Thursday, November 04, 2004

Feelings of Futility
I have now been old enough to vote in two presidential elections. Both times, I voted in a swing state. Both times, each state went to the candidate I voted for. Both times, in the end, it didn't matter. And this makes me tired.

I am tired of feeling like, no matter what I do, my voice will not be heard. I am tired of feeling like, somehow, all of the things I have been taught to cherish and value above all else, the things I have been taught to believe are right, are not valued in the least by more than half the country I have been taught to love. I am tired of being shown that the prejudice and bigotry I have so optimistically thought were being left behind in this world are actually alive, well, and what people want more of in the future. I am tired of being told I live in a delusion, when all it has ever seemed to me was clear and obvious truth.

Yesterday, as I drove to work, a man on NPR told me that the biggest difference between the polls done on election day and those done leading up to that day was that suddenly, everyone polled seemed to be saying that their highest priority in the voting booth had been "moral values," rather than any of the other numerous real issues people had been listing before, such as foreign policy, the economy, or the environment. Where did this come from? How can this be? How can people actually truly think that their own perceptions of the "moral values" of a candidate constitute a vote-deciding factor?

Also yesterday, my uncle Ray forwarded me a Wall Street Journal article about how Japanese schools are trending back toward rote memorization and lectures in the classroom, as backlash against the late 1990s policy of yutori kyoiku, or "loose education," which had introduced more of an emphasis on analytical skills and critical thinking. The idea was that this new analytical focus would make students more competitive in the international market, and, in essence, more like American students. As standardized test scores have dropped, though, and the economy in Japan has failed to improve, the old system is coming back into play.

And little wonder! I mean, really, who values critical thinking anymore? Not people in the US! Oh, no. We want good standardized scores from everyone, teachers and students alike. We want no evidence that students can manipulate or retain data beyond the all-important test date. And we certainly don't want a populace of voters who might actually vote for someone who appeals to their intellect, their logic, and their critical thinking skills, rather than their baser instincts, fears, and phobias.

Today on Salon, the pundits and reporters began to weigh in with their post-election opinions. The tag line of one article was as follows: "This country isn't secular or rational. And if the Dems want to win, they can't be either." To both halves of that statement, I ask the same question: Why? Why is it that in a country whose most basic tenet is the separation of church and state, we can be neither secular nor rational? The very definition of government in this country is supposed to be secular. Perhaps it is just me, but I would also hope that people would very much prefer that their leaders be rational. Do these people not understand that the presidency is a job? Would these people hire someone to work for them based solely on their apparent (and note that it is only apparent) moral fiber, rather than on the competency the person has shown in the past? The President is not merely a figurehead of our nation; he and his administration have concrete impacts on the foundation of the country. The President is not a religious leader; he does not need to be a pure and shining paragon of saintly virtue, to lord his moral superiority over the other leaders of the world's nations. What he needs to be is a competent organizer, negotiator, and administrator. As far as I can see, personal morals rarely have anything to do with such abilities.

However, more than half the country seems to believe differently than I do. They want a president who does not make them question their fears, but instead encourages them to fear more. They want a president who confirms the belief that diversity of opinion and thought is bad. They want a president who will try to restrict the choices available to people, because people can't be trusted to make the right decisions about their own personal moral judgments. (Personally, I think if you’re so scared other people aren't going to make the same decisions you would that this fear makes you want to try to restrict freedoms to take away the possibilities of such choices, you might want to consider why those other people might make a different choice. Such as, maybe you're the one who's wrong.)

Another person wrote in to Salon today, a Kerry volunteer writing on the idea that the Democrats need to somehow reach out more to the "heartland" (read: midwest and south) of the US. She said:
To me, the heartland of this country is anywhere that people work their asses off to make their lives better for their families. They stay true to their better angels no matter how miserable things get or how much easier it would be to succumb to hate and irrational fear. They read, and listen, and look for the truth and stay informed about what's really going on, no matter how grim the news. They don't live in Fox News cocoons, they don't blast Rush Limbaugh from their pickups, and they don't vote blindly for the guys whose prejudices most neatly line up with their own. Their concerns are genuine, their values are consistent, their principles are rock-solid, and their hearts are true.
I am grateful to this person, and to my family, my friends, and the communities I grew up in, because they help me dispel the fear that somehow I have been living completely alone in my own delusion of rational thought and critical thinking.

When I lived in Japan, I defended the US to my friends from other countries. I was proud of the tenets I had been taught were the foundation of my country. I was proud of the seeming overall set of ideals that had grown from that foundation, the ideals by which I had been raised. But as I said yesterday, I used to be proud to be American. Now I think I am only proud of myself, my upbringing, my family, and my friends. I have no respect for my country anymore, at least not if it is determined to be a place where fear and prejudice reign, where the appearance of piety and morals outweigh competence and rational thinking, and where plurality of thought seems to be on the way out.

I, too, now live in fear. I fear for the next four years. I fear to watch the freedoms I value so highly systematically taken away. I fear to watch our nation turn the world against us. I fear to watch people in our country become more and more unhealthy while having less and less access to competent healthcare. I fear to watch our public schools deteriorate to the point that I would never put my children in them to be educated. I fear to watch the system of checks and balances that holds our government together turned into a mockery of itself. I fear for the changes that will be made as irrevocable as possible before anyone else can try to fix them, and moreover I fear that by the time someone does try to fix them, they will have become so entrenched as to seem commonplace. I fear for the future of my country, my life, and my world. I live in fear.

I cried myself to sleep last night. I do not know if I will again tonight or not. The nightmare is over. The new nightmare begins.

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