Late Night: The Country As A Whole
“I see a reporter here,” he said. “I just pray that you start writing about these issues. I just pray. Stop always writing about, ‘Oh, the person couldn’t get, you know, their food stamps or this or that.’ You know, I saw something the other day — it’s like, another sob story, and I’m like, ‘But what about what’s happening to the country and the country as a whole?’ That’s going to devastate everybody.”
And I want to talk about this a little bit because it’s not just that he doesn’t see what he likes in the press anymore. It’s not just that he doesn’t want to be reminded of people who have less than he does. It’s not just that he’s a rich asshole who would rather not have to look at what happens when rich assholes get their way. That’s been going on forever. That’s the very nasty, very HUMAN response to getting exactly what you ordered from the menu of various types of shitstorms you could have.
We saw that with the Iraq war, too, with the anger from the right over the pictures of burned and bloodied and yes, terrorized people, with the pictures of the tortured from Abu Ghraib. We see that now with the aftermath of drone strikes, with stories of black sites and secret proceedings: Take it away, don’t make me look at it, don’t make me see what I’ve done. When given that this is what you’ve done, the least you can do is look at it.
No, what I want to address is this guy’s insistence that we’re not seeing the big picture.
One of the things that drives me nuts about our current political conversation is the insistence on prizing abstractions over actual, you know, things. Wittering on about the deficit and the idea of “running government like a business” when people need jobs and old age is only not automatic poverty by dint of amazing luck, for example. Talking about needing to kick some ass in other countries because otherwise people will think we’re weak. Shrugging off anyone who’s hurt by modern economics as oh well, just part of the cost of living. That’s what this guy’s really pissed about. He thinks the system is the story, “the country as a whole.” The rules and how they’re followed are the point, to him.
He’s completely 180 degrees bass-ackwards, of course, but not for the reasons he thinks, not because sob stories just deep-down make him feel icky and instead of taking that icky feeling for what it is — a HINT — he’d rather you stop encouraging it. He’s wrong because the system, the rules, “the country as a whole,” isn’t the point. People are the point. A system is only good so long as it actually serves people and when it no longer does it’s time to burn that motherfucker down, as has happened throughout history every time this has occurred.
Perpetuating the rules for the sake of perpetuating the rules — following The Law because it is The Law, and not because it is also right and good — is the source of most of the up-fuckedness in the world and always has been. “The country as a whole” is not the rules and it’s not the system. It’s not the deficit, it’s not the budget, it’s not government spending. It’s who can’t get their food stamps. It’s who’s being failed and who’s getting lost because our fate is your fate, because the country as a whole means the country as a whole, all of us.
The country as a whole is and always will be what happens to the very least of us, and no more. It’s what we tolerate happening in the name of perpetuating a system that rewards the powerful and punishes the powerless. It’s what we’re willing to sacrifice in service of the rules we’ve made, so that those rules continue.
That’s a sad story. It probably is upsetting to hear it. Easier to talk about the system and the rules, because by themselves, they don’t mean anything at all.