November is for sautéed chicken & escargot.

Harry Drabik

As election time drags nearer, I’m occasionally importuned (a consequence of having once tossed my hat in the ring) on political matters. All sides seem to enjoy informing me I’m either wrong in my position or don’t take it far enough. That is the public for you: predictably diverse and in no way accountable, as they require others to be. Most times a harangue is more illustrative than informative, with some rising to classic humor an ardent speaker has no idea is riotously funny. (It doesn’t pay to tell them, as it spoils the show.) Here’s a recent example.

Last week a younger (thirtyish) person exercised their civic duty by telling me what a mess conservatives “like you” had made of things. I don’t think I’d ever before been called that. In youth the labels I ducked tended to run along the lines of commie-pinko-fag. A cultural truism tells us that individuals tend to become more conservative with age. (Ha—spring something new on a teenager and you’ll see resistance to change worthy of an octogenarian.) Was the speaker taking my gray head as a political fact, or had I changed markedly from liberalish views to Tea Partyisms? The speaker could have cleared that up but was otherwise occupied telling me how wrong I was and the mess “people like you” (a group in which the speaker chose to include Columbus) made. C. Columbus helped by me made an utter mess of a natural order where all should be prosperity and peace. In the speaker’s mind, it seems, I’d assisted in the destruction of paradise on Earth. (Ah, you see not all “religious” fanaticism and fervor is in the Middle East, nor is it restricted to zealots of a single cause. There is plenty of craziness to go around.)

I listened with good patience to this review of my person and the re-write of history that was tagged on. I was less concerned about personal accusations, however, than I was about revisionism in history. Back in the old days when people like me were learning to complete the destruction of the real-world-good-earth, it was often said that only totalitarians (notably communists and fascists) had the penchant for historical remakes of the type where Einstein becomes a greedy Jew, Lincoln a weak-willed flop, and Jesus a Muslim. There is far more nuttiness loose than we are able to use. It is a bumper crop, and did it not so frequently turn ardent and lethal in its convictions, it could be seen as an appealingly human trait. But something about damning others and cutting off heads lessens considerably both the charm and appeal of the more quirky side of humanity. Frankly, except for times we pretend to be peaceful and nice, humanity behaves like lion prides hell-bent on killing off competitors.

I think I understood some of the young speaker’s intent and the cause of their anger, misplaced though I felt it was. This person is unhappy that things are not working out as myths of peace and happiness would have it. Someone must be blamed. Blaming “others” is a tried and true form of relief. In the crosshairs as I was, I was given no opportunity to explain that I agree on the need for a social safety net. Would the angry speaker have cared that I consider “welfare” a form of subsidy for business? (Recipients of welfare checks don’t eat money, and when spent the money goes to purchases in the general community.) An angry speaker or one with a set agenda wants a direct answer to their concern. When you attempt reason and analysis with them, you usually get a pile of defensiveness and not much substance.

I believe in free enterprise and opportunity but also in social equity and a playing field with fair rules. In a culturally diverse nation with wide geographic divides and complex technological elements, there are simplistic slogans but no simple solutions. I wanted to tell the young person that people like me and Columbus are not to blame and that they might better look at their own actions for relief. But do you think a person who takes pride in their new flat-screen and jumps at every new techno gadget is going to want to accept responsibility for neglecting the roof over their heads? Getting dripped on, they hold someone else accountable. That’s nice when you can get away with it, but the lesson should be that if you truly want a fair social order and responsible opportunity, you need to pay attention to the basics. Social assistance is less necessary in a thriving culture, and a society that is doing well is precisely what’s needed to pay the bills. People having trouble understanding this should revisit the lessons of the Iron Curtain.

When we vote we’re often enticed one way or the other with promises of sautéed fowl or tasty garlic butter escargot. Depending on your tastes, one, the other, or both are more than appealing. I get hungry just writing the menu. But I know sure as anything how these vagaries blow. Our sautéed chickens will come home to roost. The models we follow will be practical and workable or they won’t. When a bad plan fails, we can blame others or we can re-examine the basics. I do understand the feelings behind the young person holding me (and Columbus) accountable, but theirs is an empty complaint and without merit because it seeks its answers in the wrong way.

We are in this together. The more Us-Them we are in view and tactic, the less likely we are to forge solutions suited for changing conditions. Absolutism is a dangerous habit, as is failure to consider the complicated workings of a mass culture so easily swayed by attractive promises and happy endings. Speaking of consummations devoutly to be desired, I`m reminded of a vaunted promise made not that long ago. So, I have to ask, how is that Air Bus Repair Facility working out in Duluth?