Christian author Os Guinness talking about civility today. A recorded interview. He believes that the culture wars of recent years have polarized us to the point that civil public discourse is virtually impossible. Folks are dug in, locked and loaded. Everybody’s shouting. Nobody’s listening.
Back in the 70s and 80s when “Nature Boy” Rick Flair was all the rage, there was among my circle of friends a man who loved professional wrestling. He was no dummy, this man, a theater person and poker buddy. He’d lived in England for a while and could affect as convincing a British accent as any I’d heard. (That kind of thing always commands a certain amount of respect from me.) Yet he talked about the wrestling matches that he watched on television and attended at the local civic auditorium as though they were real. He even read the magazines.
I thought at the time, and still think to this day, that he was pretending. He was, as I saw it, posing as a professional wrestling fan because it amused him to do so. He defended his avocation civilly, however, never angrily. When challenged, which we sometimes did just to hear him hold forth, he spoke with enthusiasm, as any fan might. All in good fun.
The usefulness, even necessity, of such outlets is beyond question, in my opinion. We’re predators with pent up predatory instincts, after all. We need ways to blow off steam without blowing up infrastructure. Surrogate conflicts. The trick is to avoid becoming the characters we play in these conflicts. To avoid overserving ourselves.
But we overserve ourselves all the time don’t we? And the wounds are self-inflicted, aren’t they? Is Glenn Beck any more to blame for the riots he’s incited than Rick Flair was for causing one wrestling fan to whack another over the head with a chair?
I’m only partly pursuaded by the argument that avaricious money changers and their irresponsible marketing henchmen are to blame for what ails us. Each of us is tasked, every day of our lives, with knowing when to cross the street, how far out on a limb to crawl before it’s likely to break.
A compounding factor may be paternalistic government, invading every corner of our lives and so making us less self-reliant, more compliant, but still. Is the Matrix really so powerful? Maybe it is.
My view from water’s edge is that the tide is too strong for me. Crazy strong at the moment. Which is why I stay out of the water. It’s why most of the bitterest disagreements among social, religious and political factions elude me. The bargain I’ve tried to strike with the world is that if I pick up after myself I should be allowed to go about my business unrewarded and unpunished by those who believe that professional wrestling matches aren’t purely for show.