Some weeks it is hard to know what to choose as a topic. I had hoped to touch on three issues in this column, but space constraints will only allow me two, so I’ll leave the assault in Texas on the rights of women to have domain over their own bodies for another time. I will say that it probably shouldn’t be the province of two men on the Supreme Court who have — shall we say —checkered histories with women to participate in decisions significantly impacting them.
Here in Vermont, we have one of those threatened middle-aged white guys who should have listened closer to Bob Dylan’s prophetic lyrics in “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” State Sen. Russell Ingalls (Essex-Orleans) is concerned that a teacher in the Irasburg Village School gave 8th grade students in a humanities class the option of introducing themselves by including the pronouns they preferred to use.
One parent, for whatever reason, took great exception to his son being “pressured” to divulge such personal information and shared his concern with the general public via social media. Let the woodwork denizens take care of this errant teacher and his grievous sin.
Mr. Ingalls (a Republican, as if I had to tell you that) evidently agreed that there are far darker implications to the words “he,” “she,” “they,” and “them” than most people realize. He chose a response tactic that a lot of armchair intimidators use these days: He posted the teacher’s email address on his Facebook page. It was a totally rotten thing to do, but it was typical of the morally derelict compass that guides the people to whom change and evolvement only instill terrifying visions of the end of life as they know it.
I recently finished a new novel called “Beautiful World, Where Are You” by Sally Rooney. (This is not a digression, I promise.) I admired both of Ms. Rooney’s previous books, “Conversations With Friends” and “Normal People,” but I didn’t much care for the new one. It is a contemporary story about the friendship between two intelligent, accomplished young women and their tenuous and oftentimes rocky relationships with men and with each other.
I often gauge my reaction to a book by the amount of time it takes me to read it. It took me a while to finish “Beautiful World,” a sign that my interest in the plot and/or the characters had sagged somewhere along the line. A review in The New York Times suggested that the novel might best be appreciated by readers under the age of 40. It brought my vague dislike into a sharp and somewhat painful relief.
I guess the world has just generally moved beyond my level of comfort. I won’t be so melodramatic as to state that the tide has gone out on my perception of what is accepted (and acceptable) as appropriate social behavior, but there is a lot more sand showing on the beach.
What the young people in Rooney’s book demonstrate to me is a lemming-like desire to make their lives as damnably complicated as they can. Looking back on nearly 75 years of experience, I wanted to tell them that you really don’t have to actively seek out life’s complications. They will find you.
Maybe there never really was such a thing as appropriate social behavior, but you don’t react to perceived infractions the way Mr. Ingalls did over the big pronoun scandal.
I don’t really understand why people choose not to utilize the pronouns traditionally associated with their gender, but I don’t really feel threatened by it either. Except from a grammatical standpoint, I don’t really care and I don’t think there is anything more detrimental to social progress than a conservative’s notion of traditional values.
Even if I did, my reaction wouldn’t be to sic the whack jobs that infest social media upon the offender. And that was exactly what Mr. Ingalls intended to do despite his subsequent mea culpa about talking to the teacher, something that both he and the offended parent should have done in the first place.
This retribution as response mindset demonstrated by a state legislator goes a long way towards explaining why citizens should remain vigilant about who we elect and never kid ourselves that Vermont cannot fall victim to the same galloping craziness that has enveloped Texas and Florida.
Moving on to my other topic: There has been a national outpouring of sorrow for the 13 American soldiers who were killed by a suicide bomber during the evacuations in Afghanistan. Rightfully so.
The Republican Party has, quite predictably, used the deaths to condemn President Biden’s decision to finally end the longest war in our country’s history. Disregarding the “he knew what he was getting into” conception of sympathy offered to the widow of another fallen serviceman by our previous president, it might be worth pointing out that it was George W. Bush and his band of merry neocons who got us into this $2 trillion morass in the first place.
How much longer would the war have had to drag on, how many more lives would have to be sacrificed, and how many more billions would have to be expended to soothe the wounded pride and indignation of Mr. Biden’s critics?
It seems as if the political party directly responsible for the quagmire in Afghanistan has consigned the other 4,000 American troops who died in Mr. Bush’s endless war into a political twilight zone. God knows, we can’t expect remorse from them.