This morning I read a letter to the editor in The Dallas Morning News about Dallas Area Rapid Transit (or as we affectionately refer to locally; DART). To summarize, the reader suggested DART allow passengers to exit a train when it breaks down so they can make other arrangements like hop on a passing train that is operational, or hail a cab, or walk down the tracks to the next station. What currently happens is the DART personnel try to keep passengers from leaving the train. I wrote a response that probably won’t get printed, in which I explain in my layman’s best (as I am not a lawyer) that if DART formally allows passengers to hop off a DART train when it’s not at a designated station, they can be held legally liable for any accidents that might happen to you from the second you step out of the train until you end up in the hospital by getting run over by a train or breaking your leg on the loose rocks surrounding the tracks or in a car accident caused by you as you frantically hailed a cab, etc.
DART looks at it essentially like this; a passenger’s discomfort in the broken down DART train without air conditioning is less of a potential court battle than if that same passenger breaks his neck trying to get home after the train fails him. They’d say they have the best of intentions for their passengers but the truth is, they don’t want to get sued. We live in fear.
Michael Phelps won his 19th medal yesterday for swimming really fast. I don’t know the details. A relay I think? He lost in the butterfly. Actually, I know more about this than I really want to admit. I’m purposefully not paying much attention to the Olympics cuz NBC has pissed me off again, but even I can’t ignore this. Phelps now officially has more career gold medals than any other Olympian in the history of the Olympics. Not too shabby.
Larissa Latynina wanted to present the medal to Phelps during the ceremony, cuz up until yesterday she had been the Olympian with more career golds than anyone. Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? Sort of a passing of the torch. Again, I’m not a big sports fan but even I get the significance of this. One would think the International Olympic Committee (affectionately called The IOC by people like me who are too lazy to type those words out every time) would jump at Latynina’s volunteering to do this. They’re not. People are upset. The IOC is used to upsetting people.
This isn’t the first time during this year’s Olympics that the IOC has annoyed people and it won’t be the last. People wanted the IOC to include in the Opening Ceremonies some kind of acknowledgement of this being the anniversary of a terrible tragedy that happened during.. well, that’s just it isn’t it? There have been a few tragedies. This is why The IOC said no to the “moment of silence” or whatever it would have been.
Back to Michael Phelps for a second. If The IOC let Latynina give Phelps the medal, then every past Olympian who’s ever won anything would want to be the person to hand a medal to the next kid down the pike that they feel is their prodigy. They can’t say yes every time. If they did, a thousand other variables come into play. What if more than one person wants to volunteer? What if the person getting the medal doesn’t really want THAT person handing it to him? What if what if what if.. Saying yes to one of these things opens up a can of worms that even The IOC hasn’t the resources or the time or capability to handle without things threatening to get worse with every fire they put out.
If the IOC singled out one tragic event as worthy of a moment of silence or some kind of ritual or time and resources and prime time coverage on NBC, then all the sudden people would criticize them for not singling out those other tragic events. They can’t possibly please everyone. Still other people would criticize them for HOW they brought attention to the various tragic events. Using THAT color is an offense to THOSE people. Using that kind of flag or pole or marching in that way or doing in on a Tuesday when the moon is full is an affront to THOSE people over there. People get offended that you don’t do something but they also get offended when you do, and if you don’t do anything and people get offended by that, it’s easier to defend than if you did something. So more often than not in times like this, the IOC ends up doing nothing. Why? It’s safer that way. We live in fear.
More often than not, we don’t do anything. Cuz we live in fear. When we do do something, we live in fear as we do it. Was that the right thing to do? Could we have done it better? Woulda coulda shoulda ourselves into graves. We live in fear.
Yet more examples: from McDonalds being sued cuz a woman spilled coffee on herself to ChikFilA’s recent admission of homophobia, owners and managers of companies around the world are walking on rice paper around their own customers, for fear of doing or saying or being something that will piss somebody off. Rush Limbaugh calls a woman a slut, and suddenly advertisers are shunning him faster than an atheist in room full of baptist. Not necessarily cuz they disagree with him, but they fear their customers who disagree with him, and perhaps they also fear the customers who do agree with him.
In the alleged “atheist community” I hear people complain that during the many conventions that have happened in recent years, some male atheists and freethinkers treat female atheists and freethinkers like sex objects. Do you know why? Cuz whether or not you believe in a god, women are still sexy. Sometimes it’s playful teasing and sometimes even I have to step and go damn. I’m just as guilty as the next guy of objectifying women and I won’t apologize for it, but I also personally don’t go to these conventions, cuz I’m not convinced that just cuz you agree with me on the no god thing you’re also gonna agree with me on how to relax and have a good time.
