I think about the ancient Romans sometimes. I wonder when they knew they were fucked. I picture some togaed stereotype waking up in his marbled villa, looking out at the Roman road, the Colosseum squatting in the distance, thinking about the evening's party, whether it will become a wine-lubricated orgy or just sort of peter out into a long political argument over roasted boar. Did our imaginary Roman feel, as he took his customary morning piss into a pot, that things were in decline, that time and fate would grind everything that he sees into dust, and did he think that maybe that was all right because all of it—the bread, the circuses, the intricately decorated vases that, come to think of it, seem rather derivative of last season's intricately decorated vases—was sort of crappy? That maybe Rome had had some good ideas back in the day (the aqueduct, for instance) but now most Romans just sort of lay around arguing about Greek plays or watching slaves from far-off locales getting devoured by lions, and what was the point of it all?
Maybe you feel like that Roman sometimes. Not the bit about the piss-pot, but the sense that things are wrong and can't be fixed, not really, without the aid of some barbarians at the gate. I know I felt like that when I read about Austin's Robert E. Lee Elementary school.
So here's the deal: A school board in Austin decided that it was not a great idea that a place where children gathered was named after a general who fought his own country's military to defend the right to own slaves. This sort of renaming is called "political correctness" and many people are against it, for whatever reason. Anyway, the school board asked for recommendations on a new name, at which point the whole thing just sort of went to hell. Forty-five people wanted to name the school after Donald Trump. Thirty-four wanted to keep the original name. Eight were in favor of calling it the "Adolf Hitler School for Friendship and Tolerance," "Barack Hussein Obama Elementary School" got three votes, and single-vote suggestions included "Bee Movie," "Bleeding Heart Liberal," "Ayn Rand Elementary," "Boaty McBoatface Elementary," "Schoolie McSchoolface," "Schooly McSchoolerson," "Dwayne Johnson Elementary," "Flava-Flave Elementary," "IGNORANCE IS BLISS ELEMENTARY," "Politically Correct Elementary #1," "Adam Lanza's School of Fun," "Keep Austin Weird," and the list goes on.
The board is going to ignore all of this, of course—they can call it whatever they want, and they'll probably pick a good, middle-of-the-road name because naming a school is not all that difficult. Just call it Abraham Lincoln Elementary, or if there's already an Abraham Lincoln school in town, go with George Washington, Ben Franklin, Frederick Douglas, Dwight Eisenhower, Harriet Tubman, or some shit like that. Or just number the schools to strip them of all potential controversy. But it's 2016, so everything has to be a goddamn argument, complete with contentious community meetings and, according to the local NBC affiliate, increased security at the school. Because of course it's always possible that someone will be so incensed over a school name that they will harm children.
Then of course there's the internet, which turns every local happening of note into sharable content. The short news stories from Austin outlets spawned derivatives with optimized-but-also-wrong-in-some-way headlines ranging from "YUGE backfire? Effort to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary going awry" to "Texans vote to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary after Donald Trump, Hitler and Adam Lanza" to "After School Drops 'Robert E. Lee' Nickname, Voters Pick 'Donald J. Trump' Instead" to "Boaty McBoatface, meet Donald J. Trump, er, or Adolf Hitler Elementary School."
My question is, doesn't this sort of thing wear us all down after a while? The pointless online bickering, the aggregation, the noise that greets us every time we glance at our news feeds. Is there any empty text box that isn't taken as an invitation to spew hate and lame jokes? Is there any debate that is resolved quietly and privately, without the participation of literally every single person in the entire world? Can we just stop broadcasting our every thought about every subject and shut the fuck up for a single second? No?