Paradigm Lost (July 6, 2005)

Here is my all-time favorite cartoon: a man is hanging from his pickax, which is hooked, barely, over the top edge of an impossible precipice. A second man hangs on to his ankle. There is no visible bottom, the fall, obviously fatal. The man holding on with the pickax is saying to the man hanging on his ankle, “Let go my foot or I'll hit you with this pick.”

I can't even begin to say how sick I am of anything having to do with Iraq, “the troops,” “terrorists,” patriotism; sick of yellow ribbon decals on cars and flags on antennas. I am sick to death of hearing liberals and “progressives” say they “support the troops but oppose the war.” For the record I do not “support the troops” — come get me, Ann Coulter and Stephanie Miller! 

As Andy Rooney pointed out, a “troop” is a group of soldiers, but that's not the issue. How can a comfortable person on the US mainland “support” a bunch of soldiers halfway around the world? Wave a flag? Swear undying devotion to George Bush? 

How can anyone oppose a war yet “support” those who fight it? A genuine “liberal” or anti-war person would work to discourage young people from joining the military in the first place. Anyone who volunteers for the military is perfectly aware of what they're in for. 

“The War on Terror.” Remember the War on Drugs, and the War on Poverty?

As for outrage over right-wing lies and hypocrisy, that's all fine and good. Air America shouts it all day every day, but it's all kind of timid, with support-the-troops-but-oppose-the-war attitude, and with an assumption that if we could just elect a Democrat, everything would be fine. Any liberal or progressive with that type of thinking is no threat to the neocons, and the right-wingers know it all too well. The line is at “support the troops.” Veterans of Vietnam will hate me for saying this, even though they know all about being sent into hell for no good reason. As long as Democrats stay inside that fence, screaming that they too are patriots, they are accepting the neocon terms of the game — and losing.

Patriotism and unquestioning love of the military are two of the cultural assumptions, big ones, pounded into our heads from the time we are small children. Another, smaller but not altogether unrelated one making the news again lately is the consumption of beef.

Remember e coli? I was nearby in the state of Washington when that little girl died from a Jack-in-the-Box hamburger, and everyone started wringing their hands, worrying about “how to keep our hamburger safe.” As if there were no choice, as if eating hamburger were a cultural imperative that could not be denied even if it meant death. Now it’s mad cow disease and the wringing of hands has started anew.

I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t wear Birkenstocks or drive a Volvo, and I don’t think I will lose my heterosexual male identity if I don’t eat a cheeseburger. But there always looms the manly macho meat vibe, neanderthals chewing on bones around the fire — barbecues, etc. Many men will sit at home happily eating rice and vegetables but getting together with the guys means ceremoniously roasting a freshly killed beast — even if it's only hot dogs on a propane grill.

In Texas once in the early 90's, it was implied to me that even though I didn’t care to eat meat at the time, I bloody well better eat the beef or risk being beaten up. This is not an exaggeration. My first wife's then-husband was an absurdly proud and blustery redneck with a mean streak, and he was serving big slabs of beef. To refuse the meat would have been an insult to him and everything he stood for. My daughter pulled me aside and said, “Just eat the goddamn meat and shut up.” Subsequent observations over the years have shown me that this man's attitude was not unique.

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