Thursday
Sep302004

« Evolution of Ed »

I wasn’t always so discontented and radical minded. Really this much came from the last year or so, and particularly in the time since I have written this blog. It has just been a real political year for me. I’ve had a few topics brewing in me for a while, but the last year or so has been pretty charged.

I came from a nuclear (not noo-kyu-lar) family of Republicans. My grandfather was right there with Reagan and Bush. He used to get the Republican Task Force propaganda. Grandmother was also republican, presumably for different reasons. She was a classic grandmother–full of virtue while not being a total prude, and a navy wife who spent a long part of her life in indirect service to the government. My grandfather was an armchair investor and long time navy veteran who was in WW2 on the Yorktown when it sank. He probably appreciated the Republicans because of the capitalist leanings of that party.

My dad, on the other hand, is of no particular affiliation and doesn’t vote. But the thing is, I can’t even tell where he resides on the political spectrum. He’s basically conservative, but is liberal enough in his head to welcome the age of the electric car and other alternatives along those lines. He is independent. I think he would run on the outside of the law more of the time if he needed to. He just wants to do things his own way, damn everyone.

My mother is a bitch who thinks of me as a dead child of hers but she was a Kennedy worshipping democrat. Nothing wrong with that. She and I were in each other’s life when the 2000 election was happening, so I got a dose of perspective from her around then. I wanted Gore to win too, so we had a rare spell of solidarity around then.

My step mom is a way out conservative Christian fundamentalist. I love her, but damn, some of that right wing shit is really a drag after a while. She is a great person inside and out, so I just take the bible literalist/inerrantist talk in stride, but she just isn’t mentally prepared to understand what a fuckup Bush is. But, being in her 80s, she won’t be here for long, so I don’t really hold it against her.

And then there is me. By osmosis, I would be a Republican. My views as a younger man were not really formed too well but a long time ago around the first reign of King George Bush the first, I spent summers over here at the grandparents’ house, and often read the stuff that was around here. The first Gulf war was fought not long after that and I, not being too critical an observer, sort of went along for the flag waving masses. I never really understood that war before this new war got started. As a youth who liked to build models of military equipment and loved to be regaled with tales and speculation about the power of such gear, I sort of was on the edge of being one of those dudes who was gung ho about joining the military. But I was too much of a fuckup, a smartass, a slacker to get the coveted spot I always wanted: to be an F-14 pilot. I really spoiled that in eighth grade. So I was content to get together with buddies and talk about planes and tanks and aircraft carriers, and maybe nukes. I was a misfit in school.

When the US bombed Libya and shot down its planes, I was happy to hear it. It wasn’t often a young man gets to actually feel the power of this military gear put to use. But then again, just as in the Gulf war, I had no real sensitivity to the suffering. I mean, just as planes and tanks blowing up stuff, I still think that shit is impressive. Who can’t marvel at firepower? It's amazing. Fighter jets in a dogfight with Sidewinder missiles are amazing. Nukes are amazing. For a 10-18 year old who was raised in a sort of sheltered environment, the concept of suffering is not really too easily grasped. The thing is, I was a young man coming of age when video games were pretty tame, and clearly fictional and entertaining. There is nothing inherently gruesome about PacMan, Donkey Kong, or even Space Invaders. The bombs and bullets in the Gulf war were real. People really died, no matter how “precise” or “smart” the bombs were. But the television did not show dead people. The television did not show the bombs that exploded not in bunkers or ammo factories and depots, but in city centers and parks. The TV didn’t show army hospital footage of amputees and the men who got hemicorporectomies from devastating explosions. I never wanted people killed. I was just impressed with the fact that an F-15 could go over Mach 2.5 or an M1 Abrahms tank could get up to 70 mph, or a Phoenix missile could go a couple hundred miles. I thrilled that a C-5 Galaxy could get off the ground. I marveled that an aircraft carrier could float. I thought the F-14 was a sexy plane (still do—it’s a really voluptuous piece of work). Even in 1999, when I was finally able to do a USO gig on the USS Constellation, I was excited. I was excited because a tailhook landing was exhilarating, and watching from the bridge while two squadrons of F-18s did cat launches was just an over the top experience. I didn’t marvel at how fine and efficient our killing machines were. I walked from one end of the carrier deck to the other—nearly 1100 feet—and marveled at how so damned much steel could float and be home to 5000 men for months at a time. (I was seasick and/or asleep for 15 of the 20 hours I was on the ship, which made it more amazing that guys could live on it.)

I don’t remember when I decided that the military was not all it was cracked up to be. Or when I decided that all military death was wrong except in the most dire need. I don’t remember when I was awakened in that way. I never had any buddies come home in body bags. I never saw the death and destruction myself. But in 1997, for the sake of speculation, I began to turn off my TV and more steadily relied on public radio. I don’t know about the real impact, but I often listened to it in my truck while working. There is something about radio that makes you think, and calls your imagination into service in a way that TV doesn’t or can’t. I suppose that hearing the voices of people from war torn areas made me think differently about the power of death, and the senselessness of it all, just so one leader can prove he has a bigger dick than another (as George Carlin would muse on). Maybe my involvement in music put me around people who were a little more sensitive to the finer subtleties of life, or even people who were more radical and outspoken, or that music is inherently a device of togetherness or whatever sort of metaphysical stuff like that.

