The Tragic Art of George W. Bush

5 Apr

merkelToday, former President George W. Bush opens a public exhibit of his works – more than 24 portraits of world leaders he met while president. Painting has been the primary extra-curricular activity of his post-White House years; he paints daily, and receives a lesson once a week. Bush told his art instructor to help him “unleash his inner Rembrandt,” and these 24 paintings are the result.

A friend remarked to me that is was nice to see the former president “humanized” by this new hobby. But to me, this turn of events seems downright sad.

Certainly, there’s the tragic waste of potential. Former President Jimmy Carter travels the globe building houses for Habitat For Humanity, eradicating disease, and fighting for human rights in third world countries, for which he received the 2002 Nobel Peace prize. Former President Bill Clinton may be a spotlight-seeking fame-junky, but he’s wielded his influence to the tune of 2,800 Commitments to Action, worth $88 billion, to improve some 430 million lives around the world.

George W. Bush has spent 5 years creating an amateur pastel of Angela Merkel.

Now, unless you get sentenced to community service, no one is required to do good things for others. But being a former Leader of the Free World is a rare opportunity. Spider-Man once said that “with great power comes great responsibility.” For George W. Bush, with great power comes a ranch in Texas where you can golf, clear brush, and paint.

Perhaps it is the stark contrast to the image he presented as President that makes this new artistic pursuit so queer. George W. Bush was a cowboy. He was The Decider. The Commander-in-Chief who proudly stood in his flight suit in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner after his rousing military conquest of Baghdad, liberating the people of Iraq.

Of course, those images were always something of a ruse. Bush was not a cowboy; he was born in New Haven, Connecticut and attended Yale and Harvard. He was not a warrior; he had avoided deployments to Vietnam while his peers fought and died. He did not liberate the people of Iraq; on the contrary, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died in the bloodshed following the American invasion of that country. Bush was a man who, whether aware of it or not, seemed to be wearing costumes that did not fit the reality of the skills and passions he actually possessed. Perhaps we should not be surprised then to see him abscond from power and turn toward other pursuits. While his old contemporary Vladimir Putin still gets to invade countries and command armies, George has slinked off to the sidelines. He is no longer an invader; he just paints them.

This image — of a man fleeing from his towering station, and turning to, of all things, art — seemed eerily familiar. And then it struck me: We’ve seen this character before, in none other than Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. The book’s primary antagonist, architect Peter Keating, is a spoiled rich kid who skates though school, rising to the highest levels of society through nepotism, cronyism, and the guiding hand of a powerful parent, despite having no real talent of his own. While he is rewarded with wealth and accolades, he winds up empty inside, knowing he was forced into a profession that others chose for him, when what he really dreamed of all along was to become a painter. Late in life, after years spent causing misery and even death, Keating brings his artwork to his architectural rival, Howard Roark, desperate for his opinion:

“I haven’t shown it to anyone.” His fingers fumbled, opening the straps. “Not to mother or Ellsworth Toohey … I just want you to tell me if there’s any …”

He handed to Roark six of his canvases.

Roark looked at them, one after another. He took a longer time than he needed. When he could trust himself to lift his eyes he shook his head in silent answer to the word Keating had not pronounced.

“It’s too late, Peter,” he said gently.

Keating nodded. “Guess I … knew that.”

When Keating had gone, Roark leaned against the door, closing his eyes. He was sick with pity.

He had never felt this before … the complete awareness of a man without worth or hope, this sense of finality, of the not to be redeemed. 

For better or worse, George W. Bush will be remembered by history. Presiding over 9/11, two wars, hundreds of thousands of dead and the near collapse of the global economy will earn you that honor. But through it all, he seemed to be more pawn than king. Not an evil man, but a man miscast by history, in a role he never fit and was eager to abandon. So it comes as only half-shock that while others go on to play large roles in world affairs after leaving the White House, Bush is showing us that he has other things to offer society, passions closer to his heart. Like painting. This, it seems, is what George W. Bush may actually have been destined for, had fate not played a cruel joke on him, and I suppose, the planet as a whole.

