Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Clichés Don’t Tell the Whole Story

My wife told me about an email she got at lunch today, and I asked her to forward it to me. I wanted to respond. The email had pictures posted here on Snopes with the following verbiage:

Hey everyone out there!

We, in Arizona , know you're boycotting us -- but you really should come out here and see our Beautiful Sonoran Desert .

It's just gorgeous right now! We know you'd love it and maybe you can share what you saw with the rest of the country so they can love it too!

This is on an 'illegal super - highway' from Mexico to the USA ( Tucson ) used by human smugglers.

This area is located in a wash, approximately 1.5 miles long, just south of Tucson , Arizona . If a flood came, all this would be washed to the river and then onto the sea!

It is estimated over 5,000 discarded backpacks are in this wash. Countless water containers, food wrappers, clothing, feces, including thousands of soiled baby diapers. And as you can see in this picture, fresh footprints leading right into it.

As we kept walking down the wash, we thought for sure it was going to end, but around every corner was more and more trash!

And of course the trail leading out of the wash in our city, heads directly NORTH to Tucson , then leads to your town tomorrow.

They've already come through here. Isn't Arizona just beautiful, America ?

Why would you boycott us???

Our desert has basically been turned into a landfill.

The trash left behind by people illegally crossing our border is another Environmental Disaster to hit the USA .

If these actions had been done in one of our Northwest Forests or Seashore National Parks areas, there would be an uprising of the American people.....but this is the Arizona-Mexican border.

You won't see these pictures on CNN, ABC, NBC or the Arizona Republic newspaper. Nor will they mention the disease that comes from the uncovered human waste left in our desert.

However, with respect to CNN, ABC & NBC, they do offer us "Special Reports" on cheating celebrity spouses....

This information needs to be seen by the rest of the country.


This is what I said:

It is heart-wrenching. Not so much as a result of a little littering ---  a church congregation or a similar organization or two could clean up the detritus and make what's reusable available to Goodwill or Deseret Industries in an afternoon or two --- but because of all
of the lives behind it.


  • The undocumented immigrants, whose lives were so desperate that they risked them (read The Devil's Highway, for example)
    to escape circumstances intolerable wherever they were coming from to cross a barren, harsh desert to come here to live like new-age slaves because living here as new-age slaves was better than what they had before.  
  • The elected officials of the U.S. government, who through willful and ongoing neglect of responsibility essentially facilitated the building of this highway through the desert and all the other immigration woes and concerns (read We Are Americans) by failing to enact, fund, and enforce meaningful and comprehensive immigration reform years and years ago, when it could have done some good in avoiding this minor part --- some littering of a desert --- of the whole big problem.
  • We citizens, who through toleration of a worsening situation and inaction by duly elected officials, augmented by our greed, allowed the situation to continue on and on through all the years, especially through the years of plenty when it was more advantageous to communally own these new-age slaves to do our drudgery before our economy went sour and it wasn't so easy to tolerate these folks any more, worsening the situation to its present proportions and making it more and more difficult to solve, heightening hatred and fear.
  • The multitude of U.S. businesses, small and large, and the individuals who have hired and exploited such new-age slaves --- new-age slaves who, without documentation, are in little condition to stand up for basic human rights themselves, (read, for example by analogy, Slavery by Another Name) --- which businesses and individuals thereby benefited from their hard work and sacrifices as new-age slaves, using their massive financial and societal resources to influence lawmakers and avoid responsibility.


The problem for me with the email is its facile nature. Like everything political these days, it's a cliché (see, for example, "How to Skin a Moose"), lacking deep analysis and heartrending empathy for tender lives. (Think of the story of the good Samaritan.) There seems to be little frustration out there with easy clichés like this one. Some garbage, strewn through a desert, and people in dire need of relieving themselves on their way leaving it to soil the earth. Oy vey. I wonder what the pioneers did.

We're lacking in emotional and spiritual wisdom when we make this kind of argument. It suggests we're not up to date in humanity, contemporarily or historically.  It's a treacherously naive concept of existence. Sound bites and clichés thrive in societies of simpletons. Clichés can serve as tools in expressing our world, but not to move beyond them, to say that they are the end-all or that newer tools aren't required, suggests a stagnant world without insistence on growth of understanding. No doubt ease is an asset in communicating. But it's a liability when you sacrifice precision or respect for real complexity. That's what bothers me with this email.

Are we taking part in deep discussions or just enamored with pace and simplicity so that exploration means only synthesizing sound bites? Do we send such drivel as these pictures and cursory narrative as a dull tool to make a point because it's the limit of our articulation? Is fresh, creative, complex writing rhetorically ineffective because readers, like us getting this, can't or won't spend time for that which is deep or difficult? I hope not.

I have deleted the pictures below. They don't tell the whole story. Furthermore, they are, it appears, taken from the Snopes site which says the materials (e.g. pictures) can't be used without permission. I also note the originator's CYA at the end of his message. I don't wonder why he/she needs to put it there.


Soon To Expire said...

There are "things" called principles. Many people, such as Jesus and Gandhi, have used them. Many times they sound so absolute. Does their succinct nature require them to have a long, verbose "story"? Does their shortness make them a cliche'?

wreddyornot said...

Yes and no. It's naive in the extreme to believe a notion like loving your neighbor as you love yourself (Christ) isn't more nuanced than just those few words convey. There're an infinity of stories behind such a capsulation. I've always liked the aphorism that says that brevity is the soul of wit. Another one I've mentioned often is the one that categorizes people, saying there are two types: those who think there are two types and those who don't think it's that simple. Anyone who seeks to characterize the plight of undocumented immigrants with a few pictures of unseemly clutter in the desert is no Gandhi or Christ because drawing such parallels are deceitful.