Monday, October 22, 2007

Is Blood Thicker Than Brains?

I don't have much of a connection with my father. It's not a bad scene really- I don't have a tale of woe. No one was abandoned or beaten in a drunken stupor. We've gone for years at a go without speaking, and it's not rooted in hostility or contempt (of any significance), but more a matter of serious lack of common ground. Recently, I had a typically short email exchange that was I think a classic example of the problem, and I don't know to what extent this is a generational thing. He is one of these "born again" types of "Christian" people, which I find distasteful from the start, what with all the smugness that goes with that territory. I put "Christain" in quotes, because he is (like almost all self-confessed "Christians" I enounter) a Christian in name only. By that, I mean that he likes the holier-than-thou condesention, and the judgment of others- all the preachy parts that seem to be the purvue of folks with low self esteem. Not too much in the way of forgiveness, and loving the sinner while hating the sin, etc. But that's a seperate tirade, and it's bigger than just him. I only bring it up as it helps frame the two basic kinds of email I get from him. One flavor is the "Jesus" variety, wherein, I'm the heathen, and he's worried about my soul. The other primary sort is the "Rah Rah! We Kick Ass! Hoo-Ray America! We Can Do No Wrong! " kind of fevered patriotic claptrap that also is favored by people with a weak self-identity, who more often than not use these things to compensate for thier overwhelming feelings of powerlessness.

Yeah, I'll take off the Freud glasses and try to explain what I meant there. In the realm of patriotism, there is a fine line, and it's not easily addressed with sound bytes, but that's all we really have anymore. My country right or wrong, right or wrong my country. Blah blah blah. Bullshit. Nothing is ever that easy. Well, almost. Here's the big picture model: The Owners of this society like owning and controlling things, and worked hard to make it happen, and don't want to give up thier control. They got where they are by centralizing schools, and then undermining the teachers so that at no point do students learn how to think. Then they got us to part with our liberties by scaring us, and since the days of William Randolph Hearst, they have used their friends in the media to help confuse, misinform, and scare us until we did what served them best. Next, they took what little we had of our own, by appealing to our greed, by turning us against one another, and by leveraging what they already had to force our surrender. All of this would ordinarily and expectedly have us feeling pretty helpless and down in the dumps. To mitigate these feelings if impotence, they crafted a false faith for us- the idea that we are somehow a force to be reckoned with- to be feared for our brute strength, and praised for our superior humanity and integrity.

(Exhibit A.)

This false faith really resonates with the folks who are feeling the most incapable and disenfranchised. They can feel a part of something- anything, that is powerful. Patriotism then is the penis entension, boob job, red sportscar, hair weave, viagra, and girls gone wild ego compensation all combined. Rest assured, as a confessed egomaniac, I've spent some time considering the subject. This is the way in which anyone with jack shit going on in their lives can feel triumphant. Real patriotism is about giving of oneself without fanfare, and this modern namesake is about loudly taking for oneself, in order to feel less insignificant. In 200 plus years, we've gone from Nathan Hale's "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" to "kick his ass, take his gas". This did not happen by accident. This is the second kind of email I get from my father.

A while back I got an email from him about a Navy ship that was made from some of the scrap metal from the World Trade Center. The ship, the USS New York (LPD 21), was constructed in 2004, and was to be some kind of floating memorial to the victims of the September 11th attacks. He sent an email that was full of needlessly maudlin fluff and neo-patriotic garbage about "never forgetting" (as an aside- what the fuck CAN'T this country forget?) and showed this picture (or one similar):

To which I responded by saying:

#1) That's one ugly boat. And for a surface combat ship, where are the guns?

#2) How many victims remains do you suppose were burned off in the smelting of the scrap metal?

I'm not being deliberately shocking, or even saying that they shouldn't recycle the metal, but I also know that there was a huge indignity delivered to the families of the victims when it was revealed that in the haste to scoop up detrious, bodies were sometimes mistakenly taken and dumped in the Fishkill, NY landfill that received the WTC scrap. It's a very likely scenario, and there's shit-all to be done about it at this point, other than to say we're very sorry.

