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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

If you can't fix stupid, there's not much you can do about mean

Big Springs, NE.--The Associated Press is giving Zeeland, North Dakota, some really bad press. Zeeland is a town of 140 that lies just a smidgen north of the South Dakota border.

The AP story, which was put on the front page of the Aberdeen American News last Sunday, says that the people in Zeeland are so torqued off at each other that they don't wave anymore when they pass each other in their cars. The county state's attorney is quoted as saying the rancor began during a power fight in the volunteer fire department. And then the story relates that the town mayor is under a restraining order because he bitched out some woman for a yapping dog and allegedly pointed out that she was unemployed and fat, using expletives. She charged further that the mayor's brother's dog runs all over town and pees on her plants. She has charged the mayor with disorderly conduct and he has a court date coming up.

I stress: this story is about Zeeland, North Dakota, not the South Dakota blogosphere, which somehow has convinced itself that its piddle fights are providing the citizenry information denied it by the main stream media. Piddling is how it interprets the "stream" in the term "main stream media."

As a former journalist who covered rural life, I must point out that Zeeland is not unique. Small towns suck. In fact, most human organizations--clubs, political parties, bureaucracies (which include corporations)--suck. American literature has a huge genre called "the revolt from the small town" which chronicles why bright and aspiring young people are so disaffected by small towns and leave for bigger places and brighter prospects. This genre began with Hawthorne, Melville, Mark Twain, and many other authors in the 19th century and continues to accumulate works today. Its theme is people with some inclinations toward intelligence and good purpose struggling to get away from mean and stupid. Those latter qualities of the human psyche are inseparably fused. They are pervasive and persistent. They just show up more emphatically in microcosmic communities like Zeeland.

Zeeland shows the pattern of thought and expression that dominates the South Dakota blogosphere and the blogosphere in general. As with Zeeland, dog yaps and dog piss become the paramount concerns. People devote their intellects and lives to yawp and piddle.

Our nation's founders were acutely aware that the biggest threat to democracy is stupidity and meanness. That is why Thomas Jefferson put so much effort into laying out the plans for the University of Virginia and Ben Franklin did the same for the University of Pennsylvania. It is why during the most intense violence of the Civil War, Abe Lincoln signed the Land Grant College Act into law. To him, who had less than a year of formal schooling, education is a way to let the better angels of human nature surmount its insidious demons.

The rancor that so taints the atmosphere in Zeeland is not limited to small towns or the blogosphere, which is the province of those whose thoughts and words would never be published in forums that set some standards of intelligence, literacy. and decency as a condition of being published. There are some blogs that are produced on a literate level. There are others that revert to a primitive and depraved need to dominate and destroy, an impulse rooted deeply in the reptilian cortex. Rather than counteract the effects of the tabloid media, the blogosphere is dominated by those who merely wish to emulate and amplify it. The major contemporary problem in communications is that our country, and much of world, exists on the level of pettiness, rancor, and mental failure that typifies little towns like Zeeland.

We have a huge health care problem with a sizable faction that opposes any suggested remedy. Rather that come up with information and ideas, the GOP leadership fixes instead on how to defeat and destroy Obama.

The same is true with the financial crisis. If there are better ways to restore some stability to the economy, the GOP demonstrates that fixing it is not its purpose. It would rather pursue its accusations tax-and-spend and fiscal irresponsibility than engage in a serious discussion about what can rescue and revive the economy. Limbaugh and his claque openly hope that Obama fails. Country first, my ass. With almost every word the GOP and its vocal adherents utter is that they could not care less about the country. Their power and getting their way is all that matters. Their patriotism is totally defined as self-sucking, self-serving dominance.

But do the Democrats confront the full implications of GOP propaganda and point out the insidious motives behind it? No. The Democrats too often get pulled into the petty and infantile exchange of accusations and name-calling. They demonstrate the intellectual failures that beset the country as much the GOPers. For example, rather than work within their own party to find workable and agreeable solutions, the Blue Dogs appear more interested in placating the vocal minority and allying itself with them than using the majority to hammer out policies and solutions. They don't have to agree with their party's leadership, but they can work by contributing ideas and engaging in critical debate, not appeasing the GOP opposition.

We should not point and laugh at Zeeland, North Dakota. It is merely what the nation has become: A country that is consumed with yapping dogs, using unemployment and obesity as an insult, and getting enraged over peeing dogs. America, the beautiful.

Franklin, Jefferson, and Lincoln did their jobs in building the democracy. We are the ones who just can seem to live up to their precedents.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its really right thought ....
thanks for sharing ....
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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States