Who Am I?


Column by Paul Hein.

Exclusive to STR

My pastor is worried about my immortal soul, and the risk of its eternal damnation. I laugh at him. Since when did virtue make the ten o’clock news?

My doctor warns me about my unhealthy diet and lifestyle. I puff on a cigarette while reaching for my Martini, and offer him some of my doughnuts.

My son wants some money to buy a new electronic game to replace the one he bought last month, which is now obsolete. My daughter would like me to finance her new wardrobe, so she can achieve the chic homeless-but-tasteless look now in vogue. Sorry, children. It’s not happening.

Dreadfully earnest young people want my help in saving baby seals, or white rhinos, or various other bits of flora and fauna. Nope. It’s a jungle out there. Always has been. I can’t change it, and don’t intend to try.

Doesn’t my heart go out to the handicapped veterans, or the starving children of South America, or Africa—or the continent of your choice? My heart maybe; my wallet not at all.

Can I possibly be unconcerned about global warm--er, climate change? For sure, I can! The climate changes from day to day, week to week. Live with it.

A bright young fellow from a lawn service comes to the door to warn me that my lawn is becoming overrun with chickweed. I tell him I like chickweed: it’s a perfect groundcover, doesn’t need cutting, and is maintenance free.

Someone I don’t know sends me a letter offering me a small sticker for my license plate, for only a few hundred dollars. I send him a check at once. Another fellow--probably a colleague of the first one--says that, if I send him thousands of dollars, he’ll send me absolutely nothing but a paper entitling me to continue buying stickers from the first chap. I write the check. (With the profits from these sales, they equip themselves with a militarized police force, prosecutors, and judges, lest I stray.)

I’m no fool. Finally, after decades, it has dawned on me that I can only “own” my property conditionally--the condition being that I pay tribute to the real owners when, how, and in amounts they dictate. Should I disobey, I can find myself without a home or automobiles--although still, through their generosity, possessed of the clothes on my back. So while I can disregard the blandishments of pastor, doctor, children, etc., I dare not disregard the orders given by my public servants!

It’s not that simple, however. Sure, they have the power--which they bestowed upon themselves--to make any disobedience on my part very unpleasant. Force, or the threat of it, is their modus operandi. But it has finally dawned on me that somewhere, in the deep recesses of my consciousness--and perhaps yours, as well--there is the strange thought that they are somehow ENTITLED to use force: that it is natural and proper to them, and that should I be so foolish and naïve as to think that my property is actually MINE, I deserve their wrath.

The pastor wants me to bend my knee before God, but he is powerless to do anything about it if I don’t. Ditto advice and requests from my doctor, my children, etc. Not so the guy selling license plate stickers, or his colleagues. I can ignore the guy selling aluminum siding with impunity; not so the guy selling those stickers.

If omnipotence is an attribute of the divine, divinity resides in the courthouse, the statehouse, Washington D.C. I worship dutifully, albeit with occasional grumbling that I am careful to keep to myself.

Who am I? I am a good citizen.

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