His reply was essentially oriented about point #1 and allowed as how in this day an age it's all electronic combat, and that guns are archaic or such. He said that it didn't matter much what the boat looked like, as the enemy would never get close enough to see it. No fooling- that was his view. He's ex-Navy.

As for the second point, he dismissed it as me being conspiracy minded. No need to check into the allegation.

I replied in my usual flip manner that all the high tech electronics and modern combat jazz didn't help the USS Cole. That was pretty much the last of that conversation.

Fast forward to last week where I saw this article which talks about how the Navy has admitted that their new Destroyers can't withstand heavy seas. D'oh! Well, okay, better to catch that now, than to wait until one sinks and some young men die. Credit where credit is due. We'll address the $'s some other time I guess (how is it you can get a warranty on a $20K car, but not on a multi-million dollar warship?). If you look at the little ship in this article, it sure looks like the previously discussed USS New York, no? Well, they are not the same- apparently the Navy has a variety of similar looking ugly ships. The USS New York is a transport/assault kind of thing, and these other ones are San Antionio Class Destroyers. This doesn't matter for the purposes of this story, but I like to be accurate.

I saw the article and (while still under the impression these were the same boats) emailed it to him and said that it looked like calling the ship ugly was not the worst thing that could be said about it. His reply? I'll quote: "iT MAY BE UGLY, BUT DOES IT GET THE JOB DONE?"

Umm. No. It doesn't. It breaks in strong waves. Bad. Ugly and does not "get the job done". I really ought to reply in some way that uses the mouth-breathing-idiot mantra "[It don't] Git-R-Done". Maybe then it would sink in.

This is the best way I can illustrate what frustrates me so much in dealing with people these days- not just my father. It's not that I expect people to think like I do, or agree with me at all. I would appreciate it though if any disagreement could be somewhat enlightened by THOUGHT. I can and sometimes do go back and forth a few vollies with my father about these kinds of things, and in the end the outcome is the same. It ALWAYS results in his clear refusal to CONSIDER a different view, even when faced with significant evidence that cotradicts his entrenched opinion. It's always polite, which I suppose is something positive, but what the hell can you do with people who refuse to think when you present them with materials and ideas on a silver platter? And he fucking votes.

There is a guy I know who once said of the idiot masses- "If I don't tell them they are stupid, how will they know?" I always took this to be a joke statement, but maybe I've just been giving the benefit of doubt too often. Honestly, what can you do with people who can't or won't think?

So my question is this: Is this unwillingness to apply critical thought a characteristic of my father only, or people in general? Is it rooted in laziness or fear? Maybe just Baby Boomers? That would be kinda funny:

Baby Boomer #1 (Let's say, John Lennon): Imagine there's no heaven...
Baby Boomer #2 (my father): No.



Blogger SUEB0B said...

Thinking is out of vogue, as Stephen Colbert so cleverly pointed out in his first day on the air at the Colbert Report. What matters is not truth, but "truthiness."

Have you seen "Idiocracy" yet? It is shot through with this type of logic. "Why do plants like it?" "Because it has electrolytes." "What are electrolytes?" "They are what plants crave!"

6:50 PM  
Blogger Hammer said...

It's much easier to go to church, wave a flag and say "yay us' without questioning.

I find myself agreeing with 98% of what you wrote, which is somewhat surprising knowing that we differ in our political beliefs.

Critical thinking has gone the way of the dinosaurs and the spin doctors and ad men take this to the bank every day.

My dad and I disagree about everything politics and still laugh about it over a beer.

I guess it's because we realize everything is screwed, always has been and always will be no matter who is in charge.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Lexcen said...

Why is it that the stupid people are always the ones who disagree with us?

2:34 AM  
Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

This was one good piece of writing, Mr. Stucco.

To paraphrase from an evolutionist (I forget who said it, but the general statement is) "We are partially evolved primates and our frontal lobes are too small and our adrenal glands are too big".

One could also make the argument that those who have inherited a predisposition for group association were the ones that survived and produced progeny. This, in turn, leads us genetically as a species to define ourselves within some group framework for protection. Nationalism is nothing more than large scale tribalism.

