Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Proudest Accomplishment

Considering some of the questionable and outright bad things I've done in my life, I must confess in all honesty that I haven't much to point to in the way of proud accomplishments. If you're looking for heroes, you won't find them here. That's people who lay their lives on the line every day taking on armed bad guys, running into burning buildings and so forth. If I ever saved anyone's life, that revelation was forever lost in the welter and matrix of circumstance.

However, I can point to one instance that took place when I was in my mid-late 30's and, perhaps audaciously, I'd like to offer this as a synecdoche of what's happening to this country on a grander scale.

My ex girlfriend and I were sitting in the den one late spring day. The den is connected to the kitchen and the kitchen door was wide open to air the place out. Suddenly, we heard a child say, "Kick it in the road!" We looked at each other for a split second, knowing or suspecting immediately to what they were referring.

Since I was by far the faster of the two, I bolted out of the house, flew down the porch steps and raced to the end of our street. There, at the cross street, in the three way intersection, in the middle of the road, was a small turtle on its back. It seemed every kid in the neighborhood was there and they were standing on both sides of this busy cross street. Our own three kids were on the opposite side.

It ought to be mentioned right here that none of our three kids personally believed in or practiced animal cruelty. Whatever pets they personally owned or that our family owned, were loved, well cared-for and were treated with the utmost, love, respect and gentleness. Whether they were dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, a turtle dove or fish, our little ongoing menagerie could have done a lot worse than live in our home. We even used humane mouse traps.

But when I saw our three kids standing across the street playing silent enablers to this senseless tragedy in the making, I completely lost it. From the east, there were no cars coming but from the west there was a car approaching that was about 200 yards away. I picked up the turtle and screamed at my kids, "I thought your mother and I raised you better than this! You're supposed to love and respect animals!"

As I said, putting this poor reptile on its back and waiting for it to get squashed for the very transient amusement of the neighborhood's kids was plainly not their idea. It was just as obviously the two Portuguese boys at the end of the street, two kids who would grow up to be world-class douchebags and wouldbe rapists and misogynists, who were the ringleaders.

So my kids crossed the street and followed me to the back yard that flooded every spring (and still does I imagine) on account of the grade and the high water table. We still had a little temporary lake in our back yard and our three kids watched me put the turtle on the water's edge until it swam away. Words cannot tell how disappointed I was that our three kids were so craven and cowardly, so fearing temporary ridicule and retribution that they would've passively allowed an innocent animal to die so horribly.

Modest though it is, I still point to it as one of my best accomplishments because it's one of the few times I can think of in which I saved an innocent life. On a couple of occasions in the future, my stepdaughter had even called my attention to a wounded bird on the river bank (although I couldn't help it) or a baby squirrel that had gotten itself trapped in an empty trash can filled with rain water (Him, I could help). They knew who to turn to if there was an animal in distress.

But this one time, they went with the crowd, who were also reluctant, silent enablers but enablers nonetheless. And this is the problem I have with the electorate.

It's been said many times both here, in my previous blogs and by better minds than mine that in midterm elections especially, voter turnout usually tops out at an anemic 40%. It rarely and barely gets above 50% even in hotly-contested election years (such as the last one in which we elected our first African American president).

The 50-60% of us (roughly 100,000,000 voting age Americans) who fail to vote and fail to rouse themselves to a level of activism involving more than a donated tweet to Occupy Wall Street are no better than passive enablers, the people you would expect to be on the losing side of a psychological study proving how easily people can be lulled, fooled or bullied into enabling the cruelest behavior by a small percentage of type A authoritarian personalities.

For a species so unique in the particular, for all our idiosyncrasies, the overwhelming majority of us still need to be led. We'll inevitably go with the one that seems to match our hopes and address our fears and to do so with the loudest, most charismatic voice while most convincingly faking the greatest empathy.

