1999 Articles:

Art Censorship
in America

Notes from the Cultural Wasteland

The N-Word

Pain & the
Human Race

Death with Dignity ... or a .22?

(music reviews)

Manifest Destiny in the Balkans

The Cost of a
Full Stomach

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over-priced musings

brought to you by
Don Pflaster

Pain and the human race

I remember painfully clearly a time when I was really bored at work. There was a small knife sitting in the office, and I amused myself by throwing the knife into a corkboard, retrieving it, and throwing it again. I suppose it was one of those "it's fun until someone loses an eye" type of things. I ended up falling victim to that ageless maxim, for as I retrieved the knife a final time, I gripped it incorrectly. The business end of the knife ended up cutting its way into the flesh at the base of my pinky, causing a near-immediate outpouring of the blue chemicals in my body, which instantly changed to red upon contact with the oxygen in the atmosphere. Through the new opening, I could see the sliced innards of my cartilage, which was truly fascinating and horrifying at the same time. I felt faint as I glanced upon the rare vista of the opposite side of my skin. It is seldom we have experiences like that which can illustrate with keen detail the vulnerability of the human body.

Ironically enough, the next day I went to see Braveheart. As I watched the visual representation of hundreds of Scots and English being skewered and disemboweled, I began to gain a new appreciation for the level of gore in the film. I don't think it would have had as profound an effect on me, that is, to understand the sacrifices that people have made in wartime, had I not sliced my finger.

We are fragile, delicate creatures, we homo sapiens ... yet since the dawn of human history, we have recklessly let our consciousness slip into one of hardness and lack of empathy for our fellow biped. Recently in the course of human events, the hardness has reached earth-destroying levels.

It seems an insanely misguided pursuit to devise tools whose sole purpose is to disrupt the flow of necessary constituent elements within another human being... sadistic, even. Swords, bows and arrows, napalm, cannons, guns ... all designed to make holes in the organs of living things. Regardless of the senselessness, we've invented them; objects which can inflict physical harm on the body more quickly and with greater brutality. As these tools shift their way into the hands of cowards and tyrants, the rest of us are filled with an overwhelming fear and mistrust, which only compounds as the acts of violence escalate. We fear and mistrust not only the cowards and tyrants, but everyone. After all, anyone could turn out to be a coward or tyrant in disguise. It is a self-feeding system that is never satiated.

Now that weapons are commonplace, a strange sort of acceptance has crept into our minds. Violent thought enters the mainstream. I'm no exception. I love a good explosion as much as the next guy. I love watching in delight as my Doom victims scream in agony, falling to the ground mortally wounded. It's hard to say whether it's the chicken or the egg that has propagated this love of conflict, whether violent humans create violence, or if violence creates violent humans. All I can say for sure is that violence has become a giant video game, devoid of perceived consequences and disgust.

Most of us realize the difference between the world of violent fantasy and reality, but the unrealistic nature of fantasy violence can make it seem as though humans are disposable annoyances, not complex, dynamic, passionate beings. I'm somewhat of a different breed. As I watched Gary Oldman expertly end the lives of fifty men in Air Force One, I watched the falling bodies pile up and thought of all the fictional families that were now fatherless. I doubt that silly thought entered the mind of the desensitized average American.

This overexposure to violence, coupled with the anger toward corporate America which has been skillfully redirected elsewhere, has left us with a seemingly nameless, faceless enemy. MIT professor Noam Chomsky has lectured about this phenomenon extensively, tackling the push toward the fragmentation of America by corporate propaganda. We're scared, isolated, and alone, constantly pursuing wants that have been created by the Fortune 500, who have been making consistently higher profits at the same time wages for working people have been dropping. We've been made to think that unions are a counterproductive force, and so we're unable to organize powerfully against the real threat of the "private tyrannies" that basically call the shots in this culture. So our misery is quizzical, and our anger unfocused. Chomsky notes also that the level of cults and religious fundamentalism has skyrocketed in the last half-century, feeding on people's anger and pitting it against the devil, the end of the world, or the black helicopters of the United Nations... anything that isn't real.

This doesn't even enter into the notion that civilian Americans haven't been made to feel the pain of real violence on a grand scale in quite a while. Thanks to our geographical invincibility, there hasn't been a war anywhere near American soil since the Spanish-American War ended in 1898. We haven't known the terror of cruise missiles falling from the sky or hordes of soldiers rampaging through our hometowns burning everything in sight and killing indiscriminately. As a result, we are ill-prepared to deal with the loss or displacement of thousands, or even millions, of our own people. We whine and tie yellow ribbons when three of our soldiers are captured, but don't tie ribbons of any color for the hundreds of Yugoslavian soldiers, many with mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, and dreams, who were killed simply for following orders.

I fear the only way we will ever truly become civil is to know the pain by way of a great calamity, be it a meteor falling from the sky, a dramatic shift in the climate of the planet, or a war of unprecedented proportions. Only through a tremendous change in the way we look at living can we begin to start helping each other and providing mass service to the world above self. There is another, more frightening prospect that the damage is irreparable, and any such monumental event would just send our splintered sections of culture scurrying to secure our own piece of the pie. But I've seen communities unite impressively over hurricanes and floods, and the spirit of aid was far greater than that of looting.

I'd be willing to wager that the quantity of weapons on the earth no doubt far outnumbers the amount of articles written by saps like me about peace. But I'm going to keep writing them, because even as youth and optimism begin to wane in favor of age and cynicism, I refuse to give up hope that the human race will rise out of its infancy. It may take a few more wars and centuries, but one day, when we've all felt the pain, when all of our pinky fingers have shed blood in the name of insanity, we will have achieved the understanding we need to know what is truly important in the human experience.

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