Bush has embraced this new opportunity. What’s done is done; he’s ready to be true to himself, to start fresh. He has put his art on display in Dallas for all to see. He wants to know: what do we think?

It’s too late, George.

 

 

Sentimentality Is Not A Justification For War

14 Sep

We often think of pacifists as tree-hugging, touchy-feely hippies driven more by emotion than reason, and of war hawks as cold, calculating, and unfeeling. But the run-up to war in Syria has shown that often it’s the hawks who are being sentimental.

Journalist and filmmaker Sebastian Junger crystallizes this point in his Washington Post op-ed, where he argues for the justification of war in Syria on moral grounds. He recalls working in his first war zone in Bosnia and seeing the dead body of a young woman who had been raped and murdered by Serbian military forces. Despite being raised anti-war, Junger “found it hard not to be cheered by the thought that the men who raped and killed that girl might have died during the 78-day NATO bombardment that eventually brought independence to Kosovo.”

While the gruesome sight would surely be enough to make any decent American want justice, in reality we know that the United States cannot simply declare war on every country where people have been raped or murdered. And when it comes to genocide in Congo, Sudan, Uganda, or Somalia, our government doesn’t even bother to ask us citizens if we’d like to intervene.

But they’re asking for Syria. Whether the reasons are moral, strategic, or simply financial is a subject others may discuss. But our government’s appeal to us is clearly sentimental. Yes, there are issues of international law, but in truth the public is being stirred to action by videos of children dying slowly in the aftermath of a brutal sarin attack. The images are sickening enough to make even the hardest heart weep.

But does weeping necessitate a military response? I can’t help but feel that we are being manipulated into action, the same way Sarah McLachlan solicits SPCA donations with heartbreaking commercials of abused puppies. She guilts us into donating to her cause by essentially saying “Are you going to let these animals be tortured, or are you going to give me money?” And it works. Our government is doing the same thing by releasing videos of dying children in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry has essentially asked us, “Are you for murdering little kids, or are you going to support this war?” But this isn’t true morality. It’s emotional extortion. And the appeals are insincere; no matter how much money you send to Sarah McLachlan, she’ll always have more abused animals to show you. And no matter how many wars this country fights, it seems there’s always a bad guy somewhere who needs Tomahawk missiles shot at him.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with emotional reactions to these videos. Humans—and in fact many mammals—can be triggered quickly to violence upon seeing the innocent slaughtered. Evolution has favored those who reacted immediately, and lethally, to the sight of harm befalling their friends and family, and a hair-trigger for violence and retribution undoubtedly helped our ancestors survive. But modern, civilized humans have done well to tame these knee-jerk emotional responses, and when examined with reason instead of emotion, the morality of military intervention in Syria starts to look different.

Why are we so easily roused by this chemical attack and not by other atrocities? The chemical attacks are reported to have killed 1,400 people; the larger war has already cost 100,000 lives. Sentimentality aside, I find it offensive to value one death over another based simply on the method by which the murder was committed. And why is sarin the trump card of weapons? I shudder to think of any child dying in a sarin attack, but I shudder equally at the thought of a child riddled by bullets, ripped to pieces by mortars, or impaled upon bayonets, and yet for some reason those did not warrant military intervention.

Furthermore, even in choosing ideal outcomes, sentimentality may be clouding rational judgment. Bashar al-Assad is a monster and a tyrant who is slaughtering thousands for personal greed. Should he be brought to justice, I, like Junger, would cheer his death by firing squad. But putting our lust for vengeance aside, is punishing Assad the best thing for the innocent people of Syria? Will average Syrians benefit from a punitive strike against regime targets that will kill, exclusively, military grunts and innocent civilians, while leaving senior military and regime leadership unscathed?

