Thursday, June 26, 2008


I wrote last week about how I've lost some of my blogging zing recently, how I haven't been feeling the magic, how it's become more of a struggle to do this at least once a day. I may have figured it out, and I have a couple of people to thank for that. First, we have the invaluable Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast talking about, well, I'll let her speak for herself:
Most Americans are idiots. They don't read us; they watch the news, and they STILL thnk that if they see it delivered by a guy in a suit on TV, it's the truth....

I wish Americans would stop treating the words that come out of that damn electronic box in the living room as Treatises from God and recognize that what they're seeing is a function of the baggage carried by those delivering the news. When you see someone like Chris Matthews or Karl Rove talking about how Barack Obama is "elitist", you know that what's talking is not the adult you see, but the awkward fat teenage boy with the man-tits, the one stuck in right field because he can't run and can't hit, the one jerking off with a copy of Penthouse in his parents' bathroom while the Bill Clintons and the Barack Obamas get the girls because they are, in the case of Clinton, charming and gregarious; and in the case of Obama, because he's the coolest guy in the room.
Brilliant (and not just at breakfast)!

The second item that has proved revelatory is the exchange between mcfnord and me, which I talked about just yesterday. mcfnord went on to make another comment on the original post, but I'm not going to rehash all of that. What's more important is what I learned about myself, and I'll try to give some flavor of it here.

Because, in looking at my response, I saw an attempt to be reasoned, to be conciliatory, to be agreeable. And that's generally the way I am, for whatever that betrays about my psychology or my upbringing, I tend to avoid conflict whenever possible. mcfnord can ignore much of what I'm actually saying as he essentially uses my site as his soapbox, and I continue to play the welcoming host.

I receive what is probably a snotty e-mail from a "real" journalist, and I play it cool and take it seriously (here), rather than calling it out as the unprofessional, touchy reaction that it was. (And I totally blow by the nasty subsequent e-mails and comments that just happened to come at the same time - maybe a certain "managing editor" needs to grow up.)

Here I have a forum for expressing myself, one that belongs to me, and I use it for dispassionate discussion of the events of the day, all very nice, all well-reasoned, but none of this expresses what I feel, which is, there's stuff that's seriously wrong here, my nation is in bad shape and refusing to see it or to deal with it, and I'm parsing the statements of a seriously self-involved person, trying to give him credit for what little truth emerges from his solipsism.

But then I look at George Carlin, or Harlan Ellison, or Neil Postman, or Jill, or Carrie, and I think, these are my heroes, these are the people who are (or were) out looking at what's going on, and telling others with passion and bite and in-your-face directness. These are people who understand that no one will listen to truth unless it's expressed directly and powerfully, who have taken stands and are sticking to them and are shouting them from the rooftops.

And I am not doing those things.

I read over my last month or so of posts, and I like them in a rational way. I've made some good points, even some I haven't seen elsewhere. But I see that very little of what I've written engages the soul.

I've given CEOs a pass, arguing that the problem is not what they say, because they have powerful incentives to say those things, but our willingness to ascribe to them an objectivity they don't have, can't have. And that's absolutely true. But that doesn't absolve those nattering rich boys, who, after all, have converted people's lives into a level of personal comfort and luxury that would make a pasha envious. They're liars, each and every one of them, when they tell us they can't "find" Americans to do the jobs they want done. They're liars when they sit in front of Congress and tell our lawmakers that we need to import more talent without mentioning how fat that will make their bottom line.

And our lawmakers, these wise solons who will lead us to the promised land of health and wealth, who sit on their well-stuffed arses and do nothing to deal with the massive problems that confront us. Even such insignificant tools as the members of the Illinois House sit back and ignore infrastructure problems, health care, pension funding, mass transit, and on and on, but they always find time for photo ops and TV appearances where they tut-tut about "legislative gridlock" nothing.

And our media, which oozes Q-rating friendliness whether the story is dancing cats or a school shooting. THe death of one of their own is treated as more significant than the death of a world leader, even though there is no shortage of talking heads to fill the magic chair. This media god, who reduced journalism to a search for inconsistencies, rather than using the remarkable access he held to delve into the issues and philosophies of those who seek to lead us, is gone, and we're supposed to mourn him as much as we would someone in our own families.

