Friday, April 04, 2008

Kick the Dog

Following a harangue by a school superintendent about the damage to families wrought by sexually explicit media and rock-and-roll, I once heard a very eloquent retort: "You could run pornography on television 24 hours a day without inflicting the damage to families of a 1 point increase in the unemployment rate."

On this very day we're a third of the way there: national unemployment jumped 0.3 percentage point to 5.1 percent -- the highest it's been in two-and-a-half years. That's low by most standards -- unless you happen to be one of the 7.8 million people looking for a job.

Imagine a scene in millions of families.

He comes back from work, worried about making a living, terrified of being laid off, angry at his boss, hoping to find solace in his home, his castle. She has either been at a paid job as well -- similar worries and doubts, plus guilt about leaving children at day care -- or she has been home all day handling children.

Then the spillover of work and home takes place with an argument, a fight, a dismissal of children. The kids go out to the yard and spot the dog. One of them vents his frustration by kicking the animal.

That's the kick-the-dog game.

It's inspired by a system and a society that thrives on anxiety, pressure, competition -- note the canine motif: dog eat dog. The sweat greases the gears of business, spurs innovation ("necessity is the mother of invention"), expansion, consumption, profits.

The perspiration comes from fear, annoyance, anger, hatred. It spreads to homes, schools, little league games and ultimately to armies and "contractors" hired to torture perceived enemies.

This is not the "natural" way. It's the purposely contrived way called capitalism.

If we could, for a moment, all lay down our offensive weapons -- our arrogance, our edge, whatever we use to one-up our colleagues, neighbors and those with whom we are close -- all in unison -- 1, 2, 3, now! -- couldn't we envision a society based on cooperation, solidarity with one another, mutual helpfulness, voluntarism ... even love?

This would require a revolution. Not the taking up of arms against a government, of course, but a laying down of fears and apprehensions, an abandonment of seriousness for laughter, a loosening of desire for things for which we do not really hunger.

It would require the flowering of compassion for the pathetic figures in board rooms who are enmeshed in their own greed and for the politicians and yes-men in government palaces caught in their machinations for more power and even for the angry, often bearded visionaries in guerrilla camps seeking to terrify those in power through destruction.

We need to pet the dog, let the dog lick us, go embrace our moms and dads, let them kiss one another and bring enough joy to the workplace to plant the seed of a smile on the boss' lips.

Then companies would pay fair shares in taxes to build schools and libraries and vehicles with clean renewable energy. Then our country could counter Al Qaeda by dropping food and books and blankets and construction materials from our Air Force planes.

Then everybody would love us and we would love everyone. And the dog would wag its tail.
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