Biff America: Opinions and wrinkles (column)
November 26, 2018
The passage of time muffles the subtle changes that the years produce. When you compare a current situation or condition to, let's say, 10 years past, the change is dramatic. But when you shorten that time span from day to day it is hardly noticeable.
A good example is the human body. None of us can remember the day we noticed a particular wrinkle or skin imperfection. The evolution is evident when you compare a current photo to one from 20 years ago. I can't remember the first time I issued an involuntary grunt when I bent over to tighten my ski boots. Nor can I recall at what age I first looked forward to an afternoon nap.
My father grew up in an era of horse-pulled wagons and ice boxes. He saw the moon walk, cellphones, the world wide web and his life was extended by a pacemaker. When he was 85 I asked him what technological advancements during his eight decades had most improved his life. He said it was the reflectors that our town had placed along many of the local roads, including the one from his house to his favorite diner. All the other stuff occurred over the decades; the reflectors were recent and allowed him to drive his old Buick at night — the mile from eatery to home — safely.
For a decade I have been working with an East Coast editor who I have never met in person. She recently told me, over the phone, that she would be heading off to Hawaii for her honeymoon. She joked that she didn't surf. Ten years ago I would have asked, "So, does your new husband surf?" But, I wasn't sure of the sexual persuasion of this gal, who I've worked with for years, so instead I asked, "Does your partner surf?"
In fact I don’t remember ever hearing any person insulting another person (while sober) face to face. But that said you don’t have to look far online to see strangers attempting to wound. The internet is like alcohol
— it provides false courage.
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For me this was second nature though I cannot remember the year when it became so.
Another thing I've been wondering: When did it become OK for regular people to be dicks? (For those of you offended by the 'D' word I'll use 'jerk' henceforth.)
I can't remember the first time I encountered jerk-ish or insulting comments online. But now it is now the norm.
I'll give a (purely hypothetical) example that could have occurred on a forum, post or comment section.
In the olden days someone might post, "I can't believe we live in a nation where a catastrophic health issue could easily bankrupt a family, even a family with insurance. We need a single-payer public health program like Canada."
A decade ago a typical response might be, "Dream on, this country has the best available health care in the world and we simply can't afford to make all health care free, and if we did the quality of our health care would go down."
Let's for a moment imagine that I was the one issuing that original assertion. The above response might not have caused me to change my opinion, but at least I'd have benefited by hearing a different perspective.
But that was then — before it was considered OK to be a jerk. Now a typical rejoinder might be, "You socialist, lazy, lib-tard, moron, if you don't like America take your old splotchy face, saggy butt and move to Canada."
Now admittedly this is an imaginary example of a right-wing jerk, but there are plenty of jerks on the left as well. When did that become OK?
Let's take the above (hypothetical) example. Being called a saggy-butt lib-tard would not have swayed me but had the person focused on affordability, access and quality as a result of a socialized system, I might perhaps, have learned something.
I can't remember the last time anyone, who wasn't my mate, told me to my face, that I was a lunk-head. In fact I don't remember ever hearing any person insulting another person (while sober) face to face. But that said you don't have to look far online to see strangers attempting to wound. The internet is like alcohol — it provides false courage.
My best guess is that some angry/unhappy folks always had the jerk-ish inclinations but lacked a perceived social prerogative coupled with the lack of repercussions that the internet provides. Now with a keystroke someone can spew/send venomous drivel.
When did that become OK? And how could anyone ever assume my butt was saggy?
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff's new book "Mind, Body, Soul" is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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