Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Make American Sane Again

After retiring in December, I headed off to Miami Beach for three weeks, then caught Holland America's Rotterdam back to San Diego from Fort Lauderdale. It was my first ever cruise, and though it was pleasant I'm by no means addicted to the lifestyle. Sixteen days on a boat is about enough, and as usual, I'm finding that no matter how old I get, I always seem to be surrounded by people a decade or so older. The bald heads, beer guts, and uncontrolled flatulence got to be a bit much after awhile.

Maybe I'll write more about the cruise itself sometime, but right now the salient thought in my head is how the whole cruise thing is open to criticism by those of a certain political persuasion. It's a bit odd to think of the fuel and resources pissed away on hauling a bunch of over-the-hill retirees pointlessly over the high seas for weeks on end, but the primary criticism would probably be about the labor practices. Holland America hires primarily Filipinos for food service jobs, and Indonesians for stewards and housekeeping. Apparently there are large training centers in both countries. It seems strange to be on a ship for over two weeks with a bunch of old white people being served almost exclusively by non-affluent young Asians. For someone like myself who has lived all over the world and also had to work fairly hard to get anywhere in life, I feel funny about having the same person serve me three meals a day and sweep up around the hot tub while I soak in it.

I was friendly with one lady on the crew, and told her as much. If ever she has time off in San Diego, she can relax while I do the work. Being about forty years younger than I am, I doubt she'll follow up, but I gave her my contact info anyway. There's nothing in particular going on in my head; I'd just enjoy letting one of the crew members actually see some of the places the ship docks in for a change.

For whatever reason, I seem to bond well with the older people I always find myself surrounded by no matter how old I myself get. There were several retired army-types who had been in the same places as myself at slightly different times, and any number of folks who lived in places I'd passed through or spent time in. My cross-country motorcycle trip from summer 2017 provided many a point of departure for conversation. Toward the end of the cruise, I got to talking with one of the entertainers during an elevator ride, and found that he was the nephew of a childhood friend!

One upside of a cruise is that just about everyone is in a good mood, and have their life together enough to be able to afford to go on a cruise. Though the entire Trump impeachment trial took place while I was at sea, there wasn't much discussion of it. The only consistent satellite channels available in most places were Fox News and MSNBC, so it was fun to switch from one to the other and marvel at how people can view the same event and have such a different perspective on it. During the Iraq War and the whole George W. era, I hated Fox and cheered on MSNBC. Now it's pretty much the opposite, with just about anyone with a brain willing to admit that invading Iraq was about the stupidest thing that ever happened.

Love the troops; hate the war... Remember that? Well, decompressing from the cruise and getting back to Realityville while retired and with lots of time on my hands, I find myself reverting to my default piss-and-vinegar world view. As Michael Savage once put it, in and of itself what's so great about somebody who wears a uniform? Firefighters save lives, but they also spend most of their time sitting around playing cards in the station and contemplating the unaffordable pensions they anticipate drawing on retirement.

Actually, since spending six years in the army myself, I've always thought this faux patriotism by people who wouldn't know which end of a rifle to clean was a buncha hooey. I served two tours in the Military District of Washington, the first in the immediate post-Vietnam era and the second during the Iran Hostage Crisis. I went from people flipping me off along M Street in Georgetown as I rode my motorcycle back to Fort Myer to having them come up and thank me for my service. In both cases, my basic feeling toward their behavior was a great big fuck-you.

It always seemed to me that, no matter how manly or macho the work might seem, firefighters, law enforcement types, and military personnel are all basically public sector weenies. Unlike the average Joe Schmo, they don't have to get up every morning and figure out all over again how to make a living. They don't have to hire a tax preparer to figure out how to keep from losing their shirt or having their pants pulled down as the government reams them. They just go off and play with big toys like a bunch of overgrown children. Occasionally it's dangerous, but most of the time that's just exactly what they do for a living, with no worries about healthcare or job security.

What's so High-Falutin' Great American about it? It sounds like the great socialist dream to me. Is it really so different from living in a communist country in the old days, sitting around on your ass without a worry in the world other than not upsetting the higher-ups?  Having spent so much time in the military, it would be hard to label me anti-military or some other sort of anti-American nonsense. I just don't see any particular reason to look up to somebody just because he wears a uniform any more than to someone who navigates the idiocy of everyday life in an advanced society while living by his wits.

In this stream-of-consciousness tirade against all that pisses me off about American society, allow me to now turn to the whole business of making a living and the so-called social contract. My dad was a pretty average and typical American, and like most typical Americans he wasn't that interested in being clever. He didn't want to start and run a business, or to spend most of his waking hours trying to out-maneuver and/or cut the balls off the competition. Herein lies a great irony that causes endless misunderstanding: It doesn't take that many ambitious or even intelligent people to run a society. What it takes is obedient people with a sense of faith in the system... believers in the social contract if you will. All you really have to do to keep a society going is avoid alienating them so completely and screwing them so blatantly that they cease to give a shit.

Republican politicians tend to be ambitious, and intelligent in a running-a-business way that, in my youth, I used to refer to as "butt brains." They don't seem to understand that most people just want to put in an honest day's work without worrying about being laid off on a half hour's notice. They'd also prefer not to have to worry about the job once they've punched out for the day. Democratic politicians, on the other hand, are generally either guilt-tripping inheritors of great wealth or public sector weenies, though strictly of the chairborne variety; soldiers and cops almost always fancy themselves conservatives despite being wards of the state. Many more Democrats than Republicans are professional politicians, and as Thomas E. Dewey once put it, no man should seek a job in the public sector if he can't make more money in the private sector. This, however, is a foreign concept to most "progressive" types. With some important exceptions, Democrats generally know about as much about economics or the dynamics of generating wealth as I did when I got my first job at Jack-in-the-Box. The political views of both sides derive from their own world views, and neither side seems to recognize that not everybody thinks like they do.

