JONATHAN DOWNARD photograph

by Jonathan Downard

September 1, 2005

Where Is The Grey Area?

The title of this column has led me to ask myself, "Where is The Grey Area? Can we level the playing field ever again?" Thinking further on the subject, I began to realize that The Grey Area is where a minority of others and I live, not geographically, but in mind. There's so much polarization being emphasized in this country that I've begun to feel the animosity and the ugliness of the "us against them" attitude running rampant. Apparently, "liberal" and "conservative" have become bad words used almost as insults. At the present, with conservatism becoming the big fad du jour in the U.S, it seems like any of us that are a little to the left of the President and Mr. Rush (where're my pills?) Limbaugh get this word "liberal" spat at us with venom usually reserved for a rapist en route to his trial. But at the more liberal level, in the open-mic's and at university meeting places, a picture is often painted of every "conservative thinker" as a world-polluting, minority-trampling, world-oppressing, money-hoarding industrialist. Liberals are often looked at as tree-hugging, baby-killing, welfare-loving, pot-headed dreamers. Well, even though these stereotypes almost do exist at the most extreme ends of our political spectrum, most of us who are just a little left or right of "center" are getting a bad rap, one way or the other. Since I'm tired of all the name-calling and everyone's quick resignation to saying "that's just how it is," I welcome you to The Grey Area. There's room for everyone here, I think...

The middle road, which is actually one of the fundamentals for most of the religions of the world, somehow escapes the discussion of morality we're holding right now. Jesus taught it, the Buddha gave it its name, and the Taoists and many others respect balance of forces. But in America these days, if you're not with us, you're with them. In the Grey Area, that's not a legitimate sentiment. Morality causes huge problems for lawgiving, because it doesn't apply to everyone in the same way. Many people, the planet over, seem to feel that they somehow have attained this perfect knowledge of how mankind, plants, and animals are supposed to live and die. Whether they feel they derived this ground-shaking info from some religious text, from what their "daddies told them," or they pulled it out of their asses, this information simply does not exist. You cannot apply the moral implications of one religious or ethnic philosophy to everyone. This is why the Ten Commandments argument has become a moot point. This is why the "in God we trust" message on coins and buildings is actually offensive to some Americans. It's why we live by laws outlined by a Constitution instead of the teachings of Moses or of Muhammed. Some of us don't believe. Some don't believe as others do. Some don't see the relevance of these ancient concepts to modern life. The Grey Area is a place where you can't legislate morality or religion.

The abortion issue is one of the most violently argued problems of the century, but, in the Grey Area, it's not such a problem at all. It's an issue we just can't legislate. Science/Religion has never proven beyond a doubt when consciousness occurs. But awareness, especially self-awareness, is part of the crux of this issue. If a fetus can experience pain, does that mean it's aware? Religion and science have never actually proven anything (that's right, no "facts" exist-- everything we think we know about the universe is a series of generally accepted theories). The only thing any one person can ever feel sure of is his own consciousness, which throws a major wrench in the works. Is it an alive and separate entity? Perhaps. Aware? Who knows. Are we playing God? God isn't a relevant element in a political discussion, anyway. So what this argument all boils down to is sentimentality. Are you weeping for the unborn fetus that won't reach childhood? Or are you weeping for the broke orphan, the single mother, the rape victim, or the child that will now grow up in poverty or with parents that aren't ready to support and appreciate the child properly? To paraphrase George Carlin, I'd like to see a Senator or the Pope try to raise a child in a single-parent, low-income family before asking him to make decisions for those who may have to do so. All in all, I'd like to see pampered, wealthy, out-of-touch older men stop making decisions for the country entirely. Wealth does not denote intelligence or good conscience, but we continue to put our vital decision making in the hands of those wealthy enough to attain office. It's not that I, or anyone, would like to see rampant aborting used as everyday birth control, or that I'm a baby killer supreme... In the Grey Area, the only people who have the right to make this decision are pregnant women and the biological fathers of their babies.

