Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The definition of "we", as in "We are the problem."
I speak a few languages poorly, Italian, French and Spanish, but as far as I know, there is no language in the world that addresses the problem of the definition of first person plural. There are three simple cases of the idea, and then some sub-cases known as "the royal we" and "the editorial we". Here are the main cases.
First person plural inclusive: Here, "we" means the speaker and everyone listening to the speaker. If the speaker tells the assembled loved ones "We are going to Italy on vacation", this means everyone listening is going to Italy. Yay, Italy!
First person plural exclusive: If the speaker is at work and says "We are going to Italy on vacation", someone might be able to understand from prior context it is the speaker and some other people, none of whom are the listeners, that are going to Italy.
First person plural mixed: If the speaker and the speaker's partner are with friends and one of them says the sentence "We are going to Italy on vacation", now the audience for this sentence includes people that are part of the "we" and people who are not.
It would be nice if their were separate pronouns for each of these cases. For the rest of this post, I will use the word "we" with the assumption that it means "Everyone reading this and I".
We are the problem. There are many serious problems in the world today and we all bear some responsibility for them.
We always think someone else is a bigger part of the problem. This is probably true, but it doesn't change the fact that we are the problem as well. So many times when someone does a bad thing, people who feel they have a partisan stake in someone else's personal screw-up will say, "Well, what about xxx? Didn't he (or she) behave just as badly? I see no need for my partisan to make amends until xxx has done the same!"
This is the way seven year olds act, and not the nice ones. We all need to grow up.
We are addicted to negativity. Last year, I wrote a post entitled And this is how we died. After that post, I stopped writing for a while, largely out of a feeling of hopelessness, but also out of wounded vanity at the worry that the blog wasn't getting any increase in readership. I came back to blogging when I realized that my mom missed it. She was living about a hundred miles away and neither of us had transportation to get together often, so this was her way of keeping in touch. I was selfish and feeling sorry for myself, and it meant that for about a week and a half of the last three months of her life, she didn't know how her baby boy was doing.
I try to keep negative posts to a minimum, but I find myself still writing them and reading them when others write them. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is weaning himself from Sarah Palin hatred, but when he posts something, I always read it. Tengrain over at Mock, Paper, Scissors has an army of writers he mocks regularly (Meghan McCain, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, etc.) and I read his posts. Likewise Karen Zipdrive and DistributorCap. Even my personal blog hero Peteykins over at Princess Sparkle Pony takes the Big Ugly Stick out on Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen on a semi-regular basis, though he trimmed back on these posts a lot this year compared to last.
I listened to Obama's speech last night. It wasn't a barn-burner, but I didn't come away enraged. Obviously, reading left-wing blogs, I just don't have enough rage in me. A passel of people on the left are pissed as hell that the laws of physics can't be repealed. But reading their outrage, you would have thought he introduced Kang and Kodos as our new alien overlords.
Reading this post, you may feel that you are not addicted to negativity. You may be correct and blessings upon you if you are. I'm trying to cut back, but I know the rage or the resignation from feeling the futility of the rage are never far away.
We are addicted to cheap energy. You are reading this on a computer somewhere. This is definitely a first person plural inclusive statement.
Three Mile Island effectively killed the nuclear industry in the United States. It was scary, but it was not a long term environmental disaster. Chernobyl was a long-term nightmare, but if I may be allowed a little American exceptionalism, on average we aren't as incompetent as a bunch of sullen, drunken Soviet assholes. The BP oil gusher is a long term ecological nightmare, and I will be very surprised if the American public will be able to add two and two to figure out that if we didn't guzzle gas so much, companies wouldn't take such horrible risks to get it to us.
We need energy to run the world we live in. I'm willing to make cutbacks in my lifestyle, but I'm not going back to the 19th Century, thanks very much. Electric cars would take a huge chunk out of the stranglehold the petroleum industry now has on our economy, but it means we need more electric plants. Thorium based reactors could be a clean and safe part of the mix, if people can get over the fear of the word "nuclear".
We are addicted to distraction. I know I am. I run that silly other blog, for pity's sake. But whether it's gossip or sports or TV or movies or political sideshows like Sarah Palin, we are not staying focused on the real problems that face us, and we mistake big dramatic events for real problems.
I know some people will take exception, but 9/11 was a distraction. We don't want a repeat of 9/11 obviously, but do we have to put ourselves in the poorhouse to defend ourselves from this band of clowns who can't shoot straight? We lost 3,000 people in a single day in a truly made for television event, but it just was one bad day, and we treat it like it's World War II or the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918. Heart disease and cancer combined kill 3,000 Americans every day like clockwork. 28,000 babies less than one year old die in the United States every year, and if we cared to compete with countries like Japan or Singapore for the quality of care we give newborns, we could cut that in half or even better.
We need to make changes. We need to work on convincing people that they need to change, too. It's hard when there are people who think any change means labor camps and rounding up white people, but things do change in this country. Look back at things that people thought were here to stay, and see how they went away eventually.
We can do this. It won't be easy and it will require serious intent. But it is a matter of life or death, so we don't have any real option.