MY PET PEEVES
Michael Montaigne and Mark Twain amused their readers in former times by listing their pet peeves and personal prejudices. Such a literary rehearsal of likes and dislikes for others to see and enjoy (?) was, at least, a good way for the writer to let off steam. Hence, in that worthy tradition, I’d like to assume the pulpit, podium, or soap box, at this point and indulge in a bit of candid castigation.
First of all, my main pet peeve concerns waste: useless squandering, consumption, destruction or dissipation. There are two kinds of people in the world: savers and wasters. A saver keeps voluminous files of paperwork and closets and cabinets full of old but useful objects, while a waster throws everything away. Typical of the waster is the habit of wadding a piece of paper before throwing it into a trash basket. By this action, he is doubly destroying the paper, and when sometimes he must retrieve it from the can, all the wrinkles must be smoothed out. The saver, on the other hand, will often keep a sheet of paper that is clean except for a line or two having some mistake or smudge, and he will turn it over and use the back side. A waster kills many trees in his lifetime. He takes five paper towels to dry his hands, when one would do. And he clogs toilets with excess tissue.
The saver turns out unneeded lights. He cringes at the sight of street lights burning in the daytime, as glaring symbols of a negligent city government. Street lights shining in the dark are beautiful things, standing in orderly rows like an army of angels, aiding travelers, discouraging criminals, and cheering the lonely. Street lights at night are a blessed necessity. But a street light shining after sunup is a shameful thing that epitomizes the squandering of public funds and the wasteful opulence that is associated with governmental inefficiency.
The saver has a passion for permanence and stability, while the waster has little use for anything obsolete, worn out, historical, or sentimental. The saver is romantic; the waster is pragmatic. One is overly serious about life, while the other effects an air of nonchalance. The saver makes lists, but the waster wings everything by memory. A saver will write an article (like this one) trying to show a waster the error of his ways, but the waster won’t have time to read it.
The saver looks fondly at the past and likes to revisit old scenes and attend reunions. But the waster rushes into the future without a backward glance. When it comes time to meet the grim reaper, the saver wants his body deposited in some selected location with a permanent marker. The waster, however, would just as soon have his corpse tossed into a garbage can - but since this is not allowed, he opts for cremation and obliterative dispensing of the ashes. In this matter, the saver wants to look out for others like him who may want to visit his grave in the future. He reasons that maybe no one will ever visit, but at least they will have a choice in the matter.
Usually, by the law of opposites attracting, savers and wasters are married to each other. And recognizing the duality of the universal temperament, the Hindus deified these two types as the gods Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer.
Now, in view of the fact that at the end of this world everything is expected to be obliterated in a cosmic holocaust, a universal cremation, one can only hope that the Deity is not the Waster this makes Him out to be. For surely heaven is something like a storage vault or a universal archive that is typical of the saver, i.e., Savior. Since Jesus came to show mankind the nature of Divinity, it is helpful to note what He said with regard to waste. After feeding the multitude, He told his disciples, “Gather up the bits left over, so that nothing will be wasted” (John 6:12).
When a new child is born into a household, it is common for him to turn up his nose at some of the new substances that are being put into his mouth. So, allowing him to have his own way, the mother may not force the issue. And she may even declare to others, in the child’s hearing, that he simply will not eat or drink certain foodstuffs. This ruins the child for life. Subsequently, when the child is visiting in someone’s home, he may make a disgusting face at a meal he is offered and thus become a source of embarrassment to his parents and of chagrin to his hosts.
Actually the idea that any nutritious substance is either unpalatable or inedible is a sin against the Creator who made all the bounty of nature for the man’s use and enjoyment. The Apostle Peter was reproved for not eating the “animals, reptiles, and birds” that he saw in a vision (Acts 10:12), and Jesus was said to have “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19). He also commanded, “When you enter a town and they receive you in their homes, eat whatever is set before you” (Luke 10:8).
Fussy, fastidious picking-over of food is an insult to the one who prepared the meal. It is the embodiment of conceit. On the other hand, the sure sign of a cultivated man is a cosmopolitan palate, one that can enjoy the food set before him in any land, and the good taste which actually relishes some new dish as a furthering of his education and experience.
