Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Got to Be Real

Image credit: Paul Garber/WFDD
It's become popular to complain about "sowing division" in the United States. Accusing people of focusing on, or even simply bringing up, topics or concepts that encourage Americans to retreat into their mutually incompatible identities is something of a cardinal sin in many areas of American discourse. What that misses is the idea that Americans will separate themselves into groups with hardly any prompting, thank you very much. And this billboard, which was put up outside of Winston-Salem North Carolina is a handy demonstrator as to how it works.

One of the effects that I suspect that Judeo-Christianity has had on the United States is twofold - an understanding that there is a Truth out there that can be found, and the idea that deviation from that revealed Truth is a form of wrongdoing. And I think that this leads people to look at this billboard and presume that a man who does not provide for a family or a woman who does not appreciate being provided for as not "real," as in somehow less than genuine men or women. Now, that's not to say that this isn't an attack on people who don't follow "traditional" gender roles. But the billboard itself says nothing of the sort. Any insult to other ways of life that one takes away from this are, at least at this point, in the reading that one brings to it, rather than in the text itself.

And maybe that's part of the problem that we have as a nation, given the fact that we're not truly a unified society. We've become so accustomed to attacking one another, and defending ourselves against attacks by others, that we see attacks everywhere. It's the same thing with Black Lives Matter. While nothing in that slogan says anything to the effect that the lives of other people are any less meaningful, there are a fair number of people who read it as Only Black Lives Matter.

A single billboard, no matter how large, is too small a canvas to capture any significant amount of the nuance of the human condition. I am willing to let the men who provide, and the women who appreciate it, into Realdom, along with just about anyone else who asks. (Although I will admit that I've raised an eyebrow at a few of the petitioners from time to time.) It may be overly generous of me to presume that they are willing to share that distinction with the single and otherwise independent, but I keep one thing in mind - they can't stop me. If I choose to allow that a man who is, for whatever reason, unwilling or unable to provide for a family, or even for himself, is just as real as they are, any disagreement on their part is their problem, not mine. Likewise, if I choose to allow that a woman who refuses to allow anyone to provide for her and hers is as real as they, their disagreement will not deter me. Declaring something Truthful does not make every other thing a Falsehood by default.

Besides, despite the suspicions of some detractors that the sponsors of this sign wish to return the United States to a black and white Leave it to Beaver society, progress is seldom that fragile. Especially in a case like this, where I suspect that any competent historian would tell you that things were never as simple as seven words on a billboard would make them out to be. Even when people still sought the lifestyles of the rich and Brady, the idea that none of that society was built on the backs of miserly bachelors or self-reliant women was more delusion than history.

So let them place billboards wherever they may and project whatever message they wish. If they hope to turn back the clock, they'll likely find it more difficult than they, or their more fearful critics, think. And if they only wish to have others see them as just as genuine as anyone else, reality has room for a few more, I think.

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