The Death of Meaning
Mean People Suck!
The square stickers began appearing everywhere about twenty years back on car bumpers, notebook covers, streetlamp posts, and my frontal cortex. When I first read and then reread this black and white epithet, my blood ran cold. I had to force myself to think why this simplistic rant so bothered me. What I concluded was that people would die, innocent people were going to die.
Mean People Suck. What exactly does that mean? For one thing, it doesn’t exactly mean anything. But whatever it means, it means it emphatically, angrily, and it makes an assumption that you know just what it means and that you feel it too. What should we feel? What do we deduce from this three-word creed?
‘Mean People’ are the subject. ‘People’ is pretty neutral, so it’s being mean that makes them suck. Who is mean? Twenty years ago, I suspected I was probably somebody’s ‘mean people.’ The archaic sense of being stingy couldn’t be their meaning, because they never learned that definition. ‘Mean’ indicates someone who is generally bad. Mean people think things and do things that offend me. They’re religious, probably, and intolerant—the great sin, the hate crime. They belong to the other political party. They dress funny, listen to horrible music, eat bacon and drive pickups. Maybe they hit people for fun. They’re mean.
That really just says that mean people are bad, generally bad, bad in the way we define bad. Bad People Suck. What is this word ‘suck’? I’m not imagining sipping a milk shake, and I’m not digging into the origins of that word either, as this is a family magazine. So, it’s just the pejorative use we’re after: to Suck is something, well, bad. But not average bad; really, totally bad.
So, what we have here is that Bad People are Bad. Here we find the death of meaning and a wild card of hatred toward any sort of folk to whom we feel alienated, seeking a mantra that excuses—no: encourages outrage. Mean People – fill in the blank: white males, heterosexuals, Republicans, Evangelicals, Southerners, farmers and ranch hands, the rich, corporate executives, Jews, bankers, and people driving better cars than mine – all suck. Why? I don’t have to explain. They just suck.
Since Ferguson, MO erupted in violence in 2014, raising a new slogan and with it an organization brilliantly named Black Lives Matter, the greater part of America has felt enjoined to answer those three words with money and vivid support, t-shirts and hats, black squares on Facebook, broad approval, a blank check because America feels guilty, and who can argue with ‘Black Lives Matter’? Black lives more than matter and they are truly aggrieved. Black people are deeply woven into the heart-song of this country, are precious in God’s sight and beautiful to know and share life with. More than any slogan, more than just mattering. Their value is truth. But the organization that bears this true slogan as its name is a self-avowed Marxist revolutionary cell that seeks to overthrow our way of life, to pit people against people along color lines, divide families, exacerbate racial strife. But Mean People Suck, so not wanting to be mean, we give them millions of dollars and hope they protest somewhere else.
When something doesn’t mean what it says, or doesn’t mean anything but manages to enlist our vehement outrage or support, we’re being manipulated. We’re being conned. The cults use language as a means to gain mind control, self-inflicted on the neophyte by the use of non-sensical statements, phrases and terminology that defy reason. Cults look for lonely outcasts seeking meaning and belonging with others to appreciate them. They teach a lingo that challenges reasonable thought. The lingo, this in-language, doesn’t mean what it says. We must turn our own objections off in order to get that peace that only not thinking merrily brings. Mean People Suck. Of course, they do.
‘COEXIST’ shouts another mantra on car bumpers. You’ve seen hundreds of rear ends admonishing us in letters fashioned from various religious symbols, the last a cross that makes the t. I think we can do that. Coexist, I mean. But that’s not what is meant. It means religions are intolerant, violent and bigoted centers of meanness. If they were true, they would live in peace. The inherent warlike gods of all religions belie the reality that they are not true.
But wait a minute! We’re not at war. No Christian-based war has been waged since the last Crusade. The Palestinian and Israeli conflict is the only religiously based hot war rising in our lifetime. It has killed its hundreds, surely, sadly. But the wars of anti-religious states in the last century killed millions. This is actually the most peaceful era in world history, but you must feel guilty anyway. COEXIST already. What is wrong with you?
The slogans today are mostly as vacuous and mind-numbing as Mean People, when mathematics can be called racist, and mothers reduced to ‘birthing persons’. Language is dying in more than its pronouns, and with it our ability to reason. Reason justly applies meaning and meaning bestows value: to men and women, to all races, to people of faith and without faith, to national anthems and flags and identities and borders.
Words mean something, and if they don’t, better say your prayers. Mobs are rising: in mindless, self-generated hatred, whipped into a fury they little understand and even less care about. A voice cries out, voices clamor to answer, and the windows of a thousand storefronts shiver and shatter, churches and synagogues burning through the night.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. John 1
What is spoken has tremendous power, both for good and ill. God spoke everything into existence. Our Prayer Book steeps us in such language that embeds itself in our spiritual DNA, becomes part of how we think, who we are.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table.
Words teach us right from wrong, good from evil, truth from lies. Use your words with care, and speak no lies. The slogans and pogroms have cost lives all over our land, little understood, no one taking responsibility. 400 police officers were wounded, 2 died, from the riots of last year. At least 25 people died in riots sparked by one death. An insincere slogan rallies angry mobs and people die, the innocent will continue to die if our civilization, its greatest art, the magnificence of the Constitution, the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible, and the Oxford English Dictionary—the best fruits of humanity—are sadly reduced to Mean People Suck.
The Rt. Rev. Peter Falconer Hansen
Bishop in the Anglican Province of Christ the King
Author: I WAS THERE, Eyewitnesses at the Foot of the Cross, 2015