The curmudgeon’s retort

I quit Facebook a couple of years ago; I decided I just wasn’t cut out for it.  I suffer from the inability to let egregious errors slide, especially when the topic is an important one.  It’s not that I think I’m always right; I’m open to correction with a good argument.  Unfortunately, that’s not a response I got very often.  Most of the time, the responses were couched in personal terms: I was a troll, I was being too picky, or, in one case, I was making a ridiculous fool of myself for disagreeing.

Maybe they’re right.  I’ve had similar reactions on Twitter, although I’ve learned to just withdraw at the first sign of it.  What I find oddly disturbing, though, is how often a simple disagreement is characterized as a lack of respect.  Have we really come to the point where we think it’s disrespectful to openly disagree?

Social media seem to be seen as places where anyone gets to express their opinion, no matter how misinformed, or, indeed, insulting, without the fear of being exposed to contradiction.  If I don’t think something you’ve posted is correct, fine; I get to post my own opinion, but not in response to yours.  As a result, we, as a people, can happily continue shouting at each other without engaging in any meaningful discussion.

Nothing wrong with this, where mere opinion is concerned, I suppose, but the line between opinion and verifiable fact has all but disappeared in our discourse.  And that’s very dangerous in a democracy, because it leaves us open to all kinds of manipulation.  Not the least of which is the illusion that the majority of the nation feels exactly as we do on all the issues of importance, because we never allow ourselves to hear anything different.  As a result, when an election goes astray from what we perceive as the inevitable result, we’re convinced it’s because of corruption, or worse, a conspiracy.  And who’s to tell us otherwise?

If there’s a single word to describe this trend it’s this: childish. It goes along with our fascination  with the simple black/white dichotomies of the comic-book movies we’re inundated with, and “extreme” sports, also straight out of the comics.  Are we doomed to continue this prolonged adolescence forever?

Do you suffer from IQS?

Do you find yourself repeating meaningless platitudes about love, courage, or creativity throughout the day?  Do you attribute nearly every possible sentence in the English language to the same half dozen famous people?  Do you feel strangely moved by reading the same quote for the hundredth time on Twitter or Facebook?  Do you feel an utterance is made more profound by dividing it into lines, pasting it onto a picture of a sunset, and attributing it to a famous dead person?

If so, you may be among the millions who suffer from Internet Quote Syndrome, or IQS.  Here’s what famous people are saying about IQS:

IQS is the single biggest obstacle to peace in the world today. -Mohandas Gandhi

Without a doubt, IQS is Internet Quote Syndrome – Abraham Lincoln

It’s amazing, all the stuff Lincoln said – Mark Twain

But now there’s something you can do about it.  Just send any normal sentence, in any language to me, along with the low, low price of $69.95, and I will read it.

Yes, It’s that simple.  Here’s what Neill Gaiman says about this extraordinary opportunity:

Hold on, you can’t use me; I ain’t dead yet!

So don’t delay, send today!

The writer as commodity

When I was a young pup, many, many years ago, I wanted to be a writer.  I didn’t particularly want to write in any disciplined way, mind you.  What I was after was the identity of the fierce intellectual, scowling over my Smith-Corona, dimly visible through the clouds of pipe smoke curling around my august head.  I couldn’t pinpoint it, but somewhere along the line I came to the realization that I had not only to pound away at my typewriter to become the man of my dreams, but write well and often enough so that people would want to read my stuff enough to pay money for it.  Crass, but there it was:  I had to work, and I had to sell.

In spite of being a card-carrying old fart, I am reasonably cyber-literate, having worked with and on computers since about 1964 (not a typo).  I have noticed an interesting phenomenon in the blogo-twittersphere: the writer as commodity; it comes with a cute bit of jargon as well: crowdfunding.  Its done sometimes through websites like SellaBand or Kickstarter, but as often as an independent project.  This typically involves a blog page with a link where you can send contributions; almost never is any actual piece of writing offered in exchange.  Throw in a twitter account where you can point to the page, and keep everybody abreast of how the donations are going, and Bob’s your uncle.

