Language is a mirror of society. Phrases track social developments, become part of the culture, and then drop out of favor and out of use as conventions change.
I thought about this yesterday when I heard a report on the Occupy Wall Street protests. A protester being interviewed was complaining about how unfair our system is and how he isn’t getting the support from the government and corporations that is his just due. My initial, admittedly knee-jerk, unsympathetic reaction was: “Let’s have a pity party!” — and then I found myself wondering when I last heard that phrase.
When I was younger, if you whined about something a listener would often curtly dismiss your complaint by sarcastically saying it was time for a “pity party.” The clear message was, suck it up, stop bitching, and keep at it, because feeling sorry for yourself wasn’t going to get you anywhere. That attitude seems to be a lot less common these days. Now, no one wants to be viewed as judgmental or unsympathetic. So, we tolerate people who whine and wallow in self-pity, and commiserate rather than criticize their defeatist attitude.
As a result, comments about “pity parties” have gone the way of the dodo. In my view, it’s not a good development.
Over the weekend Penny and I took a walk over to the New Albany Wetland and Nature Preserve. It’s a good place to visit on a fall afternoon, and for a dog who likes to sniff just about everything, it’s one of the greatest places on earth.
The Preserve is an 85-acre plot of land located across the street from the New Albany High School. A path winds through it, but it looks like it has been left in close to wild condition.
The southeast part of the Preserve is woodlands, and the northwest part is, for the most part, small ponds edged with cattails and reeds. The New Albany-Plain Local School District uses the Preserve as a platform for study of nature and wetlands. (Dr. Science says the Preserve is too small to fully serve the filtering function of a true wetland, but it’s not bad for something that is in the middle of a suburb.)
When you walk into the Preserve, the sound of the workaday world is left behind. The wooded area is nice and cool, and you feel like a kid walking around, kicking through leaves. When you get to the wetlands area, the goldenrod and other plants sway in the breeze, frogs plop from the shoreline into the water, and the ducks swim slowly away. It’s pretty and peaceful, with just insect sounds and the rustle of leaves for background noise.
I think it’s pretty cool to have a nature preserve within walking distance.
If you eat enough turkey over the holidays you can get a condition called “turkey fatigue.” In Ohio, I’m working on a serious case of referendum fatigue.
In November, Ohioans will vote on three “issues.” I’ve written about Issue 2; UJ has discussed his position on the issues here. Ohio Democrats, miffed about how majority Republicans drew congressional districts, also want a referendum on that law. An anti-abortion group wants to amend the Ohio Constitution to define “personhood.” In recent elections, the Constitution has been amended on several occasions, including to allow casino gambling. It’s getting so that you can’t walk to the library without someone asking you to sign a petition for another statewide vote.
In Ohio, it’s not hard to get an issue on the ballot. For a referendum — an action to challenge a new law — you need an initial petition signed by 1,000 registered voters and then a petition signed by six percent of the total vote cast for governor in the last election, with signatures obtained from 44 of the 88 Ohio counties that equal three percent of the votes cast for governor from those counties. The Columbus Dispatch, in a story about the “Personhood Amendment,” said 385,000 signatures would be needed to put it on the ballot. That sounds like a lot, but it is only a small fraction of the 11.5 million people who live in the Buckeye State, and is not a huge challenge for a well-funded, single-issue organization.
That’s exactly why the increasing resort to referendums is a bad thing. In Ohio, government is not decided by direct votes of citizens; we elect representatives who are supposed to study the issues, take testimony, and reach considered decisions. The referendum process means that the losing side on any legislative battle need only convince a small percentage of Ohioans to sign a petition, and the duly enacted law will be delayed until the election is held.
That result raises issues for both Republicans and Democrats, because Ohio is a swing state. If Democrats use the referendum process now, Republicans surely will do so when they are out of power. The elections impose costs and lead to the kind of over-the-top dialogue we are seeing now with Issue 2. On the complex issues confronting a diverse state like Ohio — where multiple constituencies and repercussions must be weighed — having decisions made by voters who are informed primarily by alarmist 30-second TV ads just isn’t good policy.