I have expanded the mission of my Year of Consuming Consciously, which begins Jan. 1. Not only will I attempt to be more thoughtful about how I spend my money, I will also be attentive to what I consume with my mind. I've been noticing that a lot of what passes as media and entertainment these days causes me psychic pain. Maybe the change is in me; I just notice it more. Maybe the change is in the world. But when did we as a society get so mean?
Oh, I know meanness has been around since the world was born. Dark is the natural companion to light. In a world history that includes the crucifixion of Jesus, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the genocide of Native Americans, the Salem witch trials, the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the enslavement of generations of Africans and black Americans, and other atrocities...well, let's just say my generation didn't invent coldness, selfishness, hatred, spite and evil. But nowadays, we seem to take special joy in negativity.
The Internet is one of the places to watch modern meanness blossom. I subscribe to Spoken Life's videos on You Tube. She always has something compelling to say. In the post below, where she laments the loss of a fellow video blogger who was chased from the Web by meanness, she gets at what I've been feeling for a while:
This is bigger than nasty comments on video blogs. Think about it, we have an entire exploding gossip industry based on revealing other people's dirty laundry, mocking bad photos of their big bottoms, tittering at their sexuality, and questioning the dark motives behind the positive things they do. TMZ and Perez Hilton are popular because we take pleasure when bad things happen.
And it's not just about celebrity either. It is every issue that should be important to us. I blame Karl Rove and the Republican machine, in part, for creating an "us" vs. "them" mentality in this country, as it relates to social issues. Of course, no matter which side of the political fence you stand, "us" is always right and "them" is always wrong, not just wrong--evil, unpatriotic and the list of negatives go on. Have you listened to right or left talk radio recently? The vitriol! The name-calling! It's not about discussing issues and coming to a solution for our society; it is theater. And it is mean.
Everyday people seem more callous. In a conversation about poverty recently, a friend saw poor people as victims. They need only to pull themselves up by their boot straps, you see. His problem with funding poverty programs is that they help the lazy and irresponsible, as well as the few folks that deserve it. Who the hell cares if some lazy guy gets a hand out if a child living in poverty gets to eat tonight? Why are we so stingy...and mean?
I was listening to "Whatever with Alexis and Jennifer," a show on Sirius Satellite Radio's Martha Stewart Channel. It is usually a fun little confection. They talk about girl stuff: dating, recipes, celebrities and such, with a little bit of snark, which I like. Lately, though, my favorite drive time show has become increasingly misanthropic. A couple weeks ago, they played the sickening audio of the man in Texas who dialed 911 to report a burglary next door, then gleefully went out and shot the perpetrators in cold blood. If you have heard this audio (it is all over the Net), then I hope it made your blood run cold, as it did mine. The caller takes such pleasure in preparing to shoot someone, and possibly end a life. Alexis and Jennifer, and their listeners, were unmoved though. Criminals deserve to die. Maybe the man was worried about the quality of his neighborhood diminishing. We should be able to shoot more people. Why are we so blood-thirsty...and mean?
Sometimes the lack of kindness in the world makes me tired. And it makes me sad to feel this most important quality is diminishing not growing. There is a lot of nasty stuff that we all should be angry about and fighting against--racism, sexism, war, poverty, consumerism. But if we don't believe in the inherent goodness of people, then what is the point? We need to fight for each other not against each other. I think you have to be kind enough to see the humanity in even your enemies.
What is the answer? I don't know. For me it starts with the way I live my life and write on my blog. But maybe we are lost. In a nod to Spoken Life: "On the other hand..." as sorry as our situation is, as long as there remains some goodness, some light, some compassion and some love in the world...there is always hope.