a social uprising like we've never seen. But, and stop me if I'm wrong, it's these very enterprises that have turned us into a bunch of idiots. People are posting pictures of their breakfast while governments are quietly repealing women's rights. And yes, then we get all crazy over that, but where the hell was everyone when these people came to power in the first place? I'll tell you where: they were updating their statuses, pondering 'it's complicated', and trying to be witty in 140 characters.

I realize this is long and ranty. I've probably lost most of you by now anyway. I know I've lost Roz. As I sat here, JoJo was camped out on my lap. Maggie jumped on the table and glared at her. JoJo promptly got down so Maggie could sit there instead. It occurred to me that JoJo would had every right to shoot her if we had a Stand Your Ground law around here.

We don't.

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Anonymous Roz said...

I read it. The whole thing. Not the links - yet. As I have company coming over for dinner. I did, however, go shopping and two of my geriatric neighbours parked beside me at the grocery store and didn't even know who the hell I was. strange. Good Rant Rainey.

April 21, 2012 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Roz said...

Looks like I'm the only one who made it through your rant. heh!

April 21, 2012 1:59 PM  
Anonymous buzzwhack said...

Your link takes me to Blogger page with no article. No matter, your rant was plenty good enough. Prof Laura Hansen saying we lost our gods reminds me when Pyschiatrist Carl Jung said the same thing back in the 1950s in his book Man and His Symbols. Excellent book by the way. As for facebook and Twitter as a social media force, I highly doubt it. I believe it has replaced the town crier in many ways, but did the town crier do much more than annoy people at 3 am with reports? How many would have poured hot oil on a town crier if he happened to be outside your window....all the time, every night? Well if you can't shut him up, you tune him out. That's probably why its hard to mobilise true change nowadays. Its too easy to talk about it. Actions always speak louder than words. Nothing says change more than a group of rebels machine gunning the old despot and installing themselves in power. If we don't like what our leaders are doing and if they don't want to listen to us or make reasonable compromises, action is all that's left. Now that's the hard part, it separates adults from whiny children. My 2 cents.

April 21, 2012 3:25 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

Fixed the link...thank you, Buzz.

I have a reader(?) who periodically sends me short notes, usually accusing me of knowing nothing. He calls me things like 'Little Star Girl', though I guess now I'm Little Globe Girl. I'm also curious how I'm a little girl when I'm closing in on 5 decades on this coil, but I digress.

He will read my blogs and report to me via email. Never joins a discussion. I wrote last fall that Canada needs a Spring, as I commented on the uprisings taking place elsewhere. I noted it need not be as bloody, but the message was long overdue. He wrote and told me I was totally delusional if I thought Canada would ever require such an action.

That's one way to find out who voted in our current fraud of a federal government.

April 21, 2012 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Zena said...

Naw, Buzz, they saved the hot oil for marauding intruders. The town crier would have got the bed pans instead. Probably more fitting a punishment at 3:00am...

Thanks for the rant, Lorraine. The other half of the brain cell and I take long walks and ponder these very things. That's what constitutes "date night" in our house. Entertainment on a tight budget...

I am just perpetually gob-smacked, not only at how mean-spirited people have become, but how perfectly willing they are to put their nastiness on full public display without any scruples whatsoever. At the very least, I think folks used to be more eloquent in expressing their intolerance of opposing viewpoints...

April 23, 2012 12:40 AM  
Blogger Chris Brown (not the felon) said...

On yet another Rainey day, I sit and ponder the bottomless pit you have opened with this rant. I marvel that Whitmire was paying $620 a month on a $40,000 house. In a country where no one ever pays off their mortgage because they can write off the interest, he would have paid off his mortgage in 5 years at that rate. He should have been paying $300 and had a 15 year mortgage. But greedy managers who wanted their $10,000,000 bonuses no doubt hoped to squeeze a few extra "points" out of yet another poor sod (apologies to the author.)

I teared up when I read about City Hall's solution to his Weed Fine. I expected them to tell him to pay up. They need the three hundred bucks more than him, probably.

The Roman Empire fell because of greed, gluttony, technology (lead pipes and lead pots were introduced and we all know how lead can effect people's brains), separation of the classes, and overpaid sports figures. I may have made that last one up. But you get my drift.

That wooshing sound you hear may be Western civilization headed down the toilet.

April 23, 2012 8:34 AM  
Blogger Chris Brown (not the felon) said...

PS. Hyenas DO eat bunnies. But they prefer them with mint sauce.

And croutons.

April 23, 2012 10:49 AM  

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