I am very skeptical of this development, which strikes me as just this side of holding out a cup on the street corner with a sign saying “Will write, but not for you.”

I am well aware of the long tradition of patronage in the arts.  It usually involved, however, wealthy members of the aristocracy, and was the norm mainly before copywrite laws and royalties.  Indeed, the word “royalties” derives from the practice of royal courts to patronize writers and other artists. But such arrangements almost always involved the commissioning of specific works, which had to meet the criteria of the patron.  If you held such a position, you had better write something pleasing to your angel, or you would soon find yourself on the street:

…writing for a patron typically meant avoiding the expression of ideas that would upset the established political order, on which the patron built his wealth and power.  —Gennady Stolyarov II

Today’s writers would be affronted by the very notion of such limits on their production, but they forget, or never knew, that this commitment to artistic integrity is a very modern thing, dating to the fairly recent phenomenon that writers could actually make money directly from the sale of their work.  You can have patronage, or you can have integrity; you can’t expect to have both.

Of course, it’s possible to get people to donate to your enterprise with no qualifications, on the basis of some romantic notion.  Gullible people are everywhere.  But do you want a living on those terms?  I’m asking; if you’re comfortable with it, none of my business, I suppose.

The long and short of it:  If you want integrity, sell what you write.  Go ahead and advertise online, include a donation link if you like, but give something in return, beyond your mere existence as a writer.

In other news…

Going on the theory that guns don’t kill people, people do, the Pentagon announced today that they will sell all of the guns they currently have, and not replace them.

“We have plenty of people, that should do the trick,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The sale represents a bonanza for NRA members, who are nonetheless not pleased with the situation.

“Well, okay, we get lots of guns cheap, but what about bombs and missiles?  Hunting is a cherished tradition for Americans, and here’s a politician trying to deny us our constitutional rights,” said NRA spokesman  Wayne LaPierre.

When asked if Wayne LaPierre was really his name, he abruptly ended the interview, by speculating whether, just this once, his own gun could kill someone.

In other news, Dwayne Sheboygan, 18, was arrested at his school in Texas for threatening to kill everybody in his class with a cocked and fully loaded index finger.

Rude awakening?

The Egyptian army cracks down on the Muslim Brotherhood; the majority of the population approves.  Greece arrests members of the fascist Golden Dawn party, including members of parliament; their popularity crumbles.  Not much to go on, if you’re looking for a trend, but it’s enough to ask the question, are we getting tired of extremism?

Up til now, to be extreme has been the height of fashion.  Even the dullest events and pastimes have jumped on the extreme bandwagon.  Extreme knitting would not have raised an eyebrow.  No limits, all out, leave it on the field.

It’s my suspicion that all this tolerance, and even preference, for extremism is a by-product of the unprecedented prosperity of the two decades prior to the 2008 meltdown.  When things are going well, why impose limits?  Wasn’t “no limits” the mantra of the feel-good 90s?  It was fully entrenched by the time people were engulfed in recession; it must have seemed the right approach to bring the crisis to a close.  There was a lingering suspicion that the problems were caused by timidity, in any case, and all that was required was more bullishness.  It’s a commonplace that the first reaction to an ideological crisis is retrenchment.  We’re having problems?  We haven’t been true enough to our principles.  The Peasants are rebelling, reaffirm the authority of the aristocracy.  Religious fanatics commit mass murder, hurry off to church.  We see it time and again down through history.

Seen in this light, our devotion to the extreme looks less like a devil-may-care embrace of uncertainty, and more like a conservative retrenchment.

But in all such cases, there comes the creeping realization that not only are things not improving under this program, they are actually getting worse.  Retrenchment collapses under its own burdensome weight.

If what we are seeing abroad is the first faint glimmering of this collapse, we can only hope it reaches our shores before the lunatics destroy our government beyond redemption