It's easy to think that the world made up of a bunch of fucksticks. And while they are certainly out there - you don't have to walk far to encounter all measure of idiots, douchebags, ignoramuses, assmunches, morons and outright fucksticks - I posit to you that perhaps people are generally more OK than all that, and that a lot of the universal ill will we all have towards humanity may be mostly the result of too much media consumption. Getting to know a person on a one-to-one basis is a whole different ballgame than viewing humanity by means of the corrupted goop that is spoon fed to us through screaming pundits and women's health magazines and gas pump TVs and urinal ads.
As with a lot of questions, you can figure out a lot by following the money. The media-industrial complex is not public service; it's big business. Its one and only goal is to make money. People are nuanced, complicated and (I'll go out on a limb; I think it's true) generally thoughtful. But nuance, complication and thoughtfulness don't sell stuff. What does sell stuff, and what is the basis for limitless reserves of cash-suckage, are two of the fundamental underpinnings of human nature: self-affirmation and schadenfreude. If you think along these lines, you'll see how neatly just about everything that gets fed to you on TV or ads in the subway conforms to this rubric by depicting nothing but the very most fuckstickish back alley of humanity.
The emotion that schadenfreude-based messages elicit are something along the lines of, wow, I may be below average in terms of looks, intelligence, wealth, sex appeal, marketable skills and personal hygiene - and, let's face it, basically a loser - but at least I'm not THAT guy. And self-affirmation operates by painting your preferences, biases, political leanings and worldview as so obviously, simplistically right and the opposing views as so ridiculously, maniacally insane, that it's an easy lob-ball, grand-slam to bolster your self-image and be comforted in knowing that what you believe and the way you live is so clearly superior to The Others. For all that to work, everything about everyone has to be dumbed down and blown up into an exaggerated, absurdist caricature.
The polar opposite of all that is meeting a person one-on-one. There is a scientifically proven direct, negative correlation between intimate, meaningful engagement with individual human beings and belief in universal fuckstickism. Everyone thinks their neighborhood is the best neighborhood in the world. "Once you get to know the people in [any town in any country anywhere in the world], you realize that they're all really great. We'd do anything for each other. It's a really tight knit community." So it's good to know your neighbors. But it's also good to meet some people in another neighborhood, and even in another state or - gasp - another country. Distrust of foreigners is usually just simple provincialism.
Leslie and I were in Lake Okoboji, Iowa last week, which all of our friends on the east coast thought was outright hilarious. The underlying assumption behind all of the chuckles and raised eyebrows was that Iowa - one of the most flyovery of flyover states - must be full of hicks and yokels (the rural incarnation of fucksticks). But, lo and behold, just about everyone we met was kind and interesting and had the same cosmopolitan access to the Internet and Under Armour tee shirts and pomogranitinis as the hipsterest of Brooklynites. We met a group of beer-gutted cyclists who shared their Coors with us and told us about their careers as a heavy equipment operator, cosmetologist, and promoter of a start-up company with a patent for an advanced sunglasses strap. And we met a guy at breakfast at the Mall of America Embassy Suites who was working all night, every night at the federal reserve installing check processing software and who, like me, ran marathons all over the country. And we met a spiritual yoga lady at a hippy coffee shop who, in response to a guy who said that maybe the reason there was no wifi was because people were meant to get away from it all, made the very valid point, "yeah, well I need wifi to find a good Google map to show me where to go to get away from it all."
It's the same thing everywhere. Cities, towns, dude ranches, lakes, Hong Kong, Elmira. Folks are alright. The barriers you assume exist everywhere may not be barriers at all. So take out the ear buds! Turn off the TV! Leave the house! Say hello to the dude sitting next to you! Sure, there are some fucksticks out there, but most people are pretty cool.
*This post is dedicated to my friend Josh Schultz, without whom I may never have been enlightened with the term "fuckstick."