Do you remember when we had to wait until five o’clock to watch the news?
No matter what was happening, or where, we had to wait to hear about it until the ‘after-school’ entertainment programs ended. Only then, after the advertisers had their say, and with a brief orchestral fanfare, would we learn of the important world events which had transpired that day.
Oh sure, on occasion there might be something SO shocking, as to bring those fateful words into our living rooms…,
“We interrupt this broadcast for a special news report…,”
All conversation would stop as we held our collective breath.
“…reportedly will announce his resignation tonight…”
“…was found at his home in Memphis, not breathing…”
“…at the Washington Hilton Hotel, when shots were fired…”
“…obviously a major malfunction…”
“…federal building in Oklahoma City…”
It was a different era, one which had already begun to slip away by the time we watched the World Trade Center fall. It seems strange now, to think of the news coming to us, not in a constant flow of streaming video and eye-witness tweets, but as an hour long package, parceled out between afternoon programming and the primetime sitcoms.
And as the reporting of events has become more constant, as we have grown closer, more intimate with happenings on the other side of the globe, so to has “the news” lost something of its gravitas. Long vanished are the days when hushed audiences listened to travelers tales of distant lands; gone as well the evenings when Murrow, Cronkite or Downs could so fully command our attention from that pale flickering screen.
Today the news is there when WE want it, and on our terms.
And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
Indeed, I think it was easier, ‘back in the day’, for the network commentators and the newspaper men to guide our thinking, simply by the way they framed the reporting.
I mean, yes FOX News only tells the truth about 18% of the time, but we’ve got John Stewart and the entire internet out there, willing to point it out to any and all who care to listen. Our news may not have the same polish as that which I remember from years gone by, but we certainly have a greater variety of it to choose from.
Gone are the days when someone like Orson Wells could disguise the ‘War of the Worlds’ as a series of radio news reports and inspire an actual panic in the process. In those days, alternative news sources were nearly impossible to come by.
So, while a certain familiarity with the news may negate the high drama of the nightly broadcast, we are instead allowed the luxury of considering, from multiple perspectives, the great questions of our time.
And as I watch Iraq teetering toward dissolution, and as children from Central American countries come streaming across the Rio Grande, I have begun to wonder if the way these problems have been delivered to us has more to do with our proposed solutions, than does the actual reality ‘on the ground’.
We are told, for example, that Iraq is a great failure in our foreign policy. Maybe the current U.S. administration is at fault for pulling us out too soon. Or maybe the previous administration is to be blamed for putting us there in the first place.
Which of these arguments seems the most rational to us is, by and large, determined by which end of the political spectrum we inhabit. Certainly, both arguments have their merits, but both also depend upon a single shared assumption that there should be an Iraq at all.
In much the same way atheists and monotheists lock themselves into single-minded debates over the existence of a particular God while ignoring all the possibilities that fall outside that argument, the folks on the right and the left of the political spectrum continue to bang on with dead certainty that those lines in the sand that were drawn by the League of Nations back in the 1920’s must exist.
I am not so certain.
In fact, I have begun to wonder if those borders have not been the problem all along.
Because, we in the western world, love our borders. We prefer the world to be broken up into nice little sections that have ‘legitimate’ governments that we can deal with using rules of diplomacy which were handed down to us by a bunch of guys in frilly frock-coats. We insist that the rest of the world look and act like we do. And to achieve that, there must be borders.
The drawing of lines is perhaps our greatest national fetish.
And so, here are these countries, divided by lines which ignore tribal lands and religious affiliations. These lines pull people apart and thrust them together in uncomfortable ways, and so resentments grow, which eventually develop into unrest and finally bloodshed.
The only way to keep things calm is to rule with a heavy hand, so let’s install a despot.
Oh, our elected representatives may fuss and complain while the cameras are rolling, but in reality we like a good dictator. A dictator gives us someone to negotiate with or to vilify. Most importantly, a dictator will always seek to maintain the borders, and that’s what we really want. We don’t really care if you are a good guy or a bad guy as long as you provide us with the impression of stability.
And when the revolution comes, or our troops roll in, what about democracy?
Honestly, we’re not big fans of democracy ‘over there’. First of all, we can never trust the people to vote for a government we will approve of. The main reason however, as demonstrated again and again, and not just in the middle-east but in former soviet block countries as well, is that a democracy does a lousy job at holding together artificial borders that were imposed by some third party.
So, it’s not really a question of who owns the fault for the splintering of Iraq. Let’s instead stop pretending that Iraq exists at all and learn to deal (honestly for once) with the tribes on the ground.
Our fixation with borders is the cause of so many of our problems.
The same people who will fight to the last over the rights of a fertilized egg, will block any monetary appropriation to temporarily feed and house children who have dared to cross our precious border.
Why are these children so different from our own? Because they were born on the wrong side of a line?
And why, in this country, should children in New Mexico score so far below those in Colorado in Reading and Math? It is insanity that children living in the richest nation in the world, should suffer educational disadvantage because they live on the wrong side of a line.
Oh, we love our borders. We are a people who crave lines and boxes and limitations.
We must, because we draw them everywhere! We draw them closer and closer to ourselves, sorting out everything that is different, until finally we stand alone within the safety of our imagined borders, the world around us categorized and safe.
But what if there really are no lines?
What if it has all been a lie, and simply another means of control.
Why build a wall when you can convince people to imagine one for themselves.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
When you watch the news, when you talk to your loved ones, when you pass strangers on the street, you may see the many lines that our culture has built up around us. You can choose to live within those boundaries or you can learn to see past them and explore new possibilities.
Those lines in the sand…,
You can either grab a shovel and struggle against the shifting sands, or watch as the winds of change eventually erase them. The choice, as always, is yours.