The best thing for Syrians is to have this civil war end quickly and return to the (comparative) calm of domestic peace. But can we Americans stomach such an outcome if it means the tyrant, Assad, stays in power? If we were forced to choose between avenging a child’s death or saving another child’s life, which would we choose? This is the difference between morality and sentimentality. As prospects of a Putin-brokered deal improve, we may achieve our military goals (the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapon arsenal) while forsaking our visceral impulses (the punishing of a villain), and this leaves us with an empty feeling in our guts, a feeling of injustice. But war isn’t about seeking justice. If that’s what we want, we should go watch Gladiator. Real-life war is about weighing the cost of taking lives against the benefit of saving lives. Answering that question quickly and hot with anger makes us sentimental; answering it analytically and cooled by reason makes us moral.

Intervening in Syria may in fact be the right thing to do. It may save lives. But our support cannot be based simply on an emotional response to tragic images. It must be based on sober, perhaps even callous analysis of what is best for Americans and Syrians. Yes, images of dying children are heartbreaking, but if our government can seduce us into war with the same ease that Sarah McLachlan manipulates people watching late-night infomercials, it doesn’t make us moral. It makes us a nation of marionettes, being danced around by our heartstrings, oblivious to the true goals of our talented puppeteers.

Miley Cyrus and Our Primitive Desire to ‘Twerk’

27 Aug

1377483237000-mileytonguebetterThis week, Miley Cyrus set the internet on fire with her provocative performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, in which she undulates around stage in a flesh-colored bikini, tongue wagging, in an apparent attempt to make a dozen life-size teddy bears blush to death as she impregnates herself with a foam finger. Skip to 3:50 in the video to see the pop star pretending her backside is an eraser, and furiously using it to remove Robin Thicke’s crotch, like a mistake on a multiple choice test. (At least that’s what it looked like to me).

This rhythmic form of dancing that involves shaking, gyrating, or simply jiggling one’s buttocks is known as twerking, and it’s sweeping the nation. Twerking can be done on a dance floor, upside down against a wall, or alone in one’s room before uploading to YouTube to see if a video of a woman doing nothing except shaking her tushy on camera can reach one million hits (spoiler alert: yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes). It is gaining popularity among young people as quickly as it is horrifying their parents.

Like many humble viewers, I watched Ms. Cyrus’ cringingly dirty dancing and wondered: Why, sweet Miley? Certainly the former child star is eager to shed her Disney persona, and knew the racy stunt would win her plenty of media attention, and I can’t fault her for that. But the act of twerking also has a primitive, biological component, one that Miley (and all humans) may be hard-wired for.

Dancing is an ancient human behavior, and seems to be innate. Even babies do it. And while we use it for bonding and displays of dexterity, perhaps no use is more important than mating. Studies have shown women can ascertain a man’s health and confidence by how well he dances, and have more orgasms with men they find to be better dancers. And men find women to be better dancers during the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle. Dancing gives us X-ray vision into the reproductive quality of potential mates.

rat_lordosis

Miley Cyrat.

But twerking is unique, and its origin lies even further in our evolutionary past. While its Wikipedia page claims this dance craze began in 1993, the technique has actually been around for several million years, under a different name: Mammalian lordosis. If you own a dog or cat, you may have observed lordosis behavior. Female mammals arch their spine inward and raise their backsides toward male suitors as part of the mating ritual when they are ‘in heat.’ Seen in cats, mice, and yes, humans, it is both an invitation to mate and a tool to aid in copulation, elevating the hips to allow for intercourse. While doggies get credit for the style, pre-missionary humans have been doing it just as long. And lordosis behavior isn’t simply confined to the bedroom. Anthropologist Helen Fisher speculates that high heeled shoes, which force women to arch their backs and stick out their buttocks, may be “sexy” to men because of their preference for lordosis behavior displays.

kim-kardashian-measurementsBut there’s more. To watch twerking in action, one can’t help but wonder if the real culprit might be the well-documented male preference for a low waist-to-hip ratio in prospective mates. Low “WHR” in women—essentially, the skinny waist, wide-hipped, “hour glass” figure—is the classic shape consistently rated highest by men in many cross-cultural studies. Women with ideal waist-to-hip ratios are healthier, more fertile, and usually aren’t pregnant already, all traits that our male ancestors evolved to appreciate, if only subconsciously. Done properly, twerking involves keeping the waist in a static position, then gyrating the hips and buttocks around in a big circular motion, creating the illusion of a skinny waist and wider hips and posterior. When it comes to presenting a good waist-to-hip ratio, twerking is actually quite ingenious.