The right to marry is actually a vital child protection issue. The institution of marriage provides hundreds of rights and responsibilities to spouses regarding children. This is especially true of adopted children. If the parent dies, the spouse can inherit the other's estate and take over parenting, etc, etc. Homosexuals are still being denied these rights, largely based on prejudice and religious fervor. Statistics show that children raised in same-sex couple homes are growing up with no adverse effects to health and welfare or social development and interaction. There is also no higher or lower incidence of homosexuality in these children. The only thing that is different in children raised by homosexual parents is a higher level of tolerance and absence of prejudices. Although the Constitution provides no outline for the institution of marriage, a religious group and common bigots are prevailing in this country in denying these men and women the same right to family union that everyone else is afforded. The cry of "save marriage" is laughable when, now, albeit by a slim margin, single, child-less people are the majority in this country. If act of marriage is occurring less per capita, then this argument is saving nothing. In the Grey Area, everyone deserves the same rights.

Race is a sense of origin, both biological and geographical, and that's all it can be in an egalitarian society. "Affirmative action" is an outdated concept. The playing field has to be releveled back to equal, because making any racial distinction only supports and plants racist attitudes. People of any sexual orientation, race, or religious group should not have any extra edge or disadvantage. It seems no one's terribly concerned with meeting any "Helping Poor-Ass White Person" quotas-- especially not in the mostly white, poverty stricken, drug addled, semi-literate corner of the U.S. I'm from. There's no longer any good reason in this country for the Latin Grammys, the Source/BET Awards, Miss Black USA, etc. One Grammys and one Miss USA contest ought to be enough... Again, these segregated contests/awards/scholarships/tax breaks only further and foster attitudes of racial separatism. Also, you probably wouldn't want to see the White Grammys or the Boy-Am-I-White awards. You should be awarded for your skill and performance, not your color or where you came from. You can choose what type of music to play, but not who you are. Whites, blacks, hispanics, and others can all win awards in Country Music, if that's what they want to play. Besides, whites have won awards for rap and blacks have won awards for rock, so why continue trying to keep everyone separate? Both sides of the current partisan political system are exploiting these issues to their own gain, as well... Racial tension dampers unity in the masses, which is something Big Brother is very concerned about. Oh, it's O.K. to put the ribbons on your car and feel some sense of togetherness during a ready-to-wear, designer war... But they have to stir the unrest among America at large, because if we are divided, we cannot overthrow them or change the face of American government. If we are busy enough fighting each other, America won't have the energy or focus to take power away from the tyrannically wealthy. In the Grey Area, politics and profits take a backseat to freedom, love, and equality.

Sheltering and censoring creates weaker people. What about the direction this country is going with regard to the First Amendment? Since 9/11, our rights have been diminished in the name of "security" (which doesn't really exist) and "unity" (which our government actually inhibits as much as it supports). Free speech, press, religion, right to bear arms... Our chief interest should be seeing these preserved, no matter the cost to someone's questionable reputation or the "virgin ears" of someone sensitive. I am a "strict constructionist" in regard to the Constitution, and I don't see how censoring or disarming people can make them stronger. You may not like President Bush or Michael Moore, but they both have the right to spout their propaganda and mispronounce the English language, as equally unpleasant as they may each be. We're witnessing a mockery of the Constitutional common sense that a blessed minority of Americans possess. Free speech in education is paramount and absolutely necessary. It was bad enough that Bill Maher lost his major network television show. He stated his opinion that, to him, it was actually individually less cowardly to crash the plane and go knowingly to one's death than to sit in a room and guide a missile by remote control on a video screen. A comment that should seem perfectly logical to most reasonable people became the basis for this neo-McCarthy witch hunt that has been escalating for four years. It seems, perhaps, that Ward Churchill's problems fall somewhere in a domino effect right after Bill Maher.

