A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Remember when we used to have problems? As a refresher course, problems were things that didn’t work or broke or didn’t follow the accepted path — vacuum cleaners, the toaster, marriages, the Chicago Cubs – things like that. Problems were easy. By definition, they were finite. They had a solution, and with a little ingenuity, you could take care of your problems. The difficulty with problems, however, was, first of all, we were intimately connected to them — they were our responsibility. If you had a problem, you were supposed to fix it. Secondly, there was a meritocracy involved with problems. Some people solved their problems, most of the rest of us just stumbled along, and then there were those folks who always seemed to have “nothing but problems.” And this is what killed problems.
In the old days, you didn’t get any social points for problems unless you solved them; their continued existence was actually a serious social black eye. But in a land where we are all so incredibly equal (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) you just can’t have unequal people running around, incapable of coping with their problems. It shakes up the foundation of our “win: win” or “everybody has merit” social structure. So rather than question the basic dogma of 21st century society, we simply changed the wording. And because we’re an ingenious bunch of folks, we clicked it into our love affair with victims. It was the birth of the issue, and issues literally solved all our problems.
Issues are the perfect escape clause. They’re attached to our psychic DNA. They exist without our consent and we can’t control them. Plus — and here’s the best part — issues absolve us from any blame and absorb all the responsibility. It’s like having a medieval priest in your back pocket. Want to sleep with the pool boy? Have commitment issues. Don’t wanna pay the cable bill? Have financial issues. Want to be a jerk? Have anger management issues. Any or all of the above? Have childhood issues. Childhood issues? What the hell does that mean? Nothing! There’s no such thing. Everyone has a childhood — everybody! And in that childhood things happen: good things, bad things, things we can’t even remember. There’s not a single person on this planet who can’t point to some event in their childhood and claim it shaped them, warped them, or left them scarred, bruised or annoyed. It’s absolutely meaningless to claim this as special status, yet we continue to do it. Our society loves issues almost as much as we love victims. Why? Because — and here’s where the bike helmet hits the highway — unlike devastation, nightmares or even ordeals, issues are permanent. You can’t solve an issue. So, now, anybody within the sound of Dr. Phil’s voice can play “Ain’t it Awful? The Home Game” and get all the cool victim stuff without the slightest inconvenience.
Unfortunately, issues carry a heavy price. Once you’ve verbally abused yourself into thinking you’re a victim, it’s hard to go back. You actually become a victim — at the mercy of your job, your family, your government. Resistance is futile. You’re part of that great mass of people being pushed around by everything they see — unable to cope with the simplest of situations, stressed out, incapable of seeing life as it presents itself. Nobody can calmly discuss an “ordeal” (believe me, I’ve tried) or repair a “nightmare,” but issues are the spaghetti stains on life. Once you’ve slopped them all over yourself you’re never going to get rid of them. Here’s one itty-bitty example: within my lifetime there were students who didn’t do well in school. For a while I was one of them. Teachers were supposed to recognize this and take some action appropriate to the kid’s ability. Today, those same students just surrender themselves to Learning Issues, accept whatever label comes with that — dyslexia, dyspepsia or A.D.D. — and keep on moving. They’ve been initiated into the Cult of the Victim before they even know what hit ‘em. Think about it: you’re 5 years old, you’ve only recently mastered the intricacies of the bathroom, and suddenly everybody you trust is telling you you’ve got an uncontrollable inability to learn. Depending on your 5-year-old frame of mind, it’s either the best “Get out of Jail Free” card ever or you’re screwed – permanently screwed. This is just one example! Issues are everywhere. They’re like Smurfs. People are talking about injured athletes with “hamstring issues” for God’s sake! And what happens when somebody has more than one issue and we start using this phony-baloney in deadly combinations. What if a person with Substance Abuse Issues has Time Management Issues, as well? Does he come late to get high?
We’ve got to stop this madness — yesterday. The word is eating our soul. It’s all well and good for a bunch of middle class muffins, with nothing but time and a Starbuck’s on their hands, to chatter away about their issues, but the rest of us don’t have that luxury. We’ve got jobs to do and bills to pay and we don’t have a lot of extra energy to carry these irresponsible hangers-on. Here’s where we stand at this very moment. We’ve got half the population disabled by their issues – make-believe stuff like anger management and emotional stress. We have half the population condemned to theirs – serious problems we can no longer solved because we’ve turned poor people with names and faces into poverty issues and the junkie, stealing your iPod, into an addict issue or some such nonsense. Then we’ve got the rest of us, trying to carry the load with no light at the end of the tunnel. Believe me, if the first bunch don’t get over themselves pretty soon and start helping, that second bunch are going under and there’s nothing we can do about it.
What we need is to reintroduce some problems into our society, and not some candy-ass “Where’s my green shirt” problems but real thorny, jaggy, scabby, pee-stained problems – the nastier the better — and we need some serious consequences to go along with them. Otherwise, we’re just going to keep slathering on the Oprahspeak until we have such a heavy gloss on our real problems we’ll never have a chance to solve them. They’ll simply become part of the foodchain – if they haven’t already.
So, here’s what we need to do. First of all, e-mail every cable news, talk, entertainment, opinion network on the planet and say you are offended by the word “issues.” Demand that the professional virgins in front of the microphones use the term “the I-word.” They’ll get behind this. After all, we’ve already got “the N-word,” the L-word” and of course, “the R-word.” — not to mention iPod, Pads and Phones. Secondly — and much more importantly — the next time anybody with a last name for a first name starts yipping about “issues,” punch them in the stomach. It might not do any good, but boy it’ll feel nice.