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.


Daphne said...

I haven't read any Card for a very long time (I think his writing has gone way downhill), but he is the master of scary scenarios. Hate mongering in our country has gotten way out of hand. The problem is that it works. The politicians often get what they want with the tactic so it continues. I wish more people would think for themselves and quit listening to their talking head of choice. That being said I don't think we are that close to a civil war. I think before that would happen we would have a large spate or riots.

BTW if you are looking for some good reading I can recommend Sheri Tepper (her middle works not her later ones - she is a feminist and it comes out in some of her earlier stuff, but her later stuff is just polemic). After Long Silence and Raising the Stones are two of my favorite.

Alan said...

Daphne, I don't think we are on the verge of another Civil War either. We are dangerously polorized, and easily manipulated by the radicals from both sides (the fact that I can refer to two sides and expect people to understand is part of the proof) and the media that gives them air time. It just jolted me to hear what I thought of as a rather interesting but far fetched idea come spontaineously out of the mouths of farmers. Empire is a quick read and the essay at the end made it worth the effort. It's not up to the Ender trilogy (I know there are more stories in that series, but the first three were the best...)but certinally a thought provoking little story. I've read some of Sheri Tepper's books (a long time ago). I'll have to give her another look.

our friend Ben said...

I'm a Sheri tepper fan, too, Alan, though as Daphne says, her latter-day books seem to leave creativity behind for the sake of a rather sickening extremism (but then, I suppose all extremes are sickening, be they fictional or political). My Tepper faves are "Grass" and "The True Game." If you don't know Mary Gentle's "Golden Witchbreed" and "Ancient Light," Joan Vinge's "The Snow Queen" and "The Summer Queen," and Guy Gavriel Kay's "A Song for Arbonne" and "Tigana," you must, simply MUST, check them out. And if by some horrible chance you've missed Wendell Berry's incredible Port William novels, please for God's sake start with "The Memory of Old Jack" and you'll be hooked for life. Real people, real farms, real values. You'll have at least ten more novels in the series to look forward to! The politics of hate that has been dividing this country since W came to power is appalling to me---and I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else, though like your farmers I tend to swing back and forth depending on the issues and am probably more Libertarian than anything else---but I don't think it will come to Civil War. Why? Too few people here know how to fight, at least with anything more deadly than their opinions. Thank God.

Annette said...

I have not read any of these books - your comment reminds me of theories I heard while still in high school (grad 1985)about how the nation would become divided by a second civil war. *shakes head* I hope it does not come to pass.

Robin said...

Hey Alan,
Accidently found you through 2AcreFarm and Daphne. Dick said you were selling your fudge online somewhere. Anyhow, I'll be checking your blog out from now on. I have one too, Fishing For Words - Hope you'll check it out. Tues are on writing, Fri. are on the environment. As for this post, I agree that we are polarized. I can't dicuss politics or the environment with my sister for pete's sake-too volatile. But we all have times when we can come together and find common ground. We need to work on those times and make them stronger. I have to have hope.


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