There’s a popular historical documentary about a fedora-wearing archaeologist who fights Nazis for control of a magic box. The Nazis capture this archaeologist, who then warns them not to open the magic box. They do, because they’re evil, and the ancient spirits inside the box make their faces melt and explode.
It is a very good documentary. I love history.
But, recently, I’ve begun to feel like I’m opening that magic box every time I turn on cable news or click on one of my social media apps. Only instead of face-melting ancient spirits spilling out of the box, I’m confronted with stories telling me who hates me and who I’m supposed to hate. I suppose I can’t help it if someone hates me, but, like, they should get to know me first.
I don’t believe we hate one another as much as we’re told we do by the Information Industrial Complex. I have no research or data to back up my opinion. There is no Institute Of Nice People Studies that’s found a majority of Americans do not, in fact, hate the guts of their fellow citizens. I suppose my opinion is not so much an opinion as it is a wish wearing the face of an opinion. I don’t believe we hate each other because I don’t hate anyone except for, maybe, people who clip their fingernails on the bus. But I think that is a very reasonable prejudice.
I feel like I’m constantly being bombarded by negativity, and I’m not a positive person to begin with. My favorite holiday growing up was Halloween because I liked the idea of rehearsing for my eventual funeral. Fast forward a few decades and I’ve actually become the sort of living sunflower who shares Instagram memes that say “Be The Change You Want To See In The World.” My preferred type of hate is self-hate.
These days, I try to keep the various screens in my life dark so they don’t scream at me about red-state America hating blue-state America. I get it, internet: City mice hate country mice. DC fans hate Marvel. Coffee hates tea. Chili with beans hates chili without them. Socks to bed hates no socks to bed. It’s too much.
But I’m just not convinced that Americans really despise one another with such passion. I tell myself that the hate I’m being sold is just a way to keep me clicking links, or changing channels, or donating to this cause or that politician.
A radioactive blonde on one channel tells me to be afraid of teenagers. Then there’s a commercial for a hair-loss drug. I turn to another channel and a pair of fashionable glasses tells me to be afraid of anyone who drives a pickup truck. I turn off the television and look at my phone and watch a video about how the apocalypse is coming soon. Twitter is a trough of piranhas. Facebook is one of those aliens that wrap their spider legs around your face and impregnate you with another alien.
Then there are the Nazis. There’s a reason the ancient spirits melted their faces.
I know I must sound naive. I really don’t know how I became the kind of person who non-ironically says, “Turn that frown upside down.” But I just have a feeling… a tingle… that the way things seem aren’t the way they are. I have a hunch we are being isolated by forces beyond our control who want to whip us into a frenzy of rage and cruelty, a contagious fury that spreads every time we snarl or bark or snark. They want us fighting each other so that afterwards, exhausted and vulnerable, we’re easier to boss around. I don’t think this is a conspiracy, just more like a marketing strategy that has become way, way too effective.
I’m pretty sure constant outrage only causes wrinkles which is great news for anti-wrinkle cream wholesalers.
I know America’s history of hate and fear. This is a country that has a problem keeping promises. A country whose society favors some and not others. There are many legitimate reasons to be angry and frustrated with these here United States. The injustices visited upon those not born into power are many and great, and confronting them is noble work. But this current, nonstop acrimony doesn’t always feel like it has a purpose other than to fill empty space where otherwise compassionate conversations could and should happen. Constructive, hopeful conversations that don’t cut to hair-loss commercials. The union isn’t perfect. That’s the point.
So here I am. I could be wrong, of course. Sometimes I feel like the sort of person who gets rounded up no matter who wins the revolution.
And yet, I dropped my wallet at a coffee shop the other day and an older woman chased me down to give it back. Recently, a coworker struggling with personal problems asked me for help on a project and I did the best I could. A few weeks ago a woman on the subway had a seizure and five people of different backgrounds jumped to their feet and cared for her while help was on the way. I saw an elderly man bring a large container of hot soup to another man on the street. I know a lawyer who gave up a lucrative corporate career to help runaways. A friend of a friend explained to me the challenges she and her family face because of the religion they follow and I listened. A person whose politics I don’t agree with sent me a direct message apologizing for insulting my opinion on social media — he didn’t know why he did it, but he regretted it. I apologized for that one time I lobbed a knee-jerk putdown at something he wrote. Today I learned that my teenage goddaughter wants to change the world.
So I just don’t believe we hate each other as much as we’re told. Or, maybe, I refuse to believe it.