I have been voting Democratic since I first voted in 1992. Somehow I felt a kinship with that party’s values. But I always professed myself as a moderate, which was really a way of saying I didn’t really have an opinion, but I wasn’t going to be branded as an idiot by either side. I do remember that by 1996, the republican line was increasingly creepy, and Robin and me were in solidarity for Clinton again. I think the religious bullshit parading over women’s rights was the issue then that was a clear turnoff. I think the clear sign I needed that the Repugnantcans were up to no good was in the way the Lewinsky scandal went. My position then was that these fuckers should get out of the way and let the president do his work, and work he was obviously good at, given that he got another term! I remember day after day of Ken Starr just being a leech on Clinton’s energy and ability to do the work he was elected to do. And then obviously once that was over, the 2000 election left no doubt in my mind that these assholes were up to no good. After that, I have just been trying to relearn all the stuff I never really learned in real time. And in my travels, I have come to regret that I ever could have been aligned with those sorry excuses for Americans. I did fall from that noble belief shortly after 9/11 and in the fearmongering season that lead up to the Iraq war. But I, sort of like John Kerry and a lot of other people, wanted to believe that I was getting the truth from the leaders. I mean, what else should we expect?

A critical turning point for me and my understanding of how Americans are perceived in the world came a month or so after 9/11 when I was severely chastised by a Finnish friend who warned me that a little thing I said on a newsgroup was just the sort of inflammatory shit that makes people hate us. But on my end, I was just sort of playing along with the others in my nation who thought that we had been wronged and we could meet that wrong in a decidedly American way—by totally kicking ass. But alas, I was told that that was not the answer and that we were not friends anymore. I felt really stupid after that. Since then, my willingness to look deeper into things has grown by leaps and bounds. I also started to go to church where I can put myself in touch with a force that doesn’t lead me to feeling the only way to handle these things is to just go out and “nuke the Arabs back into the stone age.” No, that sort of talk now sounds so fucking callous and ignorant to me now, and when I hear it my ears burn, much like what must have happened to my Finnish friend three years ago. Now I take it as my mission to get in the way of that sort of thinking and talk.

I have said I go to church, and I do, and have for a while now. But not all churches are created equal; mine is the polar opposite of what you expect from churches now. Mine is very liberal and encourages free thinking and personal interpretation of scripture, and more importantly, a call to actually adhere to the intent behind it. And that intent, as I have come to understand it is that killing is wrong, oppression is wrong, lying is wrong, and indifference to suffering is wrong. The biggest boon to my understanding of how Christianity fits into the world today came when I finally realized that Jesus was a dissident. He was not a patriot or an insider. He spoke truth to power and dared people to do things like actually acting with humility and compassion. Things started to come together for me when I came to understand that (with some compelling examples of such behavior in historical and modern lives, and these examples come from all walks of life—Einstein, MLK, Gandhi, Jesus, Nietzsche, and more who really got into the heart of the matter in trying to figure out this life and what it takes to live it).

My political affiliation and my church affiliation do intersect; but they intersect in a place where I will never want people to die for a cause I would not die for myself. Or even more radically than that in these times, I try to understand why these people we call terrorists do what they do, and even more radically than that, I allow myself to subscribe to the idea that they are humans too, just trying to get by, just trying to get along in the life they want to lead, sort of like anyone over here would want. I don’t want them dead. I don’t have any enemies in Iraq. I didn’t vote for the war. I didn’t pay tax so that we could destroy someone else’s country under any pretense. There is a difference between being thrilled at the destructive potential of a bomb, and the saving potential of helping someone live in peace. As my minister often says, even a thing as small as giving a thirsty person a glass of water could have cosmic significance. Fiscally speaking, it costs a lot less to feed a person than it does to make and deliver a bomb to kill that person. Those billions and billions of dollars could be so much better spent on anything but this war, and maybe if we did just that, we could be heroes in the eyes of the world again, but no, we just gave all that up, just to prove we could kick more ass than the next guy. Knowing this is what makes me do and say what I do and say now. Two things that resonate in me now are “speak truth to power” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Both have political and spiritual implications, and both are in too short a supply in this world. To find these basic sentiments in other non-western, non-Christian thought just delights me. Small-mindedness is taking over our world, and particularly my country. You know, every major faith system has a form of the Golden Rule. But putting blinders on will get us nowhere.

My options for political party representation are very limited, but in the realization that Republicans stand against virtually everything I hold dear now, there is only one guy I could vote for this year. I am not sure he is the best guy for the job, but there is no way in hell that I will vote for the guy who is offensive in every way I can imagine. Every ounce of my intellect and emotional being is crying out against Bush. Humans aren’t too much different than other animals except that we can think and emote. I plan on doing that in this election year, with a lot more conviction than ever.

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