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Which Is It?
My local paper printed two letters recently on the topic of Edward Snowden. He’s the contractor who blew the whistle on phone snooping by our National Security Agency. The headline for one letter read “Snowden a Traitor”; for the other, “Snowden a Patriot.” Both seem to have been written by liberals, and both were filled with righteous outrage.

Lefties aren’t the only ones divided by this story. On the right, the neocons are crying treason while the libertarians huff about Big Brother. Perhaps the divide isn’t so much political as it is internal. None of us is used to thinking about these issues in quite this way. The right to privacy and the need for security aren’t usually pitted against each other. In fact, they could be viewed as two aspects of the simple human longing to be left alone.

Now, however, they are in conflict. Terrorism isn’t just crime, it’s super crime — crime rising almost to the level of war in its indiscriminate destructiveness. How far are we from the suitcase-sized nuclear bomb? Not far, by some reckonings, and when the Nuclear Age meets the Information Age in that context, security and privacy may be torn apart for good. If one of those bombs goes off, where will the libertarians and defenders of privacy stand then? If the perpetrators are homegrown militiamen like Timothy McVeigh, how will the authoritarian right respond? And what will the anti-terrorists of the left say when the right to privacy finally evaporates completely?

Technology is pushing us toward decisions we are not prepared to make. The capacity to destroy is growing at a frightening rate, our freedom and individuality are shrinking with each new digital breakthrough, and we are left to sort through the consequences using outdated standards of right and wrong. There is nothing in our history or experience that can keep pace with our own ever-expanding inventiveness. How are we expected to make such choices?

I don’t know if Edward Snowden is a traitor or a patriot. I saw a Rob Rogers cartoon last week that called him a “traitriot.” Snowden made his stand, and then he ran away and hid. He was clearly not prepared to make his decision, but he felt he had to make it anyway. Given the direction in which technology is leading us, we may all become traitriots soon.
The NRA is Right
I’ve had a change of heart recently on the subject of gun control. The change comes as a result of listening carefully to the arguments of gun rights advocates, particularly those of the NRA.

According to them, we on the left want nothing less than to strip them of their rights under the Constitution and come after them and their guns. That argument has been the driving force over the last few years behind the great surge in weapons sales here in the United States. The more I listened to this argument, the more it made sense. The NRA is right; that is the position I should be advocating.

Before I came to this realization, I had been taking a fair and open (liberal, that is) stance on the subject of guns. Gun ownership in and of itself is not wrong, I had reasoned, and firearms have an honored place in American history and culture that ought to be respected. I had conceded the valid points made by gun enthusiasts and restrained myself from overreacting to incidents of gun violence.

Not anymore. My new position, as recommended by the NRA, calls for the immediate confiscation of all guns everywhere in this country, including from the police. I will not call for the death penalty for firearm possession, as I consider life in prison without possibility of parole a sufficient deterrent. I might, however, be open to the forfeiture of citizenship as punishment, just to make doubly sure the law is obeyed.

I would acknowledge that this kind of confiscation might prove to be an unfair hardship to responsible, conscientious gun owners, but I am not convinced that such people actually exist. During the recent debate in Congress over requiring background checks for gun purchases, it was widely reported that 74% of NRA members supported such checks. If there is such a thing as responsible, conscientious gun owners, then surely they would be part of that 74%. So where were they when the NRA leadership fought hard against the checks and stopped the measure? Where were the mass resignations and the angry letters? Where was the stepping up and taking of responsibility?

There was none. Their profession of righteousness was a pose. Their concern about the carnage was hollow. The 74% are lousy fellow citizens because they do not recognize the duties that come with the exercise of any right. 74% — that’s roughly three and a half million gun owners — do not see a duty to keep these weapons out of the hands of criminals, crazies, and terrorists. These people deserve to have their citizenship forfeited.

It’s possible that, given my history of vacillation on this issue, I might switch back to my old stance on guns. I might return to a more balanced and reasonable position, but unless the 74% start acting like grown ups, that return is hard to imagine. If they start living up to the basic duties of citizenship, I might still come around. Until then, I will do exactly what the NRA expects me to.
Consumption
Consumption, which was the common name for tuberculosis in its heyday, is an ugly, scary disease. It’s an aggressively contagious bacterial infection that attacks the heart and lungs, causing fever, night sweats, weight loss, fatigue, and coughing up blood.

