Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Gulf Coast and the Evil Empire

I flew from Houston to New York this morning, on a JetBlue flight that skimmed along the Gulf Coast for a long ways before curving northward. The coast of Louisiana looked amazing, gleaming in the sun, and less like a line than like an incredibly intricate fretwork, water and land one patterned field where it's hard to tell what's the figure and what the ground. The big round expanse of Lake Ponchartrain perched above New Orleans, along with all that delicate tracery of what's barely land, makes it clear just how fragile all that Mississippi Delta is. A few places, you could see emptying rivers doing just what they're supposed to, making fan-shaped strands of marsh, depositing all they've carried with them, building islands that would protect the land from storms. If we'd let them build that liminal zone that makes a coastline work.

I was looking at all this while last night's debates were still replaying in my head, and thinking about how ridiculously unhelpful Tom Brokaw was. How many opportunities do we have to hear the two men who could be the most influential leader in the western world, and the moderator poses questions like, "Russia = evil empire. Yes or no?" I paraphrase, but unfortunately not much. Is that really the kind of political discourse we want to encourage?

In the first place, how can the word "evil" do us the least bit of good in political or social discourse? As soon as that label's applied, it's impossible to move forward: you/your behavior/ your ideas are evil, and therefore I can't reasonably interact with you, can't identify any common ground between us, can't solve any problem. It's the kind of thinking that insists we can't sit down at a negotiating table with Iranian leaders, and the kind of binary labeling that results in anti-abortion activists attacking doctors and clinics. Once the line's drawn in such incendiary language, what's the point of continuing to speak together?

And even as I write, NY's channel 2 is suddenly showing video of Sarah Palin firing an assault rifle.

How do we make room, in the social space, in public discourse, for nuance, complexity, that which is part-land part-water? No yes or no questions.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Mark--I love the descriptions and the thoughts, but most of all, I love the line breaks.