V-Shaped former Governor.

V-Shaped former Governor.

So why hasn’t twerking caught on with male dancers? Because women don’t like hourglass figures in men. Male fitness is displayed by a low waist-to-chest ratio…the classic “V-shaped” torso that indicates a strong upper body, broad shoulders, and a hulking chest. If guys want a dance that drives women wild, they should invent a move that makes our chests look broader. Call it Schwarzenerking.

So while many are rushing to Facebook to condemn the trashiness of the performance, I, for one, applaud Miley Cyrus, as well as the other members of the so-called Twerk Team. Whether you call it twerking, grinding, or doing the New Jersey Turnpike, these clever ladies have not only perfected, but improved upon a mating call that has been around for millions of years. Just as we did with eating and hunting and every other animal behavior, humans have turned the primal lordosis display into its very own art form. Sure, Miley may have made some viewers uncomfortable. But I didn’t see that handsome mammal singing “Blurred Lines” getting too upset about it.

Turning 30 Sucks, Quit Sugar-Coating It

10 Aug

Olivia-Wilde-house-md-2144145-1163-1526I think Olivia Wilde is terrific. She’s a wonderful actress, donates her time to worthy humanitarian causes, and possesses not just golden age Hollywood beauty, but the class to go with it. And after reading her Do’s and Don’ts of Turning 30 in Glamour this week, where she describes how much she’s looking forward to the big 3-0, I’ll add witty and honest writer to the list of her attributes.

That being said, I cannot think of anybody on the planet who understands what it is like to turn 30 less than Olivia Wilde.

For starters, she’s still 29. I’m hardly a wise old sage at the age of 33, but one thing I do know is that turning 30 is not something you really understand until it has actually happened. The reality of turning 30 doesn’t set in until your 31st birthday. That’s the first day you realize you have failed to accomplish all of the things you said you would accomplish by age 30. When we’re kids, and envision ourselves as adults with perfect families, exciting jobs, and the recognition of our peers, we subconsciously assign a number to that ‘adult’ age, and that number tends to be 30. So no matter what you have or haven’t accomplished in your twenties, and even the 30th year itself, there’s still time left on the clock to achieve it. Until you turn 31. Then, officially, you are behind. That’s when the real anxiety sets in.

But of course we all know that, even in her thirties, Olivia Wilde is just not going to have the same problems that average people have. She advises us: “DON’T freak out about all the brilliant people who have accomplished more than you by 30.” Easy for her to say! She’s already accomplished the universal dream of becoming a movie star.

And while I applaud Ms. Wilde for insisting “DON’T cut your face,” I can’t help but wonder how many middle-aged actors and actresses rolled their eyes while reading it and thought: Let’s see how you feel about plastic surgery when you’re 50 and haven’t been offered a role in ten years. Not worrying about your looks is a nice luxury when you’re oh, say, one of the ten most beautiful people in the universe. Her alternative to surgery is to drink water, get eight hours of sleep, and never go to tanning booths. Simple as that, eh? Olivia Wilde giving those beauty tips to the average woman is like David Beckham giving kicking tips to a quadriplegic. It’s more condescending than helpful.

She also cautions women: “DON’T propose to the next guy you meet just because you worry he’ll be your last chance at lifelong companionship.” Good tip, I guess women should just be patient and wait for handsome, funny movie star Jason Sudeikis to propose to them. Oh wait he won’t, because he’s already engaged to Olivia Wilde, because she’s stunningly gorgeous and most women aren’t. Has Olivia Wilde ever wanted for a date in her life? Dating for most of her single readers probably involves some combination of logging onto Match.com in their underwear and drinking enough vodka to suppress their aching loneliness. At least that’s what my Tuesday was like.

