Note: having typed all this out, it’s pretty rambling and goes off in tangents at random times. Some people copy by drinking or smoking or going to a trained medical professional. I cope by writing, so there it is.
There was a time, years and years ago, when I actually believed in the inherent good of people, the state, and God; the idea that what came before, and what had been built on the dreams and blood of my forebears was good and right. I once had a dream, and now that dream has gone from me.
When I was a child, I attended both a public elementary school and the Hebrew school at my local Chabad synagogue. There were a few common threads between the two: both reinforced an Ameri-centric worldview, the idea that their ideals are, by nature, better than those of anyone else, and a belief in higher powers.
At both schools, this view tended to be reinforced in song. Whether the song was about the supremacy of America or in the desire of the coming of the Messiah, both sought to weedle true belief out of melody and repetition. And I’ll admit I can even vaguely remember those tunes even twenty years later. The technique and message aren’t lost on me, nor are the more… sinister aspects of that kind of education.
As you may be able to guess if you’ve kept with me so far, it didn’t stick.
So why am I talking about believing things as a child? I’m not suddenly having a crisis of faith; no, that was broken years ago when I actually thought for the first time. Just that: my brain started turning the ideas over and over, and I found them wanting. But 2020 has driven me into a slump and I wanted to get something down on paper (or screen) about it. Even if it amounts to nothing, I wanted to say something. Some of us need other ways to cope besides therapists or pills or smoking to make our problems go away. Nothing will make this year go away unless you can somehow cure systemic racism, economic inequality, white nationalism, and the idea of hatred itself. But we cope as best we can in a world where mental health is constantly slipping into the red.
When I was a kid, I believed in God because my parents (mom, mostly) did, and they reinforced that as a positive thing. I also believed, as a given, that the President and the police were forces of good in a world I only had just begun to grasp in some small part. Let’s break those down.
The burden of proof is, as always, on the party making a claim. The claim “God is real,” is question begging at best. In the theology I was taught as a child, this JuedoChristian God, as opposed to the precursors who were as petulant as unruly children and as empowered as legends, was all-seeing, all-powerful, and kind on a scale humans can’t understand. But, the young rationalist in me asked, then how do you reconcile stories like the genocide at Cannan or the deaths of children by easily eradicated sickness even into the modern day with that kind of being? If the main claims about this God are true, it’s kindness, power, and sight would require it to act in such a way that those horrors cease to be. But as those things happened, and continue to happen now, this being can’t be real.
Now, that’s just the kind of being that is all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-kind. If you want to prove or disprove another very specific example of creature, go for it; but I’m through on that tangent.
The President is an elected figure that is meant to represent the collective interests of all Americans. That’s the line they give you in school as a kid to make the concept easy to understand. In reality, American Presidents are often elected by very thin majorities, the votes of small towns’ worth of people determining who wins that year. They are, often, career politicians, or lawyers, and as such, spent their whole adult lives stepping on opponents and trying to be right at every opportunity through either oratory or underhanded tactics seen best in crime dramas or student government elections with very little oversight. In some cases, the President is a popular entertainment star; this generally doesn’t go well, as seen with Presidents Reagan and Trump; they were untrained for higher office, spent their time blaming others for their problems, and left office after doing damage that will follow us through the decades. Wait. I might be projecting a probable future on one of them.
And after that photo op at the church across Lafayette Square in DC… I can’t even fathom the kind of foolhardy mental space someone has to be in to give a speech about taking military action against civilians that sounds like the Kremlin wrote it, then to sic the military, not the DC police, on those civilians peacefully protesting, for the purpose of walking a block to a church and taking a photo frighteningly reminiscent of an actual photograph of Hitler.
What country am I living in? Stalin’s Russia? Hitler’s Germany? Because it doesn’t feel like America anymore. I felt safe in this country when President Obama was running things. Hell, I even felt pretty safe under GWB’s ham-fisted statecraft. But Trump? No. I no longer feel safe. I feel like owning a gun is not only reasonable, but required in Trump’s America, if only to reinforce the actual meaning and intent of the second amendment, and defend the state from outside threats that the state is incapable of defending itself from. I don’t want to live in that world. A world of fear and distrust and violence. A world where the American president talks about sexual assault like it’s his favored pastime, and where he actually courts enemies as friends while shooting our allies in the back. It was funny when “President Trump” was a joke real adults told each other while trying to decide if Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton were going to win the election. Now, it’s a nightmare of bad statecraft, intimidation, midnight envelopes, and secret meetings with dictators.
I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in the office of the President. And I’m right not to, as both are failures in their most basic duties. The idea of god was meant to help people sleep at night when humans didn’t understand why thunder was loud, and the idea of a president as a world leader began after World War Two and died when a television star with a string of hateful, damaging diatribes against anyone not white had Christian was elected. We can’t trust those who have chosen to “protect and serve” for fear of being killed without warning, everyone on the street is a potential informant who will call “the authorities” if they see something that mildly annoys them, and the American president said injecting bleach is a great way to get rid of a pandemic. You first, 45.
The supreme irony, and the last remaining thread of connection between the two (those two things I was walking about like an hour ago) is that both being American and being Jewish lend themselves to being argumentative. If you’re male, that is, but that’s a whole different point to make. Right of free speech, assuming it hasn’t been revoked before I published this, says that I have the given right to say anything I want, barring personal threats to the person of another. Like, I could say “You’re wrong, and also an asshole, and please fuck right off you sack of spineless elected leadership,” but not “I’m going to fucking kill you and your entire illegitiamte cabinet of cronies,” under such constitutional law. As far as ancient Jewish writing goes, my research into such has led me to the idea that if you study theology, specifically Jewish holy texts, but the idea probably applied across all such texts, you’re meant to study and come up with your own arguments, not just believe what you heard. It is of note that both sides of that comparison, through the groups I’ve known, have tried their best to push down free thought. Well played. Well played. Here’s your tool kit, use it only as I’ve said you can.
I’ve found you wanting, both America and Judaism. That’s not to say those are the only two groups that need to be workshopped before bringing them back next week for review, but I digress. That said, society seems to consider me locked in by accident of birth. You get born to a given land-mass and they snip a little off the top when you’re a newborn and suddenly you have a whole identity 20 years before you’re even close to qualified to say what your identity is.
Sometimes I find myself pleased that I’m not John, being forced to embrace the Brave New World that, itself, embraced security and a rigid caste system for safety. Pleased that I’m not Winston, having to hide my very thoughts from police that will haul you off at just a hint of disaffection. Pleased that I’m not Montag, coming to terms with a new thirst for learning and information that my society shuns as not only unacceptable, but immoral.
But at the same time, I’m all those things. A disaffected overthinker in a world that is rapidly deciding that my way of seeing what’s around me is not only wrong, but should be destroyed. And it frightens me.
This is not the world I thought I’d have, but it’s the one I got. Maybe it’s time to sit back and watch it burn in its own poisons for a while. or should I?