This begins to explain how the Nazi Party was able to openly carry out its atrocities in eastern Europe and, amazingly, to depend on the silence of those watching it so the Allied powers didn't see the full scope of the Holocaust until the very end of the war. And far from the Holocaust being an isolated period in human history, subsequent studies have shown that we will inflict or at least be willing to watch the inflicting of torture in order to preserve our own standing in the community. This, too, is another constant that's permanently hard-wired into the human psyche: That when faced with the threat of criticism, ostracizing, all the way to actual physical violence, the overwhelming majority of human beings are craven enough to not take a stand to defend even the very things they revere and love.

Well, the Republican Party showed last night that it's willing to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a bad simulacrum of it and to otherwise put the turtle of our economy on its back so the squashing can be blamed on others (such as the presumed ex President Obama).

We're passively going along with a racist, crypto-fascist agenda that's in reality no different and in some ways worse and openly so than its predecessor four years ago. In late August of 2008, when we'd actually begun listening to Sarah Palin throwing bloody, quivering hunks of red meat to the rabidly racist Republican base, we thought the GOP and its base couldn't possibly get more hateful, spiteful, racist and nasty.

Paul Ryan and several of those in attendance at the GOP convention proved last night that that's not true. The mainstream Republican Party, owing its establishmentarian status to Overton's Window more than anything else besides our apathy, has the miraculous quality of never quite reaching the bottom of the barrel and at this point the only degree of separation between the Republican Party and the Nazi Party of the Germany of 70-80 years ago is their embrace of the swaztika and an open policy of religious and racial genocide.

And, as with the electorate of Germany during that time, we are just as passively watching this happening and allowing the mainstream media to not challenge these lunatics who are trying to turn us on our backs.


At August 30, 2012 at 4:27 PM, Blogger LanceThruster said...

Wonderful story and accompanying piece.

Little victories occur all the time in an uncaring universe.

And we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos we've begun, at last, to wonder about our origins. Star stuff, contemplating the stars organized collections of 10 billion-billion-billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and perhaps, throughout the cosmos. ~ Carl Sagan

At September 1, 2012 at 9:56 AM, Blogger Bukko Canukko said...

You made me flash back to an incident from my childhood in the late 1960s, JP. We were living in a house in Prince George's County, Md. (you said you lived there for a while, IIRC) and it was till woodsy enough that there were lots of box turtles crawling around. Some of the punkish, working-class kids on mu cul-de-sac had gathered up four or five of 'em in a box and were painting on their shells, bashing some open with a hammer, just unspeakable cruelty. My mother made them stop and talked to their parents about it, but the parents were not much bothered. It was just turtles. They didn't give a shit.

But why the fuck would anyone want to hurt a turtle? We are a senselessly cruel species. When humanity wipes itself out, whether it's en masse with nuclear weapons/climate change or just an anarchic, bloody worldwide Rwanda, Nature will be cheering. It will only take 10 million years for a new ecology to evolve. That's like one month in the lifespan of the planet.

When I was a kid, we used to go on "turtle hunts" after it rained, when they'd be crossing the roads. Mom would drive through the country and we'd pick up the ones we saw. On the weekends, we'd bring them to my grandmother's place way out in the country and let them go in the woods.

Decades later, living in Florida where the slider turtles grow as big as turkey platters, I'd always stop my car on the road when I saw one crossing. Soft-shell turtles and the occasional snapper, too. I'd heave them into the nearest canal, which was fun for me and no doubt shocking to the turtle, but better than being squashed by a semi.

I did those turtle rescues with my daughter when she was young, and she's in the habit of it now too. Gotta be careful with the snappers and sliders, though. They like to bite, and have snake-like necks that can do a mean reach-around.

At September 1, 2012 at 5:28 PM, Anonymous CC said...

Let me guess, Bukko: those punkish, working class kids couldn't wait to head off for Vietnam.

At September 2, 2012 at 1:28 AM, Blogger Bukko Canukko said...

I dunno. We moved to an Air Force base in Tampa when my dad got reassigned there the next year (1971) and I never looked back. These kids were in the age 10-14 range, so they would have been too young for the draft. They probably grew up to be stoners/cokeheads in the late 70s-early 80s. I'd bet they voted for George "Stick a firecracker in that frog's ass" Bush in 2000 if they were still alive by then.


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