Okay, no, not really. In reality, as with most of the Human population, I regard such predictions as they should be regarded: as a misguided symptom of the fear that has infected our nation and others over these last years.
This fear is not hard to see. I was driving to work in the pre-dawn hours the other morning and I spied a shiny new bumper sticker on a pick-up truck next to me. The bumper sticker said something to the effect of “Don’t Listen to the Liberal Media” and, as I do whenever faced with one, I sought the face of the person who would make such a simplistic pronouncement. The man driving that truck was approximately 65 – 70 years old, Caucasian, and balding. He had small, oval, wire-rimmed glasses that perched half-way up his rather bulbous nose. He hunched forward in the driver’s seat, his hands in the classic “10 and 2” position on his steering wheel. He wore red flannel, frowned slightly, and seemed to follow the speed limit exactly. Although I cannot confirm this for fact, I want to assume he was listening to Rush Limbaugh (or someone like him) on the radio.
It’s easy to stereotype this man as a right wing conservative pining for the “simpler, safer” era of the 1950s because that seems to be the driving goal of the most vocal members of the conservative movement these days. They characterize the 1950s as some sort of glorious utopia when, in fact, the 1950s were a complex and frightening time—for everyone who wasn’t an American Caucasian male. Even our current prime-time television hits and new movies seem to be reveling in our country’s homogenous past (see the popularity of shows like Mad Men, Pan Am, and The Playboy Club and movies like Captain America, X-Men: First Class, and J. Edgar).
The 1950s were anything but “simple” or “safe.” The decade bore the seeds of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Equality movement, the Gay Rights movement, and the decade simply known as The Sixties and ruthlessly attempted to extinguish all of them. McCarthyism, the Cold War, and fear ruled the land and the only reason anyone might now look back at the 1950s as a “simpler, safer” time is because the ruling class of society saw everything then—literally and figuratively—in black and white.
“Simple” and “safe” are concepts that have no bearing on society in any way, in any place, or at any time. Look no further than the oldest intact human remains ever found for the truth in that. Ötzi, the 5,000-year-old mummy of a Caucasian male in his 40s, found in the Alps along the border between Austria and Italy, was probably a hunter connected to a tribe that had begun both agricultural pursuits (he had recently eaten a meal containing einkorn, one of the first-ever cultivated crops) and metal-smelting pursuits (he carried a copper-headed ax that was likely made by an ancestor of his as it pre-dated his carbon-dated age).
He was also murdered.
Evidence shows that Ötzi was shot in the back with a single arrow which pierced a subclavial artery, causing him to bleed out rather quickly. Ötzi’s attacker shot him in the back high in the lonely Alps after the hunter had eaten a large meal. The attacker also took his arrow shaft and left the copper-headed ax, two items that might have identified him, giving credence to one theory that posits that Ötzi was murdered by someone known to him who did not want to suffer the consequences of the act.
How much simpler can life be than living for survival? Ötzi and his people had no money, no banks, no morning commutes, no vacation time, no PTA meetings, no paperwork, no Smartphones, no electoral college, no student loans, no blind dates, no Holiday meals at the in-laws’, no lunch meetings—in short, none of the modern-day societal trappings that make our lives so complex. And yet, Ötzi was murdered by someone known to him and for unknown reasons. The goal of this crime was likely not to acquire the ax, the single-most valuable item that Ötzi carried. It lay by his body, untouched.
Complex? Very. Unsafe? When is murder ever safe?
So it seems that we—the members of modern-day society—have two choices: perpetuate the lie that we can live in “simpler” or “safer” times if only we eliminate X or Y or Z or embrace the complexity of life.
I bring this up because, over the past week or so, the world has experienced some significant global weather events (earthquakes in Turkey and in the US, flooding in Texas and in Thailand, hurricanes in Mexico) and these always seem to generate a spate of claims by “the faithful” that these events herald God’s displeasure with this people or that political state or whatever or whoever best exemplifies that which “the faithful” loathe. This morning, I found myself wondering why we Humans use such natural phenomena to promote our belief that God hates what we hate. Why do we not see these events as a call to help and care for one another?
Again, fear. Encampments of fear. How else would you explain the increase in discussions about the viability of segregation here in this country? How else would you explain the vitriolic rejection of science by our leaders? How else can we possibly justify our country’s treatment of both citizens and immigrants alike who do not fit into very narrow classifications of what is deemed “okay”?
The truth of the matter is this: we can send aid to the people of Turkey and of Texas without supporting their politics or their priorities. We can work together without agreeing 100% on every topic. We can sit next to one another and share a meal without compromising our principles and our truth.
Easy to do? Hardly. But it can be done. For me, the thought of sitting down to a meal with someone like, say, Victoria Jackson, who is such a vocal homophobe, makes me cringe with dread. And yet, there is something in me that says to refuse to sit down to a meal with her would be wrong. It would be unjust. It would be an opportunity lost. For how can she see me as a fellow Human being, with rights and value and integrity, if I stay in my encampment and she stays in hers?
She and I are different and yet we are the same. We have different values, different goals for our lives, different beliefs…but we are also both women, both citizens of this country, both complex beings with lives and loves and ideals that we treasure. Her beliefs do not outweigh mine, nor mine hers. We can hold to both and still work together for the good of all.
It’s not a simple undertaking. No one, anywhere, is truly safe.
Instead of complaining, we should just get to work. There’s plenty of that to do.
Start by dismantling your encampments of fear.
Erin M. Hoagland
October 27, 2011