There are just too many people who operate under the illusion that the world revolves around them. These are the kind who will try to talk to me when I am reading a book. Other toughtless people are those who chat with bank tellers while the line grows behind them, those who drive slowly in the left lane, those who pollute the air with tobacco smoke or foul language, and those greedy merchants who work their people seven days a week. Specially odious to me are the those who mistreat servants who cannot answer back. And the same goes for ungrateful patients who are surly and irritable with care-givers who are trying to make life easier for them. I am also chagrined by the fact that most thermostats are controlled by over-fed butter balls who would be comfortable at the North Pole in shirt sleeves.
Then there are pushy people who break into lines and who, in their automobiles cannot stand being at the end of a column of cars. These same people park over the line, taking up two spaces either intentionally - so their precious vehicle will not be hit by a car door - or unconsciously because of sloppy parking habits.
I have no sympathy for people who move into a neighborhood and then try to change it to suit themselves. The audacity of some people is amazing. If they move next to a chicken farmer, they will protest that his roosters wake them up every morning. If they move next to an airport, they will protest the noise and low-flying planes. If they move to a busy thoroughfare, they will agitate for “traffic calming” devices or a street blockade. What is right and proper in all of these cases is for the unhappy residents to move. They should simply pack up and go someplace that is more to their liking. Nobody made them move to their present location. They are like the blacklung people who sue tobacco companies, as though they had been forced to suck on the weed and had never heard of the concept of cigarettes as “coffin nails.”
People who dote on animals are a strange breed, because they imagine that everyone is as crazy about critters as they are. Since they enjoy being kissed in the face and licked by the same tongue with which the beast cleans itself, they cannot see how this might be offensive to anybody else. As for me, I must confess a dislike of animals in general. Because they are both dumb and of low intelligence, keeping company with animals makes as much sense to me as associating with human morons. Animals stink, have fleas, drop hairs, slobber on guests, leave unpleasant residues, and chew furniture. They do all of the destructive, unamusing things that frustrate the silly owners of Fred the basset and Garfield the cat. They confine a person from traveling abroad and demand care that elderly folks need but are sent to nursing homes for instead. Large animals consume great quantities of the world’s food resources. And since they are often dangerous, in my estimation big beasts should not be in houses but in zoos. The fact of the matter is that a pet retains some of its wild, unhousebroken nature and can revert to its latent instincts with unpleasant results. One main tragedy of misplaced affection for animals is that there are children left pining in orphanages, who would be more worthy of such love. To me pets are acceptable at only two times in life, in romping childhood and lonely old age.
I am not enamored with speed, and, in fact, out on the highway I set my cruise control at the prescribed limit and move into the right lane to enjoy a hassel-free trip. At the same time, however, I feel that most of the speed limits around a city are set too low. Also, so-called “traffic calming” measures can reach ridiculous extremes with lane-narrowing islands, blocked-off streets, superfluous traffic lights, numerous stop signs, and speed bumps everywhere restricting normal traffic flow. To make things worse, policemen crouch like sinister spiders along the roadways harassing the public when they could be better utilized investigating crimes.
There are several practical arguments against artificial impediments on our streets. In many cases it turns out that lane-narrowing devices become traffic hazards, squeezing an artery too quickly and forcing instantaneous decisions to merge. Speed bumps, rumble strips, and undulations can unseat motorcyclists and cause damage to automobiles. Also, signs, lights, and barricades are expensive, and they increase noise and accidents, as well as wasting time and gasoline, while adding more pollution to the air. All of these devices increase the response time of emergency vehicles, and in most cases they just divert traffic to other residential areas. Also, a barricade is rightfully resented as a wall of isolation erected for the personal benefit of self-centered people at the expense of everyone else. There is already enough stress in life without city officials making annoying and inconvenient obstructions to appease the desires of a few at the expense of many.
