Friday, December 30, 2011

Thoughts in the Waning Days of the Old Year

I often think we'd all be better off if the extremists and fanatics and ideologues of whatever stripe could be packed off to some tropical island where they could continue their quarrel-to-the-death with one another, and just leave the rest of us alone. You know, the rest of us? The 80 or 90 percent of us within shouting distance of the broad center?

Because I think many of our social and cultural and political ills stem in large part from the toxic, dysfunctional attitudes of those fanatics and extremists, those engaged activists whether on the Right or on the Left. They're so geared up, so filled with bile and hate, so engorged on the tunnel vision of their uniquely righteous stance on uniquely vital issues, that they can't imagine how most of us really don't give a damn.

Or, even harder for them to imagine, the rest of us do give a damn, but only within limits. We care, but we don't care enough to upend the world in the verbal and emotional and ideological equivalent of World War III. We have our own view of things, but it is a view which is less than totalizing, a view strongly tinged by an informal sense of live and let live. We're not into mudslinging. We're not into scorched earth. This is unsatisfactory to those, on Right or Left, whose rigid bent has ever been let our ideology prevail, though the heavens fall.

How tiresome it must be to be always approving or disapproving of the "correct" things, the "correct" people, the "correct" arguments, the "correct" ideological stances. One cannot be a Conservative in good standing, one cannot be a Progressive in good standing, unless one burns a pinch of incense at the "correct" ideological altar, unless one voices one's approval of all that is "correct," and unless one barks out full-throated disapproval of one's opponents.

Disapproval in particular is essential, disapproval of those on the opposite side, disapproval of the hated, despised, demonized enemy.

Why don't these haters on either side-- good Progressive haters, good Conservative haters-- just go off to a tropical island where they can continue their incessant rigid rage-filled fights, and leave the rest of us alone? Leave the rest of us alone, and stop ripping our society to shreds in the name of an ideological purity, whether Right or Left, which is never pure enough to satisfy the extremists, and only eggs them on to greater and greater displays of utopian purism?

Because the rest of us may care, one way or the other, to some greater or lesser degree; but we don't "care" so intensely that, in order to save the society we live in, we're willing to destroy it.

Come to think of it, it may already be too late. The Center Did Not Hold. The history of the past half century in these United States is largely the history of centrifugal ideologies of Right and Left spinning faster and faster, gaining angular momentum, eroding culture, eroding the economy, eroding the political system, until the entire damn structure is ready to fly apart. Somber thoughts as we come up on 2012.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Blues

The presents are wrapped at last. I'm getting things pulled together and packed. And then it will be off on the long drive to the city, to visit my mom and my brother for Christmas and several days of vacation.

More than once as I've been getting ready, I find myself pausing and gazing off into the middle distance, and something indefinable descends upon my heart, like the pale grey light of winter. This will be our first Christmas without my father. He passed away this summer. Suddenly, quietly, in his sleep. He was up there in years, but still in good health, and it was completely unexpected.

I find I'm approaching Christmas with decidedly mixed feelings this year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

So Where's the Snow?

Usually by this time in December we've been buried under at least one knock-down drag-out snowstorm. But not this year. We've had no more than a few dustings of snow so far. Of course it's been cold enough that the snow, once fallen, stays. But unlike the past several years-- when winter came early, attacked in earnest, and stayed late-- so far this year the weather has served up nothing much worth speaking of.

And I'll be honest, I feel deprived. I've lived most of my life in parts of the country where long, hard winters are a way of life. I have lived at times in parts of the country where the climate was milder, but by reflex informed by long experience I expect winter to be one blizzard after another. Getting this far into December without more than a tantalizing trace of snow makes me feel antsy.