Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar

That is what Sigmund Freud allegedly wrote or said to explain that not everything has a deeper meaning behind it.

I haven't studied psychiatry in depth — just what I studied in college — but I know enough about it to know that an article of faith among practicing psychiatrists is the belief that there are no accidents in life, that there is always a profound reason for anything that happens, no matter how innocuous it may appear on the surface.

I haven't been able to locate a definitive source for that quote about a cigar being a cigar so I can't verify that it actually came from Freud. But it makes sense to me — in terms of both my life's observations of human nature and within the context of modern times.

And, from a psychiatrist's perspective, the cigar analogy is ideal. Psychiatrists are known to see sexual implications in darn near everything, and cigars were responsible for a lot of phallic imagery long before Bill Clinton dallied with a White House intern.

I understand the logic of psychiatrists, but I don't always agree with it. There are exceptions to every rule. Always.

Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar. (Or, to quote Rudyard Kipling, "... a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke." But I digress. Free association, don't you know!)

Anyway, I don't doubt that sex is a strong influence in many of the things people do, but, as I tell my Developmental Writing students at the community college where I teach, things are not always absolute in life.

My students want black–and–white answers, which means I have to explain (sometimes repeatedly) that words that are usually verbs can, under certain circumstances, be nouns. It is not a black–and–white thing, this study of written language, I tell them. Context matters.

I guess that's kind of a roundabout way of getting to what is really on my mind these days.

I've had conversations by e–mail and on Facebook with a fellow with whom I worked and went to graduate school in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When we knew each other, we were both Democrats.

Life has taken us in different directions in the last 20 years — in more ways than one. For one thing, we live in different time zones now, but that is only geographically.

Politically, he has remained with the Democrat Party and is a reasonably enthusiastic backer of the president (although he admits having his differences with the administration at times). The Democrats have veered too far to the left for my taste, though, and I now consider myself an independent.

My friend has had trouble accepting that, I suppose. He's adopted the them vs. us mentality that he so loathes in the opposition.

I find it disturbing that, like the supporters of George W. Bush, who suggested that those who disagreed with his policies were not patriotic, Democrats have concluded that the route to re–election is unfounded inflammatory accusations against dissenters.

In online conversations we have had, I've made it clear to my friend that I am an independent, although he has insisted on acting as if independent and Republican are the same things.

They are not.

I have also made it clear that I am basing my vote this year on the so–called pocketbook issues. That is what affects my life. Frankly, I feel the president has had plenty of time to at least give me the sense that things are moving in the right direction, that things are on a solid footing — but I don't get that sense.

But my friend insists on utilizing emotional arguments and has taken this approach — since I am not supporting President Obama's policies, that means that I hate him (which is not true) and, therefore, I am a racist (also not true).

I don't hate anyone. If I have written anything in my blogs that was interpreted as prejudiced against any race or religion or anything else, I sincerely apologize. That was not my intent.

No, I don't hate Obama. I disagree with many of his policies, but I don't hate him.

I didn't hate Ronald Reagan, either. I didn't agree with many of his policies, but I didn't hate him.

My friend makes the same error that folks on the other side make. He confuses dissent with hate. The terms are not interchangeable.

Voting against a candidate (incumbent or not) or speaking/writing against that candidate's policies is not evidence of hatred, even though both sides in our polarized political process love to accuse the other of hate.

It is evidence of the relative health of the concept of freedom of speech in this country, and each day I find a new reason to fear for the future health of that concept.

In my opinion, no other freedoms can long exist in this country if we lose our freedom of speech. It is critical to our way of life.

Politically, I have long felt that I am a centrist. There is logic to be found on both sides, and I lament the fact that centrists are a vanishing breed.

But any doubt that I am a centrist has completely disappeared in recent years. My conservative friends think I am a liberal, and my liberal friends think I am a conservative.

I am neither. I am me. And maybe my views don't make sense to the extremists. But they make sense to me.

If the extremists prefer to pigeonhole me, whether they know anything about me or have taken the time to speak with me, so be it. Doesn't mean it is true.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

No comments: