Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Freedom to Be a Dumbass...

With regards to the “Occupy Wall Street” protests currently disrupting civil discourse and commerce in New York City:

One of our greatest and most precious rights as a citizen of the United States is one that is not enshrined within the Bill of Rights, or ensconced within the cannons of The Law. It is an Implied Right, something that, for lack of a better term, we might say “goes without saying”. It is a Natural Right which all people take for granted, if they even recognize it at all.

And that is the Right to Be Wrong.

When I say “the Right to Be Wrong” some might infer a political meaning or significance. This is hardly the case, as the Right to Be Wrong extends to all human endeavors beyond the merely political. You have the Right to Be Wrong in every aspect of your Life: your marriage, your job, or your choice of football teams in the weekly office pool. Being Wrong is an important – and unavoidable --part of being Human.

In the context of the protestors loitering in the streets of Lower Manhattan, the Right to be Wrong is simply part of a larger process that goes beyond Liberal or Conservative ideology; it is part of the process of Growing Up.

I will not dismiss the protesters downtown out-of-hand. Instead, I choose to try to see their point of view, and then try to remember just who they are, and why they do it.

From what one sees on television, we might draw the following generalizations: the protesters are mostly young people, probably between 18 and 25. A good many are earnest and intelligent youngsters (although we’ve also seen examples of the truly demented, stupid, and vacuous on display, too). They are concerned about issues that are important. From what I’ve seen, some of these kids do, in fact, have valid points to make. What they lack is the experience and wisdom required to evaluate and articulate their concerns in a way that might be effective, or just plain make sense.

For the most part, the expressions of deep concern seem to stem from emotional rather than intellectual sources. But then again, this is exactly what one would expect from a waif of 20 whose world largely consists of beer, pizza, frat parties, and studying for their World Peace midterm. They are the expressions of a group who have yet to discover the true facts of Life: there’s a wider world beyond Facebook, I-phone, and your Medieval Plumbing class; that there’s more to Life than just simply ‘caring’, and that there are probably more constructive uses of your time than trying to prove to others that you ‘care’ more than they do. Most people don’t care about you and what you think, as they have their own lives to lead.

I happen to agree with much of what these kids are imperfectly articulating. There is a disparity of wealth in this nation which needs to be addressed; there is a corruption, both moral and systemic, which should be corrected in the interests of bringing about a fairer and more just society; we should be concerned about a world in which some go hungry or homeless, breathing polluted air, and drinking tainted water. These are important issues, and it is a decidedly short-sighted and selfish individual who is oblivious to them.

Having raised completely valid questions, however, they fall short in supplying equally-valid, and workable,solutions. This is understandable, as we’re dealing with the Young. What are much harder to explain are the motivations of some of the older folks who are attending these things, and I’ll get to them in a moment.

When it comes to answers the majority of those we see on television typically adopt one of two default reactions; the first is a wide-eyed, slack-jawed, navel gazing to the direct question of “What would you suggest we do about it?” Their thought processes, such as they are, haven’t actually taken them this far. They may understand that something is wrong, but they’re not exactly sure why. They believe that in showing their displeasure someone else will come along and magically supply the answer to the dilemma for them. This sort doesn’t go in for intellectual heavy lifting, or even personal effort and responsibility. If they manage to get some one ot pay attention to them, then they’re perfectly happy to fall into line with whatever someone smarter, more-committed, or willing to do the heavy of work of transforming thought into deed happens to gin up for them. These people are little more, then, than sheep following the herd.

The second response is to vaguely allude to some quasi-socialist solution, which they can’t quite articulate, mostly because being young and having been raised in the United States, they haven’t experienced full-bore Socialism in all it’s slimy glory. They are espousing the tenets of systems, political and economic (like Pacifism or Socialism), that they simply don’t understand fully, and haven’t really been encouraged or motivated to explore beyond a superficial point. This group is slightly smarter than the first, but not by much, and all have fallen victim to the Four Curses of the Young.

The first curse is a propensity to not think independently. Very often, the best idea they’ve ever heard, also happens to be the last idea they’ve heard. This phenomenon typically occurs within the Hallowed Halls of Academia, where reality and consequence seldom intrude, or are even considered. There is no ability to pause, no mechanism, which allows them to evaluate the validity or consequence of the Idea itself. Most will simply react emotionally. This is not surprising, as they are YOUNG, and haven’t had the time to make mistakes in their lives, mistakes which often bring with them the important lessons to look before you leap, and to not just simply accept anything at face-value.

This circumstance, in turn, gets conditioned by the Second Curse of the Young; the need that all kids have as they grow to rebel against the conventions of their parent’s world. The need for rebellion is as natural and attractive to the average 18-22 year old as the compulsion to consume vast quantities of whiskey is to the alcoholic. The rebellion is reflexive; it is part of the psychological need to present oneself to the world as a unique individual, to be seen and accepted as an adult without having the requisite knowledge and experience which marks one. When given the dangerous impetus of just a little knowledge and the pretense of sophistication (which is, after all, what college does), it creates that most annoying of characters: the smart-ass young doofus who has ALL the answers to all the pressing concerns of the day.