Your father is afraid of death. It leads both to his Christian fervor and his patriotic idiocy.It is the underlying element that drives both in people, according to me. Do thought experiments for awhile on different people and I think you'll see a pattern...

I saw this and thought of you--

I still think the good Dr. Ron Paul is the messianic answer to both yours, and Hammer's polar but similar laments when it comes to the Federal Government.

Get government back to the State level as much as possible, so 51% nationwide doesn't ruin everything for everyone locally.

Bush has shown us what havoc can be bestowed upon local communities (you would not believe the effect he has had around here) by having government centralized such as it is today.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Région Frontière said...

I have the same problem with my father. If i receive one more email about how evil Jane Fonda is (christ, she went to N. Vietnam 40 years ago), i'm going to puke. I keep telling him to stop sending them, that i'm not interested.

His newest craze is telling me that he has proof (from where? he won't say) that Hilary and Bill are in with the Mafia and responsible for 40-something deaths in Arkansas. I can't even talk to him anymore.

11:35 AM  
Blogger meno said...

Most excellent! I know a few folks like this and they scare the hell out of me.

It must be a real comfort to them to live a life free of thinking. I can't see any other reason for being so relentlessly dogmatic.

5:11 PM  
Blogger nic said...

First off, I have to say, this is a damn fine post.

Second, a story.

Before I knew any better, I met someone from the michigan militia. He was the cook at the camp at which I worked for a summer.

I also met another guy bent on teaching kids how to think. (Later I'd realize that he's a poser anyway. I figured this out AFTER the short was born as this freckled idiot with the emotional depth of a pancake is the short's father. So maybe I'm the idiot, but I digress.)

Interesting summer, that was. I learned how to think about things.. or start thinking about thinking about things, but I was also convinced of a number of paranoid/possibly delusional concepts that are facets in the whole basis for the michigan militia.

What do I think now? I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I would not be one of the pigs in Orwell's Animal Farm. I'd be one of the ones that watched everything go wrong but never spoke up. I see things wrong, but I'm not convinced that I have the ability to do anything effective about them. I don't even have the confidence to believe I know what is or is not true.

About all I can do, as a teacher and a human, is to show compassion and to teach kids how to think for themselves. How to reason through a problem of any kind. I ask a lot of questions.

But Stucco, (and I don't mean this question to challenge or offend you):
How do you know that what you know is true?

If you have an answer for that one, I'd love to hear it because it's something I struggle with every stinkin day.


6:53 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

Stucco, I think that your question about the unwillingness (or inability) to apply critical thought is a meaningful one.

I went to a speech delivered by Ken Burns not too long ago. In it, he explained that he really didn't want to "do another war" after his experience documenting the Civil War in his film. He decided to do a film on WWII, he said, because of two things: one, we're losing an average of 1000 war veterans a day. That wealth of memory is dying out at an alarming rate. Two, a staggering proportion of GRADUATING HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS think that we fought in WWII WITH the Germans AGAINST Russia.

Where this misinformation comes from - whether it's a failure of our schools or a failure of imagination or a failure of citizenship I don't know. I really don't care. I'm doing my best to counter that in my classrooms and in my home, but I can only do so much.

6:04 PM  
Blogger amusing said...

Oh, I know I'm not meant to -- very serious matter and you expound on it well -- but this has set me giggling because it's like being at my parents' house, or zapping emails back and forth with my dad and his USN buddies. I'd chalked his fervor about Jane Fonda and Swift boats and illegal immigrants to a basic unease with anything disrupting the status quo. What will it mean to him if Hispanics make up the majority of the population? Personally, maybe nothing, but in theory, it freaks him out.

And that "Table is ready" poster? Egads! I had not seen that! How remarkably does that resemble WWII propoganda we pumped out!

6:44 PM  
Blogger amusing said...


And my sister once asked me how to learn to think.

I attempted to give her suggestions, but, well, gee, Blondie....

Maybe us thinkers just think that way. All thinkie.

6:46 PM  

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