Recently, an acquaintance wrote to me in an email saying: “Boy, Wisconsin politics must be a gold mine for a comedian.”
You’d think. But in fact, it’s more of a mine field. Sure, you can joke about it; just don’t be surprised when the heckling is accompanied by small arms fire. Honestly, it’s like working a comedy club owned by Cormac McCarthy.
We go about our normal day, but really we’re at “Indignant DEFCON 1.” We sit still but tense and, inside, violence looms like the infected green hue on the horizon that precedes a tornado. We wait, opinions coiled. Then the trigger: “Union thug.” “Fascist!” “Lefty!” “RACIST!”
The discourse races past the discussion phase, and directly to “verbal slap fight.” We tag our figurative Facebook “walls” with our affiliations, and arrange those same “walls” around those of like mind. We pass around the Kool-Aid and drink from a communal cup.
Now, as some of you may know, I tend to lean left. Personally, I don’t see the word “liberal” as profanity. Sure, that means I hate America, and I think everyone should have an abortion (two for flinching), but it’s the only way to ensure my New World Order. Soon, Toby Keith and I will meet atop Mount Rushmore, and battle for the soul of Freedom.
Well, last night, I was invited to attend a ball game at Miller Park with a friend of mine who happens to think differently. He considers himself a “Conservative.”
Needless to say, I was wary. I mean who wants to sit next to a guy who eats minority babies all night, and then lights a cigar off of a flaming kitten soaked in sweet, sweet crude oil?
But I love baseball.
Sitting there next to him, I was surprised as how life-like his costume was. His skin and hair seemed so real. Dare I engage him in conversation?
Thankfully, he broke the ice by mentioning a recent Facebook dust-up. A comment of his had offended a friend. As he explained it, the comment was the result of a story he had heard regarding a certain union leaning on a certain business establishment for support. If the support was not given, the establishment would be picketed by said union. In my friend’s opinion, this was “thuggish.”
Now, I hadn’t heard about that, but if this was indeed the truth, I agreed that, yes, that sounded like a very “thuggish” thing to do.
By way of Quid Pro Quo, I mentioned my continuing belief in the social contract to which we as Americans had agreed on behalf of the elderly, disadvantaged and infirm, and my faith in the credo that “a rising tide raises all ships.” Even if it meant that we, the strong, fortunate and able-bodied, would have to pay for it with something called “taxes.”
When he didn’t reply by punching me in the mouth while stroking a tiny statue of Ronald Reagan, I felt something that I had not felt in so very long.
I felt human.
It was the opposite of the feeling I got while reading a Facebook post that I was sure was directed at me and only me; a passive-aggressive jab at my sensibilities, intelligence and patriotism.
Why had that human feeling been so elusive of late? What “wall” was holding it back? I arrived at the following:
There’s no such thing as a shared experience anymore.
At least they’re very rare. Instead, we sit at our computers, lords of a universe that is more than happy to pander. We listen to “My Playlist” on “MySpace” while surfing “My Preferences.” Our friends are no longer flesh and bone, but rather avatars consisting of the sum total of so many photos and comments. And those not deemed “My Friends” become intruders by proxy; unwelcome guests in “My Universe.”
We have nothing left to learn.
It’s as if we’ve arrived at this place, in this moment with all we need to know, and as evolved as we’re going to get. We’re like laptops, fresh off the line, complete with all the bundled software we’ll ever need.
You can teach me nothing, so I will find those who know what I know. I will seek no knowledge. I will only seek to celebrate or protest, and in doing so, I will create truth. If your voice is not the echo of mine, it is the enemy of mine.
And in the words of Kurt Vonnegut: “So it goes.”
But the Miller Park Summit taught me something in spite of myself: Humanity is the way to humility, and humility is the way to wisdom. I’d like to think that I just thought of that, but, wouldn’t you know it, someone beat me to it:
“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” –Proverbs 11:2