Who am I ... and why am I here?
The results of the 2020 United States Census were released this week … which means two things:
A) The next few weeks will be filled with number-crunching stories from news outlets, breaking down demographic data in mind-numbing detail — then counched in over-the-top phrases such as “telling us who we are” — as a means to get a breather from writing stories about the pandemic, wildfires and political brouhahas:
2) We won’t have to worry about the U.S. Census again until 2030 — when there might not be a U.S. to make sense of … due to the pandemic, wildfires and political brouhahas.
Census data, of course, is very, very important stuff. It gives political parties concrete evidence to ignore as they gerrymander and jerry-rig the congressional delegations of their states.
It also tells us who lives where and breaks those folks down into categories that are necessary to track but have cross-pollinated like sample organisms on a microscope slide. Various demographic groups might laugh alike, walk alike, sometimes they might even talk alike ... but you can lose your mind trying to prove they’re triplets, or even identical cousins.
In other words, it does not tell us who we are.
The Census doesn’t ask people who, for instance, live in Cleveland the trruly important questions ... like just why the hell are they living in Cleveland.
It doesn’t ask whether you heard laurel or yanny, why there are so many Subarus in Ashland, how you prefer your eggs, if you have a blue checkmark or who is your favorite Beatle.
(Laurel. ... Residential requirement. ... Scrambled. ... I do not tweet. ... George.)
It doesn’t even ask whether you’re a cat person or a dog person … and if the latter, why — given your questionable tastes — aren’t you living in Cleveland.
Truth is, we’re continually identifying ourselves not only by where we live or how old we are, but by the cultural and social choices we make … and those, increasingly, have become far more relevant to understanding our friends, neighbors and countrymen than where we are roaming.
Take the matter of those cards those of us now have after becoming vaccinated against the ravages of the coronavirus.
Sure, you can’t fit them in a wallet — especially if you’ve had them laminated — but having one on you, or not, is a pretty clear indicator of how you view your role as a citizen than, say, forking over a minimum of 50 bucks (and what remains of your tattered soul) to purchase a loyalty card on which is emblazoned in gold lettering the name of a former president … a card that will fit in your wallet, while also marking you as pledging allegiance to a clan of which it can be said another member is born every minute.
But I digress.
For all the value of the Census, the fact is that Americans are not easily discernible sets of grouped numbers, but rather independent figures randomly intersecting in Venn diagrams based on a multitude of personal beliefs and preferences.
Within countless enclaves across this increasingly divided country of ours, like-minded souls gather to worship to their interpretation of a Supreme Being, while on any given Sunday in Wisconsin, true believers don foam cheese wedges in devotion to gods of the gridiron.
The Census can congregate the citizenry (at least, those who were counted and gave accurate information), into its well-worn categories, even as the country it’s attempting to count changes in the blink of an eye.
In the same week, for instance, that the government was projected to reveal that there would be 97 men per every 100 women, a June report by an advisory committee of the American Medical Association gained traction in the mediasphere — a report that recommended that the traditional binary gender labels be removed from public birth certificates.
Good luck when the time comes, 2030 Census takers.
I filled out my Census form online, picking and choosing which questions to answer, and when it comes to giving the people-counters insight into who I am, I was very clear on one point.
I am not Jim Fiebig.
Fiebig was a nationally syndicated columnist whose pieces ran, among other papers, in The Indianapolis Star … until they didn’t.
This prompted inquiries from readers of The Star, which in turned led to this notice — which I will cite verbatim — appearing in that paper in July of 1978:
About Jim Fiebig
For readers who have been wondering about the Jim Fiebig column, he has stopped writing it. — Ed.
Which is the long way of saying that this column is going on hiatus.
The break coincides with an event 42 years in the making … my retirement as a full-time ink-stained wretch.
So, please, there’s no reason to start a Fiebig Watch. Think of it more along the lines of how we would notify readers that my Mail Tribune predecessor in this space, Paul Fattig, was taking a break.
Get Off My Lawn will return ... when I do.
Robert Galvin, while attending to the cat, will check emails at firstname.lastname@example.org