I took the car to work today, and on the way home – tired of the CD’s I keep meaning to change in the changer – I turned on the radio. Drivetime radio in Los Angeles is all talk and ads and far too little music, so as I hit the buttons, I got KCRW and NPR’s “All Things Considered”. They were covering the vast psychological toll that peacekeeping in Iraq is having on our troops; the sonorous, self-righteous tone of impending defeat rang through the soft, concerned tones of the reporter as she interviewed depressed troops and the psychologists the military has sent out to help them. Collapse, it seemed could come any day.Defeat, and doom everywhere. Death, pain, ruin.
Somehow those have become the coin of our realm. GGonzalez had an excellent point in his comment about journalism below “But even if the facts are correct, there will always be selectivity of information and, equally important, selectivity of presentation.”
There is no circumstance so good that it doesn’t leave itself open to the possibility of bad outcomes, and when we select the information and presentation in the one way that fits the story we want to tell, we can tell a story of impending disaster almost as well as one of victory. Nick Kristof was willing to tell a story that he hadn’t planned on, and I’ll read him with more respect because of it. Somehow, sadly, every time I listen to NPR I leave some of my respect for them behind.
There’s something in me that is pleased at the notion that the worst thing that can happen to our soldiers is depression.
And another that worries that our true vulnerability isn’t material but spiritual – philosophical, as I usually put it.
Then sometimes I read stories like this, and I don’t worry so much. The NPR brigades may be near emotional collapse, but the Palmdale poets and Vietnamese postal workers seem to be doing OK.
For myself, when I find myself nodding, mesmerized by the soft voices of defeat, there are a number of answers. The soft slide of a motorcycle tire as you round a corner just fast enough, followed by the hard kiss of the pavement on a knee slider. My son’s grin of victory as he lays down a full house. My sweetie’s smile when she wakes up. The view from the hills, through the newly clear Southern California air, and out over the distant towers of downtown Los Angeles. You doubtless have your own.
And art. Always art.
I once quoted Mark Doty:
I had grown sick of human works,
which seemed to me a sum
and expression of failure: spoilers,
That’s how it begins – but not how it ends…
UPDATE: See also this follow up post. Societies proceed on faith. That faith depends in large part on our belief in the future, and that future will have patches of dangrous rapids. I’ve got a very different faith than Trent does. But here’s why I’m happy to sit here, paddling toward the sound of the oncoming rapids so my sons can live on the other side – and in turn face rapids of their own.