A note from Radarsite: I'm mad. Mad like angry, and mad like crazy. Sometimes my madness takes over my generally congenial personality and overrides my common sense. This madness has been building up in me over these last few years and has now become all but uncontrollable. My madness takes the form of obsessive and inappropriate behavior, and at times has become a source of consternation and embarrassment to some of my family and friends. Here's an example.
As some of you already know, I am presently involved in a battle with leukemia. This necessarily involves periodic inductive chemo treatments at a hospital in Boston. The degree to which this illness has affected my madness is uncertain. Perhaps it has accelerated it, perhaps not. Last week a good friend of mine took time out of her busy schedule to visit me while I was having my treatment. Somehow the subject got onto Christmas, and I started talking about the ongoing War against Christmas. My friend doesn't agree. She doesn't see this as a serious problem. In fact, my friend doesn't believe that there actually is a "War against Christmas", or that this hypothetical War against Christmas is indicative of a much larger war against our whole traditional American or Western culture. She, like many of my friends, is a natural born optimist, she firmly believes that things will eventually work themselves out (they always do) and that in the end good will prevail. The evil hasn't touched her life so therefore it doesn't exist. I think my friend sees my growing pessimism and my sense of alarm as symptoms of my madness. These dire threats to our Western civilization are merely theoretical and are largely of my own making. If they are there, they are relatively insignificant and have only been magnified and exaggerated by my madness. Life is essentially good and it's a mistake to waste your time obsessing over hypothetical dangers. To feel that our country or our civilization is under increasing danger is both irrational and paranoid. And this behavior is symptomatic of my madness.
Now, I love my friend but I hate this way of thinking. You would think that my common sense would prevail in a situation like this. You would think that, considering that my good friend had gone out of her way to come visit me in the hospital, that that would transcend any political or cultural differences we might have. That I could simply dismiss this disagreement and move on to something else. But I couldn't. I can't. This is the nature of my madness. This exhibition of willful blindness, this good-hearted, but grossly uninformed optimism infuriates me. This unquestioned comforting certainty that all is well and that life as we know it will go on just astonishes me. And I have to fight back against it. I can't let it go unchallenged. My friend is taken aback by my passion, by the shock of this sudden unexpected display of anger, by my unwillingness to just drop the subject, this expression of my consuming madness. The end result of course is an awkward silence. Thankfully, the nurse comes in and breaks the deadlock and once again we resume our friendly small talk.
And how do I feel about all this? Do I feel like apologizing to my friend? Apologizing to all of those friends and acquaintances who I have subjected to similar outbursts? I do not. And this is the core of my madness. The way I see things, these kind and well-intentioned people, these good-hearted optimists, who are our friends and family, are standing between us and the enemy. We cannot properly fight back against our enemies because they have put themselves in the way. They make it difficult if not impossible for us to fight this war effectively because they refuse to admit that we are in a war. Their goodness and their inherent tolerance are our biggest handicaps and our enemies biggest advantages. Until we somehow finally convince these good fellow citizens that their very lives are in peril, that their way of life is threatened by ruthless and relentless adversaries, we will continue losing ground in this great battle for our survival.
I was brought up to be polite. I believe in being polite. But my madness overrides my politeness. But am I really mad, I wonder, or am I merely outnumbered? I think that few of you would consider my views to be simply the views of a madman. I think that many of you may suffer from this very same socially awkward malady.
A while back, before our recent election madness, I wrote about this problem of being polite in the Age of Terror. I think it may still be appropriate. So here it is again. - rg
Prior to 9/11... Prior to 9/11... I am having increasing difficulty remembering how things were for me prior to 9/11. Things have changed so much that that world now seems like some alien place to me, strange and faraway, almost as faraway as my ancient childhood. What did I do prior to 9/11? What did I think about prior to 9/11? What were my priorities? Who were my friends? How did I relate to my friends and acquaintances? How did they relate to me? Certainly our particular political leanings were at the very bottom of the list of our concerns. In retrospect, life seemed so much simpler then. My friends were my friends because they liked me and I liked them. That's all. Nothing very complicated there.
I had developed what I considered to be a fairly well-adjusted and complete persona, one which had taken me a lifetime to define. I was an artist and a writer and a student of history. I was relatively easy to get along with. I don't ever recall getting into an argument with anyone over Augustus' role in the degradation of the Republic, or Caracala's cynical decision to extend the franchise of Roman citizenship. I think I was just naturally polite, a result perhaps of that lapsed Quaker upbringing. All of my friends were just naturally polite. All of my friends were interesting people. I was interested in people who were interested in life, people who questioned things. I watched PBS and CNN and even MSNBC without any noticeable physical discomfort or sense of alarm. I hardly ever thought about Islam.
I once heard a cop say that if everyone had been brought up to be polite, he'd be out of a job. And it makes sense, doesn't it? Politeness is a sign of civility and common decency. It's impolite to lie, or to steal someone else's property, it is very impolite to murder and rape.
Prior to 9/11, there was a whole group of words that we were used to seeing together in the same context. They had become almost interchangeable: politeness and goodness; tolerance and understanding, kindness and generosity. We all wanted to be good, didn't we? I mean, I can't remember ever waking up in the morning and deciding to hurt as many people as I could that day. Like most of you, I'm sure, I wanted to incorporate those familiar words -- politeness, goodness, tolerance, kindness and generosity into my character as best as I could. Of course, I didn't always succeed, but I think I tried.
Things have gotten complicated, haven't they?
I can no longer watch PBS or CNN or especially MSNBC. Their blatant anti-Americanism makes me sick to my stomach. I am unsure of my new persona. I still have friends, but they are fewer in number, and their particular political leanings are now of the utmost importance. I am more wary of people and what they say. I am less interested in being polite and more interested in being truthful. I am no longer certain as to what being good means anymore. I see tolerance now as a potential enemy, an unthinking reaction that has put -- and is continuing to put -- our lives in jeopardy, a weakness that can be -- and is being -- effectively exploited by our enemies. Even those old unquestioned standbys, kindness and generosity have become suspect in this new and unfamiliar world. Are we being kind and generous by granting those murderous "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo almost the same Constitutional rights as any American citizen enjoys? Are we being kind and generous by refusing to profile Muslim men in our airports? Are we being kind and generous by allowing Muslims to build more and more mosques in this country and by acquiescing to their ceaseless and arrogant demands?
I'm afraid I have hardened. I am finding it increasingly difficult to play the game -- the politeness game. My life, all of our lives, are in terrible jeopardy and if you truly cannot -- or if you simply will not -- see this, then I can no longer just agree to disagree with you. The days of this friendly gentleman's agreement have long past. We are at war now. If you feel that it is your personal duty to try to undermine the moral foundation of this country of ours during this time of its greatest peril, I can no longer just agree to disagree with you. The lines have been drawn; they were drawn on 9/11.
There are, unfortunately, those among us who still believe in the inseparability of those comforting words: politeness and goodness; tolerance and understanding, kindness and generosity. Many of these people sincerely believe that all of the problems and all of the threats that we face today are our own fault, the results of our imperialistic racism and bigotry, and in Barrack Hussein Obama, they feel that they have found a way out of their collective guilt. They believe that he represents the personification of all of those lovely words. And they will proudly cast their votes for him this November and sleep soundly that night.
And we will be lost.
We are halfway there right now.