In short, Olivia Wilde’s advice on turning 30 is to just travel a lot, drink plenty of water, marry a movie star, get voted PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity, and you will be quite happy at 29, and we can only assume, seamlessly continue that level of happiness into your thirties despite the physical and emotional realities of aging.

Olivia Wilde’s “do’s and don’ts” aren’t wrong. They’re just misleading. The reason so many people struggle with turning 30 is because of missed expectations. When we’re young, we all hope that when we grow up we’ll be famous and awesome and engaged to a celebrity and doing what we love. For 99% of us, the disappointment of turning 30 is that this dream did not come true. How can Olivia Wilde understand that? She’s in the 1% it came true for!

The problem is the collision of primitive brains with our modern world. Throughout most of our 200,000 year history, Homo sapiens lived in tribes no larger than 150 people, and usually closer to 70 or 80. And back then, just like today, people were competitive with each other, struggling to get the most food, live the longest, get the hottest mates and have the most kids. The difference is that in a group of 80 people, everyone has a realistic shot at working hard and reaching the top of the social ladder. But in our modern world of seven billion people? Good luck even getting close to the top.

That’s why so many people are miserable. Despite the fact that everyone reading this is ten times healthier, safer, and smarter than even the luckiest stone age human, you can’t appreciate it because your tribe got too big and you’ve become lost in it. Our brains, which evolved to handle the social dynamics of 150 people, are being exposed to thousands of uber-successful actors, musicians, models, and athletes every single week. Our brains weren’t built for this.

But there’s hope. The key is to constantly remind yourself that your real tribe–the 100 or so friends, coworkers, and family members who actually know who you are–probably love you and respect you and think you’re doing fine. And for them, just like for you, turning 30 does suck if you don’t have the job or spouse or kids you’ve always wanted. To be honest, turning 30 sometimes sucks even if you do have those things. But feeling that way doesn’t mean you’re weird. It means you’re normal. And once you realize that struggling at 30 is normal, you can relax and go about achieving your goals without the pressure of feeling like you’re behind everyone else.

So if Olivia Wilde wants to actually contribute to the well being of Glamour readers about to turn 30, she might instead tell them: DON’T aspire to be like me. I’m a freakishly lucky human. DO give yourself permission to get a few wrinkles, to have a boring job, to date a bald guy, to worry that you’ll never reproduce, to make mistakes and question your choices and, hopefully, take it all in stride. That’s an honest portrait of our thirties. And by being honest, we actually have a shot at happiness when we do beat our expectations.

Like Ms. Wilde, I want you to “go–be awesome.” But you’ve got a better chance at awesomeness if you know that most people don’t turn 30 with the same carefree, naive bliss as Olivia Wilde.

Now go–be realistic.

Say Goodbye To Cunnilingus

7 Aug

disappointed-woman-stuck-in-a-relationshipIt seems like there’s been an awful lot of talk about cunnilingus in the news lately, which is interesting in and of itself because the licking of female genitalia used to be on the short list of things you could not possibly read about in the news. Whatever gets tongues wagging, I suppose.

First there was actor Michael Douglas making headlines by revealing his throat cancer was caused by contracting HPV from oral sex. Then he made headlines again by clarifying it was not from his lovely, disease-free wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, whom we can assume was positively thrilled to be the focus of a national discussion on whether or not she has a tumor-flavored vajayjay.

And this month researchers at Oakland University in Michigan reveal that cunnilingus may be an evolutionary adaptation that helps men prevent infidelity in their female partners. Between cunnilingus studies and vaginal ultrasound debates and Anthony Weiner, I wonder how many grandmas have blushed to death this summer simply from browsing AOL News.

