To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about this as an idea for an article.
But for the past hour, I’ve considered the state of the world and the changes it has undergone to shift the order of the day from what I once perceived it to be to Trevor Noah’s interviewee equating the Black Lives Matter movement to the Ku Klux Klan. I realized how tired I’ve become of not only fearing for the future of our country, but also of shoulder-pushing, loquacious individuals on both sides of our political Schism who simply must get out the latest bit of pejorative or critical material about the other respective side. An argument persists in which people partake with veracious ideas forcibly anchored to their core life principles; no one can “win” because the “losers” cannot rationalize a world in which their way is not the right way. But I remember a time – or, at least, I think I do – when public communicative decorum still retained higher standards. I remember going to school and lacking the expectation that some kind of dispute would defame or injure someone. (However, even this is generous, as I saw and experienced my fair share of bullying.)
As a participant in deep conversations dealing with the transcendent misery of human life, I’ve often cited the root of all of our sufferings as greed, and I would still stand by that. Greed is a derivative of fear, a genetically-encoded perception that, if some members of a species are to survive, others must die. This is the way that humans evolved from single-celled organisms; this is why we have eyes and other sensory organs today that didn’t exist millions of years ago. Natural selection has methodically molded us and the other surviving creatures into forms that, supposedly, can deal with the environmental pressures of the planet. The competition, however, persists. Nothing’s to stop another organism from stealing the nest, eating the food, getting the better job, accessing the government benefit, protesting an injustice, or voting for an unfavorable candidate. With our degree of advancement as a species, and with our enormously augmented interconnectedness, perhaps these issues just stand out in a greater and more obvious light. Maybe that’s why everyone seems so much angrier than they did ten or fifteen years ago. Or, maybe I was just too innocent to see the true angst that swirled above in the older generations.
One valuable certainty is that someone who does not have an opinion is no longer a player in our national society. I’ve adopted different standpoints on a variety of issues, and this is my experience. If you don’t have an opinion, people barrage you with how truly astounding it is that you can be so ignorant of poignant and pertinent issues such as the one around which revolves the conversation. Alternatively, if I express an opinion, with or without emotional involvement, there is always someone standing at the ready to defame me and/or to tell me just how wrong I am. In this new social sphere, will humans evolve greater fervor in their unique perspectives and a concurrent lack of sensitivity to the loss of friendship? I certainly think that these individuals are those least psychologically challenged with the events of the past two years.
I like my friends, though. I love my friends. I depend on them as I never did before, and I wouldn’t be here without them. Naturally, I hate to lose them. But I also despise injustice, or injustice as I perceive it. Observation of bullying, unprovoked insult, ethnocentric bias, racial prejudice, and immediate discounting of the plight of millions of suffering people send my adrenal glands into action with the same efficiency as a scold from my mother when I was younger. In my last article, I discussed why I now find it incredibly difficult to remain silent in the face of such moral infringements. However, even as I have spoken and written about them, doing so has generated a penetrating bitterness and cynicism that I didn’t even have when I left for college. I’ve also dealt with my views on cynicism and how it walls people off from potentially beautiful connections, so you can imagine that I’m struggling with my emotional amalgam in the face of balancing love and my idea of righteousness. Often, as is the case this evening, I find myself wondering about how we got here as a species. I know better than to ask, “What happened to us?” because humans have always killed, enslaved, infected, conquered, and otherwise hindered one another from survival or self-actualization. Now, then, I have asked myself, “What kind of world did I see before?”
In preschool and kindergarten, most of us weren’t even smart enough to know how to deal each other lasting mental or emotional injury. I lost a few friendships, albeit not with the raucous drama appraised in some of our modern celebrity gods, but made several more. Then came grade school. The majority shareholder of my attention was academic stress and the general fear of teachers’ discipline, especially in the final years, but I also made many amazing friends, some of whom still know me today. The anti-bullying programs in which we were forced to enroll were about as useful as trying to extinguish a forest fire with a pair of bellows; they actually gave power to the bullies, who consequently had greater knowledge of how their victims might try to seek help and targeted them yet more efficiently and excruciatingly. Our religion classes and regular attendance at Mass kept us sheltered in a world that uniformly yet subtly enough rejected diversity and maintained the remarkably optimistic idea that God would take care of us no matter what. Outside of school, the most angst I ever brushed up against was my father’s, but my life at home was a relatively placid ocean whose sunken treasures included Legos, Pokémon, SpongeBob, and Avatar: the Last Airbender. Maybe these distractions were enough to protect me from the hurtfulness of human rhetoric, or perhaps I just hadn’t matured enough to know to feel badly in many situations. High school brought with itself newfound issues in making friends, especially for outsiders. The bullying faded into the patchwork of life in general, with attention-grabbing instances much more potent than before. People began forming rudimentary political views and prejudices – there’s a lot to learn about a high school’s male population from reading the insides of bathroom stalls for four years. At the same time, fortunately, people lost their dewy-eyed objective of friendship with anyone and settled into their own groups. Don’t get me wrong: I love the notion of total decency and universal friendship, but with humans, it just cannot be. Maybe I had my head down for too great of a percentage of this time. Great love characterized my family, and I suppose that this sufficed as a distraction or, at least, ample motivation to divorce myself from ugly, yet maturation-inducing, interaction.
I’ve come to the conclusion that these fond ideas of the past are simply an illusion, that I was either too young, too absent-minded, too distracted, or too removed to understand the perpetual anger and hate that permeates our interpersonal conduct as humans. I certainly wouldn’t take back any of the lessons I’ve learned or the perspectives that I have come to accept, but the idea that humans could be saved from themselves or that we could ever actually live in harmony together are now my fool’s gambit. There’s only enough room in this life to love who you can, help who you can, offend as few people as you can with your existence, and die with a track record on which positive actions hold the plurality. I can open my mouth about any relevant issue of the day, and thousands of people would likely identify me as an entitled, “cry-bully” millennial who wants everything handed to him on a silver platter and who has Bible-paper-thin skin for life’s tribulations. I can look on my phone to see yet another ominous addition to the imminent presidential administration or how many more people have been injured at Standing Rock by police acting as a private military protecting the interest of a corporation entirely disinterested with preserving the utterly miniscule bit of land that the original inhabitants of this country call home. There are too many tears, I say, too many racial slurs and prejudices and iniquities and bombings and hateful sentiments and people unwilling to uplift their fellow mankind - too many of these things to justify hope for pleasantry or salvation. Yet, for older people, these probably just are, as they always have been, unabated and intertwined with the breath of every human. So there’s no basis for my belief in a happy future, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t work toward a better one.