Friday, February 27, 2004

Too Much Information

It seems to me that there's simply too much going on right now... the war, the elections, the gay marriage issue, the economy, the Bush administration, controversial pop-culture happenings, et cetera ad nauseum. The events and reports come fast and furious, action and reaction, progression and recidivism, facts and fictions all pouring pell-mell into my ken like the famous overloaded closet of slapstick comedy. I feel like I'm drowning in information and opinions... but it's all interesting and important information and opinions, so I don't want to pull my usual ostrich routine and plunge into a world of books and pictures where these things can't touch me.

Still, I'm worn out. I'm not psychically built for turbulent times. Especially as I live with a person to whom I am ideologically opposed on almost every point of reference. My Grandmother is exactly as pro-Bush as I am anti-Bush, exactly as horrified by the very idea of gay marriage as I am in favor of it, exactly as informed by the right-wing media as I am by the left (that is to say imperfectly). The most innocuous statements by either of us can lead without warning into a full-blown argument.

Such as yesterday, when I was talking about California Proposition 56, and whether or not one should support it. Since the union I work for is supporting it, I happen to have a good deal of information about this particular issue. She was concerned by the proposition's reduction of the majority needed to pass the budget from two-thirds to fifty-five percent, and worried that the loss of the supermajority that was put in place by the controversial Prop 13 many years ago would lead almost immediately to higher property taxes. I told her that Prop 56 doesn't touch the Prop 13 property-tax protections, but she wasn't sure she should believe me... and then suddenly we were having one of our usual fights about our sources of information (she gets a lot from Fox "News" and the rest from the Oakland Tribune, to which two outlets she devotes a good deal of her day, while I get bits and pieces from the Internet and discussions with friends and colleagues).

Once we wriggled away from that explosive topic, we started talking about government spending practices — she sees nothing wrong in cutting funding to public services and making the administrations figure out how to get by on less, while I am in favor of administrative reform that seeks to reduce the cost of public services before reducing the funds put into them (if the funds are reduced at all, which I think they should not be). Her reaction is knee-jerk, but informed by past experience; my reaction is rational, but perhaps too idealistic.

Anyway, it's all very wearying, these arguments and upsets in the home. Divisiveness has leaked down from national politics and into society and thence into my home. I think Grandmother and I need to go on a vacation together, away from televisions and radios and newspapers, and find something — anything — we can both agree on. And then when we re-enter the world of the media and its skewed reality, we'd have this one piece of common ground from which to view and discuss things.

But I've recently realized, during an argument with Grandmother on Bush's leadership abilities, that Grandmother isn't one of those people who can "agree to disagree." She sees everything as being either right or wrong, and there's no room for discussion in such a worldview. You try to explain your differing point of view, and all she hears is that either you're wrong or she's wrong (and she knows perfectly well that she's not wrong, so it must be you).

I, on the other hand, am the kind of person who believes that only through open-minded and rational discussion of disparate views can two people (or two billion people) come at least to an understanding of each others' viewpoints, if not some form of accord. I feel that most facts are pretty much a matter of opinion, since even immutable facts (few of which actually exist) have varying interpretations depending on one's view of them. For example, I think Bush is an asshole, but I'm pretty sure Bush doesn't think he's an asshole, and his wife seems to like him okay, and then a fairly large chunk of the nation's voting citizenry appears to be pretty positive about him. It's a matter of perspective, differing values and what-have-you.

But the Grandmother can't discuss things this way. She gets upset that I disagree with her, and then her mind is so untidy that she can't ever marshal the tidbits of information that have gone into her creation of an opinion or belief. So we get into these arguments where I try to match each of her views with a view of my own, but she becomes defensive and addled and angry... at which point I get angry that she won't discuss things rationally, merely retreats to her little patch of I'm-right-and-you're-wrong-even-if-I-can't-prove-it belligerence about the issue at hand.

I guess what I find alarming, though, is that there are a lot of people out there like my Grandmother, people who can't agree to disagree, and all this divisive political maneuvering is designed precisely to manipulate people like her. The politicians frame issues in terms of Moral Right and Wrong, which are impossible to prove... one man's morals will naturally differ completely from another man's morals, even if they have a number of moral beliefs in common.

I mean, we all pretty much agree that it's morally wrong to kill people, but then there are exceptions to that belief, all of which differ from person to person — some believe it morally allowable to kill murderers, for example, while other people believe it morally allowable to kill unborn fetuses, while other people believe it's morally allowable to kill animals, and some people believe all of these things and some believe some of them, and some believe none of them.

It's all very headache-making.

In other news, I am observing Lent for the second year in a row. I have always been somewhat aware of Lent, but being not only a practicing non-Christian but also having been raised in a family whose Christian tradition doesn't observe Lent (nondenominational reform), I have never really paid much attention to it. But my two coworkers JB and BB, a Methodist and a Catholic respectively, both observe Lent and practic Lenten abstinence... and so I've started doing it too. Last year I gave up buying jewelry; that choice was prompted by financial concerns, and lasted a good long while... until I was poking around in a favorite shop and found a ring I absolutely had to possess (a pear-shaped cubic zirconium over an inch long with trilliant flanks in a vermeil basket setting). But at least I struggled with the temptation for almost a week before I succumbed and bought, terrified that if I waited until Easter someone less deserving than myself might snap it up.

Still, I find the practice of self-discipline to be always beneficial... you learn more about what you're capable of doing when you challenge yourself this way. And since misery loves company, Lent is the perfect time to inflict self-disciplinary practices on oneself... besides which, we all three gave up the same thing this year, which reduces the avenues of temptation.

This year I've decided to give up sweets, prompted largely by a desire to lose my Christmas weight. And only two days into the Lenten season I've been tempted I don't know how many times. I ordinarily sit around eating sweets of my own accord without really thinking about it; but for some reason, having given up sweets for Lent, all sorts of people are going out of their way to offer me some. It's almost funny, the offers of sweets that have been waved under my nose these last two days... the boss brought in a bag of chocolate bars, the cutie-patootie at the sandwich shop offered me a chocolate croissant that he was going to throw away otherwise, and just now Grandmother came by wielding a giant tin of Almond Roca.

Perhaps next year I should give up sex... if the pattern holds true, I will be absolutely awash with indecent proposals!

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