An unknown word, nonchalantly spoken in context by someone, then looked up (which takes about three seconds in the internet age) can turn on a light to illuminate a place you never had a word for. Once you have the word, a way of thinking about and discussing the thing emerges. I am having this experience with the word “anodyne” which is usually among the first things that flow after I dip a Speedball C-4 nib into a bottle of black ink and begin to guide it across an expanse of smooth bristol.
What is the deal with anodyne (and why do I seem to prefer it to immiserated?) It means harmless, often deliberately so, calculated to remove pain. It explains something I never had the word for. Anodyne explanations are essential to preserving our way of life here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and everywhere else in this slightly imperfect world.
Take an otherwise sickening, even intolerable, situation and describe it in an anodyne way, a smooth way that makes the medicine go down. No reason to get excited…
The richest country in the world has an alarmingly high rate of economic insecurity. We are often told that most Americans don’t have $400 for an emergency. The point is underscored over and over in recent days in the human interest stories we hear about struggling federal employees as the president holds almost a million working people and their families (collectively millions, plus the tens of millions affected by the loss of government services) hostage as leverage to get one of his signature vanity projects done for his angry base.
It’s a little shocking in a nation this wealthy that so many Americans live so close to the edge of ruin, even Americans we consider middle class. We have billionaires here by the luxury busload, a metaphorical shit ton of ’em, even a few black billionaires (hello Martin Luther King, Jr.). We can spend a trillion or more on an endless war against a country that posed no threat to us, drummed up by false pretenses (nothing to see there, Saddam was a modern-day Hitler, after all). We can give a trillion or more to the richest people and companies in the country, as in the GOP’s recent tax breaks. We can’t manage to provide adequate health care to tens of millions of Americans, nutritious food to hungry children, or decent public education for them, or first class maternity facilities in American communities that have infant mortality rates as high as third world shithole countries. Not to mention the crisis of affordable housing and the millions of homeless nationwide, or the thousands of traumatized, hopeless military veterans who kill themselves every year.
Not to worry though. There is an anodyne answer to this seeming conundrum. We Americans believe in the Free Market and the power of private entrepreneurial initiative to solve even our most vexing and intractable problems. You see, here in America we believe in liberty, in freedom for all from coercion of every kind. Nobody can force you to do anything you don’t want to do in our exceptional democracy.
Wait, I’m not sure this is really anodyne. There could be dissent, offense could be taken from this shabbily transparent answer. Anodyne, after all, means, first and foremost, causing no pain, by design. It’s noun form means painkiller.
No, actually, I’m sorry, on second thought, this smart answer is good enough to be anodyne. The thing about anodynes we must not forget is the power of the placebo effect. The thing is to distract the mind, body and soul from the pain, something that is easily enough done, if the will is there not to feel the pain. And who wants to feel pain, outside of a masochist?
So when we say we treat you like family, we don’t mean incest, child-abuse, domestic violence, patricide, fratricide, matricide, all-consuming rivalry, lifelong grudges, the relentless warfare that rages within so many families. We mean by “family” the unconditional love that always triumphs at the end of the day, as dependably as that anodyne millions of Americans reach for daily, to make them feel that all of this pain is just an illusion, created by those who hate our freedom, who seek to destroy our true belief that we live in the greatest nation, the most exceptional country, upon which God has ever shed His grace.