14 December 2016: Plenty of material for four years

Paranoia strikes deep / Into your life it will creep / It starts when you’re always afraid / You step out of line, the man come and take you away. – “For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield


Liberals do that a lot. Conservatives do too, I think. But a different type of thinking. Liberals are pragmatic. They think up ways to empower the disenfranchised, marginalized, and powerless in the face of a rigged economic system. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. “Do something,” he said. “If that doesn’t work, try something else.” It worked. Conservatives call it Big Government. He called them “economic royalists.”

I’m not sure what all conservatives think about not being one, but they are very literal. I was one once—sorta. I thought I was thinking, but finally realized I was emoting. I would, for example, get all a twitter—not the Donald Trump kind of Twitter—when I saw the flag and heard the Star-Spangled Banner belted out on pitch with gusto. I still do, but it’s not the goose-bumpy type like before. I think it’s because I’ve come to appreciate the flag and anthem as symbols and understand it’s what behind the symbol that’s ultimately important. Liberals and conservatives have very different ideas about our flag and anthem.

There’s a troubling scene in the movie Becket, the story of King Henry II and the assassination of his erstwhile friend Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The movie is based on T.S. Eliot’s play “Murder in the Cathedral.”

Henry is flummoxed. Though he managed to get Thomas appointed archbishop, Thomas doesn’t do obeisance. He’s a true man of principle. Thomas tells Henry his task is now to defend an honor higher than his: God’s. That drives Henry to apoplexy, and because he can’t tweet given he’s 1,000 years behind his time, he pouts over mead with his barons. Tapping one baron’s head and commenting about it being empty, Henry asks him if ever thinks. “No, my lord,” the baron replies, “a gentleman never thinks.”

Henry then pathetically pleads, “Is there no one who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

Thomas was a goner.

Besides thinking a lot, liberals like being exhilarated, which mainly happens with some great social advancement, like Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, the Civil Rights Act same-sex marriage. Conservatives get exhilarated when those things go away unless, of course, they have a vested interest in keeping them. Then Big Government isn’t so bad.

I ended last week’s column describing my conundrum about what to do now that it’s been suggested I ride off into the sunset. With no hat, horse, or saddle and only a Mustang with temperature-regulated leather seats to do the deed, I’ve figured riding off into a sunset isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For one, I’d have to croon with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans “Happy Trails,” which is, quite frankly, an awfully cheesy, nails-on-the-chalkboard ditty. And two, while it can be a beast driving into a sunset in a Mustang, at least I can pull the visor down and listen to great classic rock like “Eve of Destruction” and “For What It’s Worth.” Or, perhaps, a cheesy rock tune like Paul Simon’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song.”

To see how their thought processes worked, I would ask my students to decide which pest they found more irritating: the fly or mosquito. There’s no right answer, but it was revealing to see how seriously they took the issue. Many times, quite seriously.

In southwest Native American spiritual traditions, the fly plays a meaningful role. Rather than a pesky irritant, Joseph Campbell compares it to a conscious, the Great Spirit nagging one to do the right thing.

I like that. The fly no longer a physical but, rather, an ethical and moral pest. I’m imagining a Super Fly, impervious to swatters, Raid, freezing temperatures, and amphibian tongue flicks. It could be one of my archetypes. Then I’d be buzzing about what’s right, wrong, outrageous, and absurd and, when necessary, biting to get a transgressor’s attention.

Now that seems a great job. There’s certainly enough material to keep me busy for, say, another four years.

Feelin’ groovy.

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