Meet Pat, the polarized bear

POLAR BEAR, all alone, in a cold and isolated place (Wikipedia).

This is Pat. Pat is a polar bear. I gave Pat that name because it is gender-neutral, just in case Pat decides to switch teams, like Caitlyn Jenner.

Pat lives in the polar regions, the Arctic, or – as many Americans think of it – Canada, or maybe Buffalo during football season. Cold weather is really all Pat knows, and Pat really likes it. All Pat’s friends like the polar life and as long as the ice holds out – bad carbon dioxide! – Pat is just as happy as a hog in soft dirt.

Pat cannot imagine anything good out of not being cold. The only responsible, intelligent way to live is to eat fish, get fat and drink Coca Cola. Any creature that sees it differently is as dumb as a barrel of fur.

You see, Pat is not just a polar bear. He is a polarized polar bear. Pat’s specific team may be an endangered species, but folks who think just like Pat seem to gaining in numbers and volume.

An historian I admire – Benson Bobrick – writes about the concept of an “electromagnetic” universe. That is, that everything is either positive or negative, depending on which side you are on. If you are a Republican, then everything that Barack Obama did or Joe Biden is doing is wrong. If you are a Democrat, everything George W. Bush or Donald Trump did was wrong.

I know I am generalizing here, but isn’t that almost legally required by today’s intolerant level of discourse? Everything is a zero-sum game. The degree to which you gain, I lose, and vice versa. To the degree that I am right, you must be wrong.

As one of a shrinking minority of Americans, I read newspapers. In one paper, I learned that Dr. Anthony Fauci has become a “polarizing” figure among conservatives. Apparently Dr. F. overlooked the place in the Bill of Rights where “freedom from wearing masks during a deadly pandemic” is mentioned.

I also read that there’s a battle brewing in the nearby Los Alamitos Unified School District over state guidelines for ethnic studies. A lot of folks there argue that the curriculum for these elective courses is “divisive” and “anti-white.” I haven’t read all of the background material and I suspect some over-reaction.

On the other hand, the use of terms such as “institutional oppression” and “microagressions” set off my bologna alarms, a kind of processed fatty meat generated by people invested in victim psychology and identity politics in which moral capital is accumulated by claiming to be the anvil to other folks’ hammers. I can only be right if you are wrong.

This is familiar territory, and if you are a regular reader of this column – all six of you – you may be growing weary of me forlornly defending my shrinking place in the middle of the spectrum.

However, it needs to be said, over and over. Opponents don’t need to be enemies. Other ideas aren’t always wrong. There’s a bit of truth even in outlooks that may seem to be – what’s the term? ­ – polar opposites.

Think of Pat. Pat is satisfied, it seems, but cannot venture out of the small space in which polar bears live. He/she will never gain a greater understanding of the world out there. Pat may never experience the satisfactions of a mature discussion of ideas based on facts, provable truths or – at least – well-reasoned theories.

I suppose we can’t expect that much of a bear. But we should expect that of people. That is, unless we are all content drifting on a big chunk of ice, cold and isolated from warmer ways to live.

Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts’ column is posted every other week, alternating with “Usually Reliable Sources.”




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