Also, I despise aimless meandering streets, where travelers become confused in their directions and get lost trying to locate someone’s address. Every road should be a beeline in keeping with the Bible’s maxim: “Make straight the highway” (Isaiah 40:3), and it is worthy of note that this ideal thoroughfare is to be achieved by raising valleys, lowering hills, making crooked ways straight, and causing rough places to be smooth. Also, everyone is familiar with the geometrical axiom, “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” All of this wisdom appears to be lost on many developers and city fathers who seem to take great pains in restricting sensible traffic flow.
In some places I feel like “the crooked man who went a crooked mile” in the nursery rhyme. But actually, in Florida’s tableland topography there is no excuse for constructing crooked roads, except when it comes to dealing with our numerous lakes that have to be either circumvented or bridged.
I live on a busy street, and it was that way when I moved there. I accepted this street’s traffic volume then, and I accept it now. Otherwise, I could choose to live someplace else. To my way of thinking, it would be the height of selfish arrogance if I were to attempt any measure to prevent people from freely driving down this public street. Their taxes paid for it, and they have the right to use it. (By the way, the same goes for free public access to lakes, rivers, and oceans.) It seems that some self-centered folks feel that the whole world must revolve around them and their petty desires, and it is when politicians cater to the whims of such people that discrimination against the majority of the public is established as legal despotism. Whenever a street, which should be public domain, is effectively seized by city officials and made over into the private property of a few residents, this exemplifies the “me first” attitude that is a major ethical flaw in our society today.
We seem to have forgotten that streets were built for automobiles. Nowadays the thinking is to abolish or curtail vehicular traffic and give the roads to bikers and joggers instead of restricting these often careless, vulnerable, and daredevil road-hogs to designated sidepaths or less-traveled roads. Evidently, these pedestrian athletes have forgotten an important lesson from their childhood - that it is not safe to play in the streets.
Setting speed limits that are too low is an invitation to ignore the law. And any government that makes laws with the knowledge that they will be circumvented by most citizens is guilty of criminal provocation. Thus it follows that when there is a clear view of oncoming traffic, superfluous stop signs, double center stripes, and no-right-on-red signs at traffic lights should be abolished. Most cities need wider streets and higher speed limits. As things stand, our city officials are nothing but doddering old gossips at their tea, out of touch with reality, and perpetuating obsolete rules and regulations in a horse-and-buggy mentality that flies in the face of modern transportation concepts. One wonders why they choose to waste any tax money on building smooth and safe roadways and then impose ridiculous speed limits not in keeping with the rates for which they were designed. They might as well have kept the old bumpy cowpaths, if oxcart-speed travel is all that is allowed.
I had a civics professor in college who predicted that society will make more and more laws in the passing years, restricting free movement and activity, until everything finally comes to a standstill.
When people come to America, they are relocating to what they believe to be a better place than that from which they came. Thus, they should accept the culture, the values, the attitudes, and the challenges that have contributed to the greatness of this land. If they insist on retaining ideas rooted in their old culture, they are contributing to the decline of this great society. They should learn our laws and obey them. They should take part in democratic government. They should speak English. They should anglicize their unspellable and unpronounceable names (taking advantage of the fact that every person who becomes a citizen is given the opportunity to change his name as a part of the naturalization process). There is a place for ethnic pride in small groups, but out in society ethnicity is an impediment to free communication and a roadblock to cooperative effort.
I dislike censorship, including book banning and the prosecution of victimless “crimes.” If there must be error, let it be toward more, not less, freedom. I find ludicrous those books in which illustrations of nudity are touched up with blackout bands. Some books and activities should be kept from children, but, otherwise, an adult should be able to read or not read, do or not do, what he chooses, as long as no one suffers as a result. Too many masterpieces have been condemned because they could not meet the standards of some controlling busybody. Too much genius has been ignored by narrow minded bigots down through the ages. Realism in the arts should not be subject to some censor, but by the same token, neither should television or movies distort reality by depicting weird behavior as normal.
