Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

3 Matters of Faith

As the economy begins its slow turn back towards prosperity and we turn our collective gaze towards a brighter future, we all look for signs of hope, stories of inspiration and ideas to believe in. And despite the incessant fear-mongering that is constantly peddled to us as “news” and the negative commentary and punditry which seems to be shouted from every available media outlet, we are an optimistic bunch. But for all this positive feeling, for every feel-good story of regular people overcoming impossible odds, there always seems to be many more stories, examples, and encounters which not only dispel any notion we might have about social progress, but call into question the viability of our society in general. We clothe ourselves with the notion that we are the most technologically advanced nation that has ever existed - but you have to do little but turn the wrong corner to end up in a Lord of the Flies vignette, where it seems like we have devolved to our most basic instincts - incapable of sustaining even the most basic social constructs. And so, as a counterpoint to all the good you may have been feeling lately, here are 3 places to go to lose whatever faith you have left in humanity:

1. Costco. I’ve never been to Beirut, but I’m fairly certain that the shopping that takes place in its most war-torn streets is the closest thing to the scene at Costco on Sunday afternoon that exists. In case you’re wondering what the battle for food and provisions will be like after a nuclear holocaust and the absence of law and order (the principles, not the TV show, though that will be gone, too - yes, all three of them), you don’t need to go far to see it. Costco reduces shopping to it evolutionary roots, where animals compete with bald self-interest for resources - whether limited or not - neglecting all but the most basic tribal instincts. Because while good manners and even the slightest measure of courtesy are dead at this wholesale hell, the family unit is alive and well. And the larger the family, the more territorial and dismissive they are. Large clans can be seen ambling in an impassible line down limited corridors, pushing along an impossible collection of unhealthy food, and daring the other would-be shoppers to do anything save turn back the way they came. Marginally interested parents shuffle aimlessly down aisles stocked with economy sizes of every possible foodstuff, while their unwashed brood flail and scream around them like spastic little satellites, never once flinching from their lifeless, plaintive stares. Costco isn’t dystopian; it is Dystopia. When the world as we know it comes to an end, I want to be in Costco - because that way, I won’t be able to tell the difference.

2. Airplanes. Normally, when people are forced into tight proximity to one another for common gain, it often brings out the best in them. They are courteous, thoughful, and, sometimes, downright friendly. Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite of what happens on commercial airline flights. I have written dozens of times about the egregious horrors of airplane behavior, but just when I think I have ranted about every possible transgression, I am confronted by yet another. Loud kids? Loud adults. Elbows on my armrest? Leg fat under my armrest. Body odor guy? Body odor friends. It's as though the price and discomfort associated with air travel has inspired a collective rebellion - collateral damage notwithstanding. I didn’t even believe that noise pollution was a real thing until I started traveling regularly on planes. I have owned the world’s most advanced noise canceling technology, and it’s no more useful against the cacophony of discourteous travelers than sticking my fingers in my ears. I’ve gotten less unwanted contact in a pick-up basketball game than on some flights, and not even constant high-powered ventilation can keep some of the stenches I’ve smelled out of my nose. The availability of air travel to thousands of destinations worldwide represents just how far our society has come, just as the way people conduct themselves in the midst of this luxury represents just how far we haven’t.

3. Small Claims Court. There is perhaps nothing we hold more dear to our sense of the equality of man than our access to justice. No matter the inequities of the marketplace, birthright, or life in general, we are all equal before the law. And there is perhaps no place where this is more obvious than small claims court. In this community tribunal, no lawyers are required (and few are seen), no complex filings are needed, and no knowledge of the law is necessary. With the help of fill-in-the-blank forms and nominal fees, you can appear before a judge and have your grievances heard, no matter how small. Of course, what this universal access intended to be and what it’s turned out to be are two very different things. Instead of a forum for the redress of legitimate grievances, it turns out to be a cesspool of excuses and protest, with little knowledge of the law and a misguided sense that “justice” is whatever means one can pay less than they owe. Waiting in the 2+ hour filing line is an opportunity to hear fringe elements plead their cases to wholly disinterested court clerks and watch all manner of folks try to leverage any technicality to avoid even having to answer a claim. Landlords at their wits end trying to evict non-paying tenants, and contractors trying get any payment on work done. All the while enduring airplane-quality poor manners, and Costco-level toddler tantrums -- it’s enough to make you want to leave the court building and walk straight into traffic.

* * *

Whenever someone tells me “it’s a small world”, I know two things: (1) they haven’t been anywhere near any of the aforementioned locales in recent memory, and (2) I want to hit them with something heavy and sharp. The world is big, and there a lot of people in it. For every great, interesting and thoughtful person you see, there are dozens of mouth-breathing, marginally bathed, poorly-tattooed and ill-mannered miscreants existing for no greater purpose than to be carried along by the tides of polite society. To rise above this rising flood of mediocrity, sloth and dependency requires daily dedication to higher ideals. And those who do deserve our respect just as robustly as those who fail to do deserve our disdain. While watching social decay is initially cause for sadness, it soon turns to perspective and ends up in gratitude - for the wisdom to understand that I have the power and discipline to rise above the noise, the character to have a good laugh at it to save from crying over it, and the good sense to surround myself with like-minded individuals.


Kristina said...

#1, Have you been to Wal-Mart? :) #2, I have not had bad experiences with air travel. I have to travel 2 to 5 times a year by plane. Even when I lost my driver's license somewhere between the change of planes in Indiana and West Virginia, I was treated with courtesy as my hysteria increased because I was convinced I was going to end up in nowhere WV until someone drove out to get me. :)

#3 Has it's purpose. But I have to say, it is good people watching sitting in Court. There's a special place in Heaven for Small Claims Court judges.... :)

Kristina said...

Ok Really? I had to type DikeRead to post that comment! Hug a Lesbian day was yesterday....

OZ101 said...

Its a small world.

Post a Comment