I’m having trouble feeling empathy for those who are impacted by disaster. Hurricanes level islands, kids shoot up movie theaters and schools, it appears that black people are being openly hunted on the streets by cops like some sort of bad Van Damme direct to video movie, and I just don’t care.
I’ve felt this way since 9/11. Not that 9/11 was a turning point for me. I didn’t care about that, either. All 9/11 meant to me was that I got a fucking afternoon off from my horrifically evil and punishing day job. In fact, when Bush said we would stay strong and we should all go back to work on 9/12, I was a little cheesed off. What’s the point of a disaster if I don’t even get a full day off?
I think 9/11 was the first “living room” disaster for my generation. Yes, we watched the hostage crisis, and we all remember where we were when the Challenger blew up. But we were kids. For 9/11 we were working stiffs. Mom and dad weren’t around to explain shit to us or, more importantly, turn the channel. Instead we sat and we spent, oh, the last 16 years letting some sort of background, creeping paranoia warp our souls and our brains.
9/11 was a great victory for political correctness. We were expected to mourn, to become depressed, and to become paranoid. It was unacceptable to try to diffuse the situation with humor, which seems like a mistake. Humor got us through the Challenger disaster and, eventually, we healed. Humor got us through the Cold War. Humanity’s gallows’ humor has gotten us through many great trials and horrors.
But we lost that at the dawn of the 21st Century. No time for jokes now.
Being paranoid and afraid and/or angry wasn’t just a different generation’s reaction to trauma, of course. It was the reaction that an upgraded military-industrial complex demanded from us. America became Mt. Olympus on the back of just such a creature during the Cold War. With the end of the Soviet threat, we had a problem. How does a nation that has thrived on war (or war preparedness) find a path in a new, open world? I’ve always thought it ironic that the 9/11 terrorists essentially revived the America they hated so much. If everyone had left us alone then, without an enemy, we would have gone soft, the center would not have held. Just imagine. The center is barely holding now, even though we do have a new eternal-war. The only thing, at this point, keeping our increasingly divided, fucked up nation together is fear. That fear borne on 9/11’s smoke and fire.
What this fear does is quietly hollow us out. We become overmedicated, exhausted. My god, they’re making billions prescribing medicine to counter the side effects for the other medicines you’re taking. That’s…insane. Probably even a textbook definition of insanity.
Meanwhile, we’re all paying too much for our lives, so we’re prisoners at our horrible jobs and, worse, those employers know it. They make it worse for us so we go home and spend more on the balm of excess. Pints of craft beer that cost more than a bottle of wine and every goddamned thing you could ever dream of owning just One-Click-Shopping away and delivered to your door.
It’s an actual effort to hold onto and invest your money. You have to plan, you have to work at it, you might even have to drink a PBR from time to time. And that’s what they want. They want you to fail and go into debt. That’s what they need. You just keep busy and shut up. Because the fear we have today is more smoke and mirrors than anything else. Blowing up a subway or a bus or shooting up a café is as old as… Well, it’s as old as busses, subways, and cafes. Running crazily into a crowd with a weapon and taking out innocent citizens is as old as crowds and weapons.
Thirty years ago we feared actual global annihilation – total extinction of all living things with just 20 minutes warning. Today, we’re asked to fear, with the same level of fear, some teenage goat buggerer who may smuggle a homemade bomb onto a train and kill a few folks.
Today, we’re asked to fear, with the same of level of fear, everything. A superstorm forms in the Atlantic and it’s the end of the world, even when that superstorm stumbles and chokes out. Yes, those poor islands. Yes, those poor people who got flooded out. I feel for them the same way I feel for people who knowingly build houses in Tornado Alley or, you know, a minefield, or on the rim of a volcano or something. Newsflash – not even the indigenous people lived full time on those islands. They hunkered down on the bigger islands. It’s only the white man who thinks it’s a good idea to build a skyscraper on a beach or a swamp.
Fear, fear, fear. And, yes, people are dying and losing their homes and it’s horrible. But…I just can’t bring myself to care. I’m just glad it’s not me. I go to bed at night and I think, thank god, no one blew up my train car and sent nails screaming into my flesh. Thank god no one tried to behead me today. Thank god I can go on with my plodding, tedious life listening to my vapid coworkers talk about the victims of a storm that’s still miles away from any center of civilization. That’s what the Irma talk was like in my office. She was a day away from the islands and everyone was talking and acting like a Day After Tomorrow storm had swallowed a third of the nation. Nothing had even happened yet! But it’s been programmed, hasn’t it? We’re told to fear, and so we do, now, without even thinking about it.
And so here we are. We’re even afraid to ask questions, aren’t we?
But don’t misunderstand me. I’m not attacking you. The people like me who just want to plod through life should be first against the wall. Look at me. I’ve been blogging for 20 years about how much I hate my job and, yet, I’m heading to the same job I’ve had all those years while you read this. I guess I’m just afraid of change. Just like those Powers That Be that I so often complain about.