2020 National Referendum on American Culture: Kind or Cruel?
I recently had the good fortune to get out of range of social and news media into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area of the Cascade Mountain Range — just prior to the pall of climate fires spreading over the entire Pacific Rim. There is nothing like a week or more in the embrace of Mother Earth’s bosom to clear your head, and there has never been a time of greater need for clear thinking than now: a global pandemic, a planetary crisis, a mentally ill person holding our country hostage with hundreds of thousands of casualties and, on top of all of that and more, an election season.
You may be surprised to learn that nearly every person I passed on the trail in the wilderness was wearing a mask. Certainly, hiking in the vast beauty of America’s wilderness system would be the last place one would feel at risk of encountering coronavirus. You have to be both healthy and physically fit to lug a 50-pound backpack up a mountain trail of root-rock switchbacks.
As the neurotic din of social media faded into the ethers, and my head began to clear out, it occurred to me that people wearing masks in the wilderness tells us all we really need to know about the polarized state of politics in this country. The reason wilderness hikers would wear masks has very little to do with risk, and very much to do with the wilderness ethic: do no harm, leave no trace, and be considerate of all living beings.
In other words, the wilderness is that rare place we encounter both natural beauty and a culture of kindness. In that rarefied air, it suddenly became quite clear to me that the line of divide in this culture, as reflected in our politics, has distilled down to the simplest question we face as a nation: are we kind, or are we mean?
I realize that may sound overly reductionist. But think about it with me for just a minute. To help you, I’ll put you in the mind that gave rise to this clarity:
The mask-wearing debate in our cultural war right now is the perfect symbol for who we are as a people. I wear a mask for the simple reason that I care about others well-being. I know that even if I feel healthy, I could still be a carrier of this virus that preys on the elderly. Even though you may be young and healthy, I know you may also have regular contact with an elderly parent, and as a trained hospice caregiver, the last thing I would want for anyone is to die alone with no chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. I can also imagine how hard it would be for those left behind.
This is just basic kindness — an attribute of being humane.
Not wearing a mask in public is just mean. It says: “I don’t care about you or your loved ones, it doesn’t bother me if I may be unwittingly putting them all at risk of mortality. All I care about is what I want, what is convenient for me, and maybe my concern extends to my own family. But to hell with yours.”
How did we get to this point in time when being mean is worn as a badge of honor, and being inhumane is considered to be a constitutional right?
Obviously, electing a reality-tv show star to lead the country has everything to do with this.
What is every reality tv show about? PEOPLE BEING MEAN TO ONE ANOTHER! Am I right?
(I ask, b/c I am one of the last people in America who has never watched a reality tv show and has never played a video game — I know, my own family back East treats me like an alien from another planet).
The thing about reality tv is that it isn’t really ‘real.’ So we have a President who spends all his time trying to convince us not to believe our lying eyes, but instead to accept opinion as fact.
Here’s the shocking reality. Most of us are kind!
Polls consistently show that more than two-thirds of us: support Black Lives Matter; believe that everyone is entitled to medical care; think that a Green New Deal is a moral imperative. I will stop right here, because what these three issues are about is simply caring about others, and putting their interests on a par with your own loved ones.
Unfortunately, even though 70% of us are kind, and only 30% of us are mean — those 30% happen to be in power because of an electoral system that was set up to protect the interests of racists (slavery). Ironically, it is still having exactly its intended effect.
Mean people are our oppressors. In order to retain power, they are doing everything they can to suppress the vote. How else can a minority hold power against the wishes of a majority?
And here is the thing about voting. Somehow the internet is perfectly safe for me to do my banking on line, but nobody asks why we can’t vote on line.
You know why? Because then everyone would vote! That’s why. And the elite feel quite threatened by that, because they are more comfortable with a country run by corporations throwing money at politicians and feeding the masses pablum in the form of entertainment and prescription drugs.
In any case, we are at the most critical point in our nation’s history since the Civil War, and indeed the fate of an entire planet hangs on the outcome of this November’s election. The choice is stark. Uncle Joe or Don Corleone. The candidate who cares about you, or the one who couldn’t care any less if you live or die.
As a lifelong progressive activist, I’m the last one to pretend that Joe Biden is going to solve all our problems. But my goodness — we are on the verge of devolving into a fascist Armageddon! We have to save our country before we can save the world. And make no mistake — both are in serious jeopardy.
Are we kind? Or are we cruel?
The whole world awaits our answer.