The study out of Michigan was eye-opening, if only for its obviousness. Sure, going down on your lady prevents infidelity…your head is right there cock-blocking the entryway. Other guys would have to go in through your ear! But even as a big defender of evolutionary psychology, this study didn’t pass the proverbial taste test. The researchers based their conclusions on the fact that men are more likely to go down on their partners if they think their mates might be at risk of cheating. How did they determine risk of cheating? They asked the men a series of questions about how attractive their partners were. Leave it to science geeks to assume that the only predictor of infidelity is how hot a girl is. And heaven forbid you should ask some actual women about why men go down on them.

As silly as the study was, it confirmed one simple point: Men are more likely to perform oral sex on women they find attractive. But here’s where this spells trouble for ladies.

We men enjoy performing oral sex for a few reasons. Our lips are one of the most sensitive parts of our body, so kissing stuff generally feels pleasurable. And like most mammals, humans emit pheromones from their nether regions. While we’re down there, we can literally smell a woman’s attractiveness. And of course there’s just the emotional titillation of finally getting a peek at a lady’s most top-secret zone. It’s like the Area 51 of body parts, and we’re like horny Fox Mulders.

But at the end of the day, cunnilingus is just another service that men offer women to ingratiate themselves, like buying dinner or helping move furniture or programming the DVR. Oral sex is a fun chore, perhaps, but still a chore…not something either gender is rushing out to do for a living if they can help it. It’s a love language we use to keep our partners happy, and we enjoy it because it keeps them happy. Yet with every passing year, women are going to find it harder and harder to snag attractive men who will perform these services for them. The culprit, interestingly, is the economy.

“The Decline of the American Male” has been written about ad nauseum, and I’m sure you’ve heard the broad strokes: The Great Recession hit men much harder than women, and left the male population of this country a lazy, unemployed mob of slackers and stoners. 20% of young men don’t work at all. Women outnumber men on college campuses, and a good looking guy with a decent job is getting harder and harder to come by. In societies where good men are hard to find (we see this often in post-war periods, where many have died) the remaining males get pickier, they have higher numbers of sexual partners, they wait longer to commit in relationships, and generally don’t have to beg quite so hard to get laid.

And therein lies the problem, ladies: Begging men have been your main source of cunnilingus. If going down on a woman is a seduction tool, like buying flowers or writing poetry, then you’re going to see it become as infrequent a gesture as, well, buying flowers and writing poetry. I have spoken with a variety of female friends in their late 20’s and 30’s about this subject, and they have anecdotally confirmed: Men in this age group–at least the desirable ones–are going down less and less often, for shorter and shorter periods of time. I’m not saying it will disappear entirely, but it’s becoming more of a quaint formality; a rushed inspection of the cork before you drink the actual wine.

On the bright side, there’s still plenty of oral sex to be had…if you don’t mind college guys and men of a certain age. Apparently, those are the two male demographics most likely to plead for the opportunity to impress you with their quick tongues. The young guys, I assume, because they’re poor and it’s one of the few currencies they can realistically offer. The old guys, because they’re past their prime, and need to use every trick in the book. A lot of guys in their 60’s have back problems too, so lying in bed with their mouths agape is about as adventurous as they can get.

So get it while you can, women. Good head is an endangered species. And Michael Douglas telling everyone that vaginas spread throat cancer isn’t helping the cause.

Ladies, do you agree? Are guys in their 20’s and 30’s keeping their mouths shut? Do older men and young guys beg for the opportunity? Sound off in the comment section!

Stop Slut-Shaming Lauren Silverman

6 Aug

Hey all! First off, head over to The Guardian and read my op-ed, Enough With the Slut-Shaming of Lauren Silverman, about Simon Cowell’s baby mama. It’s a venerable publication, so if you leave comments try not to fucking embarrass me.

Also, a big welcome to the many new fans of Blunt Monkey. Our little site has drawn hundreds of new subscribers and a whopping 100,000 150,000 distinct visitors in the last month alone. I am truly beside myself. Thanks to all the new supporters who are spreading the word, and to all the old ones too. To celebrate, I’ve got posts about oral sex coming later this week and racist daters next week.

