Mercy, Where Art Thou?

2/27/03 Brooklyn, NY

I’ve had a theory percolating in my head for several months now considering the sorry, tragic state of this country, and I need to give it a name: The New Mercilessness. Our culture, government and teeming populace has entered into a time that harkens back to the barbarism of Medieval times, the selfish cruelty of the Old West, even the dying, bloated, complacent gasps of the Roman Empire. I think being a sensitive person in the United States is currently a loser’s game of disastrous proportions, and the New Mercilessness is to blame.

I’m certainly no censorship freak, and I appreciate shit blowing up in movies and fart jokes as much as the next red-blooded American, but our culture is fucking awful. Reality TV shows are mercilessness in their naked competition, their chewing-up-and-spitting-out of ten-minute celebrities, and their unwavering fixation on women’s beauty. These shows screech with the lame-brained observations of both contestant and host, but are nothing compared to the daytime talk extravaganzas – watched by millions of voting Americans, mind you – that are so lobotomized that their mere existence is a cruelty. I thought things would change after the Jenny Jones shooting back in 1994, but things only got worse. With the confusing exception of “Jeopardy” and “The West Wing,” network television chafes the public consciousness with the red-hot irritation of the recently masturbated.

You have to go back to Shakespearean times, when bears were tied to a pole and attacked by wild dogs, to find a culture so mesmerized by the snot-encrusted wood chips at the bottom of the barrel. My least favorite phrase to come out of inner-city gangbangin’ movies was “two in the head, you know they’re dead.” This was handy advice on how to shoot people, y’know, just in case the first bullet that tore out the back of a victim’s skull didn’t seem to do the job. “Two In The Head, You Know They’re Dead” ought to be the motto inscribed on the flag for the New Mercilessness.

After September 11th, you’d think the Buddhist-like calm that spread over New York City would seep everywhere and be longlasting – boy, you couldn’t be more wrong about anything. While New Yorkers posted signs saying “our tears of grief are not a call for war,” the ultra neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration were having the epiphany of their lives: kill them all, kill them all now. The good will shown the United States in the fall of 2001 has not only evaporated, but it could be said that more people hate our country now than at any time since the 18th century.

My family has been having an email debate over whether or not George Bush is an “idiot” – all I know is what I see: a man so simpleminded in his approach to the world (“you’re either with us or with the terrorists,” “axis of evil,” etc.) that it surprises me to learn he can even register different colors with his eyeballs. His advisors have cooked up a needless timetable for war, and have beaten us savagely about the head with Iraq for so many months now that even fence-sitters want him to go to fucking war just to fucking shut up about it already. Kill them all, kill them all now, kill, kill, KILL! America cannot show ANY sign of weakness, says our government, the only thing Arabs understand is BRUTE FORCE.

Is there anything less nuanced, and lacking in mercy? And yet, TV pundits and AM radio talk show hosts ALL of whom are acid-breathing conservatives by their own admission, can’t stop themselves. They see any questioning of their philosophy as an attack on their crusade, and fight back with means incommensurate with the argument. Throw a jab, and they’ll blow your head off with a shotgun. That savage media pundit Ann Coulter actually suggested assassinating Clinton, and after 9/11, famously ranted “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Stemming the blood-drenched tide of the New Mercilessness is next to impossible; the brilliance of their methods is that they force you to play by their rules, and they’re better at it than you are. There’s an old cliché that liberals can’t command the same air time as conservatives because their arguments are way more subtle and don’t fit into sound bites. Just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean it isn’t true; it is. The world itself is a contradictory, weird place full of people who end up behaving very differently than you thought, and liberals understand this. A liberal argument is by nature equivocating and self-questioning, whereas a conservative can throw out any half-baked theorem he or she wants, and it sticks in the ear drums of anyone within listening distance. Conservatives will almost always win debates, because afterwards, they will have seemed louder. How else do you explain a New York Times poll that says 42% of Americans think Saddam Hussein was behind the World Trade Center attacks? I mean, assuming for a minute that we’re not in a country full of goddamn morons?

I live in a nation rubbed raw by the constant clamoring for war, by a culture that glorifies either the brain-dead (Am I Hot?) or the soporific (Norah Jones); by sports teams expected to humiliate their opponents by 40 points; by linebackers that dance over opposing players after having crushed their spines; by chicken hawk commentators that have the historical attention span of a mayfly; by the utter lack of calm, of divinity, of silence, of serenity, of mercy. I don’t want to be a part of it anymore. I want this country to leave me alone already. The conservatives carry guns of moral certitude; my friends and I haul cages full of very complicated doves. It’s faster to fire bullets into the air than to release the birds, but you have to hope that the doves that aren’t shot can get a lot farther.

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