Holiday values

The allure of tyrants, the ethics of hunting, and the madness of the season, this week in TT.


Salon Staff
December 10, 2004 10:47PM (UTC)

Books

Even More Mangled Language

David Lettvin - 10:59 am Pacific Time - Dec 7, 2004 - #5508 of 5565

I don't want to seem Scroogean, I like the idea of celebrating a holiday of life and light in the dead, dark of winter. The traditions are wonderful, and I'm enough of a language and mythology buff to take great delight in the way the holiday has borrowed so heavily from non-Christian celebration.

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But look ...

We spend an entire month being exhorted, cajoled, tempted, flattered, tricked, hassled and abused on all sides. We drown in the pressure of trying to balance "quid" and "quo." For most of us, our lives are measured in currency. Each minute has a value. Like the sand in an hourglass, the days of our lives flow as coins through our weakening fingers until we have not only spent our past but mortgaged our future.

And the soundtrack, carols interspersed with sentimental schlock that would even make a commercial C&W DJ gag. Is it "the hap ... happiest time of the year"? Every time I walk into a mall or even a food market I am assaulted by audio that reminds me that people who aren't happy during this season are somehow flawed.

I can't help but think of the psychological warfare tactic that we use in the Middle East. We blast rock music at them 24/7 knowing that the unremitting noise will weaken them. But here at home we use the same tactic of unremmitting noise to create remitting customers. What do we care if a few depressed or lonely people fall by the way, inundated by reminders of how they have failed. We're not surprised that the "hap ... happiest" is also the "su ... suicide" time of the year.

Hey! it's social Darwinism. Let's get all those misfits out of the gene pool. The rest of us will go out and buy our piece of yuletide euphoria, pay to find our Christmas bliss. And if we run out of money ... and credit ... well we'll just paste on a smile, cut back on medical services for our parents and after-school activities for our kids. Then we'll go back out and buy some more.

Don't expect presents from me this year!

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But, if you care to visit ... you can put your feet up by the fire, have a glass of eggnog or a snifter of brandy and we can tell stories of the light. You'll find no dead tree covered with tiny lightbulbs, but candles on the table and the scent of hot beeswax, no carols playing but perhaps Haydn's "Lord Nelson Mass."

OK, my rant is over. Please resume your previous activities.

Movies

NEW IN THEATERS: See it, or Skip it

Robert Rubin - 01:34 am Pacific Time - Dec 3, 2004 - #5822 of 5859

Any large-scale tyrant and mass murderer I can recall, regardless of ideology, has been the object of worldwide adulation, at least among certain sorts of people. It's forgotten today how popular Hitler was in the '30s. Most of France embraced Nazism and became eager members of the Reich. Stalin and Mao both became the object of cults, with loyalists to this day. The same for smaller killers like Mussolini, Castro, Arafat, etc. Even rulers who were simply authoritarian in character -- De Gaulle, Adenauer -- were adored. Dictators too numerous to list received the loyalty of their people and the respect of the "international community."

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Little has changed today -- even Saddam Hussein cut a large figure. Meanwhile, leaders who reach office through purely democratic means are everywhere held in a vague sort of contempt, at the very least. Can anyone name the leader of an uncompromised democracy today who has escaped widespread criticism?

So why is this? Too many people worship power. What is god, if not omnipotent? For many, tyrants are de facto gods, wielding the same sort of comprehensive, unabridged, and unaccountable power traditionally ascribed to deities. As religion wanes, power worship waxes.

People admire the tyrant's seeming ability to act without consultation or compunction. We imagine the tyrant to be without the fears and personal limitations that vex us. For him, we like to think, to want something is to have it. So there's an element of infantile wish-fulfillment and solipsism -- the world truly seems to be as the tyrant imagines it, so if we support the tyrant, our wishes too are fulfilled.

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Finally, there is the parental illusion -- the tyrant is said to be a generous and loving father who will protect us and provide for our needs. So there you have it: The tyrant lets us live as little children, substituting submission for responsibility, and wishes for actualities. Democracy is hard work, so why bother, when daddy's going to take us to the zoo and buy us ice cream?

Social Issues

Animal Rights - A Progressive Value

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Joeman - 03:48 pm Pacific Time - Dec 3, 2004 - #17 of 93

A few years back, I was desperately torn between supporting my Makah relatives (of Neah Bay) in pursuing their ancestral whale hunts AND supporting the whale people who were slaughtered to near extinction in the past couple of centuries.

Yeah, I realize how un-p.c. such a stance was, but I was trying to unravel the complexities of being a "native" person with a terribly unjust history living in a predominant culture that does not seem to honor anything except money and psychopathically cruel men. I ended up writing nasty letters to Greenpeace for being arrogant white assholes who could not reckon with their own history -- after all, it wasn't the Makah who decimated the gray whale population.

But then one day, standing on the peninsular isthmus of Point Reyes, Calif., I looked down at the windswept bay below me, and I saw families of gray whales swimming free and playfully. It just struck me how pitiful all humans are, and I was reminded of all the songs I've heard that ask the universe to take pity on humans, because without the "blessing" from the animals who we prey on, we're really helpless, naked, big-headed weaklings.

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I just wept and wept, and since then, I've supported the whales' cause -- not because the Old Ways are of ignorance and savagery (compared to the European way? I don't think so) but because we are all one humanity now (whether whale hunter or greedy land developer), and we don't want to cause suffering anymore for any of our relatives.

Posts of the week is an ongoing feature of Table Talk, Salon's vibrant community forum. Older posts of the week may be found here in TT. Want to join the discussion? Sign up here.


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