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September 02, 2015
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My enemy (in the abstract)

It’s an attitude that can’t use the word “Kumbaya” without a sneer. It regards all attempts at reconciliation, diplomacy, negotiation, or kindness as hopelessly naive at best, and potentially dangerous at worst. Force, toughness, discipline—these are the things that one needs to get ahead in the world. It regards itself as “just realistic, that’s all.” It’s the attitude that told the rest of us to “get over it” after the 2000 election debacle. It’s the attitude that triumphantly declared its interpretation of reality as the “new normal” after the 9-11 attacks. It’s an attitude that allows people to say to the less fortunate, “Life doesn’t owe you anything,” which of course, implies, “In particular, I don’t owe you anything.”

This kind of hard-edged attitude is not the exclusive provenance of the right wing, of course—certain hardcore leftists, with their emphasis on constant and perpetual struggle, have their own harsh and humorless variations—but it certainly seems to be much more visible in its conservative manifestations these days. This is, after all, the viewpoint that makes providing free lunches for poor children at school seem like a “bad thing” because it might foster “dependence on the government.”

I’m sure that my therapist and I could spend some useful time exploring why this particular point of view irks me so much. Now that I look back on things, I see that a good-sized hunk of my life has been spent trying to dispel this attitude in one way or another—trying, in Knost’s words, to “make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” Fortunately, I haven’t been alone in this effort, and I’m grateful to be among good company.