War or whatever….

Pete Davidson, the comedian who was best known for dating (until recently) the pop star Ariana Grande posted a picture of the Republican candidate for Congress in Texas’s second congressional district, Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who lost his right eye to an IED while on active duty in Afghanistan. Crenshaw wears a patch over the eye. “This guy’s kinda cool, Dan Crenshaw,” Davidson said. “You may be surprised to hear that he’s a congressional candidate from Texas, and not a hitman in a porno movie.” The SNL audience roared. The joke itself might have been funny if it were part of a sketch in which the eye patch was only for costume, but real injuries and disfigurements are never funny to anyone. Then he really stepped in it with either an insincere attempt at an apology, or worse, tag line for the joke, when he added, “I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war, or whatever.”

Crenshaw had the right response. He didn’t call for Davidson to get canned or for advertiser boycotts. “I want us to get away from this culture where we demand apologies for every time a person misspeaks,” he said. “I think that would be very healthy for our nation, to go in that direction.” In a tweet, he wrote, “Good rule in life: I try hard not to offend; I try harder not to be offended. That being said, I hope @nbcsnl recognizes that vets don’t deserve to see their wounds used as punchlines for bad jokes.” Crenshaw was wounded on his third tour of duty when he was hit by the explosive blast. Initially, he was blinded in both eyes before doctors managed to save his left one. He deployed twice more in non-combat roles and received the Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars (one with valor), and the Navy Commendation Medal with valor. This year he received a master’s in public policy from Harvard.

There is one thing I disagree with in Mr. Crenshaw’s response, though I imagine he was trying to be as conciliatory as possible. “War or whatever”, as well as the entire joke, was not an example of “misspeaking”. It was an example of overbearing condescension, disrespect and lack of self-awareness. And the audience laughed. Was it because Mr. Crenshaw was a combat veteran, an elite soldier or a republican? Or all three? Mr. Crenshaw doesn’t need me to defend him, and the fact that I am also a combat veteran–Vietnam–doesn’t make it any more offensive to me. I don’t get offended personally about anything, and generally don’t sympathize with those who do. That being said, I hate the term “whatever“, even though this so-called comedian suffers a common malady debilitating to good sense. It’s called alimentary canal reversal, ACR, and the main symptom is that what should come out one end of the digestive system comes out the opposite end. Is this grand joke the product of a team of professional writers, or a thoughtlessly tossed off show of underlying contempt? Like most ACR utterances, it leaves a stink behind.

Oh yeah, Petey, your pathetic attempt at humor helped Mr. Crenshaw win his congressional election. Thanks man.

Addendum to post: After winning his election, Crenshaw was invited to go on SNL to hear Davidson’s apology in person, and that visit created one of the finest, most hopeful moments in TV that I can remember. First, Davidson was sincere, he really got that his joke was rotten. Crenshaw was hilarious, roasting Davidson with his own jokes. But the greatest moment was what Crenshaw said. I paraphrase: When you want to thank veterans, don’t say “thank you for your service.” Say “never forget. Your father was a hero too, he died saving others on 9/11. We will never forget.” For a little while, this exchange brought us together.

The Ultimate Paradox?

The nature of material reality is uncertainty. The more you demand and hunger for certainty, the more elusive it is. How can it not be? You don’t know what the next minute will bring, let alone next year, or five years hence. One evening I was glorying in how my life finally seemed to be on the right track, one minute later I was on the floor, unable to move, felled by a stroke.

Your senses can apprehend only a tiny fraction of what is happening right in front of you, let alone above or below or beyond you, yet you can be affected by what you aren’t able to see, hear, taste, smell or feel. The amount of what there is to know about everything, from the people in your life to the vast reaches beyond this planet, is inconceivably more than what you are capable of knowing. Get used to it, uncertainty is your lifelong companion. You know this, so what drives you to seek certainty about things of which you can never be certain?

The futile search for certainty creates anxiety, which is good for the pharmaceutical industry but terrible for you. We’ve all heard about the opioid crisis, but the trend is down for opioid prescriptions and up for benzodiazepines, or benzos, anxiety drugs.

  • Approximately 16 million people in the United States abuse prescription medications. In general, men abuse prescription drugs more than women – with the exception of people ages 12 to 17. In this group, females abuse more than males. More than 1,600 teens begin abusing prescription drugs every day. After marijuana and alcohol, the most common drugs teens are using/misusing are prescription medications. Approximately 1 in 4 teens reported abusing or misusing a prescription drug.

The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

  • Opioids

  • Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

  • Stimulants

  • Anti anxiety benzodiazepines

Does anyone notice a pattern in what’s getting abused? Something to bring you up, something to bring you back down, something to dull the pain, and especially, trendwise, something to suppress anxiety. Is all this an indication that we are more enlightened, smarter, healthier than ever before? Nah, I don’t think so. These days, dystopian fiction is all the rage, in movies, TV and books, including the resurrection of 1984 and it’s associated Orwellian themes. But I don’t hear much about a more apropos dystopian novel, Brave New World! I bet you can’t name the author, unless you’re as old as me. Aldous Huxley, yeah!

Brave New World is a dystopian novel written in 1931. Largely set in a futuristic World State of genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to make a utopian society that goes challenged only by a single outsider. Citizens are engineered through artificial wombs and childhood indoctrination programs into predetermined classes (or castes) based on intelligence and labor. The World State is built upon the principles of Henry Ford’s assembly line: mass production, homogeneity, predictability, and consumption of disposable consumer goods. From birth, members of every class are indoctrinated by recorded voices repeating slogans while they sleep to believe their own class is superior, but that the other classes perform needed functions. Any residual unhappiness is resolved by an antidepressant and hallucinogenic drug called soma.

That brief summary makes Huxley sound very prophetic, in that his imagined world sounds uncomfortably like our own. Note the term “residual unhappiness.” A loving and omnipotent God is in control, what’s to be unhappy about? Uh oh, you don’t believe that? No way would you anesthetize yourself with such a fantasy? At least about that, you have achieved certainty. What a comfort! So why all the pharmaceuticals?