Opinion: Doug Thompson

Escape from what?
By Doug Thompson
The idea of escapism begs the question: What are we trying to escape from? Or back to?
This isn’t going to be another column about the war. Here the war’s just an example of my real subject. We’ve been at war in Iraq for more than four years now. I’m a reporter in a university town. I can’t recall a single real, public rough-and-tumble debate between experts or elected officials about the war.
I went to a very good forum about the morality and legality of torture. That forum was at the university and conducted by some retired government types. I also know there’s been some debates in campaigns where the subject of the Iraq War couldn‘t be avoided.
There has been some protests on each side. Peace advocates and others have sponsored some debates, but our elected officials — Democrat and Republican — have missed out on any forums like that with little political cost.
Debating somebody who might possibly disagree with you, especially in public, appears to be something to avoid these days.
People naturally avoid confrontation and unpleasantness. Disillusionment, in the best sense of the word, may not have come over Iraq any faster if we‘d had ugly arguments in public. You have to ask if anybody would have gone to such a debate.
I don’t know. I do know two things. Life in most of Iraq is unavoidably unpleasant, and avoiding this unpleasantness over here has never been easier.
Put an iPod, a cell phone and a car together. You have a virtual bunker against the outside world that gives a very convincing illusion of freedom. You can control the climate, talk to only those who you want to, listen only to what you want, go wherever you want to go and decide how to get there.
In theory, a being in such a vessel is connected to the whole world. In fact, it’s one bubble among millions. If it touches another one, both pop.
The same thing goes for homes. You can watch what you want and surf the websites you want.
That’s not freedom. It’s all a reassuring form of solitary confinement. It’s like a movie star checking into a rehab program that the rest of us would call a five-star hotel and resort.
Blogs allow some contact, I suppose, but I find they run in two varieties. First are the blogs where the same dozen people get together and argue. The second is where you can’t get a word in edgewise. There might be some decent discourse in there somewhere, but you have to sort through 186 responses that say nothing but “Cool” or “Kuhl” or alternately, “That suxs.”
I can find a more stimulating discourse at any Waffle House, “where the old men in pickups go and smoke,” as my oldest daughter said when she was very young and before smoking in restaurants was banned.
My father-in-law was complaining last weekend about the atrocious grammar and spelling you see on-line, as if that were a sign of decaying civilization. Grammar and spelling are no worse than they’ve ever been. The only thing that’s changed is that now you just get to see it in print. There’s a publishing medium that’s virtually limitless and almost totally unedited, even for grammar. Apparently, making a statement that you can read yourself is immensely satisfying even if nobody else reads it or could understand it if they did. It’s a tree-falls-in-a-forest sort of thing. It’s all very interesting to the tree.
I worry about this isolation more than domestic spying. People don’t read something and argue about with other people as often as they scan something, then go find something else to read that they agree with. I have to fight the tendency too.
I get a column here every week and don’t really know how many people read any given one. I assume people will and write with that in mind, but at its core this column has always been a way of expressing myself and volunteering things I think are important. It’s not like writing news. I get to pick what to write about. I get to choose the subject. That’s all the bias I should get, and that could be too much.

Categories: Legacy Archive