When I was 8 or 9 I went to day camp. Not sleep away camp, just a place to go for 8 hours while my parents worked and in some way enriched me or just kept me away from drugs and hookers or whatever else 8 year olds get into. You went to a few over the course of the summer and each one had a different theme. Camp Adventuresomethingorother was the sports one, there was Camp Echo which was the nature one, and my favorite. We’d go on nature walks and swamp excursions and get to take our shoes off and everything. I went to this one, Camp Arts and Crafts or something, and we just made arts and crafts. Glitter and cotton balls and popsicle sticks that turn into stick grenades, yeah it’s a thing, and the whole thing.
There were skits and singing and dancing and everything I guess you do when you realize that you want to be an actor or dancer or painter/unemployed when you grow up. I did all the things, painted trees and made a flag out of construction paper and acted in the skit. I did an impression of Steve Urkel, did I do thaaaaat, we did skits at the end for the parents with all our stuff on display. And they gave awards to everyone, best painting, best water color, best use of red glitter, best flag, most athletic, everyone got one. So I was waiting, sitting, everyone around me getting awards. Finally the ceremony ends and they hand out the rest to those of us getting awards for less public showcase worthy titles like most likely to set the place on fire and most times pooped their pants. I got mine, I still remember my award.
Most Cooperative. Least likely to make a fuss, most likely to follow directions, first in line when the counselors said to go somewhere, do something, best listener, least rebellious. It wasn’t for one thing, because there wasn’t one thing that I did well. I didn’t color outside the lines, I didn’t paint the Israeli flag in different colors. I just did as I was told.
In that moment at that time in that wooden cabin in the purple shorts my parents let me wear all the time I don’t care if I was 8 years old, I knew who I was. And I didn’t like it. I know it’s hard to believe that an 8 year old can have a life altering epiphanal moment but I did. I promised myself that from that moment on I wouldn’t just accept everything told to me, that I would do things because they made me happy because they were the right thing to do because that’s how I would do it, not because that’s what you told me to do. Don’t just cooperate to win an award. Trust me, it’s a shitty award.
There is an argument floating around the cosmos that by and large people are simple, short sighted beings. Cooperative beings. They like the things they like, they have their worlds, they want to go to work, eat cheeseburgers, and watch Monday Night Football. And I accept that for the most part that’s all people need to worry about. “People” don’t want to think about the world at large and they shouldn’t have to. A steel worker in Indiana doesn’t necessarily need to concern him or herself with the after school programming needs in the Bronx. He or she shouldn’t have to. But someone does, and someone should. These people need to stop using simplicity as an excuse. A simple and ill informed constituency is not an excuse. Instead of using that as a stepping stool to the platform of condescending “well-you-see”s and “this-is-far-too-complex”s, why not use it as a stepping stool to “let’s-talk-about-this”s and “now-we-all-understand”s.
The need isn’t just to have an intellectual debate, although no one would argue that as a strong societal characteristic, the need is to be able to have such a debate. To make accessible the necessary tools to have such a debate, and we are far, far away from that point. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Change, true and institutional reform in the way people think and learn and behave isn’t a quick fix. I just wonder why it’s easier to spend 170 dollars on a bagel than it is for people to realize that you shouldn’t be able to spend 170 dollars on a bagel. When did we decide that was ok? The wool isn’t over our eyes anymore. Unless I missed a very important meeting, which must have served very expensive bagels.