Current affairs

What’s So Funny Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?

As I walk through

This wicked world

Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity

I ask myself

Is all hope lost? 

Is there only pain, and hatred, and misery? 

Some of you might recognize those lyrics from Elvis Costello’s “What’s So Funny Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” The song was written in the 1970s.  I think the lyrics fit our current situation too.  What exactly is happening now and what does it mean?  Are we at a tipping point in our history? Or is this just another moment in time, like so many before?

I see Donald Trump closing in on the Republican nomination for President and I think about how he’s not the issue per se, he’s a reflection of what’s happening in our society.  He’s not Hitler or Mussolini — try as he might — he’s the Joker (the Christopher Nolan version).  He knows that if he creates fear and anarchy, and pits the people — that would be us — against each other, he wins.  He’s laughing all the way to the White House.

The Donald at a rally in NYC.

The Donald at a rally in NYC.

So what’s the answer: are things really different or is this just another “everything is going to be alright” moment?

A few years ago, I asked my parents a question during one of their visits to California.  My parents have seen a lot in their lives — born during WWII, marched for Civil Rights, in their 20s during Vietnam etc. etc. My dad in particular pays close attention to the economy. The question I asked, while we drove in the car to the San Francisco Zoo with my son Alex, was “Is it really different now and why?”

My dad’s answer stuck with me.  It was something to the effect that “it is different now because the great companies of our time now need a lot less people to be successful.”  He’s probably right.  Facebook doesn’t manufacture anything. Neither does Google for the most part.  Apple does, but not in the United States.  Walmart and McDonald’s are two of the biggest employers in the United States, but they’re paying minimum wage at best.

This isn’t a black and white issue and I’m not an expert, but today when I ordered Amy her Starbucks, I did so from my iPhone.  I walked into the store, bypassed the line, picked up my drink and walked out.  And I thought…why does Starbucks have so many employees?  I think that every time I watch a waiter try to remember my order without writing it down, wishing I could just use an iPad at my table and send my order directly to the kitchen in the back.   People point to a low unemployment rate and the stock market being up whatever percent since whatever year. But I follow the underemployed numbers or the “not searching for a job” numbers, and read articles like this one from the New York Times that scare me — the nation is clearly dividing into the have’s and have not’s.  But hasn’t it always been that way?

It’s more than the economy though, and that’s where I think a “tipping point” may come into play.

Global warming, political gridlock, racism, guns, terrorism, xenophobia — on top of a world that’s increasingly becoming less social and more isolated as people turn to their devices instead of each other, and perhaps, just maybe, this is the time when “it’s all going to be ok” doesn’t apply.

In short, fear.  People are afraid…. of outsiders, of not being able to support their families, and being killed randomly while they go the mall.  Yoda couldn’t see how Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious was manipulating the Republic to his benefit, but he did know that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.  Read this Wall Street Journal article and you’ll understand the role that anger (especially in white males) may play in choosing our next President.  Donald Trump knows this, and he knows that when people are fearful they look toward authoritative people to answer their prayers. He’s preying on them; he’s the only choice they think they have. And they have something that’s incredibly powerful —a vote.

And as I walked on

Through troubled times

My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes

So where are the strong?

And who are the trusted? 

And where is the harmony?

Sweet harmony. 

A little while ago, I was at a trampoline place, Rockin Jump, with Alex.  There was a mother there with her daughter who was maybe 10 years old.  She was a fairly big girl. She was also in a wheelchair and seemed paralyzed at least from the waist down.   I watched as this mother sat with her daughter on the trampoline, while her other daughter jumped around, and gave her the experience of “jumping” up and down.  When they were going to get up, I saw the mom readying to dead lift what was easily an 80-pound girl, who couldn’t help lift herself, off the floor.  I winced as I thought about how many times she has done this — lifting her sweet daughter into her wheelchair. I left Alex and walked over and asked her if she wanted me to help lift her daughter.  She said “no thanks,” so respecting her wishes I moved aside and steadied the wheelchair while the mom heroically lifted her daughter.  With the girl in her chair, she looked me in the eyes and said “thank you so much, no one ever offers.” NO ONE.  Is all hope indeed lost?

Then I think about the people in Flint.  Not the people suffering, not the so-called leaders who did nothing, but the government employees who knowingly drank bottled water in their offices and likely told their friends and family to do the same. For at least a year!  Blind obedience to authority is a very dangerous thing. So I shouldn’t really be surprised that no one helps the mother with the disabled child.

Where do we go from here?  Wish I knew. What’s going to happen? I have no idea. I do know that those macro trends I listed above aren’t going anywhere.

But there’s always hope. In the midst of some candidates discussing the size of their hands, one candidate (and I’m not at all telling you who to vote for) in a speech had the audacity to tell everyone that we need more “love and kindness” in the world.

But when I want to feel hopeful, I look down, not up. To my boys.

There’s that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where as Han Solo is about to be frozen in carbonite by Darth Vader, Princess Leia turns to Han and says “I love you.” He responds (an ad lib by the way) and says, “I know.”

Alex was playing with his Star Wars figures recreating the scene. In his scene Luke says “I love you”…to Han. I asked him why he had Luke say that to Han and Alex quickly responded, “because they’re friends.”

So what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Absolutely nothing.

It’s just a much harder path.


Photo courtesy of Andrew Dallos via Flickr

1 reply »

  1. Hi Neil, Finally got to sit down and read the whole post. It’s terrific. It made me very proud, that despite all the mistakes I made in my childrearing endeavors, I ended up raising 60’s children to face a 90’s world. Clarification? In the 60’s people actually cared about other people. They had social consciences. We were our brothers’ keepers. That got lost in the 90’s. Perhaps because the government sent a subliminal message during the Viet Nam War that life was cheap and that message filtered down to the next generation. Perhaps because we had a President who thought it was all right that people were dying from AIDS because the people were gay, druggies, or engaged in promiscuous sex so their lives weren’t as valuable as other people. Perhaps because of an economy that made it necessary for both a mother and father to work the fabric of the family corroded and material things became more important than “being there.”

    I am hoping that the Donald Trump debacle will be a wake-up call that violence begets violence, that hatred solves nothing, that fearing people who look different or worship a different G-d just means that your world is too narrow and it is time to visit a city like New York where everyone looks different and shares the same crowded subway car. When economic times are bad, a demagogue comes along and chooses whom to throw under the bus. Hitler did this to the Jews, the gypsies, and anyone else he perceived as sub-human. Trump is following suit. He is appealing to the collective id of the disenfranchised.

    We just have to keep plugging away. It is never wrong to do the right thing. It is never uncool to be kind. We seem to have lost a generation; but retro is in style and maybe the 60’s mentality will be stylish once again. When Pandora opened the box she unleashed all the evils onto the world but she managed to close it in time so that Hope remained. Let’s keep hoping.

    Sent from my iPad


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