This media, supposedly on its last legs, moving toward a revenue model that relies on unpaid "citizen journalism," fearing the advent of a celebrity blog site as the final death knell for traditional news gathering: at the same time, one of these great old newspapers blows two of its precious pages on a giant map of Chicago places that Barack Obama has deigned to visit in his life, imbuing them with some of his majesty (maybe we should all make a pilgrimage to the curb outside the ice-cream shop where Barack and Michelle had their first chocolatey kiss, maybe pay for bronzed ass-prints).

And, of course, the largest do-nothing force of all, the citizenry, these people who have been blessed with the greatest system ever devised and take it for granted. That the goal of America is not to provide every person with a large-screen TV is completely beyond the ken of these millions of pinheads. The whiners about $4 a gallon gas, these people who crank up their minivans for half-mile trips to the store to buy one item, who leave their motors running all the time Janie is at soccer practice because they don't want to be without air conditioning for one moment of their pampered lives, sympathy is wasted on these people. If you want to see America as a catchbasin for the personal dreams of 300 million Americans, don't be surprised when things go against you, because the strength of this country is not in individuals "doing their own thing," but in people creating institutions that make the nation better.

People see the confirmation of the Second Amendment as a victory for individual rights, but want to do nothing to deal with the results of letting every 13-year-old loose to cap some other 13-year-old who looked funny at his lady. Rather than rolling up our sleeves and paying a little more to fund a focused attempt to find alternative energy sources, we're going to provide "incentives" to big companies to find them, at which point we're going to pay even more (that's assuming that the breakthrough comes in this country - otherwise, we'll still be dependent on foreign sources - does no one with a brain see that?).

Corporate clods raid the Treasury through tax breaks at the same time they impoverish communities and lay waste to careers, and people rush to newsstands to goggle at their rankings, as if stealing from Americans is some kind of sport. Speaking of sport, we spend untold amounts of time and money marveling at a "sport" which is a veritable celebration of waste, even though we could get the same effect from standing on a highway overpass and watching those drivers jockey for position. We create artificial environments for our mercenaries who put on a uniform with a city name across the front, call them heroes, and give them a pass on anti-social behavior. We allow our institutions of higher learning to be known primarily as career enhancers for these "warriors" of the gridiron or hardwood, as we ignore the very real needs of the real warriors we sent to fight and die or be maimed in the subjugation of a country that posed no threat to us at all.

We impeach a president for tackiness and infinite disrespect for his office, but we don't even think of doing so to a vice president who dismisses the concerns of 200 million Americans, the people who built the country that has made him a multi-millionaire, with, "So?" We flock to the lobby kiosk to plunk down our $3.95 for a magazine that can afford to pay $15 million to a celebrity couple for pictures of their twins, when you could go to a refugee camp and see plenty of babies being born, babies who will die because they can't afford routine medical care.

We tell ourselves that we prize excellence, then we support an "education initiative" which is about setting the bar as low as possible and spending our limited resources pushing the most unmotivated over that bar, while we ignore the very real needs of those who might someday be special, telling ourselves, "They'll do OK anyway." We can't even figure out how to fund our schools, letting one have a dedicated diving pool while a few miles away, the money is spent on metal detectors and security guards.

We allow the beauty of the Grand Canyon to be defiled by gas-guzzling airplanes so that over-endowed people can enjoy a "unique experience." We seriously discuss allowing rapacious energy companies to ruin our offshore waters so we can prop up a dwindling oil supply. We encourage sophists to discuss the "cost-benefits" of global warming so as to put off making hard decisions.

But what we actually do is ignore these things. We can't be bothered to spend even a few minutes a day reading or thinking; we're too busy looking at the fake ball-girl video on YouTube or debating the merits of the new iPod to engage in reality. We leave the tough stuff to the self-interested "experts" and hope to be left alone. We let our schools teach "creation science," guaranteeing a whole new generation of idiots.

These are the things I need to be writing about. When I'm hired to write code, I write code. When we hire CEOs to run companies, they enrich their bank accounts and their egos. When we hire politicians, they fill chairs and wait to be told what to do by their "leadership." When we hire media people, they cling to abstruse notions of objectivity and ignore the truth.

So that's it. I'm throwing down the gauntlet to myself. I'm not going to suggest that I'm going all heat, no light - that would be too big a change to expect. I will still try to be rational and reasonable.

