Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Drumbeat - And Greek Chorus

There is a drumbeat of negativism in this country - negativism that is not really justified and one that advances outside interests.

I like to read comics - not the superhero "graphic novel" type so popular today, but those reminiscent of those on the "funny pages" back in the days of paper newspapers.  The comics pretty much died when Calvin and Hobbs went dark - which in retrospect was a good move.  Can you believe that Peanuts and Blondie are still being published?  I mean, talk about sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

But online, you can read comics, on a number of websites and of course, on Reddit.  Some of them are pretty interesting, such as Young Cannibals (think, Peanuts on acid) or Swords - a comic that I thought was a one-shot deal, but the author has kept going, and going - and I'm not even into that sword and elf fantasy shit, either.

Anyway, sometimes I break my own rules and read the comics on Reddit r/comics, and what is there is pretty good - a lot of young talent out there with no outlet since the death of print newspapers.  But many of the postings are very depressing - the authors talking about their hopelessness and depression, as well as inability to get work done.  It is sad to see.

But there is another narrative which is a little more disturbing - a narrative that living in the wealthiest country in the world is somehow a raw deal.   In one recent comic, it went something like this:  "You are lucky to live in a country where, if you work hard, you can afford to have the necessities of life, that other countries provide for all their citizens!" - as if there was some shangri-la out there that provided "basic income" and free everything, and you got the short end of the stick.

The truth is, of course, that few - if any - such countries exist, and in fact, in most places in the world, starving to death or being killed in some sort of religious or political strife is a way of life.  For example, there are few, if any, African countries that provide "cradle to grave" socialism, mostly because they cannot afford it.  The same is true for most of the rest of the world.

And, as I noted before, between the various "social safety nets" provided in the US - food stamps, obama phones, section-8 housing, TANF, ADC, and so on and so forth, you can survive pretty well in this county - at a level of income that would be considered great wealth in other parts of the world.  Will you get rich? No, but you will be more than comfortable.   And if you work hard, you can be quite more comfortable.   But you have to work hard  Some folks don't want to do that - and yet reap the rewards of hard work.

I recounted before a debate on NPR between two economists.  The first - a leftist - posited that people in America were "poor" because of the relative disparity in wealth between them and those who were super-wealthy.  In other words, since they didn't have a Lamborghini and a Lear Jet, they felt poor.  The other economist - more conservative - pointed out that a family living below the "poverty line" in the USA had a place to live, a car, a kitchen with refrigerator, stove, and microwave, possibly air conditioning, a cell phone, a television (and likely cable TV).  Their major health problem was obesity from over-eating.  In Africa, he noted, the "poor" have none of these things, and their major health problem is malnutrition from starvation.   It sort of puts things in perspective.

Needless to say, NPR didn't invite that guy back, and since then, have avoided having anyone on the air who puts a pin in the balloon of "ain't it awful in America".  It is all a Greek Chorus of "we have it so bad" - and we wonder why people in other countries where they have it so bad hate us so much.  India is a neat place, but people don't ride on the outside of the train for fun there.  Poverty has real meaning.

There is this drumbeat - a consistent negative message, driven home subtly in a number of media - that our country is lacking in so many regards.  No country is perfect, of course.  And of course, we should all strive to be better.  But for crying out loud, we don't live in a country where people who oppose the government are murdered with nerve agents or polonium.  And no, this doesn't equate to being tear-gassed at an Antifart riot - not in a million years.

The problem with this rampant negativism is that it is fueling this sort of unrest we are seeing.  People can be easily convinced (through social media) that they got a raw deal in life, particularly if they made a lot of bad life choices (majoring in advanced stupidity at mega-expensive liberal U.) and now want to blame someone else for their woes.  It is the same old song - someone "took away" their money, even if they never had any to begin with, or any had any ambition or energy to try to earn some.  No, no, guaranteed free money is the only answer.  Anything less is fascism.  You know, like when Mom asks you to take out the trash.  Nazi bitch!

I thought it was funny - in the sense of being odd, not humorous - that this comment in an online comic strip made the baseline assumption that living in the United States is some sort of onerous deal (which is why so many people literally risk their lives and spend small fortunes to make the arduous trek to get here).  And so many echo this sentiment - like a Greek Chorus.   You got a raw deal out of life.  Others are so well off.  In Sweden, you wouldn't even have to work and get free money, too!  Why shouldn't you get a slice of the pie that you didn't help make or bake?   Why not, indeed.

But a funny thing.  No one is risking their lives to migrate to Russia, even if they live in South Sudan.  no one is making a caravan to China to find good jobs.  Western democracies, with all their faults, are still the best places to live - which is why so many fight to get here.

Yet the Chinese and Russians are doing everything in their power to dismantle our democracy - and every day, we see evidence of this - from government agencies that monitor such interference, to the subtle normative cues you see in the media, in online discussion groups, or in the news, where over-privileged middle-class youth burn down a tire store to "support" a cause that is not theirs.

This will not end well.  We will throw away a perfectly good system of government and a robust economy in favor of what?  Anarchy?  Most of these kids can't even spell it - they just know it alarms their parents. much as my shoulder-length hair did in 1973.   We're going to throw away a democracy just because some people have parental issues?  I think not.

So what is the answer?  On a personal level, it means shouting down this "the USA sucks, man, pass the bong!" mentality.   People who want to be depressed and feel sorry for themselves love to run down their own country, as a means of externalizing their own problems.  When you hear someone doing this, shout "BULLSHIT!" as loudly as you can, and suggest they get a job and a haircut, and stop blowing their money on weed, tattoos, and video games.

It is sad, but it seems to me that every news story these days, every book you read, every television show, and every movie you see, is predicated on the "ain't it awful" narrative about how shitty the United States is.  And this sort of thinking is dangerous, as it will lead to us throwing away one of the best places on the planet (if not the best) in favor of the sort of crappy living the majority of the planet has to deal with.

And you can only guess who would benefit from that - and who is leading the Greek Chorus.  A guy named Vlad.