Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Contribution to the Fair

We went back to the County Fair today for one last turn through the livestock barns, one final attempt to commit suicide-by-foodlike-fried-substances-on-a-stick, and one more wristband-day’s worth of carnival-barking amusement.

Everyone needs a hobby.

Actually it was two last turns, since it was well into the 90s and brilliantly sunny today, and after a while we made the strategic decision to retreat until later in the day. This proved a successful strategy, and I can report that we did indeed get our fill of rabbits, grease and twirling around while buckled into seats, though not at the same time. Lauren even won a stuffed Pokey the Horse and at some point I will explain to her who Gumby was, preferably without referencing Eddie Murphy until she is older.

For my part, I always enjoy wandering around looking at the booths.

There were a lot of booths, as there always are at the fair. Any number of local businesses get booths in order to promote their products. You can find everything from the local newspaper to cell phone knick-knacks to water softeners to cowboy hats. You can purchase an air turbine to generate your own electricity. You can get your face painted. You can buy a tractor. Actually, you can buy several varieties of tractors. You can even buy a new shower stall to place directly over the old one, which will make your washing experience both more modern and about an inch further from the floor.

There were also what I like to call “cultural booths.”

Some of them are fairly non-controversial. The local hospital has a big tent where you can get your blood pressure checked and learn about the warning signs of strokes as you chew on your funnel cake and your cream puff, for example. I always stop there to pick up the traveler’s packs of bandaids they give out – they fit nicely into a jacket pocket and they’re good to have when you’ve got kids. The library is there with press-on tattoos, on the theory that if you’re willing to read things scrawled on people’s bodies you’ll probably be likely to read things written in books too. The county also has a couple of different booths touting the park systems, hiking trails and assorted other things they’d like you to know about when it comes time for them to collect your taxes. Taxes are the price one pays for civilization, and it’s good to see them spent on nice things.

Other cultural booths are a bit more suspect, at least by my standards – not by the standards of the rest of the people here in Our Little Town, apparently, but then I never claimed to fit in well here. Most of these booths fall into the “Evangelical Proselytizing and Propaganda” category, and the fair is just teeming with them. There are at least two different booths pushing Creationism, for example, one of which had fairly elaborate displays about how dinosaurs proved their case. I didn’t have the heart to read those. These booths were right next to the anti-abortion tent with the grisly poster-sized photos facing into the flow of people walking by. A number of local Biblical-literalist Christian schools also have recruiting booths, for those who prefer their children theologically indoctrinated and scientifically illiterate. They do a booming business.

I prefer not to think about how many of those schools we have here in Our Little Town. There is no way for that to end well.

And there are the political booths. The local Democratic Party tent was full of people outraged at the current state of Wisconsin politics, snapping up paraphernalia and signing up for the eventual drives to recall Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries). None of the cronies, minions and lackeys currently being recalled are in this district so we are spared all of that here in Our Little Town, but the local Republican Party tent was full of signs proudly declaring all the things they have done to this state over the last few months. Every time I passed by the place was empty except for staffers. Perhaps I just passed by during lulls in attendance, but I prefer to think of it as a sign of the hard times their policies are bringing about for themselves.

I can dream.

Straddling the line between the political booths and the cultural ones is the booth run by the Constitution Party. Or at least it used to be. They weren’t there this year, and I found that sort of disappointing.

Though there is also a large part of me that prefers to think that I had something to do with them staying home this year.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Constitution Party, it is one of those random extreme right wing quasi-libertarian herds of imbeciles that infest the American body politic like so many flag-waving lice these days. Like most such groups they claim to worship the very paper that the Constitution was written upon, so much so that they apparently refuse to sully the document by actually reading it. Most years they set out a table full of bumper stickers and buttons urging passersby to stock up on guns, refuse to pay their taxes, and generally make nuisances of themselves to civilized folk.

Last year as I was walking by one of the staffers manning their booth, clearly mistaking me for a rube, called out to me and asked me one of their standard talking point questions – “Is the United States a democracy?”

Now, when these folks go through their training the way this scene plays out is that the passerby says, “yes,” and then the questioner triumphantly swoops in and says “No! It’s a republic!” and then proceeds to argue that this distinction somehow justifies every other bit of twaddle that the Party wants you to believe. So when I replied, “No, it’s a representative republic with a neo-Harringtonian republican governmental structure put in place by the Founding Fathers that sits on top of a Lockean liberal democratic culture that has existed since the early nineteenth century,” he was sort of taken aback.

“Anything else you want to ask me?” I continued.

Most people would recognize that question as rhetorical. But there is no stopping a true believer, and he pressed forward with his talking points anyway.

The nice thing about the Constitution Party is that arguing with them has a certain “shooting fish in a barrel” quality that makes me feel pretty good about my powers of debate in much the same way that I would feel pretty good about my softball skills if I were suddenly placed in a t-ball league with 5-year-olds. It’s not exactly stiff competition, let’s put it that way.

So if it seems like I’m bragging about my rapier-like conversational skills here, keep that in mind.

We worked our way through his bullet-point list of things to say – he’d bring up a point, I’d explain why it was nonsense, we’d move on to the next. I’m not sure why he wanted to continue the conversation, really. Perhaps it was that we’d gathered a small crowd (including, much to their dismay, my own children, who just wanted to go on rides) and he didn’t want to back down. For a while he tried to cop out by claiming that I was welcome to my own interpretation but that he would stick to his own, which frankly annoyed me – I’ve heard that from lazy and intellectually stunted students too many times to be impressed by hearing it again, and after a short but intense examination of the flaws of that argument he agreed to move on.

Eventually he got frustrated enough to bring up the mysteriously popular “the US is a Christian Nation” point that is part of the foundations of the Constitution Party platform, such as it is. “Oh,” I said. “That’s right. You’re the morons who think the Constitution was based on the Bible.”

It must be said that things went rapidly downhill from there.

I hit my break point when he claimed that the fact that murder is illegal under American law and is also forbidden by the 10 Commandments proved that the US was a Christian Nation. I think my exact words were something along the lines of, “that’s the most meaningless statement I’ve ever heard,” before pointing out that every major religion and secular system of ethics also prohibits murder in principle, and that with the exception of radical pacifism all of them – including Christianity – allow it in specific instances.

At that point his buddy decided that not only was I clearly not going to be buying any bumper stickers but that I was also interfering with other people who might potentially buy bumper stickers, and got him to sit down and stop talking to me. Whereupon my children convinced me to take them to ride on the Yo-Yo.

I was looking forward to continuing this conversation this year, really – it’s not every day you find a target that easy to hit – but alas, they were nowhere to be found.  I like to think it was because of me. 

Because it's a harmless delusion and it makes me feel like I have contributed something of value to the County Fair experience for my fellow citizens, that's why.

No comments: