Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Political Education

The other day I was reading yet another article about the demise of the family dinner around the table. This author claimed that discussions around the family table often provided a chance for the parents to pass on their political philosophies and values as well as honing the debating skills of the children.

Well... maybe. Sometimes, though, I think that the "family dinner table" has taken on the mythic aura of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Still, I feel badly because my family doesn't gather around the table each night. We do gather around the coffee table, usually with a program on we all enjoy (Mythbusters, anyone?) and talk about our day during the commercials. I had high hopes of having regular dinners, maybe on Sunday, with friends and family gathered 'round. I should have known myself better--I missed out on the "Martha Stewart" gene.

However, I have discovered that we have an alternative "roundtable": the family car. Five days a week, for about 20 minutes or so, DS#2, DD#2, and I are sequestered in our 1990 Corolla station wagon. A local classical music station plays in the background. We talk about many things, big and small, because we know we have a captive audience. Occasionally, the news report on the radio provides a jumping off point for discussion.

On Monday, the radio briefly mentioned a U.N. Special Report that stated "poorer" countries were going to need $85 billion dollars over the next several decades to combat the effects of Global Warming. This money should come from the "rich" nations, with the U.S. specifically contributing about $40 billion to this fund.

"What?!" I shouted at the radio.

DS#2, who was in an early-morning stupor, said, "What's wrong?"

I told him. And then I explained why I thought the U.N. was way out of line. First off, the only money the U.S. Government has comes from taxes paid by its citizens--governments, in and of themselves, do not "have" money. Secondly, most poor nations are that way because of their corrupt government officials, not because they lack in natural or human resources. (Mexico is an example of this.) Therefore, I do not want my money going to prop up corrupt regimes in foreign countries so the dictators and tyrants can build vast "Monuments to Me" instead of helping their countrymen. I used Saddam Hussein and the Oil for Food scandal, where millions of dollars intended to feed poor Iraqis instead went into building yet another palace for Saddam. And somehow, it was all the fault of the U.S.

Yesterday, DD#2 mentioned they were watching Supersize Me during P.E. class (they're currently doing a unit on Health).

"Is your teacher going to show the film about the woman who also ate at McDonald's for a month and lost weight?" I asked.

So we had a lively discussion about what the purpose of the film Supersize Me was. Was it blaming McDonald's for offering super-sizes? Was it showing the results of poor food choices and lack of exercise (the kids' opinion)? I mentioned that McDonald's had decided to drop super-sized portions because of the bad publicity from the film. The kids thought that was a good result. I pointed out that this limited their choices as consumers. Shouldn't they be able to make the decision to supersize their meal? Perhaps there was a reason they needed a supersized drink or fries (DD#2 said, "Like sharing," which is common among teens with limited cash). Would a film that showed the consequences of good choices at McDonald's and an exercise program be more effective?

This loss of choice, this acquiescence to the idea that "The Government Knows Best" is almost as worrisome as the threat of Islamic radicals who want to establish a global caliphate. In fact, the two are linked: if we cede our judgement to The Authorities, then how can we fight an Authoritarian Regime? How can we recognize an Authoritarian Regime? (And, no, I'm not talking about President Bush and V.P. Cheney.)

My generation used to have a slogan: Question Authority. I wish more of us would--and expand that to question all Authority, right, left, and center.

The bonus to these car trips is that Hubs brings the kids home. So they get 20 minutes with Dad in the evening. His favorite topics of conversation are School and Scouts, although he listens to talk radio.

Forty minutes of undiluted time with a parent, five days a week. Maybe we don't really need a "dinner table" after all.