We have safely passed the rocky shoals of another Columbus Day in spite of that shrill and persistent nattering on the fringe political Left about the evils of “The White Eyes.”
Having grown out of this self-righteous chrysalis at puberty I remain casually bemused by the persistence of this anti-empirical nonsense. One can certainly forgive such historical histrionics in the adolescent brain which is still groping its way toward intellectual and emotional clarity, but when one hears full grown people saying such things as: “It’s Columbus Day. Thanks again for five hundred years of oppression…”et cetera, ad nauseum, it must be confronted.
Look, no one still believes Columbus discovered America. We know the Vikings were here 400 years before him and perhaps others landed on our shores as well. Any disinterested student of history knows the ancient world was a far from static place. Ancient peoples were just as adept at circumnavigation as sailors in the Renaissance. Many ancient Amerindian peoples like the Red Clay People of the far northeast disprove the quaint notion that Indians couldn’t tack with the best of them.
But it is also still true that Columbus did sail from Europe to this hemisphere in boats most of his detractors would be afraid to ride in and he did land here. No less eminent a scholar of stride than Thomas Waller opined that “He used rhythm for a compass.”
The Italian community takes great pride in Christopher Columbus’ achievement. We honor him with a day. It is not tantamount to erecting a concentration camp, filling it with blind children, and setting the place afire. It is a day for a portion of our population to celebrate one of their own.
The Amerindian peoples of our country are free to do the same. It baffles me why there is no Tecumseh Day, no Seneca Day or for that matter, Pontiac Day or Little Turtle Day, but that is their affair and none of my own.
Oppression, murder, torture, wanton destruction are not pastimes of the rich, the poor, the adventuresome, the pious or “the white eyes.” They are cornerstones of human behavior. All peoples in all cultures exhibit them. Yes, even Indians. The list of their cruelties and depredations is as long and ugly and sad as everyone else’s. The Jamestowne Massacre of 1622, the Iroquois Massacre of Wappingers and Tappans, The Schenectady Massacre. You can read the grisly details if you have nothing better to do.
I find it ironic that the same people who condemn Columbus for living in the world he lived in are more than infatuated with The Mafia and that Italian stereotype . I’m sure they would all turn out for a Gangland Day. After all it’s cool to march with the politically correct killers.
One thing we have learned from the assault and destruction visited on the World Trade Center is that none of this needed to happen. Aside from natural disasters, it is the willfulness of men that brings misery to our world. It comes to us disguised as greed, religious zealotry, secular zealotry, and plainspoken stupidity, but it is willfulness and little more. It is best witnessed in the pouting child denied his whim. How much destruction has been visited on us by angry children?
Women in America often seem proud of the fact that men never grow up, that they remain perpetual adolescent buffoons. They seem to revel in the standard male gibberish about world events, family situations, and political frufra, about which they usually know little or nothing. Was it not Sarah Palin during her campaign run with aging war hero John McCain, who made the offhand remark when asked about his intransigence on a now forgotten subject: “I’m working on him.” It was delivered in a tone of voice one might use in discussing the training of a monkey.
We have to do a better job of being human. One of the most important ways of going about this is to reject “the true believer.” Those inculcated with doctrinaire beliefs whether religious or secular can only mean us harm. For the true believer, being right is more important than being. They fear science because it constantly changes the perimeters of what is true. The true believer cannot exist outside a world of absolutes, and unchangeable truths are usually inflicted, not arrived at.
When thinking of the Taliban don’t forget Randall Terry’s fundamentalist jihad against abortion rights. Christian terrorists throw bombs and shoot innocent people simply because these people do not believe as they do. Distant from the Taliban? Both hold extreme interpretations of supposed religious truth. Both use intimidation and violence to demand compliance or death. So when asking “good” Muslims to stand up against Islamic fascism make damn certain you ask that “good” fellow in the mirror to stand up as well, against Christo-fascism.
Another element of doing a better job of being human is removing tax exemptions on all religions, including Islam. Whether or not one believes a god is guiding the ship, it is our hands on the tiller. We should prosecute American religious terrorists as relentlessly as we do those with foreign sounding names. I argue for an aggressive secularism where religion finds a secondary role as comforter, peacekeeper, and nothing more.
