08 May 2008

Missin' Formation?

Thinking about the various concepts I've tried to address in the last couple of posts has got me, well, thinking. Why aren't these the sorts of things that I ever hear people discussing? Why is it that I never find myself debating the truths of life, the philosophical ramifications of our ideas and ideals, the metaphysical exploration that validates our sense of self against a waning interest in the soul and its final resting place?

Religion, philosophy, and the pursuit of higher thought used to be at the core of many a conversation, not just for me, but for many men in ages past; where has that gone? These days, the theme of everything I see is things which don't seem to matter, the trivia of life; we're more concerned about the soles of Lindsay Lohan's shoes than about the souls -- or lack thereof -- within us all. Religious debate is all but out the window as everyone is so certain that they've figured it out for themselves, and they wouldn't want to risk alienation or controversy by attempting to convince others that they're right; those few who still hold to the idea of pushing their ideology on the masses are the likes of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist "fundamentalists" regarded as freaks, bigots, and the target of ridicule, derision, and the savage vile attack of those who think differently; now, I'll be the first to admit that I disagree with every bit of dreck I've heard attributed to Mr. Phelps and his church, but they do, if nothing else, seem to have something that I see as lacking in almost everyone else around me: conviction. The strength (or stupidity) to stand before the world and scream their beliefs as long and loud as they can through megaphones of hate.

I'm not defending what they say, to be sure, but I'll damn well defend their right to say it, and I'll applaud their sheer indomitable ability to weather the storm of retributive mudslinging sent (rightly) back at them; even those who loathe everything they say and do can grasp that this unique group of people is willing to get themselves out there and, through their own actions, spur thought and debate. I've seen their methods and messages decried by people who, nominally, agree with some of the concepts that they're pushing -- this, to me, is the spirit of debate in its finest form, the naked sense of human belief laid bare before the masses in such a way as to open the heart of the matter, unrepentant about the bruises that they leave on the souls of those who are the targets of their vicious campaigns.

We're all so concerned with popularity, with being liked and accepted, with appealing to a broad audience, with not hurting the feelings of our friends, with being politically correct that even the counter-culture refuses to pander to the hurtful means of being open, forceful, and thought-provoking with their message for fear that some portion of the populous who would never be swayed might use those words as fuel for messages that argue against the points being made on hippie-held signs on the roadsides of San Francisco and the beaches of Cuba. Where's the sense of real discussion, the meat of what it is that makes us able to form these opinions? When did the point of debate become trying to sway the sheepish masses to agreeing with you? From what I recall, the real reason that such forums were held in ages past was not to convince the public that you were in the right (or the left), but to elicit the thought, to force people to use their own minds and examine the cases and come to their own decisions.

I don't care if you, the reader, agree with anything I say. That's not the point. I'm here to say what I feel like saying, without apology, because it will make you think. Because whether you like what I've got to say or not, you come through the experience of examining these words with a clear sense in your mind of whether I'm a genius or a lunatic. To me, I'm both, and neither. If everyone agreed with the way that I see the world, then it wouldn't be an interesting place. Conflict breeds strength, disparity breeds community; differing opinions, moreso than necessity, are the mother of invention -- that's why the production machines run doubletime during wartime, after all! Of course, violence stems from such fundamental disagreements, but that's the human condition as well; we must be willing to accept the consequences of what we say, and that's what I think the real thing that drives us to idle conversation and careful tiptoes around meaty subjects is -- fear. We're afraid of being rejected, of being ridiculed, of being harmed. We're afraid that our worldview will clash with others, and that we're putting ourselves at undue risk by truly speaking our minds.

If we wouldn't take a bullet to defend what we believe, then do we truly believe anything at all?

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