The Second Annual Valentine’s Day Rant
Is it my cranky imagination or does Valentine’s Day become more of a big deal every year? All of the second-tier holidays seem to have gotten elevated in the last decade: St. Patrick’s Day, President’s Day, Columbus Day, and so on. This may be due to a sagging consumer economy that runs on holiday-based spending; namely, of course, Christmas, but Halloween works just as well.
I’m a 40-something married woman but my attitude toward Valentine’s Day basically matches that of your typical, 4th grade boy: it makes me want to vomit.
Pre-Valentine’s, I’m reminded that although I occasionally enjoy listening to some local sports talk shows, I’m not their intended demographic. Every ad is about pleasing your “lady” and avoiding being in the “doghouse” by buying her something suitably expensive and/or cute. Occasionally cute and expensive are combined, as in a recent promotion for a teddy bear that could be wearing a diamond necklace.
Suddenly, grown women are expected to coo over teddy bears. Suddenly, every inadequately wealthy or insufficiently romantic man who doesn’t buy enough for his lady is Andy Capp, and his lady the bathrobed harridan who awaits him angrily at the door with a rolling pin in hand.
Valentine’s Day is among the tackiest and most tasteless of holidays. So is New Year’s Eve, which is also a heavily couple-focused holiday, feted largely with overpriced, mediocre prix-fixe meals, cheap dresses with halfhearted pretensions to class, and open bars with rail drinks.
Valentine’s Day trades in the most insipid clichés of middlebrow romance. If you took the promotions seriously, it’s all about hothouse roses, lobster dinners, cheap champagne, teddy bears, domestic chocolates, and tacky, poorly-made lingerie.
About this day, I’m a proud, unrepentant snob. The minute Build a Bear factors into my love life in any way, I’m packing it in. I had a friend growing up who was so indelibly marked by the Valentine’s mise en scene of true love that every time she tried to share a romantic or erotic fantasy with us, it ended up being all about lobster tails getting dipped in butter. There was never any sex, or, really, any man involved.
Valentine’s is a diabolically cynical example of how there is nothing that can’t be turned into a commodity, that can’t be appropriated for profit. Your feelings, passion, and heart are there for the taking. All the histories document how Big Floral and Big Chocolate appropriated the holiday to capture their market share of love from the card companies in the early 1900s. Your heart, for a day, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Whitman’s Sampler, and you will do its contrived bidding, or get called an insensitive lout.
As marketed, the day is emotionally proprietary and a celebration of smug exclusivity. It’s about who “the one” is. And, it’s romantically comparative by the lowest metric imaginable—who gets the best gift or, in more recent coinage, whose man does the “sweetest, nicest thing” for his girl. It trusses up ideas of romance, relationships and sexuality that we might otherwise have outgrown by now—to wit, males buy things for females, and by buying these things prove that they love them, and then they don’t buy their ladies nice things it’s because they don’t love them enough, and you, as a female, should pout about that juvenilely when it happens, until your male buys you something worthy to restore your warm feelings.
Now that I think about it, the elementary Valentine’s Day of my youth was much more philosophically appealing. The 4th grade Valentine’s Day was scrupulously democratic, even socialist. The teacher made clear that you had to share the love. You had to bring valentines for everyone in the class, and woebetide if your parent or teacher discovered otherwise, that you were conspiring to hurt someone’s feelings.
In its own way, those hastily-decorated brown bags by which we collected all of our valentines conveyed the loftier idea of universal, unselfish love, or agape. Everyone got a valentine, everyone was worthy, the default was to share the love. Of course, we were being “forced” to include everyone, and there was always that one kid—and I probably was that one kid for other kids—that we dreaded giving a valentine to.
But of all the social compulsions imaginable, surely the least offensive is that we extend an affectionate courtesy even to those we don’t care for; that we act loving, even when we don’t feel loving.
Interestingly, in its earliest days in America, Valentine’s Day implied a similarly encompassing social obligation, that you sent valentines to colleagues, relatives, friends as well as romantic interests.
The meaning of the day changed, such that there is now only one Valentine. I’m Yours… Be Mine… Those cards that you punched out the night before school and carelessly-distributed to everyone in your class are for just one person now. By adulthood, we have outgrown the tender illusion of that grade school valentines bag, that love and affection in this world would be equally and generously dispersed.
Those who are suffering heartache, unrequited love, a defunct, “I See Dead People” marriage, or are at the moment unhappily single, can feel rotten about themselves, if they took Valentine’s Day seriously--which I sincerely hope they do not.
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
- Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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