Friday, December 07, 2007

The Real Polarizing Issue That Divides Our Nation

I have friends of all political stripes, religions, and persuasions, but somehow, discussions of God (yours, not mine, etc.), tax policy, social welfare, and affirmative action don't just pop up all that much. I'm respectful of other people's beliefs, so long as they respect mine, and so I can have such discussions without much acrimony--but I've noticed that I just tend not to have them at all. Maybe it's because I'm in a university town: there's no one stridently proselytizing about God, creationism, or segregation. I doubt I'd engage such a person at any rate. It's not disdain, it's preservation of resources and energy: I can't imagine that I'd change their mind, just as they could never change mine. But I've never really encountered such a person around here, so in general conversations tack onto relatively conventional patterns. I talk to people who are relatively like minded on the most polarizing issues, or if they differ, they do so by degree. If they differ greatly, they're of the personality and sensibility that polite discourse is the best, if such subjects come up in conversation. The way of talking is as important as what's being talked about: you listen, you talk, you take turns, you don't engage in invective and vitriol, at least not with someone you want to talk to again. Reasoned debates and discussions are not bickering fights.

It's not that I"m not interested in politics or particularly shy about talking about such issues. But I've noticed that with most friends, they just don't come up much. "How was your day," "what did you think of that movie/book" takes care of a lot. Also, I don't tend to change my mind much just because someone tells me to, nor do I inflict my opinions on them expecting that they'll change. With friends who are very much different on certain issues, I suspect we've come to some friendly detente to agree to disagree. We have too much affection and respect for each other to make it a "dealbreaker," and really, anyone with dealbreakers for friendships that go beyond the basic "non-hater" (e.g., not racist, not misogynist, not homophobic, not asshole) dealbreakers are haters themselves. Avoid such people. With friends who differ only in degree (I'm a good deal left of center, but by no means radical), well, it's still the same. When you're a solid, middle of the road Democrat who votes pragmatically and generally preserves the status quo or at least concedes to it, well, going to the extreme left sounds about as appealing as going a few feet to the right. Going to the extreme right is never an option, so I imagine I don't have to worry about that. I tend to avoid strident, partisan, polemic dogmatists of any stripe. Illiberalism comes at all points in the political spectrum, even though it tends to skew on the right side.

But I do not come to make an argument for left-of-centrism. Did I not just say that I'm against dogmatism? No, my friends, the real issue that divides our nation is this: country music.

I love country music. It's not just music for red-stater-haters. It's the backbone of all rock music and contemporary pop. I got this love from my brother, the Asian Hick. I love old country music, and pre-Shania (roughly, before 1995) country music. You know, Garth before he got all weird with the Chris Gaines thing.

But it's one of those things: you either love country music, or you hate it. You either tolerate this trait in others, or you disparage and condescend to them for it. It is an either/or proposition: just as some people are saved/condemned or enlightened/idiotic, some people love country, and the rest think those who love it are uneducated tears-in-my-beer hicks. I imagine that they feel the same way I do about reggae. Man, I hate reggae.

I'm vastly over-educated, and I love country music. So does TC, who's also over-educated. We've attended some of the most elite institutions in the nation in cosmopolitan, bourgie cities, and I imagine we've both been struggling with this "secret shame." This comes up more than my views on tax, educational spending, and social welfare: you can go for years without talking about these issues with the closest people in your life, but you can't go for more than a month or two before the radio dial becomes an issue on a road trip. You might be cooking dinner to "The Dance," and they come home and ask "what the hell is that?!" It is even worse if you look like you've been crying and they can't understand why. Come on, George Jones stopped loving her today! Willie Nelson says that you don't know him (I can't find the original by Eddy Arnold)!

TC likely has it worse than I do, because I live in a superficially tolerant university town that has a "everyone deserves love" ethos. She lives in a cutthroat city where people would kill you with their glares if they could. She must listen to it exclusively on her Ipod, her secret shame piping only into her cognitively dissonant brain.

Not anymore. I declare to you, readers, that I love country music.

How can you not? Check out this video by the incomparable, handsome, and true cowboy George Strait, who's carrying your love with him. I listen to this song whenever I'm on the road:

Yes it's sentimental, and that's the point. Safe travels to those of you who are going from one home to another this month.