But I'm also going to try harder to bring some of the passion I feel about life in 2008 to what I write. I'm going to spend less time looking at other people's points of view or incentives, and comment on their results. Understanding does not have to preclude caring, and I'm going to try to express that caring in stronger, firmer terms than I have been. Thanks, Jill, for reminding me of that.


Anonymous said...

My blog has hundreds of readers, but none of them oppose skilled labor immigration. So I come here to understand The Fear.

I'm hired to write facts, and I write facts. Turn it up to 11 and call it passion. I find more passion in the WSJ and NYT. Carlin was a comedian. He can't do what cogency does.

Androcass said...

Neither do I oppose skilled labor immigration, and your insistence that I do proves that you're not really reading what I'm writing. I have spent some time trying to define what "skilled" means, rather than blindly accepting that it represents anyone with a storefront B.S.

As for "The Fear" which you ascribe to me, again, read what I've written. My only fear is that blithe spirits will fail to recognize some of the asymmetries and waste, and will not act in a way to preserve what is good.

As for your facts, I've seen you try to universalize your own particular experience; that doesn't invalidate it, but that doesn't mean that it applies to a nation of 300 million, either. When you stop passing off the things you don't like to read or don't choose to read as emotion, then there is a basis for discussion.

Whatever you write on your blog, what I have seen in your comments here is your commentary on your own idiosyncratic life. What I haven't seen is an attempt on your part to engage with the things that others are writing, which is necessary if you seek to persuade. It's pat to pass Citizen Carrie or me off as fearful when we're drawing from facts - maybe not the ones you're hired to write, but truth nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Shucks, here I thought the debate was whether the fear was rational!

Anonymous said...

All George Carlin:

"By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth."

"Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist."

"Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit."

"The reason I talk to myself is that I'm the only one whose answers I accept."

Red Oak said...

Excellent, Androcass. Interesting timing, too. Just a day or so a go I was considering responding to your recent exchange with Mr. Solipsist by telling you what you're telling yourself here. (Far less eloquently than you have here, of course.)

Are you a native Midwesterner by chance? You may have told us, don't remember. But you definitely are "Midwestern Nice", a condition both noble and perplexing to us non-Midwesterners. It's admirable because I see in your remaining reasonable and hospitable, in the face of serious provocation, the desire to uphold adult standards. Mcfnord indisputably, and that pesky "real journalist" apparently, are examples of the pathologically infantilized individuals that occur with distressing frequency in our culture, and you are attempting to discharge your duty of "training the young". But they aren't young, they are (chronologically) grown men, and it is beyond your power to aid them. (And frankly may they be spared the hammer blows that would be necessary at this late stage to rescue them from long-cultivated puerility.) I was wondering how many of mcfnord's childlike, autistic recitations of his three econo-clichés and four personal anecdotes (if you've read one Mr. Solipsist comment you've read 'em all) you were going to tolerate before you snapped.

But enough of the snark - the rest of the post was spot on. Knaves rule because we're the cowards who let them. We know perfectly well we're on our own, that the governing classes cut us adrift long ago. But we still pretend whining about them is going to change anything.

Androcass said...

Thank you, red. I am sort of a native Midwesterner, born in California but there only four years, then off to New York for two, but all the rest in Illinois and Michigan (only thing I picked up in my young life was the pronunciation of "aunt" as "ahnt" instead of "ant").

I hope I haven't quite snapped, but I certainly think more forthrightness is called for, and I'll shoot for that (until I fall back into "bad" habits).

Anonymous said...

i was just googling some of our good times together. i reposted red oak's rant:

some interesting responses. red oak's prose festers like a sore. he's the rage monster (and Defender o' the Realm). you're the "intellectual" (and i do think you're pretty smart). carrie's the town crier. and i'm apparently seven shades of worthless.

i haven't fully responded to your passionate defense in this thread. i will get to it. idiosyncratic, 300 million, good stuff.

"My only fear is that blithe spirits will fail to recognize some of the asymmetries and waste, and will not act in a way to preserve what is good."

that sounds so agreeable, like apple pie and mom. blithe spirits might move your old job to Mumbai. but i don't think the spirits are blithe! (idiocracy?) i suspect they're the opposite (with some exceptions). even with prescient judgement i can still lose something in the change.

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