4 Modern Sins Pretty Much Every American Is Guilty Of
Seven score and a sawbuck ago, our president brought forth on this continent the Gettysburg Address, conceived in tragedy and dedicated to the proposition that men shall not have died in vain for the cause of the American republic.
Although "leaders" is more of a formal term than anything else.
Tuesday, November 19 marked the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, when Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans that a way of life worth fighting and dying for must also be worth living for. But what have you done with that mandate, America? You've been given the greatest opportunity in history, but you fill your days with reality TV, racism, and -- worse than those two put together -- autotune.
Yet we as a nation harbor greater sins than LMFAO. Here are the modern behaviors everyone is guilty of, regardless of party, persuasion, or parish.
Yellow journalism is nothing new, but historically people only got subjected to it for an hour or two each day. With just a few major broadcasters, there was no need to pretend a day contained 24 hours' worth of news. Americans received a fairly accurate account of the world, or at least had an excuse for their inaccurate one.
But now newspapers are dying, the Internet only serves up information relevant to its secret profile of you, and Ouija boards still haven't made contact with Walter Cronkite. Sad, no? This has led to shoddy gimmicks like reporting "live" from the police station where they took the suspect five hours after the crime occurred, or its anchor counterpart, "breaking news" on a story that's already wrapped.
And the weird thing is the mugging happened in Sheboygan.
Sure, you can still access real journalism if you subscribe to The New York Times, but understanding its relevance to you is expensive, since first you have to move to western Connecticut. For the rest of the country, it's hard to feign interest in a Lifestyle profile on what five bankers are having for lunch followed by an Arts bio of the world's last living six-toed ballerina. Turning the page, you read a Dining review that's mostly an apology for enjoying plebeian food. And every single one of those articles jams in an ill-fitting reference to Marcel Proust and his madeleines.
Come on, New York Times, I just wanted to know which parts of the world were exploding, and instead I'm reading the most awkward hip-hop profile piece ever, and I still can't tell what it has to do with Young Preezy's "M.A.D.E. Linez."
So TV news it is, even though TV is trying to stay competitive by becoming the worst parts of humanity, much as radio did before it.
And then, since it's the Internet, someone pedantic would correct it as "Two Minutes Hate," plural.
The 24-hour cable news networks are, in order of ratings:
FOX News -- If FOX News were a person, it would be a teenager with an adult haircut whose dad bought him a DeLorean driving backward through time and complaining the entire trip. The only thing worse than FOX News is FOX News on fast-forward, because then you absorb three times as many lies before you can avert your eyes. The reason they're a TV network and not a tailor shop is that you can't sustain the new clothes trade with so few emperors these days. According to their business model, when owner Rupert Murdoch gets to hell, he'll buy it out and spend billions convincing the residents to pretend it's heaven.
Here they report on Elizabeth Warren's tuition reform efforts.
MSNBC -- FOX might be a gaggle of dickheads, but MSNBC is the strap-on your girlfriend whips out during sex with no prior discussion. MSNBC is FOX News for the kind of liberals who only exist in conservative fantasies and liberal nightmares. You have to watch it 40 feet from the kitchen or all your gluten, meat, and dairy turn to arsenic, soy, and smug satisfaction. So long as three TVs in a building are simultaneously tuned to this channel, everyone inside is a spokesperson for Occupy Wall Street.
Or at least that's the untested theory, because nobody really watches this circle jerk. The only MSNBC personality who pulls decent ratings is Rachel Maddow, because she's the only one who isn't a cartoon. There's Chris Matthews, of course, but he's less a personality and more of a haystack someone trained to do verbal pratfalls.
If you want to see the real face of MSNBC, look at Ed Schultz, host of the electrifyingly titled The Ed Show. In the body of public discourse, Schultz is the goiter. He's sort of like Bill O'Reilly minus an audience that wants to hear a lump of bread dough grumble. The Ed Show is targeted at what I can only assume are very irate little men wearing socks and Tevas in Napa Valley. Nobody, not even Ed Schultz, knows what the purpose of his program is. He's the only man in the world whose mirror reflection changes the channel.
