By Robin Thomas
Two weeks before Christmas, Bill O’Reilly called Wikileaks “a threat to our way of life.” And I thought, “So what?” Our way of life is a threat to us. We’ve got record rates of obesity, two wars, an energy crisis, nationwide neurosis, blah blah blah. Mr. O’Reilly, I think a threat to “our way of life” is exactly what we need.
And maybe that’s exactly what we’re getting. I feel like there’s something big going on. Maybe you’ve felt it too — something leaderless and nameless, but really important. The media’s all lit up, talking about change in the Middle East, in education, in the environment, in technology, in democracy, in mental health. We’re coming up on a new presidential campaign, which will be followed, according to the Mayans, by the end of the whole freaking world. It’s like we’re building up to some breaking point, and a big shift in how we think about our relationships with ourselves and with each other.
I think we’re seeing a movement. That sounds right: an awakening of a large number of individuals to a new common consciousness.
It was 2008 when I first started noticing. Remember how the buzzwords of the year were “hope” and “change”? The nation was so taken with the idea of one man finally daring to think differently. I remember seeing the words “McCain concedes” on the TVs in the CoHo and hearing the roars and cheers of a bunch of strangers packed in there together, all hugging and high-fiving. It was like some people really thought we’d never have problems again: I’d never seen anyone actually dancing in the streets until that night. And there were all those old-school Berkeleyans saying so heartbreakingly that it was the first time they’d actually “felt proud to be Americans.”
We had a movement — a nation of troubled people coming together all on their own to say they wanted the world to change.
But I think where we went wrong is we believed we could take the easy path toward change by looking for a hero. That’s my beef with representative democracies: they require heroes, which I consider to be people who bear the suffering of changing other peoples’ lives.
I don’t think a nation can change without each of the people in it sharing some of the suffering. Unfortunately, we’ve got a big pain intolerance. We want lower taxes, but we don’t want to give up what keeps them high. We want bipartisan politics, but it’s so much easier to just hope some elected schmuck will do all the reaching-across-party-boundaries for us, than to actually go talk to someone different ourselves. We want healthy children, but we keep them out of the sun and away from the dirt, so they become anemic and asthmatic.
The first noble truth is “life is suffering,” which I used to think was really dumb: what, am I supposed to be unhappy all the time? But no, it makes sense. See, life is a series of growth and learning, and growth and learning only happen through suffering. Muscles strengthen by experiencing trauma and growing scars in response. Learning is the same: your perception of the world gets broken down and rebuilt with new knowledge.
Remember the rhetoric around Obama’s election? It sounded like the Second Coming. We were looking for a messiah, someone to clean up our mess but do all the suffering for us — make all the hard decisions, suffer all the consequences. When we have a movement, we try to find people who will steer it, in the exact same way that when we have a problem, we try to find people to whom we can delegate blame. Responsibility’s painful, so we try to avoid it by giving it away.
“A threat to our way of life?” Our way of life threatens us. We’ve become so good at avoiding hurt, with pills, potions, prescriptions for every problem, be they physical, political, economic or emotional.
I think, though, we’re waking up to that first noble truth. Arrange in front of you the headlines from all the nation’s newspapers, and in them you’ll see the same repeated message: people want to move away from predictability and structure — they want to move away from easily measurable, test-based education, the clear boundaries of partisan politics, the ease of equating happiness with money.
See, a human life isn’t predictable and structured. It can’t happen without pain.
We have movement, sure; we’re moving, but we won’t move all the way to change until we each become heroes to ourselves.
…although for the 2012 election, Robin feels compelled to vote for Charlie Sheen’s political party of Vatican Assassin Warlocks. To likewise support the Gnarly Gnarlingtons, e-mail Robin at [email protected].