I have focused here, on the religious aspect of true believer-ism because most worldwide violence today is caused by religious fundamentalism. There are secular true believers as well, and I will discuss them next time.
Can we be smarter and kinder with one another? Tolerance is not a luxury in our current situation; it is a necessity. Our social fabric as well as our economic health are on life support and there are those who wish to pull the plug. True believers have always been the enemies of human progress and always will be. It is their cruel fanaticism that permitted them to bring down the World Trade Center without regard to the cost in human life, suffering, or treasure. They are blood brothers to the festering minds who brought down the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.
We have to begin building more than brick and mortar monuments to tragedy and start building a world where it is harder for these murderous diseases to find willing hosts.
As if reality TV, MTV, and various other cheap programming choices had not made the old telly an even more barren wasteland than McLuhan anticipated, we now have to add another dubious category to the mildly amusing horror show that has become American discourse: the pol-ebrity.
A pol-ebrity is a person with some name recognition in the seamy world of politics who never really accomplishes anything nominally political besides making speeches and making money from making speeches. Hence the combination term made from the words politician and celebrity. Like Snooky or The Situation, inhabitants of that adolescent nightmare Jersey Shore, these political image-grifters become known primarily for being known. Daniel Boorstin foretold the coming of this politicarnival in his prescient book “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America” written in 1961! This can still be obtained at any of the dot com bookstores or a local bookstore near you. It is well worth the minimal effort you will put out to find it.
The gold standard for this new genre is surely Sarah Palin, who crisscrosses the landscape like a country singer in her big Sarah bus. She greets gaggles of hooting fans, signs some autographs, does her “show” then piles back onto the bus with her retinue in tow rattling off to the next venue. It’s not like going to hear Jim and Jesse or Hank the 3rd. You don’t leave the tent exactly humming Sarah’s position on the debt ceiling or rhythmically shuffling you feet to her analysis of foreign policy, but you see where we are headed. Down a long, dry, dusty and yes, just say it, spirit-blighting road.
There are other starlets in the pol-ebrity firmament trying desperately to find the Magus who will make them shine. Newt Gingrich is well on his way to pol-eberity status, and may in an unintended way, be the actual godfather of this movement. Delaware’s most famous Un-Witch, Christine O’Donnell is flailing away in the darker corners of pol-ebrity but has not yet found a producer or a vehicle that will lift her from the Grimpen Mire of right wing anarchy to star status. The guys at MTV seem pretty good at this. Perhaps she should consult the crystal ball I’m sure she does not have and contact the first friendly face that appears there.
We must acknowledge that pol-ebrity is becoming a lucrative business. This means our intelligence will suffer more hits than an al Qaida bunker over the next few years. True, almost every virus eventually runs its course but because elements of the proletariat will fork over the cabbage to hear these hucksters bloviate it may actually metastasize into a media network of its own. We all fondly remember the PTL Club. Why not “Pol-ebrity Dirty Dancing” or “Are You Smarter Than Anybody?” I vote for something like Survivor, where we airlift a bushel or two of these chatteristas into some remote location and dare them to find their way back to what will by then be the tatters of our civilization. Sartre and I have a great name for the show: No Exit
The Boatman’s Dollar. Please stay tuned.
Although not intellectually dishonest to shout loudly in an empty room, it seems, somehow, socially reprehensible. Pioneers in a strange land would often sing loudly all night to keep away the quiet. Such romantic responses to our index for fear aside, it is an activity that, for a moment, does decrease one’s bondage to silence. Granted in this small space there may be precious little room for music, the motivation will remain the same: to keep at bay the silence.
If, gentle reader, you should chance upon any of these notes in a cyberbottle, I hope you will find something worth thinking about and responding to. The more singing, or in this case, braying we do, we will, perhaps, keep away a larger moment of the silence.
A General Note: My views do not find genesis in partisan political bullet points and I have less interest in re-debating pre-digested prattle than in suffering the wrath of a great Mamba. I want to hear what you really think not what hot house plants in some precious think tank expect you to think. This will not be a daily blog. Any human being who has enough lungpower to fill a page a day should be institutionalized.