“Yesterday was my day, named after me.”
“No, it was the annual Day of Awesomeness. Aussie is short for Awesome.”
“Actually, Aussie, Bernie named you after Australia.”
“I don’t care, I’m Awesome Aussie. But did we celebrate it? Where’s my steak?”
I admit that every time I hear the word awesome, I remember Everything Is Awesome, the theme of The Lego Movie and the stupidest song in creation. It’s no wonder that we discover late in this terrific film that President Business uses the song to brainwash all the characters in the story—only he managed to brainwash me, too, and probably many others who can’t stop thinking of that song.
Have we lowered the bar on awesomeness? The Jewish Days of Awe are called that because during those days we are trying to encounter God as directly as we can. I sat next to someone undergoing a haircut this morning, and when asked what she thought of it, she said it’s awesome.
Maybe there are some awesome things happening. First and foremost, the awesome resistance by Ukrainians against overwhelming odds. Secondly, governments coming together across boundaries and continents to pressure Vladimir Putin to withdraw from Ukraine. Millions of private donations from people everywhere, individuals coming together to send shipments of medical supplies and other materials, open arms for refugees, and young people using the web, social media, and apps (including ones they themselves invent) to help the Ukrainians defend their country.
At the same time, we’re immediately told that none of this is good enough. I’m not talking about Zelensky, who’s been asking for fighter jets, but rather about articles and columns I read coming from liberal activists. One such article appeared in our local newspaper. After declaring that everyone wants this horrible war to stop before the Ukraine becomes an ash heap, the writer immediately intoned: What about Afghanistan? What about Yemen and Israel/Palestine? What about the racism entrenched in this country that we haven’t even begun to address yet? What about reparations? What do we owe Native Americans? What about this, and this, and this?
Then it’s on to the end of biodiversity, the extinction of species, and the heating up of the planet.
I don’t contest the actual opinions of the writer. I support work to remedy almost all these issues and have done some of that work myself. I also think it’s good for us to remember that we are not innocent here and have no right to be self-righteous. We invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq in 2003, whose borders are very far from us rather than contiguous (as Ukraine is to Russia), based on faulty intelligence and the fact that their head of state was one of the least popular heads of state in the world. Speaking of awesome, remember Shock and Awe?
What I don’t like is to be on the receiving end of what feels like constant head-bashing. We’re okay here, but where are you on this issue? And this? And this? Feeling good about the massive cooperation the government achieved around Ukraine? Well don’t, because there’s still Saudi Arabia around, the Israelis still occupy Palestine, the Black Lives Matter fight goes on, just look at the recent decisions by the courts around abortion and LGBTQ rights, etc., etc.
Hannah Arendt wrote that totalitarian regimes spread misinformation as a vital tool for getting power. It’s not that they think that what they say will be believed, their objective is to basically sow confusion, create false equivalencies and comparisons, and make it hard to discern truth from falsehood so that in the end people shake their head, say Who can you trust?, and become passive. That’s the kind of population they can rule.
I don’t have to remind us how much of this appears in our own media today, in this country.
But I sometimes think the progressive side has its own version of this, consisting of the lobbing of denigrations and accusations one after another, with the rat-a-tat regularity of a machine gun. It’s almost Puritan in its relentless focus, as if all of us are guilty of major sin by virtue of being American regardless of how we’ve lived and what we’ve chosen to do with our days.
What do these volleys of accusations and self-accusations achieve in the end? Does this really inspire people, or does it lead to a shrug of the shoulders as if to say, The world is fucked, nothing I can do about it? I read the article last night and tossed it. Didn’t feel empowered, didn’t feel energized, just felt tired.
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