Don’t forget to like our new Facebook Page, follow me on Twitter, and keep forwarding these posts to your friends. You guys are awesome. If I were a real monkey, I wouldn’t throw my shit at any of you.

Peace and love,

Adam

Gay Kids…It Could Even Happen To You!

15 Mar

 

In 1971, philosopher John Rawls postulated that an ideal world would be one we created based on a “veil of ignorance”…that we should design a society as though we had no idea where, and to whom, we would be born. If you don’t know if you’ll pop out of the womb black or white, rich or poor, handsome or ugly, smart or stupid, you might be more likely to make sure all of those groups have at least a fighting chance at achieving happiness.

This idea is crystallized in the recent double-revelation by Republican Senator Rob Portman that not only is his 21-year old son gay, but that he is reversing his long-held position against the legalization of gay marriage. It’s a move that I, for one, applaud, although it should remind us all of the fragility of our convictions. For many of us, our principles are a luxury we’ve been afforded because we haven’t had to walk a mile in anyone’s shoes but out own.

Rob Portman went his entire political career thinking that gay marriage was wrong, or at least, that it wasn’t his problem, because he wasn’t gay. He never took two minutes to wonder what he might think about it if he were gay. Or if one of his children were gay. Well, today we found out what he would do: completely reverse his opinion.

While Senator Portman is enjoying his involuntary crash course in Rawls’ Theory of Justice, here’s some other fun scenarios he can ponder:

Rob Portman could imagine that instead of being born to an upper middle class family that owned a successful business and sent him to Dartmouth, he was born to an uneducated, single mother on welfare. Does he still think children of all socioeconomic backgrounds shouldn’t be guaranteed health care?

Or he could imagine that instead of being born in the United States, he was born in Baghdad, Iraq. Does he still think the invasion of that country, which cost 100,000 Iraqi lives, was a decent thing to do? Or he could imagine that he’s the unfortunate neighbor of some suspected militant in Yemen. Does he still think unmanned drones flying overhead, assassinating villagers at will, is a fair weapon to use against people you aren’t even at war with?

He might for a moment ponder that instead of being in good health, he had Parkinson’s disease. Is he still against stem cell research that could cure his illness? For that matter, he could imagine that instead of being born tall, white, intelligent and good-looking, he was born short, Mexican, with a learning disability and facial disfigurement, and see if that maybe has any impact on his ability to win elections.

Or if he really wants to stretch his mind, he could imagine that, instead of being born a boy in America, he had been born a girl in the poorest area of Nepal, and sold into sex slavery for a few dollars by parents who couldn’t afford to feed her. Does he still think tax breaks for billionaires in America are good, and foreign aid to poverty stricken countries is bad? Or has briefly imagining life as the least fortunate among us informed his world view in any different ways?

I’m not trying to pick on Rob Portman, who I’m sure is a decent enough guy. But like so many of us Americans, he seems to walk through life mostly unaware of a simple fact: There are objective right and wrongs in this world, but we often ignore them, because we’re only thinking about what’s right for us. We may have worked hard and earned everything we have, but at the end of the day, don’t forget that we happened to pop out of a nice, middle class vagina in the 20th century in the wealthiest nation on Earth. Little baby Rob Portman didn’t earn that, he just lucked into it. He had already won the social lottery before he was even born. I know we can’t snap our fingers and solve the problem of global inequality, but we can at least act like we’re aware of it, be humble about our good fortune, and think twice before further improving our own lot at the expense of another’s.

I’m glad Senator Portman was able to open his mind a little after considering what would be fair to another person, his son. If our elected leaders could do that for the other 300 million Americans—and the other 7 billion people on the planet—then I’m sure America would become the great champion of freedom and justice that we all imagine it is.

Adam Farasati is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles, CA. He recently published his first novella, The God Killer.

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