Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Das Verbotene Wort

Sacrifice - Sinead O’Connor (mp3)
What Do You Want Me To Say? - The Dismemberment Plan (mp3)

A plague o' both your houses! -- Mercutio

America has forgotten what it means to sacrifice.

We think sacrifice is having to delay our retirement.
We think sacrifice is having to pay more for our own health insurance,
or to pay higher taxes,
or to get less welfare,
or to have your pension plan reduced,
or to lose a few million in a stock nosedive,
or to avoid maxing out another credit card.

Sacrifice used to mean something.

It used to mean a devoted man placing his young son on an altar and preparing to slaughter him merely because his deity demanded it of him. Or dropping everything -- every single thing -- to follow some wild-eyed long-haired Nazarene.

It used to mean a willingness to put one’s life at death’s finicky door in the support of what our country meant. From the earliest days of our country, men and eventually women willing to lose years of their young lives, possibly body parts, possibly their entire existences, for the noble cause of keeping some weird thing called The American Dream “alive.” Yes, they were willing to die for some dream other people can have. Not even real stuff. Just a dream. Just a silly ideal.

Only 11 years before I was born, an American President actually had the gall, the unmitigated gall, to tell his people they should ask not what their country could do for them, but rather, what they could do for their country. That poor man would never get elected today. He wouldn’t even get past Iowa straw polls.

Sacrifice as a real thing, as something with actual weight and import, is dead in America, and I’m not sure it can be revived.

Not to say all of us have lost it. Latino men who sneak across the border, who work for below-standard wages, who live in ramshackle hotels with three other men so that they can send a large portion of their meager earnings back to wives, children, families. These men know sacrifice. Naturally, we don’t as a society approve of them being here. They piss us off.

Soldiers still know sacrifice, although most of them have little sense of what they’ve offered until they’ve had to offer it, until they realize whatever has been sacrificed is gone forever.

The more politically engaged and opinionated you are, the more likely you’ve forgotten the meaning of sacrifice. Because I haven’t heard one politician talk about it. They can’t. They won’t get elected.

Sure, they might say the word, “sacrifice,” in stump speeches about taxes and entitlement programs and unemployment and crap. But they use “sacrifice” in the same way we use “annihilation” when we talk about football games that are 28-0.

When George Bush had the world’s sympathy and the country’s desperate ear, he could have warned us, begged us to prepare for sacrifice in light of 9/11, but instead he told us to go shopping.

Obama’s first approach to our frightening recession was to ask no one to sacrifice anything, but merely to generate higher spending levels so that everyone, rich and poor, could be numbed, so any chance of having to sacrifice anything substantial might be avoided at all costs.

I don't blame them. These men avoided making us sacrifice anything because we won’t dare allow them4. We would hate them forever. We might even do them harm.

It’s not just Presidents. Our Congressmen and -women, our Senators, they only talk about sacrifice when it’s about the people not voting for them. Democrats demand that the rich step up and make sacrifices good for the country by paying higher taxes. Republicans demand that the poor stop expecting freebies and sacrifice these “entitlements” as notions that we can no longer afford.

No one tells the people in their tents to sacrifice a damn thing. It’s all about what that other guy isn’t sacrificing that holds us all back.

We have become a nation of coddled, spoiled brats.

And I’m one of them. You need only see my reaction when my iPod freezes up a second time in a day, or when my chance to see the Foo Fighters in concert gets waylaid by professional obligations. I’m as pathetic as the rest of you. We suck, and we do it as one big whiny collective.

But here’s the hard truth. We either figure out a way to better grasp what real sacrifice is, and what it means, and what it requires of us, or the world will come and cash that check for us. It will force us to sacrifice things, and we won’t get to choose.

This has already begun, in small ways, during this recession, but it’s only going to get worse. If we can’t right our own ship, we’re going to get annihilated in ways that will make us wish we were still sitting around making fun of the Detroit Lions.

And hey, Ayn Rand, if you’re somewhere reading this, go screw yourself. Preferably not in any way you would remotely enjoy.

1 comment:

troutking said...

Well said, Billy. I think it started when Walter Mondale said in 1984 "I will raise your taxes" and the proceeded to lose 49 states while we had false prosperity under Reagan. You are right, Americans don't want to hear the truth so we elect the politicans who pander to us and slide further toward ignominy as we amuse ourselvs to death. Now if you'll excuse me, I haven't checked facebook in about 30 seconds.