It’s pretty common to feel squeezed these days. We’re watching our budgets and putting off that vacation, maybe even worrying day-to-day about whether our work hours will be cut back or, perhaps, lost altogether. But there’s another kind of squeeze we all seem to feel as well, one we perhaps can’t effectively articulate but which nonetheless bothers us: the squeeze of political righteousness. And author J. C. Bourque has had enough of it.
Welcome to the anti-rant.
Bourque’s book, Squeezed: Rear-ended by American Politics, is a frequently funny, often over-the-top diatribe against extremists on both sides. Whether you are a save-the-world, tree-hugging, composting ultra-liberal or a gun-clinging, Bible-thumping, conspiracy theorizing right-wing fundamentalist, Bourque has a few choice words for you:
America: Put your head between your knees and breathe into the bag.
Bourque, who calls himself a “Middle,” just wants to be left alone. He’s tired of people who, as he says, “think globally” but “overreact locally.” He doesn’t want to hear about your activism, or your belief system, or your latest theory on What’s Wrong with the World. He just wants to go about his business, live his life, and make up his own mind without being judged, lectured to, and, inevitably, excoriated for his beliefs. And he’s betting (at least enough to invest in writing a book) that you’ll agree, that you (in fact, the majority of us) don’t really care to have extremists raise our awareness. “Awareness raising is an activity that many activists engage in because it allows them to feel good about themselves without doing anything really important about the problem,” he writes. Too often, too true.
Bourque moves comfortably from topic to topic in what he admits is less a narrative than a continuing sequence of episodic outrage. He discusses our propensity to think in purely binary terms, the activist tendency toward what he calls “blurtosis,” our never-ending fight with cognitive dissonance, and our amazing facility at confusing coincidence with causation. He argues convincingly that extremists should, frankly, just get over it:
I know, I know—this is America, Land of the Whining Constituent, where everyone has an inalienable right to be free from want, live up to his fullest potential, and get a Gold Star for not waking up dead this morning. And that’s the perennial promise that we hear from the True Believers. Never mind that they never deliver.
“I’m not supposed to get everything I want,” he says, “and neither are you.”
While Bourque’s book is a great read, he leaves me feeling that there is no answer, that activism can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) work. With this view I take issue. There is a difference (which Borque rarely acknowledges) between activism and extremism, between a desire to make the world a better place and the bludgeon-wielding approach of those on the edges of the bell curve who work desperately to impose their views on others. Had he spent some time discussing this gap (one I feel is important), the book would have had more of an impact than it otherwise had on me.
Of course, the irony of that statement isn’t lost on me. Bourque, ultimately, doesn’t necessarily want to have an impact, nor does he really want me to, either, I guess. But then, isn’t that ironic in and of itself? Here’s a man who wrote the ultimate anti-rant against ranting. What is that, if not a desire to have an impact? If not, why write the book at all?
At bottom, even Bourque’s non-ideological stance is an ideology, and I think he recognizes that. So where does this inherent contradiction leave us? How should we understand his point of view?
Ultimately—beyond all the humor (and it is funny; the guy has a great ranting voice), the many bullet lists of how we should and shouldn’t behave, the repeated streams of slashed-together words/phrases/paragraphs/sections/chapters, and the clever use of what he calls “nounjetives”—the book forces an unexpected self-reflection. How many times have I gone past the point of gentle conversation with others and slipped into what counterparts may consider extremism? Sure, I think I’m civil when I talk about these things, but do they? And have I cared enough about what they want out of such conversations? Those questions are worth thinking about. And I will.
Also check out his website: www.squeezedthebook.com.