John Colson: Hit or Run
August 14, 2009
Hoo, boy, I sure touched a nerve with a story recently, a nerve that shows a certain lack of civility running like a strong undercurrent through the ocean of our regional consciousness.
Civility, as has been widely noted, is a type of behavior that is sorely lacking in our culture today, as can clearly be seen from the stumblings, mumblings and ravings of Sarah Palin all the way down to the angry barstool rhetoric that spills out of the mouths of paranoid, jingoistic anti-intellectuals who constantly search for some ethnic group to blame for their bleak prospects in life.
The truth of this came home to me last week when I wrote a story in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent about a local couple living on the fringe of society and accepting federal subsidies to pay the rent on their trailer, and who are facing the loss of those subsidy payments thanks to the national recession (see the paper’s website, postindependent.com, search for “bohlares”) .
The couple, with their four kids, certainly cannot be described as normal in the general understanding of the word. In everything from appearance – somewhat on the bizarre side – to work habits – they happily see no reason to define their existence by what they do to make money – the couple and their children fall outside the accepted norms of society.
They’re aware of that, of course, and seem quite comfortable with it, which is more than I can say for the small army of enraged readers who have seen fit to criticize, castigate and generally ridicule the family for its chosen lifestyle.
I should note here that the most scathing of the comments were logged in quickly, soon after the paper hit the streets, and that these early examples of intolerant rage have since been tempered by more reasoned and more compassionate remarks.
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But my interest here is the level of the rage exhibited by those early remarks.
Humanity has long harbored ill will that easily rises to hatred against nonconformists and rebels, not to mention our loathing of those who suffer from disabilities either mental or physical that are not their fault but that we seem to blame them for. This intolerance sure comes out in these comments.
In the U.S., thanks to our puritanical roots, exclusionary attitudes and a history of misplaced national pride and sense of superiority, such feelings have risen in scope and intensity to the point where they seem to be our national ethic. If you’re black, Oriental, Jewish, American Indian or Hispanic, to mention the most obvious, you know in a visceral way what I’m talking about.
Here in the West, among those who subscribe to this kind of thinking, these feelings have mingled with what we like to call “rugged individualism” to yield a fanatical antipathy, and rampant scorn for those who need a little help to get by. Any help they get is branded as socialism catering to lazy good-for-nothings, although that scorn conveniently sidesteps the fact that this nation was founded on handouts to certain kinds of corporations and the rich men, mostly, that ran those corporations, and the practice continues today.
Anyhow, that scathing scorn is being heaped on this family, in what seems to be a livid condemnation of their refusal to be embarrassed or apologetic for their situation.
Could it be that these gloriously pissed-off – and completely anonymous – critics are so mad because their own lives are in such turmoil, so far beyond their own control that they go apoplectic over the idea that someone might get the very help that these thundering assholes think should be coming to them?
Well, all I can say is, we all need help sometimes, and there is absolutely no reason to be ashamed about it.
I don’t know if the Bohlares are lazy scammers or simply down on their luck, and that wasn’t the point of the story.
The point of the story is that the government recognizes that we all need a little help at some point, and since the private sector of our economy is incapable of supplying that help, it is up to the nation, as a whole, to step up and lend a hand.
And right now, that hand is being pulled back, with troubling consequences for the Bohlares and many, many others.