I’d been lying there on the second day of 2006, channel surfing, when the January blues hit me like a load of soot from a cement plant, dropping down out of the sky into my living room. But this year, the post-holiday angst seemed more planetary than personal. I quickly skidded (mentally; physically I was still on the couch, which was part of the problem) from raging at the crap on tv to the realization that I seemed to be living my own life by remote control, cussing at reality tv rather than getting out and finding some reality for myself. From there I fell right off the cliff – not into nearby Eagle Mountain Lake, but into the sea of bitterness and fear about our nation and what it’s doing to the world that I feel lapping at my door so often these days.
I have to be honest. Even on a good day, I’m terrified. Our government is out of control, our cultural soul has been compromised and corrupted, and hints of disaster taint our food, water, and air supplies. Things in this country are as bad as they have ever been and verge on growing drastically worse – and we’re not doing anything about it.
It’s not just happening somewhere else – it’s going on in our own backyards. We eat too much, waste too much, and we’re allowing our schools to push us into poisoning our children with psychotropic, behavior-controlling drugs. We’re standing by as the haze on the Fort Worth skyline gets so bad that it’s practically starting to glow. The Trinity River is littered with trash and run-off chemicals. The Barnett Shale is being quartered off and filched by wildcat gas companies, threatening countless neighborhoods in the process.
It’s happening right in front of us, but we just throw up our hands and go on about our business. Our entire way of life is designed to keep us too busy to address the fundamental problems of our existence: We wake up, shower, eat, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch vacuous tv, do laundry, wash dishes, go to bed, have occasional sex, watch more vacuous tv, sleep, repeat … ad infinitum. If we have weekday free time, we fill it with house or yard chores or get our nails or hair done, work out, play golf, or go bowling. Glut advertising, hip-hopped egomania and blockbuster Hollywood make the inanity of rapid, slash-and-burn material consumption seem necessary for our well-being and success. Prudence and restraint are portrayed as drab and antiquated. Skepticism is considered deviant, impolite, and destructive.
A day of reckoning surely approaches, but I don’t think it’s the one that the televangelists want us to worry about. In this case, I think America – that’s us – is heading in a direction that our entire misbegotten planet is going to have to pay for – in endless war, corporate enslavement, and ecological disaster. If you think that’s overstating the case, try to imagine our world without the power of multinational corporations, or just read the news about how parts of the oceans are dying. And yet, with the help of shopping and tv, we try desperately to ignore it all.
It is true that I am only one person, with little political clout, facing external forces that exert increasing control over my personal health, liberty, and economic standing. But I do have some power over my own existence.
I can express my contempt for our government’s mutually beneficial but conspiratorially inert two-party system by voting for an independent candidate .(Go Kinky!) I can do more in Fort Worth’s recycling program. I can drive less. I can march in a gay parade or support AIDS research – even if I’m not gay! I can trade mingling at Ridgmar Mall for milling around at the downtown library. I can swap tv sports for a hike at the Fort Worth Nature Center. I can trade in my golf clubs for a rake and hoe and try to grow something in my backyard. Instead of buying a new hi-tech entertainment system, I can be the first one in my neighborhood to install solar panels on the roof. I can pay off the note on my gas-guzzler and invest in a hybrid car. I can take ethics courses and dabble in foreign languages at the closest Tarrant County College campus. I can go to city council meetings and yell about (fill in the blank).
We are not helpless. We matter – maybe not on a lighted stage or the printed page, but we can make a difference every day, quietly, practically, and nobly. Every new day provides us another chance to take control and do something different in our lives.
E. R. Bills is a local writer whose recent works have appeared in Dissident Voice and Flashquake.