Symbol For Our Time
February 7th, 2019
We ought to be ashamed. Increasingly, we’re not.
As published in The Daily Memphian
RIGHT THERE IN THE PARKING LOT
As I listened to the news report on the radio, the image was disgustingly clear and the metaphor was inescapable.
The subject of the story was the impact of the shutdown on our national parks and monuments. People destroying the eponymous plants in Joshua Tree National Park to make room for their off-road vehicles, those same vehicles destroying in a single afternoon playas and plains and vistas across the West it took nature centuries to create. People poaching herons from the Everglades and injuring sea turtles and manatees with motorized boats. People defacing relics, fossils and rock carvings and getting in fistfights over camping sites. And more.
And finally this:
People defecating in the middle of parking lots, a symbol for our time.
This kind of behavior isn’t new, people at their worst doing what they do because they can. What’s new is the lack of national outrage, in fact, the shrugging of our national shoulders at stories like this, a coast-to-coast “so what.” We’re not only not shocked anymore; we don’t even pretend to be shocked. We’re becoming so accustomed to seeing the new lows of acceptable sink lower every day there is very little left beneath us.
In fact … and fact itself is a moving target … if our national parks don’t interest you, or if the shutdown was your political means to some justifiable end beyond a pile in a parking lot, you may not have seen or heard about any of this, because what we see or hear is increasingly programmed to be agreeable to us.
It seems we are not to be informed in order to form our own beliefs; we are to be supported in order to encourage what we already believe.
I recently read an article in The New Yorker by Jill Lepore about the state of journalism, in an identity crisis of its own. Toward the end she says this:
“The present crisis, which is nothing less than a derangement of American life, has caused many people in journalism to make decisions they regret, or might yet. In the age of Facebook, Chartbeat, and Trump, legacy news organizations, hardly less than startups, have violated or changed their editorial standards in ways that have contributed to political chaos and epistemological mayhem. Do editors sit in a room on Monday morning, twirl the globe, and decide what stories are most important? Or do they watch Trump’s Twitter feed and let him decide? It often feels like the latter. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger; it makes everyone sick. The more adversarial the press, the more loyal Trump’s followers, the more broken American public life. The more desperately the press chases readers, the more our press resembles our politics.”
If we are going to recover from our moral stupor, we have to recognize what’s out there in the parking lot. We have to demand of ourselves, and of those who would lead us, and of those we are to believe, standards worthy of all of us.
I’m a Memphian, and it’s time to lift our heads and start looking up.
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