CNN -- Deserted by the right, then the left, the weary news network has tried to stay hip with holograms and touchscreens. If CNN still showed news, you'd get it without a political agenda, but the network loses half an IQ point every time they treat Justin Bieber's Instagram feed like news.
"Here's the magic wall bringing you 1951's most cutting-edge telestrator technology, annnnd we're all idiots now."
HLN -- This is CNN for mothers who like to angrily cluck their tongues and mutter something unintelligible about "those people."
Al Jazeera America -- Stands on a reputation for solid reporting, but still a good five years away from convincing Americans that watching it won't red-flag your NSA profile.
One America News Network -- I have no idea what this is, but it sounds like the mouthpiece of a totalitarian future state.
As you can see, it's hard to form a real idea of what's going on. You have to seek reputable news sources and be willing to mistrust the things you most want to believe ... so that you can confirm or correct their validity by testing them.
The only way you know how.
If you don't, you're left with whatever brand of panic the news networks want to sell us, and that leads to ...
Stereotyping and Demonizing the Opposition
Pictured: everyone who disagrees with you slightly.
Have you ever hung out with people who hold different opinions from yours? Enjoy that adventure, because in the future, your media exposure will become even more tailored to your tastes. And it will cost you the ability to see opponents as people, not platitudes. The only thing either side in any of the modern American debates agrees on is that the other guys are Nazis.
And if they're not Nazis, God forbid you criticize them for their actual flaws. For example, here is Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey and forceful personality, who -- whatever other criticisms you may level at him -- puts the fucking work in. He does the job he was elected to do, but he's known for his brash mouth. Can you guess what jokes get made about him?
If lazy jokes were fat cells, you'd have enough about Governor Chris Christie to build your own Governor Chris Christie.
But forget public figures. Their whole shtick is to make you hate the other guys more than you hate them. Let's look closer to home. Who here has a relative that will make next week's turkey dinner tense?
Nobody? Seriously? No one else here is Irish Catholic?
Well, some of us have a cousin who won't stop preaching about the evils of the meat industry during the carving. Others suffer through a great-uncle's theory of how the Lizard-People helped Obama fake bin Laden's death. At my house, the family puts up with my Bull Moose Party rhetoric (platform: "Everyone is bastards") and my plan to replace most legislation with a computer that eats statistics and craps sensible government.
Quick tip: If your Twitter bio includes your politics, you are this person in your family.
But these people aren't monsters. These are your relatives. You probably love them. You may even like them. Because they're yours. But it's more than just the bloodline, right? You know them well enough to know that whatever crazy stuff they believe, they're good people. Except for Great-Aunt Murgatroyd. She's only here for the whiskey, cruelty, and Jesus, and she's all out of Jesus.
I know this is hard to believe online, but almost nobody you'll ever meet is working toward the destruction of America. Your life probably isn't exciting enough to meet any real-life terrorists or Bond villains. All you can do is avoid the people who, on an actual, personal level, create harm and havoc. Just because some people believe we should close all the banks and go back to the barter system doesn't mean they aren't human beings full of laughter and tears and some kinks that would shock you but, hey, no judgments.
Go join a basketball team with somebody you like even though you disagree on stuff. Or start a band. Or do anything other than sit around fantasizing about how the XYZs are destroying this country.
But This Is the Hard Part:
Now we are engaged in an embarrassing civil war, testing whether this nation, or any nation, can long endure its self-obsessed whining and sniping. We are met on a great battlefield of that war, the Internet, to lay a final resting place for such behavior.
Remember that people out there -- even the ones you disagree with on the nerve level, and yes, even a lot of raging bigots -- have Thanksgiving with somebody who loves them in spite of themselves. Or because of it. People are a screwed-up species.
Try to see that human part and treat them as a person, not a faceless member of a group. If you don't know where to start, try stroking their hair, making suggestive jokes, and inviting them back to your hotel for a quickie.
OK, that's too intimate: a quickie, but no eye contact and no kissing.
Or dial it back to taking them on their own merits, not the boxes you want them to fit in. If you don't, you're refusing to associate with anyone different from you, and that's plumb un-American. You'll belong to the following class of jerk ...