This is all further intensified by the Third Curse of the Young, in which part of the process of acting like an adult is to adopt airs of sophistication. From what’s been shown on television (and here Fox News has done a disservice, in that it has, I believe, gone out of it’s way to put the worst examples on screen) one gets the distinct impression that what we have here is a large mass of youngins playing Dress-Up. There’s been very little deep thinking on display, and a ton of pretentious affectation.

The Final Curse of the Young is that of Peer Pressure. One imagines that the mass of these kids are there simply because ‘everyone else’ is, ‘Everyone Else’ being defined as those few individuals who have a certain charisma or social cachet that they would like to enjoy vicariously; their small group of drinking buddies, or those really cute chicks from the Latina Lesbian Dwarves in American Literature lecture. You are, socially-speaking, no one if you weren’t there. You are no one if you don’t agree with everyone else.

This fear of social exile is further intensified by the sea in which these kids swim, i.e. the Modern Mass- Communications World of Facebook and other social media. One goes to these events simply to get the cell-phone photos to put up on your blog, the ‘Friending’, the ‘Likes’ on your page, so as to give the impression that You Are Someone. And even better, someone who ‘cares’ enough to have camped out in the streets for several weeks trying to inconvenience or hurl insults at people, who frankly, have money and real lives, so that you, your childish ideals, and your poorly-thought out political view, can be safely ignored.

This all combines to create what I like to think of as a uniquely-Western paradox in Today’s Kids:

They have engaged in an Anti-Capitalism protest in which the majority of the people involved are, themselves, beneficiaries of the very same Capitalist system they purport to despise. They are so self-absorbed, so unaware, that they haven’t realized it. Nothing short of dynamite, I suspect, would be sufficient to make it obvious to most.

Several thousand mostly self-absorbed young people, most probably coming from solidly Middle Class backgrounds in which they have known nothing but material comfort and security of a sort unparalleled in the annals of Human History. A good many, perhaps the solid majority, are evidently college students. They are Trust Fund babies, or maybe attending college on heaps of borrowed cash that most will never repay, or on Mommy and Daddy’s dime. They have presumably organized themselves (if we may speak of organization in this instance) with the products of Capitalism: the cell phone and the Internet; they have arrived at the protest via public transportation or personal automobile; they distribute printed fliers and pamphlets; they use cardboard, lumber, and magic markers for making their signs; they are attempting to draw the attention of the Media; they are protected by professional police and gathering in public parks, paid for by taxing the wealth created by Capitalism. Finally, they live in a society in which such gatherings are not only allowed, but encouraged and tolerated, protected by Law and Custom. Only truly free, truly capitalist, and democratic societies allow this sort of dissent to go without violent punishment and imprisonment.

I believe the reason why the majority of these kids haven’t been beaten bloody is simply because perhaps 95% of New Yorkers simply don’t give a damn about what they have to say, and because what they say and do represents little more than a minor annoyance.

Quite frankly, there are no protests like this at all without Capitalism and a tolerant democratic society, but the irony of these curious circumstances is completely lost upon the majority of the protesters. After all, they haven’t the ability to judge for themselves the society in which they live and in which they’re allowed to act foolishly, as they lack the critical thinking skills which are formulated, mostly, by the process of experience, and mostly by being Wrong.

Now, as to the Older People amongst the Young Ones; for many the attraction of this ‘movement’ is simple nostalgia. This is, in many ways, the Last Hurrah of the Hippies, most of who still cling to the outdated political and social conventions of their youth, and who expect to enjoy the same level of Federally-funded benefits and political preferences which were enjoyed by their own parents, and which are threatened by the current economic crisis. Those kids are out there to ‘Change the System’, in a back-handed way, for the Old Hippie's benefit. The Older Dumbasses we’ve seen appear to be slightly smarter than the kids they have joined forces with, but every bit as self-absorbed.

Most of these kids didn’t take to the streets of their own accord, either, I reckon. Most were probably put up to it by others (like their professors), or incited by the Left-wing media which views the very capitalism that supports it through the same flawed microscope that they do. I’ll bet that if you polled 1,000 of those kids that at least half of them are there for the extra credits, or sent as an assignment so that Professor Dingleberry, Baby-boomer douchebag, doesn’t have to actually show up and teach today. More to the point, perhaps Professor Dingleberry has some delusion that causes him to believe that where his generation (the Hippies, the Yippies, and the Flower Children) failed, they might finally succeed by steering this Generation into picking up their old, tattered banners. Professor Dingleberry, then, is re-living his own youthful idealism, only vicariously, in much the same way as his professors vicariously re-fought their own failed political, social, and ideological notions of the ‘30’s, 40’s and 50’s through their students in the 60’s.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

And that’s just the kids lucky enough to be in college: I’m certain there’s a broad range of people who have been driven to this thing for other reasons, like the inability to get or hold a decent job, personal failures projected upon external sources, or perceived roadblocks they believe have been put in their path to personal success by the current political system. A good many simply appear to have gone because they didn’t have anything better to do, and possess scads of free time.