You may be afraid I’m gonna objectify you as a woman. I’m afraid you’re going to take what I meant as a compliment in an unintended insulting way. So I’d rather not even meet you in person if you’re just gonna be weird about it.
We live in fear.
Decades ago, Bill Maher had a tv series he called “Politically Incorrect.” That show ceased to be soon after Nine Eleven. Why? Cuz he was politically incorrect about Nine Eleven. He said stuff he meant that people took way worse than he intended, but he wasn’t going to take back what he said cuz he meant it, and as it turned out, he was right. His show is now on another network, and it’s a different name, but political correctness is still a problem in our society, and we still live in fear over what we say to one another.
There’s a lot of guns. There’s enough nuclear missiles in existence to kill all of mankind several times over. There’s been attempts to control guns, and lessen nuclear proliferation, but we don’t wanna let go of these things either. Why? Cuz we live in fear. We’re afraid we might kill each other. We’re afraid they might kill us before we can kill them. We’re afraid. We live in fear.
I was born in the middle of the cold war. I remember teachers teaching me how to hide under my desk. Then later we were told how to hide out in the hallway in the part of the building that architects told us was most likely to still stand if a nuclear attack happened. Then when that was proven false, the teachers quietly stopped telling us to duck and cover. Why? Cuz the truth finally came out. The building would still be standing after a nuclear attack, but we wouldn’t be, or worse than that, we’d wish we weren’t pretty soon. If we asked about it, they’d quietly change the subject. We live in fear.
A friend of mine used to write this phrase on notebooks, and walls, and friends’ clothing every chance he got. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s had it tattooed to himself by now, he loved this sentence that much: “When a man is in despair, his tongue becomes long, and he is like a vanquished cat assailing a dog.” I’m reminded of this phrase when I think of the absurdity of mankind’s fears. When we paint ourselves into corners out of fear. When we cling to ancient traditions and foolish superstitions cuz we’re afraid of what might happen if we stop doing these things we’ve done for so long.
Every week I read an article or see a report on the news about how they’ve just learned about something else that’s bad for us. Milk causes lactose intolerance. Bread has gluten which leads to obesity and heart disease. Sugar may give cavities in your teeth but the sweeteners made to replace sugar cause cancer or other ailments. The air we breathe has all kinds of pollutants. Our drinking water is constantly under suspicion. People argue over whether or not our every day behavior is causing so much trash as to make the world unsuitable to live in for our grandchildren, or if we’re changing the environment so much that in a few decades it’ll be impossible to walk around outside without protective environmental suits due to global warming and other catastrophic problems.
Not only do we live in fear. We breathe it. We have let fear seep in our very pores and we bathe in it. We keep it close to us as if fear were an inseparable friend. We dance with fear. We dare fear. We cling to it and we set it aside. Mankind treats fear the way an addict treats cocaine. It’s rather disturbing. And like an addict, we are completely at its mercy.
Right now there’s over forty-seven thousands asteroids just wandering around in space close enough to us to pose a threat. So far none of them are apparently imminent, so far as we can tell, but we can’t track the trajectory of every single one of them. The mathematical odds that one of them could hit us within the time from now until mankind meets its inevitable demise is not imminent, but it’s not all that remote either. Perhaps it’s a planet killer asteroid that’s gonna be our destiny, provided we don’t destroy ourselves with war, famine, pestilence, or any number of other causes. As Neil Tyson once pointed out, over 99% of the universe wants to kill us.
If an asteroid hurtling towards Earth was just the size of a bus when it enters the atmosphere, it will probably burn up in our atmosphere. However, if it’s the size of Texas when it first touches our atmosphere, that might pose a significant problem, even if it hits in the pacific ocean. Still, the slightly more plausible possibility of whether or not someone might sue you for accidentally offending them is more fearful from an every day subjective perspective than the comparatively seeming remote possibility of a planet killer meteor. It’s all about perspective.
To quote from one of my favorite muppets, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering… I sense much fear in you.”
Much fear in all of humanity Yoda would sense, and right Yoda would be.
Rest well, Gore Vidal. If you happen to run into one of those gods people keep talking about in a hereafter neither of us expect, please be sure to kick him/her/it in the shins a second time for me.