Everyone Has to Be Right All the Time
When you believe your opponents are truly evil, you can't concede anything to them. And that's dangerous. When your mission becomes to hold the sophistry high ground rather than to accomplish this America business, you get sidetracked. You get unrealistic.
Right now in this country, an actress in LA and a mom from Texas might not agree on much, but they may agree vaccines are bad for you, albeit for very different reasons, and neither of those beliefs is correct. People are putting what they want to believe above demonstrable data that save children from diseases.
As someone who has never endured rubella, let me assure you from fact: Vaccines are so great that I don't even know what rubella is. And if they did make a percentage of the population autistic or promiscuous, both of those would be better than a world steeped in pandemic. It's unclear if Abe Lincoln ever got a smallpox vaccine, so we'll never know if it was modern medicine or just his shimmering greatness that enabled him to deliver the Gettysburg Address with the deadliest virus in human history exploding inside him.
And left more pox scars, too!
But good luck convincing anti-vaxers of any of that, since you'll just berate them and they'll dig their heels in deeper. Because that's how we argue now. Here is something that has never happened: someone's religious or socio-political beliefs were changed by a hostile Internet remark. And yet an article about a kitten befriending an ostrich chick only needs three comments to combust into a flame war between a Flat Earther and an Amputee Supremacist about whether Jesus existed and was left-handed. (Answer: yes to one of those, no to the other, but you'll never figure out which is which.)
It's so universal that the average time it takes the word "faggot" to appear under a YouTube clip of a baby hippo eating ice cream is best measured in Planck units. And it has achieved nothing, anywhere, forever, except to stroke people's self-righteousness and wound the feelings of several gay baby hippos.
He then grew up to be Africa's deadliest killer.
Here's an example. Most accounts of the Gettysburg Address quote Lincoln as saying "That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom," but his handwritten notes don't include the phrase. Speeches seldom resemble verbatim notes, so this should be nothing more than a scholarly question. But "under God" is one of the most loaded phrases in American history, along with its sister, "In God we trust."
The latter first appeared on American money in 1864, after an 1861 letter from a reverend petitioned the Secretary of the Treasury to "Yo, straight up change that shit to shout out to my homie YHWH." Or words to that effect.
Similarly, as we've mentioned here before, "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance (itself a fairly new way of proving you're among America's class-A patriots) to get the big guy on our side and let him know the commies were atheists -- dirty, stinking atheists, with big, hairy toes that smell like bald eagle tears. Or ... sorry, are those orcs? Are atheists and orcs the same thing?
And are they coming to Thanksgiving?
Anyway, no surprise here: Many people want the official version of the speech to support their worldview. There's a flood of speculation about the addition's significance, when the only thing we'll ever get close to proving is whether he said it. He almost certainly did, but from a religious standpoint, who cares? A president's faith has as much bearing on God's existence as his bowling score.
And heaven help you if you don't pick a side in all these pointless arguments -- then both groups in this binary country hate you worse than they hate each other for being independent, agnostic, trans, bi, zero ... or otherwise occupying the space between their dualism. Because at least in "Us vs. Them" people can comprehend "Them." Bringing in Option C creates mental anxiety, and they blame you for that.
In a larger sense, we cannot placate the pulsing id of our modern society. The world will little note, nor long remember, the debates that distract us from what really matters, but it will remember that we wasted our lives calling strangers on the Internet retarded for liking the wrong things.
Even if you can prove you're right, you'll never convince anyone by being obnoxious. That's why, whenever I'm walking around a major city and a street preacher starts shouting on a megaphone or portable speaker, I immediately convert to whatever faith their religion hates most.
And that's how I spent six months as a mongoose handler.
The only way you're going to sway anybody's opinion is by being a dude or damsel they want to have a beer with. I'll show you a great example. Pretend you're my dad for a second and I have to explain to you what the aggregator website Reddit is.
Pop, Reddit is like pornography: It turns a five-minute distraction into two lost hours, and afterward, you're less able to relate to people in the real world. But what the two really have in common is an endless number of subgenres. That's why r/DebateanAtheist exists -- so that folks can get off on their preferred method of taking meaningless pokes at another person (I'm never letting go of this porn metaphor).
