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To Hell in a Handbasket

These are sad days here in our Glorious Republic, the home of the free and the brave, beautiful for spacious skies and purple (really?) mountains.  This land which is my land but not necessarily yours.  For some of us, certainly not yours unless you are in some manner us as well--unless we are what you are, which is simply to say unless you are already here in which case this land may indeed be your land if, that is, you truly are like us.

But although we're being told that the America we love is disappearing due to massive demographic changes, fear and loathing (trembling too, no doubt) are not reserved for immigrants and foreigners only.  Paroxysms of anger and dismay may be triggered by so many things in these fraught times.  We perceive ourselves to be besieged by enemies of all sorts.  There is, of course, the media which our tiresome and unusual president tells us repeatedly is "the enemy."  Then there are efforts to prohibit speech of particular kinds on college campuses.  There are fascists and white nationalists everywhere.  Nuns are being forced to purchase contraceptives, according to our Attorney General.  Chicago is a war zone.  NFL players kneel or sit down or raise fists when the National Anthem is played.

One must wonder if other nations are similarly plagued by outrage and anxiety and whether expressions of outrage and anxiety occur on a daily basis in other, less favored, lands.  Here, we wake up to revelations of monstrous conduct each day, or in the rare case when there is none, we're regaled with new information regarding those evils which have taken place. 

It's as if we been consigned, as a nation, to the Fifth Circle of Hell as described in Dante's lighthearted Inferno.  There, those who have committed the sin of Wrath are either engaged in constant conflict with their fellow sinners, or lie sullen and silent beneath the waters of a river, stewing, as it were, wrathfully.  We are a nation of the irate.

I wonder how this came about.  I don't think we always were so highly annoyed at most of what takes place, though certainly some of us always have been.  We have all come to consider ourselves dispossessed in one manner or another, but unfortunately there are those who have not actually been deprived of anything but what they think is their due or is proper rather than anything tangible, and they are the loudest in their discontent.  I refer to those who are offended by other people doing things or saying things which, it's believed, shouldn't be done or said.  What's done or said in many cases does no harm to those who object to it--some monuments are taken down, some pundit or institution is boycotted, some people speak a language which isn't English, etc., or someone is a boor. 

What has brought us to this?  Our ancestors faced economic depression and terrible wars.  We face nothing like that.  Instead, we take with great seriousness what people say and ignore our many problems.  The self-righteousness required to feel anger and outrage over such things is monumental. 

This kind of pettiness is troubling.  If we react in outrage to such things, who knows what we'll do if we're actually subjected to some real injustice, or are impoverished for some reason, or grow suddenly and seriously ill.  Perhaps we'll lose all control, all reason.  Has there ever been a case where a nation has fallen apart because it's people are, for the most part, spiteful and small-minded?  It would make us unique in history, I think. 

If you've ever wondered about the phrase "going to hell in a handbasket" and have done an Internet search of it, you'll probably find as I did that it is an American colloquial expression the origin of which is uncertain.  Why is going to hell in a handbasket different from going to hell in some other manner?  What makes it remarkable or poignant or interesting enough to comment on; what distinguishes it?  If you search for the definition of "handbasket" you'll find such useful definitions as "a small basket, which may be carried by hand."

The articles which may be carried in a handbasket are small, relatively speaking, and that may be why the saying seems especially apt at this time.  We've become small as have our concerns and grievances and so will fit in a handbasket as we're carried by some force or by ourselves to a hell of our own creation.

This post first appeared on I, Ciceronianus; Causidus, please read the originial post: here

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To Hell in a Handbasket


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