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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Way We See: Our Little Civil Wars

Cross posted from Radarsite

We all have them, these little civil wars. These almost always very civil little civil wars. All you have to do is leave the house. Some poor souls don't even have to leave the house; they can have them right there in their own kitchens. Generally, they start off innocently enough. You can get into one by just talking to someone about something as innocuous as the weather. I got into one today, when I went to the local optometrist to replace a broken nose pad on my glasses.

The woman ahead of me -- an attractive, middle-aged, gray-haired lady -- was having her glasses adjusted and I was waiting my turn. When the optometrist left the room for a few minutes, she turned to me and smiled and started up the conversation. It went something like this:

"This is such a beautiful little town. Do you live here?"
"Yes, it is a beautiful town; and yes, I do live here. Where are you from?"

The woman, and her absent husband -- both teachers, both getting ready to retire -- were from North Carolina, and were up here visiting their son. We talked about teaching and about what a difficult profession it is, and about how much it had changed over the years, about how so many things had changed. And I guess that's how it got started, talking about changes. About how the whole world had changed. Then at some point she said the word "Bush".

Now, I don't know about you, but I've developed a special set of antennae over these last few years that react to that particular word "Bush". Especially when it's said that special way, like a challenge and an indictment all rolled into one. Maybe black people have learned to react to that N-word this same way: The word's been said and now you know the war's begun.

"But, don't you think BUSH has been responsible for a lot of the way people feel about us now? His policies, I mean -- with the war and everything?"

"No, actually, I think if President Bush had never been born our enemies would still be trying to kill us. It's got nothing to do with our foreign policies. They see us as the enemy, the infidels. We're the Great Satan. They want to either destroy us or conquer us."

She just smiled, one of those clever little subtle smiles that says she doesn't believe a word I've just said. We'd reached that point of mutual recognition: we were on opposite sides. I talked for a while about the Koran and the Islamists; but I knew it wasn't doing any good, it wasn't going to change anything. Nothing I could possible say would change anything. She knew it and I knew it. It has gone too far. We are too far apart. The only thing we have in common anymore is our politeness, our civility. But how much longer would that last?

"Sometimes, I think this country's headed for another Civil War," she said, rather matter-of-factly, as though it wasn't all that big a deal, as though she was talking about the possibility of another recession.

My glasses were fixed and it was time to leave; I said goodbye and headed for the door.

"Well, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree," she said.
"I guess so," I said.

Now, dammit, I had just written something the day before about how I would no longer just agree to disagree with these people, about how these people were the enemy, perhaps a more dangerous enemy than al Qaeda. And here I was 'agreeing to disagree' with them again. It was that damn politeness. That damn civility of this civil civil war.

Well, we both had our glasses fixed now. We could both see clearly once again. But what do we see? How differently do we see this world around us? And how much longer will these little civil wars remain so civil? How much longer will that inate civility still hold us all together?

God bless America.