We have just returned from a weekend deep in red state territory, where our red state relatives are as you would expect -- still pro-Bush, still pro-Iraq war, still pro guns, for privatization of Social Security, against government regulation, for Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh -- right down the line.
As we said, as you would expect.
Luckily, both sides in the family gathering have independently determined that discussion along the usual fault lines would be useless.
On the usual issues, it has become knee jerk and reactionary on both sides.
So, this time, the discussion shifted.
To a topic we could discuss without knee jerk responses and reaction: addiction.
In particular: junk food, alcohol, gambling and television.
And while the country might be split along the Limbaugh axis, our guess is that there is probably a 70/30 consensus that junk food, alcohol, gambling, and television are eating at the democratic fiber of the country.
Call it the internal axis of evil.
In communities across the country, the talk of the town is not dominated by the war in Iraq, Bush's Social Security plan, or the minimum wage.
It is instead dominated by a friend, known to be a heavy drinker, who gets behind the wheel and kills someone, or by some youngster who is constantly playing video games and watching television and who -- lo and behold -- is uncontrollable at the dinner table, or by a cousin who eats junk foods, is grossly overweight as a result, and is thus putting her life in danger.
And the question that is being raised is -- when you know someone in your midst who is drinking heavily, or is addicted to junk food, or allows their children to watch television without limit, and play video games without limit, what is the duty of the citizen, or friend, or family member to intervene?
Does intervention make sense?
Does it violate some zone of privacy?
What are the odds of effective intervention?
And even if the odds are long, is it not the duty of the conscientious friend or citizen to at least try and help anyway?
The discussion about junk food, alcohol, gambling and television is qualitatively different than the discussion about broader social issues like war and peace.
Even if we wanted to do something about the war in Iraq, for example, it would take a broad-based political movement to change the course of the war.
And even if people agree with you that political intervention is a good thing and may change the course of the war, they doubt that they can muster the energy to overcome the political forces allied against you.
But there is a perception that it is clearly within our means to do something about the internal axis of evil.
It is a matter of will.
Of good will versus evil.
At this point, half way down the column, out of habit, we are tempted to google each of these categories -- junk food, alcohol, gambling and television -- and come up with the statistics about how they are overrunning the country, breaking up families, creating all kinds of health problems, taking a heavy burden on the poor and the young.
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Then, out of habit, we would google the corporations that profit from each of these bad habits, and track their campaign contributions to the two major political parties, to show why we get little relief from our political leaders.
But we know this is true.
And you know this is true.
Gambling is spreading everywhere.
Obesity is well documented.
Alcoholism is rampant.
Excessive television (as well as computer and video game) watching is turning the minds of our children into mush.
Corporations have corrupted the political process.
We have made these points elsewhere.
That is not the point of this column.
Last week, we wrote a column titled "A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action."
People responded enthusiastically to our call to action.
But they wanted to know what to do.
Here's a typical response from one of our readers.
"Tell me what to do. I read. I write my two ineffective Democratic Senators. I give money to the point that I have no more to give. I want to think that it might make a difference, but it's hard to see at the moment. I am very frustrated but feel rather powerless. Work and family obligations and travel limit the amount of time I have available to act more than I am -- unless you have some good ideas. Keep writing. Keep telling people to get off their asses, but help me out a little here."
So, in the spirit of experimentation, we say to our loyal readers, try this: Turn off every screen in the house -- computers, television, videogames.
Cook a healthful meal.
Invite over any group of neighbors, friends, relatives.
If you can, use it as an excuse to invite over "red state" people -- people who listen to Rush, for example -- people you generally wouldn't associate with.
Yes, they exist -- they are half the population, remember?
Have a conversation about the internal axis of evil and how to stem its influence.
See what happens.
Let us know.