Thank God we’re not going to discuss that. Instead, let’s talk about a much more popular form of consumption: buying stuff. It’s a much more enjoyable topic, right? Well, not if I can help it, citizen.

There is no denying that consumption is most often thought of as a good thing. Upturns in consumer confidence, for instance, are seen as cheering signs, one of the indicators of a robust economy. After 9/11, George W. Bush called on Americans to spend their money as the highest form of patriotism. Shopping till you drop is considered by many to be the ultimate recreational experience. Consumption, then, is the sweet fruit of good times, right? It’s our duty and birthright as humans in good standing to consume to the max.

Let us agree that buying stuff does stimulate the economy. When you plunk down for that bright yellow Hummer Hybrid, all kinds of things happen. The salesman and his boss get fatter paychecks, and so do the folks at the factory. In fact, anyone who had anything to do with the creation of that product gets a fiscal shot in the arm. They all spend that money, and they hire new workers who in turn spend their money. The ripple rolls through the whole economy, splashes against the far side of the pool, and comes flowing right back. Pretty soon, you want a matching candy apple red Hummer for your mate. And on it goes; before you know it, the whole economy is humming like a Hummer. Birds are singing, children are laughing, and the world is a beautiful place.

In your heart, though, you know it’s all too easy. You think there has to be a higher price to pay for all this abundance, don’t you? Something beyond the mere sticker price? What about the cost to planet earth, for instance? Think of the last time you consumed a beer. Once you got to the bottom of the glass, that beer ceased to exist. There may have been other beers delivered to replace it, but that particular lager had disappeared, never to be seen again. It had been consumed — exhausted, used up, and pissed away. Forever.

So it is with the planet. Every part of that Hummer, from the triple-stitched manatee hide interior to the Tiffany taillights, will be headed to the dump someday soon, never to be used again. Oh, there will be some attempts at salvaging the metal bits, but everything else will have been exhausted, used up, and pissed away. Forever. There will be other Hummers, but that particular helping of nature’s bounty is gone. I hope you enjoyed it.

I submit further that the price we pay may be steeper still. If you agree that we are unique creatures who have evolved within this unique environment, then what happens when we destroy a chunk of that environment? Doesn’t each act of consumption, then, destroy a chunk of us as well?

Hold on, you may interject. Do you dare to suggest that we humans are being consumed by our own consumption? Let me assure you, citizen, that the answer is yes. Yes, we are the tubercular contagion infecting our own society. Yes, our compulsive urge to consume will cause our culture to be exhausted, used up, and pissed away. Forever. And yes, we will be run over by our own Hummers.

Never let it be said, though, that I have given up hope. If we all move back into caves, live solely on the bounty of native plants, and try to die (of consumption, perhaps) before we’re 30, there’s still a chance for us. But it will have to be soon, according to my calculations — probably before the end of July.


Old, and Weighing In
Youth is wasted on the young, they say. Well, allow me to suggest an update to that saying: wisdom is wasted on the old.

That’s because, dear reader, old people are obsolete. I like to think that there was a time long, long ago when the young deferred to their elders on a wide variety of subjects. The old were seen as the repositories, not just of high wisdom, but of ordinary practical knowledge as well. If you wanted to know how to track and kill a mastodon, for instance, you’d ask Dad for a few pointers. And when Dad answered, there’d be no eye rolling or copping of attitudes. Not if you wanted to eat, anyway.

With the rise of technology, however, the deference toward elders began to fade. All age groups had equal access to the latest thing, and Dad no longer had a monopoly on know-how. And now, with the advent of digital technology, the old are not only dismissed as sources of practical knowledge, they are also viewed as ignoramuses across the board. If you’re old, I’ll bet it’s a challenge for you simply to text OMG without flubbing a keystroke. Most five-year-olds, on the other hand, can hack into your bank account with an iPod. Compared to you, they’re geniuses.

And so, here we are in a new age, an era of high-speed, impersonal interconnectedness and non-stop sharing that only the young can truly appreciate. I’m not really complaining, though, because it’s all kind of creepy.

If you ask me. Which you won’t.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon