Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stranger than fiction

Standing in line at the feed store today I overheard a couple of farmers talking. The line was moving slowly so I had had plenty of time to listen to them. The grumbled about the weather, and the dismal harvest, and then turned to the upcoming election, politics, government policy, etc. I was surprised by who they didn’t like (Dick Cheney) and who they did (Joe Biden). I wasn’t too surprised by their independent stance on most issues, jumping the line between the left and right depending on the issue. They probably jumped right more than left, but they were fed up with politicians, big business, Wall Street, and whining, save-the-world liberals. Mostly they wanted people to be responsible for them selves, to pick them selves up when they were down, and to get on with life. Stop looking for handouts (that said in the same breath as griping about the corn payout…) and take care of their own. Pretty typical conservative farmer talk. Not extreme, more Libertarian than Republican. Then, after grumbling about the healthcare plans and power-hungry politician, one guy said something that sent icy chills down my back.

I’ve been reading fiction lately. Usually I read a pretty heavy mix of non-fiction, looking for answers or information that will help me in the thousands of projects I’m working on or planning. But when I get to a certain point in a project and need to let my subconscious do some of the work I switch to fiction. It’s kind of like driving, or playing golf, or even chopping wood (except I can do it late at night, with my feet propped up on the hearth and a cold glass of cider at my elbow), it fully engages a part of the brain and leaves the rest free to work. So, I’ve been reading fiction. I usually read Terry Pratchett or Charles de Lint at a time like this. Great stories, thought provoking in a very off topic way. But, I couldn’t find anything new from either of them at my library. I’ve read some of their stories multiple times, but doing that again wasn’t going to engage my brain quite enough. Same with Michael Crichton, love his stories, but there are no new ones. I read a few of James Rollins books and quite enjoyed them. Rather like Crichton with a bit of Dan Brown and Alister McLain mixed in. Then I picked up Orson Scott Card’s Empire. It’s been staring at me every time I walk the stacks for quite some time. It finally seemed to fit my frame of mind. So I read it. Like many of Card’s books, it was hard to put down. The characters were great, the story clipped right along, drawing me with it. The story seemed to be ripped from the headlines even though it was published in 2006. It was a great read that left me looking askance at the stories as I watched the morning news. So, imagine the chill I felt when the two farmers waiting in line in front of me today reached the same conclusion Card did in his book. They didn’t get there from reading OS Card, or from parroting the vitriolic diatribes of the radical right or left. They got there from the pov of two conservative Midwestern farmers talking about what they see coming. For me that was the really scary part. These two reasonable men, standing in the feed store chatting and one says “its going to come to war.” The other looks questioningly at him. “It’s going to be another Civil War before this is over. There is too much hate and too many people grabbing power.”

I left the store, head spinning, and just sat in my truck for a while thinking. Are we really so stupid? Would we let the radical hate mongers from either side goad us into such stupid action? How short a step is it from being an armed protester making a point about the constitution to being an armed defender of your view of the constitution. There must be a better way, but I don’t know what it is.
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