Censorship by fire and destruction has been a blight on human history. The Bible says that books of magic were burned at Ephesus after the preaching of Paul (Acts 19:19). They probably included works by thaumaturgists, astrologers, healers, alchemists, and other pseudo-scientists. Just one of these books would be priceless today. And after Christianity became ascendant, it set about destroying Greek temples, statues, and books. Now, even a broken statue from that time is of great value. The Arab conquerors of Alexandria burned the books in that city’s great library, and Muslims obliterated mosaics in Christian churches. The Inquisition burned books and heretics in public bonfires, and Savonarola did the same with works of art in Florence. English Puritans pillaged churches in their land, breaking out stained glass and smashing statues. And German Nazis burned libraries as well as people. Such acts have done away with priceless treasures, and yet some people would like to continue this radical form of censorship even to this day.
Big Brother takes away my personal freedoms when he restricts my use of fireworks on the Fourth of July, or requires a permit for me to assemble a protest group, or hand out leaflets on public property, or go door to door in a neighborhood. Officials of city hall and over-zealous cops seem to understand the concept of control very well, but are lacking in respect for the basic civil right of free speech. Laws mandating motorcycle helmets and seat belts are also governmental interference in basic freedom of choice. Metal detectors are a big nuisance, and when they are calibrated at an over-sensitive setting, they make people have to strip down to take off belt buckles and tie clasps, etc., while security lines grow and normal flow is delayed.
Man is a religious creature. His beliefs have shaped his world. So, I dislike the unfeeling belittlement of faith by godless media or powers-that-be. I dislike history books that distort the human record by ignoring the tremendous influence of religion, just as I hate to see high schools turning out graduates without any appreciation for the Bible as great literature. Freedom of speech should include the right to speak openly on religious subjects in any gathering, since any discussion that deals with moral issues, social interactions, economics, or politics will have an inherent religious component.
Everyone is too easily offended these days. Nobody can make ethnic jokes or tell funny stories about people of the opposite sex. It seems that any humor at all is stepping on somebody’s toes. Also, honest speech is no longer valued because it may cause offense in these “politically correct” times. Plain, ordinary English is corrupted by such things as feminist tampering with the Bible, insisting upon using feminine terms in place of the masculine words of the original languages. One cannot use an inclusive term like “forefathers” any more. Old songs of the South cannot mention slavery terms, and the people from sub-saharan Africa add to the confusion because they cannot decide what to call themselves - “colored,” “black,” “negro,” etc. It would be well for everyone to remember that terms like “Baptist,” “Methodist,” and “Quaker” all started out as slurs and are now borne with pride.
As for me, I don’t care what people call me, as long as it comes close to being who I am. Don’t call me a “communist,” because that is not me. But you can call me a “cracker,” because I am Florida-backwoods-born. Also, I am a “nerd” (an engineer), a “WASP” (white, Baptist), a “rebel” (proud of my Southern heritage of gentility), a “half-breed” (part Cherokee), an “egghead” (a book lover), a “libertine” (against censorship), a “liberal” (an activist for human rights and the downtrodden), a “yellow-dog Democrat” (usually in that camp), a “one-worlder” (anti-isolationist), a “bleeding heart” (against capital punishment), and a “high brow” (believing that good music was killed by Elvis). Call me any of these things, and I won’t back down from who I am and where I stand.
By long-standing tradition, Southern society is divided between cultured gentlemen and “poor white trash,” i.e., red-necked rabble, uncouth hicks, low-brow Neanderthals, simplistic absolutists, unschooled book burners, narrow-minded bigots, dogmatic fundamentalists, selfish money-grubbers, short-sighted profiteers, racist fanatics, knee-jerk reactionaries, arrogant super-patriots, chauvinistic isolationists, coercive authoritarians, trigger-happy feuders, and stagnant conservatives. Naturally, Southern gentlemen are affiliated with the Democratic Party.
COMPROMISING OF DEMOCRACY:
Being a firm adherent of democratic principles, I despise all old world dictatorial systems, whether political, priestly, aristocratic, or military. I applaud the Quaker of old, a real democrat, who would not take off his hat to any man. I wonder at silly folk who are obsessed with the British royal family. Likewise, I am frustrated whenever I encounter reverse discrimination or a minority group’s usurpation of the rights of the majority. For these same reasons, I hate to see our government’s sneaky attempts to undermine other political regimes that are freely supported by the majority of that country’s citizens.
Richard L. Atkins