Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Low-bar Irony

I recall that after the 9/11 attacks some pundits opined that, following a time for healing and reflection, we would turn to irony in our political discourse. I’m still not sure how the prognosticators reached that conclusion but I am seeing evidence that their prediction is coming true.

Perhaps it has to do with lower expectations for humanity.

Now, 14 years after the 9/11 attacks, the irony can be found in low-bar political pronouncements and slogans.

Here are just three prominent examples:

The first comes from my fellow Quakers at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) They came up with the ubiquitous bumper sticker slogan “War is Not the Answer.”

Which leads us to ask: What is the question? It’s worth posing first, whatever it is.

There follows from it: if war isn’t the answer, pray tell what is?

Why the suspense? Is “the answer” Justice? Diplomacy? Foreign aid? Disarmament? Prayer? Or could it be all of the above and more?

Maybe the purpose of the bumper sticker is to get us thinking about options. In the meanwhile, out here on the road, staring at the bumper sticker. I’m worried about tailgaters, stop signs and drivers who are more focused on finding alternatives to war than they are in, well, following the rules of the road, THIS ROAD.

The second low bar slogan is also on a bumper sticker. You’ve no doubt seen it. It has all those religious symbols spelling out “COEXIST.”

Is that the best we can do? Coexist? People can live in extreme poverty and still eke out co-existence. They can be struck by debilitating disease and manage to survive.…to co-exist. Somehow the homeless manage on the streets…at least for a while.

As you consider those religious symbols, consider that terrible examples of strife aren’t between the religions at all. Just think of the vitriol, often murderous, within religions. Christians against Christians, Muslims against Muslims, Jews against Jews.

Moreover, much strife has nothing to do with religion at all. Often it is grounded in class or racial divisions. Much is about raw power. Alas, there are no neat symbols for any of these causes.

Which brings us to a laudable movement with a truly low-bar name: “Black Lives Matter.” Is that the best we can say about Black lives? Is that the best Blacks can say to Blacks about Blacks? Is that the best that Blacks can say to non-Blacks about Blacks?

Black lives do so much more than simply matter. Let us count the ways….

So is this just the most recent form of low-bar irony. Is “mattering” about Blacks, or anyone else (for that matter), the best we can do? Has it come to this?

Could it be that such gross understatement is needed in a world in peril?

You have to start somewhere. And so we have...“War is not the Answer,” “Coexist,” “Black Lives Matter.”

Now, could we please raise the bar?

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