Sunday, June 1, 2014

No. 4 – What’s Happening Brother / Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky) / Save the Children / God Is Love / Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)

Performer: Marvin Gaye
Songwriters: James Nyx, Marvin Gaye, Anna Gordy Gaye, Elgie Stover, Al Cleveland, Renaldo Benson
Original Release: What’s Going On
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: None.

This suite flows together, and after you hear it once, you can’t stop until the end. I can’t anyway. Breaking it up in shuffle mode on a CD or MP3 player is, quite simply, a sacrilege to this beautiful music. I can’t thank Jim enough for introducing me to What’s Going On back in Michigan City in 1988.

Well, we can’t have, in my opinion, the greatest protest song cycle in rock history without just one more long-winded political diatribe, can we?

When I was young, I was taught two things you didn’t talk about in mixed company were politics and religion. The thinking was, of course, that people had strong opinions about either, so raising the topic would lead only to unnecessary and unwanted arguments.

Well, you don’t have to look far these days to conclude that, particularly as religion increasingly has become intertwined with politics, it’s damn near impossible to avoid either subject. This, in my opinion, is partly because of 9/11 and the rise of the 24-hour news cycle. Simply, not enough news exists—or at least enough news that the major corporations behind the news stations want to cover—to fill 24 hours.

So, to fill the time, “news” stations give us the inevitable shoutfests by the same pundits who have polluted our airwaves for the past decade. What better to raise the ire of the shouters—and get increasingly disenfranchised and, thus, irate viewers to tune in—but politics and, to a lesser extent, religion?

Maybe it’s just me—I work in an industry where I read a lot of news—but now it seems you can’t go anywhere without running into the topics. Just wander over to ESPN and check out the top story of the day. I’ll bet dollars to pesos that you won’t be able to roll through two pages of comments without encountering the inevitable “Obama/Tea Party sucks” post—and that’s after ESPN moved to “clean up” its comments by going to Facebook logins.

One question: How has bringing politics and religion into EVERY discussion worked out for us? The way I see it: not very well. Is E Pluribus Unum just something we print on our coins or is it something we believe in?

Sure, you can find evidence that political rhetoric between left and right and Democrat and Republican always was harsh, but it used to be that, for the most part, the two sides would seek common ground and compromise to move things forward. Now, we seem to have a climate where only political purity matters.

Everyone, it seems, agrees that our country faces a lot of problems. Unfortunately, we have become so rigid in our philosophical differences that we can’t even agree as to WHAT is a problem: Is it the growing wage disparity? Surveillance in the age of The War on Terrorism? Reliance on fossil fuels? Reproductive rights? Gay marriage? Guns?

The country has become so divided that no matter what happens in 2016, half the people are going to be made to feel as though they’re being dragged kicking and screaming in whichever direction the party that holds power decides to go.

A salient question: Why have we decided that “agreeing to disagree” is acceptable? For some time now, I’ve wondered whether perhaps it’s time for this country to break up. Let the Republicans have the south to set up their free-market, Christian-based, anti-science, gun-heavy libertarian paradise, and the Democrats can set up their abortion-heavy, pro-union, multicultural, green atheist Utopia in the north. It isn’t going to happen, of course, but … why not?

Only a few nations have more people than the United States. They’re governed by dictatorships, or they’re so stratified that it doesn’t matter what most of the people want, because they have no power. (Do we really want to be China or India but with better plumbing?) Maybe it’s impossible for 300 million people to be led by democracy, and, considering the political climate these days, one could argue that we’re seeing evidence of that now.

Hell, we can’t even agree that we shouldn’t default on our debt (and cause a Depression in the process) without creating a political crisis. There’s no way we ever could do something as nuanced and sober as dividing our own country peacefully.

So we’re stuck with each other, doomed to battle over every little damned issue like a bunch of tribal cavemen until something truly gigantic happens that unites us. We know it isn’t an attack on our soil, because no more unifying event ever was used more divisively than 9/11.

Maybe Gene Roddenberry has it exactly right: Mankind will unite, finally, only when it’s proven that we aren’t alone in this universe, when it’s shown beyond any doubt that if we don’t work together, we’ll be escorted quickly into the ash heap of history. I’m not holding my breath that that will happen in my lifetime.

Like a lot of things, it’s easy to blame our great political divide on Reagan, who oversaw the end of the Fairness Doctrine. Perhaps that law was a restraint on free speech, but it also forced restrained debate, because you couldn’t just make crap up and float it out there without being forced to grant equal time to, well, FACTS.

As a result, we now have the shoutfests—a wealth of hate speech masquerading as talk radio and “news” under the guise of “free speech.” Although certainly it comes from both sides of the political spectrum, there’s no question that the Right is far more proficient and better at it. They’ve been playing the divide-and-conquer hate-for-profit game far longer than the Left.

But the biggest culprit here is the Internet.

The Internet gives voice to anyone and everyone who wants it, regardless of how little they know about the subject matter. The Internet also weights everyone’s opinion the same, so morons have just as much clout, at least in the marketplace of ideas, as the experts. The result is a forum where you can’t connect with anyone, because everyone is too busy interrupting the conversation with off-topic posts and insulting anyone who disagrees with them—poisoning the water.

Full disclosure: I post on the Internet, a lot, and although my grammar, spelling and coherence far exceeds that of the typical poster, I’m just as guilty of adding poison as anyone. I’ve come to realize that I’m as much a part of the problem as the troglodyte writing racist screeds about Obama in a forum devoted to whether Led Zeppelin ripped off Spirit on Stairway to Heaven.

It seems to me there’s a simple solution, which harkens back to where my screed all began. People used to not talk about politics and religion because of simple courtesy. Unfortunately, courtesy is an increasingly lost trait. No one has the time to be courteous when they’re too busy rushing here and there, testing, driving, trying to make ends meet, so most people reserve it only for the most important people in their lives. I can be just as bad as anyone in this regard, and as I approach 50, that’s not what I want to be. So, I’m going to be part of the solution.

When Dave, Doug and I embarked on our great scouting expedition of Windsor ballet establishments in February 1996 in preparation of Scott’s bachelor party, I had a particularly enjoyable close encounter with one of the artists. Her costume was that of a Catholic schoolgirl—short plaid skirt, white button-down top. It was right in my wheelhouse.

A few days later, I exchanged emails with Dave, and he greeted me by calling me Senor Plaid due to my effusive praise of the ballerina. Senor Plaid became my Internet nom de plume soon after that, and I’ve used it ever since.

Well, in three days, when I turn 50, Senor Plaid is retiring from the Internet. Call it a World Wide Boardicide.

Oh sure, I’ll still read the news—hopefully less of it on politically based sites, because I’m sick of politics—but I’ll no longer post my opinion, as Senor Plaid or anyone else, unless it’s solicited. That’s true of news stories; that’s true of sports stories; and that’s true of stories about Led Zeppelin possibly ripping off Spirit.

To those I’ve entertained, I say thanks for the +1s. To those I’ve unintentionally insulted, I apologize. And to those troglodytes who I intentionally insulted and who will continue to soil the Internet, I apologize that I won’t be around to mop the floor with you any longer.

But this isn’t about you; it’s about me. If I want to live in a better world, I have to participate in making it a better place. Better late than never.

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