Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ten Hours

"If you have any guns they have to go in the trunk."

"I... I don't have any guns."

"That's fine if you do, they just will have to go in the trunk. I'm a firm believer in gun control! Keep both hands on the gun when you're firin' it! Ha!"

And thus began my ten-plus hours in a car with what can only be described as an ultra right-wing hippie. I'd gone to Craigslist to get a rideshare to San Francisco. I had several possible leads, but the only one that left when I wanted to (and wasn't going in a completely decrepit car) was one that I felt sort of sketchy about. The guy's reply had contained spelling errors, on the phone he'd seemed sort of out of it, and he said that he could take me to a BART station, but not into SF proper.

I had a bad feeling about this rideshare. A bad feeling that turned out to be entirely justified.

The guy's bead obscured most of his face and chest, and his hair was in a white tangle on top of his head. I tried to keep the conversation focused on niceties like travel and music, but every so often things like this came up:

"I'm more Republican than most Republicans."

"I say, you get six months on welfare. Six months! If you don't have your shit together after that, you should put a bullet in your head!|

"This fuckin' health care bill is government-run extortion! Just a big present for the insurance companies! Before we had insurance, everyone could affor health care!"

"That government bailout was bullshit. Fuck 'em."

"There are people living off welfare. Did you know that? They're reachin' into my pocket to live. Fuck 'em."

"I'm in favor of local currencies." Me: "What do you think about the gold standard?" "I'm all for that shit!"

"I used to be in a gang. I hurt a lot of people."

"If you can't take care of your own shit, then fuck you!"

"This world would be great if there weren't so many fuckin' idiots in it!"

"We haven't been a real democracy for over fifty years."

(I would like to emphasize that I try to use exclamation points sparingly. However, given this man's volume, passion, etc. necessitates liberal use of them.)

Ten hours of this. Ten hours. I managed to sleep for a while, and we did have some pleasant conversations, but for the most part this guy seemed to be driven entirely by anger. When he was talking about things he enjoyed, like music, hiking, or drug experiences, he lit up, and went on about how wonderful it was. However, it only took a slow car, the presence of the highway patrol, or any other aggravation to get him going on about "fuckin' idiots" once again.

It was not his conservatism that bothered me. (Conservatism weirdly blended with hippie philosophy, I might add.) I can deal with people less liberal than myself. What bothered me was that his most animating feeling was rage, the thing that fueled his conversation about politics, society, life, etc., was disdain for others, frustration at something that he saw as wholly malevolent, a lack of joy when it came to percieving others.

I sympathize with political anger. I really do. All too often, though, we forget that the vast majority of the things that we do, we do right. We are not living in an unfixable, unchangable world, nor are we in the First World under the heel of something implacable. Rage has it's place, but if it defines us, we lose. We get sour and feel impotent, and rather than a wonderfully complex world pointing in all directions, we see slings and arrows coming directly for us.

I got out, after ten hours, and made my way quickly into the BART station. I cracked open the Neal Stephenson book I'm reading, and sunk into the intellectual joy of the fiction. I rode the train for the better part of an hour, and relaxed.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Common Dilemma

Let's say that you're walking down the street. Let's say it's mostly unpopulated, and you can see, about a block in front of you, a person walking in your direction. Very soon, you and that person will pass each other.

What do you do? Do you give them a short "hello/good morning/good evening" (etc.) or do you simply walk by in silence?

I have no idea what the right answer is.

On one hand, you want to say "hi." That's the nice, basically pro-social thing to do. You acknowledge them, they acknowledge you, if only for a passing moment.

On the other hand, a greeting can be sort of presumptive. They (or for that matter, you) might be doing a rather important bit of thinking, and who are you to interrupt them? They might be enjoying their walk, enjoying their time without people, and why the hell should you presume to interrupt their perfectly peaceful headspace with a meaningless and perfunctory greeting?

I honestly don't know what the preferred course of action in this case is. Part of me wants to err on the side of being pro-social and say "hi," but I can't do an adequate job of convincing myself that that's actually the right choice.

The larger issue, though, is that part of me wants to live in a world where it's okay to strike up conversations in public by saying, "Hello, sir! What a fantastic hat you have on today!" or something to that effect. However, my recent experiences with people talking to me in public have been, at best, annoying. A while ago a woman on public transit saw that I was reading and asked me "How's your book?" I wanted come back with a rejoinder like "More interesting than you," but thought the better of it. I was also in line for a restroom recently, and a man said something like "This sure is a long line!" I couldn't conjure up a good response to such an asinine unsolicited comment.

Those experiences notwithstanding, though, I'm not a misanthrope and, when it comes to people, generally like them. However, social norms tend to be in favor of introversion, and while that's nice if one wants to read in peace, I often wonder how many interactions and potentially edifying social experiences we miss out on.