It seems to be a human failing to think that trying times call for a redoubling of purity of principle. We see it time and again in history: the trial of Socrates after the Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian War, the Inquisition in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Self-strengthening Movement in the faltering Qing Dynasty China, the Cultural Revolution in the same country decades later, the list can go on ad infinitum.
And here and now in America, amidst the deepening political crisis, we hear calls to fundamentalist purity from the left.
It has never worked, throughout history, and it won’t now.
Let’s say you’ve got squirrels in the attic. They got there because your house has needed major renovations for quite a while, but you got by with stop-gap measures, because the renovations would involve temporarily opening up the house to the outdoors, and you have to live there while the work is going on.
Now you discover skunks have moved in under your deck.
Do you think it’s sensible to choose this moment to drop everything and start gutting the house?
Say you’re walking down a dangerous path in a forest, overgrown with thorny vines, progress is difficult. You’re increasingly fed up with hacking at the vines to eke out a few steps at a time. Someone has told you this is the path that leads out of the forest, but you’re no longer convinced it’s true.
Suddenly, the path in front is suffused with light, and there’s an easier looking path splitting off to the left. The first light you’ve seen in days of wandering, so tempting, but on examination, you see that it just leads to a small clearing a few feet away, surrounded by the same thorny vines on the path you’re on. A nice enough place to rest, but it won’t help you out of the forest. Still, you’re utterly exhausted, tired of slogging away, unsure you’re any closer to being out of the forest than when you started. Could you be going in circles? You think, I could just live in that clearing, give up trying to find a way out altogether.
Then you notice that all of the light doesn’t come from that side; on the right is another, narrower path leading away. It is small, but straight, so you follow it for a few steps, until you see that it leads straight over a precipice to jagged rocks below. It’s a long way down, you think, but a person might just survive the fall, and it’s definitely out of the forest.
Shuddering, you return to the path you started on, with considerable dismay. It hasn’t gotten any less thorny, has it.
What to do?
There are two keys to hipness, inextricably woven together: image and timing. Image has a lot to do with the proper air of disdain, not so much that you just look sour, but not so little that it’s invisible. This is often accomplished linguistically, and that’s where timing comes in.
There are seven stages to the rise and decline of a hip word or turn of phrase:
- Someone comes up with a clever neologism.
- Her immediate cohort, seeing this, starts using it among themselves.
- Eventually, they use it in social media, and it catches on.
- It appears in Urban Dictionary.
- There are articles in Time or some similar rag on its proper use.
- Suddenly, it’s everywhere.
- Suddenly, it’s nowhere.
Consider the word ‘mansplain.’ If you used it during the first three phases, you were hip; if it was during the first two you were very hip, but only retroactively. In phases 4 and 5, you were probably an older person ‘in tune’ with the younger generation. After that, you’re dead to the younger generation, and in phase 7, you’re either completely out of it, or just being a smart ass.
Unless you use it in a blog, in an eye-rolling sort of way. Then you’re extremely cool. You might call that ‘blog-rolling.’
Feel free to use use that.
You despise the idea of always having to choose between the lesser of two evils, so you don’t vote. You either lash out at anyone who criticizes anything you say or do, or you stick your fingers in your ears and go about your business. Your go-to response to disagreement is insult. You cut off “negative” people and cultivate “positive” ones. You get mad and get even.
Maybe your parents told you you could be anything you wanted, you could have anything you were willing to work for, that there were no limits. That if you were true to your ideals, things would always work out the way you wanted, and so you should never compromise, for that was weakness. That if you wanted something badly enough, you would get it. The Law of Attraction.
Not only that, but you should have seen through it instantly, even as young as you were. All it takes is the realization that there will always be someone else whose parents also lied to them, who wants the opposite of what you want. You should confront your parents with this; they need to be held responsible for raising children to be the adults we now have to deal with in politics.
Your Uncle Mike
PS: If you’re old and still feel this way, shame on you. You should have learned something by now.