But what is most distressing at these protests is the Illusion of Virtue, the childish notion that it is enough ‘to care’ and that in so doing, that one mystically evolves into a superior human being. It is an arrogance born of stupidity, comfort, boredom…and Youth. We have reached a level of civilization in these United States where the truly retarded are wealthy (compared to the rest of the globe), well-fed, comfortable, educated to a minimum level, and feel secure enough, to gather in the streets of Manhattan for three weeks in order to…your guess is as good as mine, because even the people involved don’t seem to have much of a clue.

The greatest measure of a society’s success is in the fact that thousands of otherwise complete shitheads can somehow still be alive, and thriving, through no obvious effort of their own, while displaying a cluelessness and obliviousness that would get them killed by hyenas and polar bears if they were released into the wild.

I pity those people roaming Wall Street in an attempt to shame or annoy others into giving up that which is theirs against their will. It is a quixotic quest that will fail when it meets the harsh realities of Human Nature, limited public patience, and the quintessentially-American idea that commerce must not be interfered with too greatly. I’m also happy for these kids in this respect: some are about to learn some truly important lessons about Real Life – that it isn’t enough to just scream your head off in the streets, or to carry a sign with someone else’s sentiment childishly-scrawled (and often-misspelled) upon it, or that being Right is hardly sufficient without the ability to translate Right Thinking into Useful Deed if you ever expect to get anything done. Finally, they’ll eventually learn the cruelest lesson of all: Today’s Heroes – professors, politicians, charismatic ‘leaders’ -- are Tomorrow’s Bullshit Artists.

The realization will dawn one day that what they thought, or rather were told to think, was Right, was possibly no such thing. They will learn that the people who told them these things, or told them what to believe, had agendas of their own, and perhaps this agenda included using them as a willing dupe of some stupendously idiotic political movement, or impossible ideal, or that someone deliberately lied to them in order to achieve some other-than-professed goal. They will feel shame, they will feel anger, and they will feel stupid, but this, too, is part of Growing Up. If they’ve done it all properly, then they’ll know better next time, and hopefully, the lesson sticks.

It’s best summed up, I think, in quotations from two of my own, personal heroes. The first is by Winston Churchill:

“A man under the age of 30 who is not a Liberal has no heart; a man over the age of 30 who isn’t a Conservative has no brain.”

Stripped of its political context, the wisdom is this: Idealism is a young person’s game. Older people have different priorities (the care of a family, the travails and dangers of War, the worries that come with aging and failing health) and they  know that the world cannot be changed by shouting slogans and 'caring'. Older folks have discovered that it’s just enough to have enough, sometimes, that satisfaction is its own reward. Change is always required, but we Old Fogies want that change to be a well-reasoned, thoughtful, and slower, process -- the better to evaluate the consequences. Your parents (in my case, grandparents) always told you to wait until you got older, and then you would finally understand, didn’t they?

Besides, we know that, eventually, even the biggest Hippie grows up. How do you think we got half the CEO’s on Wall Street, three-quarters of the Political Establishment, and John Kerry? Those idealistic, Bohemian hippies of the1960’s grew up to become that which they hated the most. Far from ‘speaking truth to power’ they discovered that all that youthful energy was mostly wasted in delaying the onset of Real Life.

The second quote, from Mark Twain:

“Youth is wasted on the Young”.

It is a warning that we Old People should pass on to the Younger Set. It implies that if we Old Bastards had it all to do over again, with the benefit of the hindsight and the wisdom we’ve (hopefully) acquired over the years, we would have done things a whole lot differently and with much more thoughtful purpose while we still had the time and energy.

It is important to let these protesters have their tantrum. There is no harm in it in the Present, and enormous benefit in it for the Future. This Freedom to be a Dumbass is perhaps the single-most critical factor in creating decent, thinking adults, who might one day be wiser than we were when they finally Grow Up.

Some of these kids are already on the path to learning that they were on the Wrong Side in this circumstance this very day, but telling them so -- with their limited experiences and frame of reference -- does no good. They must learn for themselves, the Hard Way, and usually over a period of years. Today’s placard-bearing Fucktard – with his ‘Capitalism is Evil’ sign, garbed in expensive, designer, Urban Guerilla chic, drinking bottled water and mass-produced triple-caramel macchiatos, posing and posturing for cell-phone photos and television cameras, Twittering his little thumbs off, arriving in gas-guzzling SUV’s with ‘Split Wood, Not Atoms’  and 'Save the Rainforest' bumper-stickers attached, who one day hopes to achieve gainful and remunerative employment with a degree in Ecologically-sensitive Algebra -- is tomorrow’s mass consumer of Industrially-raised beef, Coca-Cola, Budweiser, The Wall Street Journal, Viagra and Alka-Seltzer.  
They’ll eventually become the guy sitting at the computer (assuming the wife and kids allow him some free time, the mortgage payment has been made, and he isn’t working from home) shaking his head at the spectacle of thousands of whippersnappers gleefully and obliviously exercising their Freedom to be a Dumbass in public, laughing his fat, fucking ass off.

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