Thursday, October 9, 2008

Music, one. Savage beast, zero.

I've been anxious lately. Anxious and edgy and probably defensive and testy. I think there's a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which is that I still haven't found a job and the search is frustrating, involving a lot of shady online application websites, and people who offer you an interview but never tell you when or where to show up, and entry-level jobs that require two years of experience, and sigh.

But it's other stuff too. It's politics - it seems like I'm getting in an argument nearly every other day with someone over politics, and I'm just sick of it. I think it's just hanging in the air right now, with the election so close and the panic over the economy and everything else. I'm not the only person who is edgy. Lots of people are edgy right now, because so many people are convinced, this election, that if their candidate doesn't win the WORLD AS WE KNOW IT WILL COME TO AN END. People on both sides are thinking that way, and it's not making for happy or peaceful times.

I don't like it when other people are divisive, but I really, really don't like the fact that I've become that way. Probably I'm more that way than other people I know. I tend to take politics personally, with a "Republicans want my disabled mother to starve" gut reaction that I developed growing up on welfare in the 90s, when welfare was a hotter issue than it is now. But I've since become that way with other things. My mind just jumps to conclusions too fast. That guy is a conservative Christian, so he must hate everyone who isn't. That car has a yellow ribbon magnet on it, so those people must agree with the war, so they probably hate Muslims. The neighbors have a McCain/Palin sign on their lawn, so they probably hate "tolerate" gay people. My friend said a woman was hot, so he must be a misogynist. And so on. It's like over the years I've developed a "not liberal enough!" label I mentally stamp people with if they don't meet my standards, and then assume they hate me and everyone else in the world who is not exactly the same as they are. I'm not proud of that, but it's an unconscious thing, and in some ways a survival thing, since I'm a member of a lot of non-mainstream groups in a relatively intolerant region. But it's exhausting, and I really would prefer to see people the way I did when I was younger, before I knew anything of politics.

And so today I had all that rolling around my head, and I flipped on the radio and there was "Us and Them" by Pink Floyd. Holy crap I needed that. If anyone wonders why I treat music as practically a religion, this would be a good story to illustrate that, because as soon as the song flooded my ears all the thoughts clicked. This song is about how pointless war is. Both sides are really the same, but everyone thinks the other side is completely different. But in the end everyone is human and has the same kinds of feelings. If everyone would realize that, we'd all be better off. Those are thoughts I have everytime I hear the song, and they're the thoughts I've always had about war.

But this time I kept going. Wait a minute. They're not just talking about official wars. And that's when it clicked, really and truly. People are divisive over wars, but people being divisive is what starts wars in the first place. I'm sitting here professing anti-war beliefs, pacifism and peace and tolerance for other people. And yet I'm having a war inside my mind, clearly marking out my "we" and "you". I'm prejudging people to be prejudiced; I've been a bigot on the grounds that I consider a group to be bigoted. I'm hating people for not hating hate enough. I'm arguing that people who live worlds apart and have wildly different beliefs should be kind to each other, while getting angry at the people I love for differing with me on one or two minor points. It's just as much "us and them" as a war is.

When I was a kid, and a Christian, I always got upset at friends who bragged about following the "rules" of Christianity more closely than I did. I thought they were showoffs who were acting holier-than-thou, as if they thought God liked them more than me because they listened to DC Talk instead of the Spice Girls, and they didn't watch The Simpsons, and they went to church on Sunday and Wednesday, and so on (as if there were anything in the Bible about any of those things). And it took me until today to realize that I've been doing the same kind of smug "I am more moral than you" proselytizing, just with a different rubric of morality. Meanwhile, I've been crapping all over the principles I want to be living by: people come first, friends and family are the most important things, all you need is love, being different isn't a bad thing. I haven't been very true to my own values, or for that matter, to my own religion (for the record, my religion is officially Unitarian-Universalism, not prog rock). There's an affirmation we say at church that begins:

Love is the doctrine of this church,
the quest for truth is its sacrament,
and service is its prayer.

It's rare that Unitarians make an official statement of belief, but when we attempt one, it nearly always includes words like "peace", "love", "tolerance" and "equality". Having chosen this religion because it embodies principles I already believed in, those are words I need to try to keep in mind. Especially since those principles are the ones that made me a liberal in the first place.

I'm glad I was thinking about this stuff, and that I happened to flip on the radio right then, and that song happened to be playing, and I happened to understand the message of it. I'm glad I have music to soothe me and to make me reflect and see my own errors, because I'm too stubborn to listen when other people point them out. And I'm glad I have friends who don't point them out too often.

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