Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Small Towns, Small Minds

I grew up in cities where intellectual stimulation was something normal and highly sought after. Most of my friends were solidly working class who worked their way through college as I did. Rich people were something we made fun of and spit in their water glasses when they ate at restaurants where we worked. I never met one person who didn't have to worry about finances who wasn't also a real asshole. I grew up knowing there were two kinds of people in the world-- those with money, and those without. One had power, the other did not. One was loyal and kind and compassionate, the other would sell his or her own offspring for a few dollars.

The list goes on and on, and over the years the stereotype held true as I began to follow politics, the arts, and the world of power and intrigue. People like George Bush were the ultimate proof that money made people mean, cruel, inept, and encased in a bubble that was filled only with their own kind--unless they needed a photo op and then they'd hold the nasty little poor kids and try not to look too disgusted. Or they'd invite some leader of an advocacy group for the poor to their home or event or fund raiser to show their civic responsibility. But if these photo ops tried to date their sons and daughters, or goddess forbid, tried to become their friend! well...let's just say they learned really quickly there was a difference between public and private realities.

Given my feelings about rich people, it was a simple mistake to think the utter selfishness, the total cruelty, the malicious and destructive lies and gossip, the scapegoating, the appalling shifting of blame and responsibility for their own mistakes to someone, anyone less powerful, less part of the group was easily explained as traits of the rich and entitled.

For some cruel reason, I ended up having as acquaintances far too many children of the wealthy and upper middle classes. Maybe because in the community where I lived the only other choices were religious crazies, high school drop-outs, or meth losers. I've written often enough how these rich people's brats were the first to stick me with unpaid bills and borrow money they never repaid, and how they made selfish choices rather than practical real world decisions about everything they did and thought.

Given these experiences and how I felt about rich people, it was an easy mistake to make that they were shallow, small-minded, cruel, selfish, and well-versed in the art of scapegoating just because they were children of the rich and had been pampered all their lives and felt they were entitled to something just because they wanted it. It was an easy explanation, and in many cases, there was some honest truth behind it.

But lately I'm beginning to understand what was really wrong with these people and it had nothing to do with money. While only one or two actually knew what it meant to be poor, most grew up comfortably if not wealthy. They grew up believing they were special. They grew up believing their world was so perfect that nothing else dare intrude upon its perfection.

But it had nothing to do with money. It had to do with the fact that many of them lived for decades in a small town and chose not to let anything else into that sheltered little world that could disturb the fantasy--like the Internet for example.

Instead they chose to live in these tiny little incestuous groups where gossip fueled everything. Even though many of them were now in their 40's, 50's and even 60's, they never really mentally graduated from High School. Their world continually recycled from nonsense decades old. They slept with and married each other and then had affairs and broke up over each other. They passed the same ideas around like a dirty pair of socks. And they grew smug and intolerant of anyone but their own little groups.

I understand now that people like me terrified them. I didn't have children. I didn't go to their hippie churches and pretend it was somehow different from the religious crap they were raised with. I didn't automatically take the side of someone who was wrong just because they were married or fucking someone from "the community." And horror of horrors, I wanted more than their shallow friendships and mean-spirited gossip.

The breaking point for us came when I met and related to fascinating people I met through online connections. To them the Internet, the world wide web, even email was something for sex predators or at the most, to make airline reservations for those trust funded treks around the world.

The social aspect of it did not exist for them. They couldn't allow it to exist because it meant they would have to change how they viewed the world and each other. They would have to wake up and see they became the dinosaurs of the modern world. They would have to see that the same thoughts kept getting recycled in their community over and over again without ever picking up anything new. "New" was not allowed because it challenged their positions in the pecking order they worked so hard to build. They may have been losers in High School but their cliques were now solidly and firmly in place, just like a nice solid tomb.

What finally drove me away was a divorce between two people who were married for twenty years. Within days it was no longer about the divorce. It became High School all over again with sides being drawn up, dirty tricks being plotted, lies being spread, trash being scattered and every one's personal issues fighting for the lead dog position.

I walked away and my life immediately began to improve. The quality of my friends improved. I more more money. I found a way to make a living doing something I love. And when I look toward my future I see many wonderful paths left to explore, many wonderful people to meet, many new ideas to share.

And the amazing thing? I never left town. I just left them. And last I heard, they are still involved in the daily destructive rituals of feeding on each other instead of looking to see what else is in the world besides their small little lives.

1 comment:

kb said...

Well put, Mishka. Insightful and incisive. Closed worlds make for closed minds.

Email coming your way.