Saturday, December 11, 2010

I Love You, You Love Me...

This morning I was channel surfing and when I say that I stumbled on some mindless television, I mean that quiet literally. There he was; and here I had just assumed he died some years ago. It was Barney, dancing with his friends and singing about books, hoping to brainwash the youngest generation into reading: I love stories all day long/in books, in pictures and even song... I mean I agree with the message completely; I've made a living telling stories as a preacher. Even so, it almost made me want to burn some books.

Now I realize that paragraph is grossly unfair. I also realize that I had some PTSD that emerged when I stumbled across that purple monster this morning. When my children were little I tried to steer them to Sesame Street: clever, interesting, wonder-filled and geared not only to children but to their captive parents as well. Sesame Street is Bruce Springsteen singing "Born to Add;" Johnny Cash singing "Nasty Dan" with Oscar the Grouch; and a whole array of stars singing "Put Down the Duckie."

But back to Barnie. My kids, especially Graham, went through a stage where they just loved that purple freak. "Clean up, clean up, everybody do your part..." Good message, for sure; but designed to drive you insane and make you want to start throwing things across the room...

I really had thought Barney was dead. He was dead to me, anyway. I don't know if I came across an old re-run or if he's still at it day after day. I don't know because my kids are now twenty and sixteen and I have not had to watch Barney for years. He is not on my radar anymore. He's out of my life...and yet, there he was this morning: I saw him, as purple as ever.

It got me to thinking about the circles we move in, the information we receive: what we literally see and don't see. Most of us live in echo chambers, some of our own choosing but much of it related to where we live and how much education we got and whether or not we have children and what we do for work. We don't think about it most of the time, but the information we take in forms and shapes us in ways we are rarely conscious of. We are like children watching Barney, receiving subtle and not so subtle messages that we just assume are "true." The philosophers speak of epistemology and that is what I am really ruminating about here. How do we know what we know? What do we see, and not see, that is happening all around us? Literally we inhabit different worlds.

When liberals and conservatives start talking about tax cuts for the wealthy, and whether or not it was a good idea for Obama to compromise with the GOP (or whether he should have drawn a line in the sand and gone down fighting) we would do well, I think, to realize that most of us (and most of our politicians) are pretty inept when it comes to macroeconomics. Our "decisions" are based on the messages we take in--and here is my Barney point: most of them as insipid and mind-numbing as a Barney song. Liberal Democrats say this is really, really bad; the country will go to hell if people making over a quarter of a million dollars get any more breaks. The secret message is not only that they are doing very well and need to pay their fair share, but that the rich really are (most of them anyway) like Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life." More or less conservative Republicans, not likely to ever give Obama credit, can now gloat for having outflanked that evil socialist president of ours once again, but not until they have reminded us that really small businesses run by hard-working "real" Americans like Joe the Plumber make $250,000 a year and if they don't get their tax-cuts they'll start firing the help and all the jobs will go China...

Personally, it seems to me that if these tax cuts didn't work for ten years then it is unlikely they are suddenly now going to save us. On the other hand, if the economy is trying to rebound now and "increasing" taxes slows down that growth: doesn't that affect everyone adversely - including and especially the poor? I suppose I am a liberal in many ways: theologically and on most social issues. But on economic issues I'm far more "moderate" and even "agnostic" in that I often don't know the right answer. I'm curious.

But of course our politicians and the current political climate doesn't really allow for or encourage curiosity or wonder or debate or conversation or ambiguity. We aren't allowed to say "I don't know." We don't allow our leaders to ever say that; we'd perceive it as a sign of weakness. We like our politicians to "draw lines in the sand" and to posture and to be certain; certain even when they are wrong. We have little tolerance as a nation for ambiguity, subtlety, questions, compromise, curiosity.

I blame it all on that purple freak. We are, I think, increasingly more Barney than Sesame Street as a nation. And that's not a good thing in my book.

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