It’s October. As leaves fall from sheltering trees, re-directed, filtered light reveals new transparencies. Neighbors become illuminated in new ways. Dog walkers and runners, muffled in scarves, pass by with a passing nod.
Days grow shorter and colder. Seemingly surrounded by conflict, I find myself searching to find language that will amuse and inspire; to find a balance between anger and tears, confrontation and confession. I look for inspiration in knowledge, love and laughter. I search for the space between doing and being.
Recently, I realized as an American, as weeks folded into months, that there existed a dark netherworld that was beyond my imagination. That living in nearby woods, caves and townhouses were citizens living with a degree of bitterness and anger unimaginable to me. This feeling crystallized recently when I received my all-time favorite e-mail. It came from a Seacoast reader who wrote, in wonderful synchronicity with my thesis, a response to my “Fifty Shades of Ignorance” column:
“You are dumber than the stump you stand on!!!”
Now, I can’t tell from the brevity of the message whether the author was suffering from ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome), ADS (Azzi Derangement Syndrome) or simply from some other intellectual or emotional deficit, but it’s clear to me that its tone is typical of the ignorance and anger that passes for political dialogue during this election cycle — particularly from the extreme right wing of the GOP.
During a presidential visit to Portsmouth, a Navy veteran held up a sign asking why President Obama was reading “The Post-American World,” next to a four-year-old photo of the president with that book in hand. The veteran said, “he believes Obama wants to be ‘just another equal power in the world.'”
Fareed Zakaria’s book is important reading, whether one agrees with him or not. I don’t agree with him often; he’s a bit too conservative for my taste — but I read him. It is the president’s job, the public’s job, our job, to try to understand as many points of view as possible. An informed electorate is what we aspire to — to embrace the contrary is dangerous, strategically and intellectually.
Last week, I wrote about a bumper sticker I saw at Exeter’s St. Michael Church. (Social justice, socialists and Samaritans: www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20121012-NEWS-121019900). Recently, I found another curious bumper sticker on Lincoln Street, this time not near St. Michael Church that read, “If it’s not the King James Bible, it’s not the Bible.”
To believe that a Church of England 17th century interpretation of the Tanakh and New Testaments supersedes centuries of understanding of the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek Scriptures reflects not only the intellectual arrogance of a subset of Christian exceptionalists, but is just plain dumb. The King James Bible is a beautiful rendition of Christian Scripture that was created to reflect Puritan sensibilities, but it is not where serious scholars turn when they exegetically try to discern the inspired guidance of God’s beauty and grace.
Such narrowing of the American mind scares me. I don’t know what is most dismaying to me; how willing people are to flaunt their ignorance in public or how the public is willing to tolerate ignorance and dialogue that is counterintuitive to what it means to be an American. The public embrace of ignorance has broadened: 9/11 deniers, holocaust deniers, racists, truthers and birthers all are tolerated within the public square as though there is true equivalency between intelligence and ignorance. In such a world, black and white are the only choices; tone, nuance, metaphor and allegory are unrecognizable and never considered.
“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” — George Orwell.
Ignorance is manifest in so many ways: in those who “innocently” ask why “creationism” can’t be taught alongside evolution, in those who deny the age of the universe and who deny climate change and in those who wear tin-foil hats and keep an eye out for unmarked black helicopters.
Part of the reality is that those who hate President Obama, as opposed to those who oppose him on legitimate philosophical reasons, tolerate in Romney weaknesses, lies, evasions and deceptions that they would not tolerate in any other candidate.
Republicans and conservative voters may yet win this election, but only with the support of the tea partiers, troglodytes, misogynists, racists and bigots whom they are afraid of disavowing. It has an alliance that will have serious consequences if empowered through an election.
It’s not ignorance alone that bothers me. It’s lack of curiosity, the curiosity that inspired Benjamin Franklin to tie a key to his kite or the curiosity that drew Presidents Jefferson and Adams to add Qur’ans to their libraries and the curiosity that drove Wozniak and Jobs to conceptualize Apple computers while brainstorming in a garage workshop. It’s the lack of generosity. The embrace of a selfish world defined, as the extreme right sees it, between givers and takers, job-creators and parasites, “real Americans” versus The Other. They oppose the affirmative-action programs that made Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, one of their conservative icons, possible. They oppose the empowerment of women and the promise of health care to all citizens, not caring that without a healthy citizenry the full promise of America cannot be realized. They embrace an America where states can choose whom to embrace, whom to deny. They embrace a world of confrontation of haves against have-nots. Internationally, they embrace a world or saber-rattling and belligerency. They envision a world where the promise of America no longer extends to every citizen.
Meanwhile, I continue to search. I continue to search for the space between doing and being. I search for signs of humility. I believe that we diminish ourselves when we refuse to confront discrimination and poverty, when we try to suppress voting rights and civil rights. Most importantly, we diminish ourselves when we define ourselves in terms of what we have to offer each other rather than thinking of what we can be for each other.
When we can embrace that concept of being “for each other” we will all grow, and become, synergistically, greater than the sum of our individual parts. The American dream will be fully embraced when we realize that it is not about what we offer each other — food stamps, jobs, or tax cuts, but who can be for each other — for ourselves — for our lovers, for our families, for our nation.
To love is to be for each other.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.