Everyone seems to be very anxious/afraid about what everyone else is doing. Oh-- and "what if the kids see it?" They have to learn, and if you're not going to tell them or show them what their world is all about, at least give them the opportunity to find out what they want to know. Many of those sheltered and unlearned children I grew up around found themselves floundering and at odds with their adult lives; unable to accept the realities around them or submersing themselves too deeply in the vice and freedom they find away from Mommy. I feel very secure in believing that it has done me GOOD, not harm, to read the other viewpoints, etc. Reading some of the Bible, the Koran, the sutras of Buddha, and other things didn't make me any more convinced or confused religiously. Meeting and befriending gays and learning about the lives and times of homosexuals didn't make me gay. Watching porn or violence in NO WAY made me violent or sexually deviant. Socializing and/or romancing with people of other races/nationalities helped me appreciate and understand other cultures. And admitting that I find attractive points in a socialist or communist philosophy in NO WAY should suggest that I'm interested in actually living under those constraints. It's important to acknowledge knowledge. Information IS power in our society, and those who would censor what you consume are trying to take your power away from you. Parents who over-shelter their children are preventing them from developing personal power of their own. People need all the input they can get to sharpen their abilities to smell bullshit. The media and news organizations are churning out more nonsense and pseudo-news all the time. In the Grey Area, we want to know the truth and the real deal.

Why are there only two choices? I think one of the problems many Americans have is that they are so busy taking an uninformed stand that they fail to keep their minds open to the opposing argument. I don't personally support Democrats or the Republican Party... Partisan politics is an outdated concept and is detrimental to our nation's progression into the future (or the now.) It's a money-supports-money system, and it bothers me that an independent doesn't have much of a chance. Supporting either Party would really mean I'd have to compromise on certain issues that are important to me, and we've seen over and over that the "issues" usually amount to a hypothetical debate among the "boys' club." And why should there only be TWO sides to this thing? It's easy to feel like your vote really doesn't matter much if you have only two choices that were selected FOR you. Most people won't keep going to a restaurant with only two or three choices on the menu. Candidates, if you don't spend enough time and money with your nose up a major party's ass, you have no chance. Oh, sure, you'd like to think it isn't that way-- but let's talk more about that when you tell me what you can remember about the last independent to win the Presidency. I was very upset to find that Ralph Nader had been stricken from the ballots here in Ohio. Whether I would have voted for him or not, why not have the option? People tell me, "You need to respect and accept your President." Since George W. Bush didn't actually win the popular vote in 2000, he's not my President. Is it any wonder that barely over 60% of the eligible voters in this country bothered to show up to vote in the 2004 elections? We don't feel like it matters anymore. We're tired of having our choices outlined for us. We're tired of our "elected" officials acting in ways that don't benefit us or reflect the rhetoric they used to get themselves elected. We're tired of eligible ballots being thrown out or miscounted. American government has become the proverbial bucket of shit that, although stirred around a bit every few years, still smells like shit. Representative democracy is not serving our needs anymore. The people need more direct influence and control.

There are some rules for living in the Grey Area:

Don't stop learning ALL you can.

Form your own opinions and judgements.

Do not be afraid of being contrary to the crowd.

Don't let yourself be "bamboozled" or "hoodwinked" by propaganda.

If you accept anything on "blind faith," you have no right to cry when you are "blindsided" by the truth.

Keep your opinions and judgements flexible. There's no telling what you don't know about yet.

There are no Red or Blue States here, only grey ones (maybe purple makes more sense). Money doesn't sway us here, nor does race, religion, sex, or any of the other factors our Constitution and Bill of Rights direct us to ignore in legislation. Liberal, conservative, and other labels don't really apply to individuals. We don't want to return to primitive living, but we also don't want to see industry, agriculture, and population expansion choking out wildlife and resources. Perhaps this makes me more "liberal" than I originally thought, but the purpose of this column is to reinforce freedom of expression, champion individuality/nonconformism, defend human rights, and criticize those who would threaten them. Welcome to The Grey Area!

For your free copy of the U.S. Constitution or to respond to this column, email mark10_18@yahoo.com.

Copyright 2005, Jonathan Downard

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