The semester is rapidly coming to an end. The one good thing about returning to work so early in January is that I had my last final April 17. Now it is just the grading.
Of course, the end also means that I have been (even more) crazy busy over the past few weeks. If I have to attend one more meeting, I might be sentenced to Arkham Asylum. Seriously, if you see GayProf in unflattering clown makeup, head in the other direction.
I think that I underestimated my frazzled nerves until I lost my shit late last week. Normally it takes a great deal for me to lose my temper. Most times I construe anger as a waste of emotion. Trying to cross the street, however, sent me over the edge.
You see, Big Midwestern University merges entirely with Midwestern Funky Town. Major streets bisect the campus. At least one of these roads clearly has too much pedestrian traffic competing with motor traffic. In my mind, it should be closed to cars altogether.
Nobody, alas, has decided to make me a city planner. As a result, I have to play full-scale Frogger to get to my office in the morning. Students drive too fast and refuse to stop at crosswalks (though motorists are legally required to yield to pedestrians or face a $130 fine (I looked it up)).
Most of the time I am merely frustrated by drivers’ lack of civility. Last week went beyond the pale. Some student, driving an oversized gas-guzzler, literally refused to stop at the cross walk that was filled with people. He forced all of us who were already in the middle of the road to get out of his way or be run over. Then he had the nerve to flip us off for being in his way. I might have responded with a less than scholarly vocabulary or intonation.
Being prone to hyperbole, I immediately concluded that he represented everything that was wrong with the United States. Our selfish emphasis on the “individual” encourages Americans to think that they are right all the time, even when they are clearly wrong. Both as individuals and as a nation, we are loathe to consider that our particular needs might not be the most important.
This doesn’t just come out through incidents of near vehicular manslaughter. Take, for example, the tempest that surrounded an Absolut Vodka advertisement. To peddle their booze, the company capitalized on a utopian vision of the world where U.S. imperialism had been checked in the nineteenth century. Though the ad never circulated in the U.S., Absolut was flooded with irate mail from U.S. citizens. One angry writer noted that he had poured all his vodka down the drain (N.B. to protesters: Companies don’t suffer if you dispose of a product after you already paid for it. Whether or not you actually consume your purchase is fairly immaterial to them as long as they got their money in the first place).
Angry letter writers couldn’t entertain the idea that the U.S. might have been wrong to wage war on a neighboring republic for no other reason than an ambition for territory. They were also clearly unprepared to consider that there is a residual anger and resentment towards the United States for that war (which deprived Mexico of half of its territory, left it bankrupt, and opened the door for future invasions from other nations).
Don’t get me wrong. I am not endorsing the ad per se. After all, Absolut created it as a crass capitalistic attempt to profit from Mexico's legitimate frustration with U.S. imperialism. Rather, I am concerned that many (most?) people in this nation are unable or unwilling to admit that the nation’s history is filled with immoral decisions that we should regret. The fact that an ad for a mid-tier vodka can call the nation out on its hubris should concern us.
It is much the same thinking that resulted in the criticism of Barack Obama last weekend. He only spoke the truth (however imperfectly that he delivered it). The white working class has been voting against their own economic interests since the 1980s. Republicans have depended upon messages of fear (You need guns, and lots of them) and hatred (Gays will destroy civilization as we know it. Mexicans are our enemy.). Obama probably didn’t realize that it was a secret that the Republican party had been using the religious right to satisfy their own agendas.
Much of the response to Obama’s comments have centered around his supposed audacity to suggest that these voters were wrong and had the wrong priorities. Indeed, both Clinton and McCain suggested that Obama was “out of touch.”
To my mind, it is the U.S. voters who have been out of touch. From human rights, economics, and environmentalism, the U.S. has been on the wrong side of every issue for the past seven years. This isn’t just the fault of the Bush administration, either. Though only 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume 25 percent of its natural resources. How has the U.S. population responded in the face of both an economic and environmental melt down? Shockingly, U.S. citizens have decided that we should have a baby boom. It was something that I had suspected based on first-hand anecdotes, but was confirmed this past fall with statistics. Yes, the U.S. is totally out of step with every other industrial nation. Just how selfish are we? How depraved have we become that we think nothing of compounding the world's overpopulation? Is there any discussion about population control (beyond this blog)? Is anybody willing to entertain the notion that having more than one child is an immoral and selfish decision?
The election of either Obama or Clinton will not magically solve the problems facing this nation. The best that we could hope for from either is that they will not actively impede the reshaping of our society.
Instead of celebrating the cult of personality around these two figures, we need to alter the conversation in this nation. Rather than a nation driven by self-centered individualism, we need to start thinking as a community. We need to take seriously the responsibilities of citizenship, not just the rights of citizenship. We also have to be willing to acknowledge that just because we made a decision doesn't mean that it was the right one. Don’t run me over, man.