But This Is the Hard Part:
But since this subreddit is "DEBATE an atheist" and not "argue with an atheist," one fellow actually practices the rules of debate, which are constructed to reach a conclusion. He engages a Young Earth Creationist as a person. What happens next is that two people who disagree learn from each other, and it's like YEAH! Humanity! Beer and barbecue for everyone!
This would happen a lot more often if we spent less time whining to score invisible points for being correct and more time rolling up our sleeves to get stuff done (our sleeves are very long and take several dozen rolls). Unfortunately ...
We Don't Have a Sense of Humor About Ourselves
It's no wonder we have no idea how to debate anymore in this country. We just have shouting matches, even though we have pretty much the same goals -- or at least, have yet to tackle any of the goals we can agree on.
"Everybody's here to shave this angry bear, right?"
It's become most important to stand on principle, even when that principle gets in the way of its own ends. This would be acceptable if we lived in a time of honor, when men dueled each other over slanderous words -- not least of all because then I could finally indulge my twin fetishes of insulting people and getting slapped with fox fur gloves.
But we don't live in that magical, slap-happy era. We live in an age when half the country has a congressional timeline documenting our fickle nature (and the other half is sexting on Snapchat). Nobody adheres to their ideals 100 percent of the time. I'm not even following this article's call for empathy while writing this article, so why pretend to have principles? All you can do is try to do much good and little harm.
No single person is equipped to resolve the issues we face together -- we hear all day from the news networks how big our problems are and how they're in the hands of a government that, frankly, most of us don't trust with scissors, let alone legislative power. People want an explanation they can understand, so it must be somebody's fault.
"I'll just call the NRA a bunch of psychopaths aaannnnd we can all put this mass shooting behind us."
It's easier to think things are bad because a group of Others is ruining the world than to accept that some problems are beyond our control -- or they're fixable, but it takes work. Why do that when you can blame the godless liberals or the corporate tool conservatives?
I'm not saying there aren't people you can fault for poisoning the well of progress -- obviously, there are plenty of psychos, malevolents, and trolls out there. But you know what? They're not the bulk of us.
We might believe different things, but our idea of the good life in America is pretty similar (I assume you also desire nothing more than a good cigar while luxuriating in a bath of ice-cold pudding). The fact is, the biggest difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans have a plan to kill you and Democrats have a plan to let you die.
Hah! No, the difference is that we make fun of both and the Republicans cry about it. It's not that the Democrats can take a joke any better; they're just committed to their party platform of not standing up for themselves. They drafted the perfect comeback, but it got lost in the mail. Or they didn't have enough votes to ratify it. Or they sent an email, but the return address was @healthcare.gov.
Regardless, both sides and everyone in between need to keep a sense of humor. Because humor is the study of disparity. If you can't keep that sharp, you'll have a tough time discerning real problems from the bullshit.
Pictured: a Democrat building a website.
There are no perfect, universal ideologies, and anyone who buys into one, no matter how noble, ends up pretty creepy about it. As soon as you fervently believe something, you get defensive about it.
Put people's welfare first, stick with or improve what works, and stop letting your moral pride tell you that things have to be a certain way. Life's hard enough; we don't need to make it tougher on ourselves.
For example: The models who use my hot tub have absolutely clogged it with hair of every color and ethnicity.
If you can't be kind, get naked. That usually gets the party going.
But This Is the Hard Part:
Nobody wants to admit that sometimes the left hand's gotta paint a canvas and the right hand has to swing a sword, but most of the time, you need both hands just to do the daily chores. And we have a lot of chores to do so that this nation shall have a new birth of awesomeness.
Sure, complaining feels good, but not as good as solving a problem. And if you can't solve it, try laughing at it. Don't spoil your own day because of all the imaginary goblins out there "ruining" this country. This is still a pretty great place. Unless you live in Detroit, in which case, I cannot help you. Run! Run for your life!
Brendan is no Abe Lincoln, but he was honest enough to document The Five Weird Search Terms You Used for Some Reason. Thankfully none of them was as disturbing as The Spookiest Cat Facts for National Cat Day.
Related reading: Brendan uncovered A Shadow History of American Football and made the case for unity in 5 Reasons Cinco de Mayo Is the Most American Holiday.