First out of necessity, then because I genuinely liked the life I'd made for myself. I became quite clever at investing and keeping my cash flow positive. My only conventional job for the past 22 years was as a part-time community college instructor. It's another great irony that tenured professors are almost unfailingly knee-jerk liberal public sector weenies of the worst sort themselves, yet they tend to look down on their part-time colleagues (adjunct instructors, or simply "aaaaadjuncts") as inferiors who couldn't quite cut the mustard, even as they claim to champion our rights in the name of social justice. College administrators, the ultimate superfluous public sector dead weight--and seemingly possessed of an en masse Walter Mitty complex--treat us with ruthless expediency, even as they come out with position papers about the rights of "Dreamers" or some other whining assholes.

It certainly doesn't help that I've been on the wrong end of affirmative action since the day I entered the workforce. There aren't that many Males-Who-Look-Like-Me in my field, and a surprising number I met during my career had done exactly as I did. We took care of ourselves because we knew we couldn't expect The System to take care of us. We succeeded, and must have been something of an enigma to the full-timers--who apparently presume that all adjuncts are jealous of them--but there's always a certain resentment in the back of my mind that I had to devote so much mental energy to something as chickenshit as making a living without being stomped out by some quirk of the system beyond my control. As it was, I lost my healthcare for a few months--during that period when you were fined for not having any--through the sheer incompetence of some classified employee in HR. She actually giggled over the phone when I tried to discuss it with her. I'd have complained, but why bother? Nothing would happen to her, and I'd be regarded as just another grievance-mongering aaaaadjunct troublemaker.

This brings me to yet another sore spot in my One-Man War against societal insanity: Societies in general, and this one in a grotesquely exaggerated manner, don't reward those who follow the rules. This wouldn't really be a problem if everyone followed the rules, but it's precisely the scofflaws, incompetents, shrug-your-shoulders-and-fart ignoramuses, and all around irresponsible assholes that the system actually does reward. Go to work, pay your taxes and bills, and know the authorities will be on you like a jackal if you don't cross a t or dot an i. Thumb your nose at the system, tell the authorities to shut up and give you your free stuff,  or--if you lack the balls to do that--simply claim you are a victim, and a whole world of government "programs," private charities, special services, and fight-for-your-rights advocactes are there for the picking.

You can clog up the hospital emergency room and stiff the bill. You can claim that you couldn't understand the instructions for whatever bureaucratic procedure you failed to comply with. You can screw up on the job until the cows come home. You can enter the country illegally and get free legal services and other forms of human rights infused bullshit that no one would ever consider extending to a native-born citizen. Meanwhile, every knee-jerk liberal within shouting distance will holler about your "rights." You can defy teachers and police, unlawfully assemble... pretty much do whatever you want, then claim--successfully--that you were somehow treated unfairly when proper authority does its job.

The result is that we basically live in a society full of chickenshits. Everyone's scared to death of being sued, shamed, fired, or physically assaulted if they dare to apply common sense to a situation. Government and private business alike seem to specialize in warning people about the obvious, using ridiculous amounts of hem-and-haw verbiage in a country where half the people can't really even understand English very well. We're told that coffee cups are hot, that people with heart conditions shouldn't ride on roller coasters, that national parks might have wildlife. If the admonitions are oral, they are given inevitably over a poor quality PA system with every kind of background noise going on, usually by a bored functionary mumbling at a thousand words per minute. The point isn't really to communicate, but to ass-cover. The national motto ought to be "You Can't Say We Didn't Tell You."

Then, at the end of the day, this nation of scared-shitless people comes home to relax, and what do you think they favor as TV fare? Programs about cops and lawyers! Yep, turn on a TV and channel surf randomly. At least half the programs will feature police stations and courtrooms. Meanwhile, the rest of the world marvels at this nation's truly stupefying levels of violent crime and idiotic litigation. Me, I just have an antenna and don't watch that much TV anyway. Who needs to pay for 100+ channels of garbage when I can get half a dozen free? When it all got to be too much, I used to take late evening walks around the neighborhood, but too many people I didn't know would take to heart that When in Doubt Call the Cops mentality that is really just a reflection of the national paranoia. I got tired of explaining that I lived in the neighborhood and was just walking down the street at an admittedly odd time of day. When it happens to me, it's just life in the good old USA. When it happens to Someone Who Doesn't Look Like Me, I believe they call it profiling.

Bullshit is the glue that holds societies together, and when a society's sense of self comes to completely lack any semblance of verisimilitude--and no one is afraid to point it out anymore--it implodes with surprising quickness and lack of fanfare. The Soviet Union was a recent example. The Japanese have the concept of "honne" vs. "tatemae," meaning the unadorned truth vs. the company line, the just-tangential-enough-to-the-truth bullshit that everyone knows is bullshit but no one dares to point out as such. It was one of various aspects of that society that annoyed me endlessly when I lived there, yet it seems to have taken root in politically correct America... and it's all the more annoying because Americans love to go on about how straight-talking they are. Of course, straight talking isn't always a good idea when everybody is going around with a gun and/or a lawyer on retainer, and tends to take offense at everything they see and hear. It's a toxic mix, and the situation is desperate; we are running out of bullshit!