On Pessimism and Misanthropy

Pessimism is the routine expectation that things will happen for the worst (pessimus being Latin for “worst”). Misanthropy literally means “hatred of mankind” in Greek (misos + anthropos)–but in common usage, its tone is somewhat milder, as in “not trustful of people”.

I have been called both of these; and while I certainly haven’t a lot of trust in people, especially in an age where young high school and college graduates are constantly encouraged to “follow their dreams” in idiotic commencement addresses (a recipe for disaster, given the irresponsibility of dreams nourished on video games and Netflix fantasies), I think “the worst” is most often averted when we’re suspicious of our neighbors. The founders of the republic thought the same thing. In my lifetime, it has been the optimists who typically open the door to disaster: the people whose expectations are so absurdly self-indulgent and rose-colored that cynical manipulators run circles around them and create a hell on earth. Then, when the “snowflakes” finally wake up and realize that they’ve been played, they become as naïve in their mistrust as they were formerly in their gullibility. They tend to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong at the doorstep of a certain designated group of villains, in a romantic kind of Manichaeism—good guy versus bad guy—rather than growing up and recognizing that all people have at least latent corruption nestled somewhere within them.

The trouble with optimism is that it can leave those whom it burns stupidly pessimistic. And on their way to getting badly burned, the naïve can get innocent people killed. I won’t repeat my remarks of a few weeks ago about Pope Francis.

Let me toss out just a couple of examples that sailed past my bow this week in illustration of why I don’t feel just all peachy soft and fuzzy about human civilization’s future.

One case stares at me from my Kindle almost every time I fire it up. The murder mystery seems to be to our casual reading public what oats are to a horse. Now, my mother loved mystery novels, and I think most of us enjoy a good crime drama on occasion. I had to give up watching Joe Kenda, however, because at some point I just couldn’t take any more young single moms letting strangers they’d picked up at the bar into their lives and winding up in a dumpster. Real murder, you see, is anything but glamorous. It’s the most squalid crime imaginable. The motive is generally some mix of lust, greed, egotism, and stupidity—with a very strong dose of the last: murderers are almost never evil geniuses. The murder itself is usually a brutal act of superior physical strength asserting itself over a victim screaming piteously, and pointlessly, for mercy. Even the higher predators in the animal food chain show more heart than the average murderer.

Yet nowadays, even as we create safe spaces and trigger alerts to coddle our epidermis-free sensitivity, we willingly accept murder into our amusements as an integral part of escapist fantasy. It’s the sanitization of murder in the pulp romance that gripes me—the degradation of mass taste that is implied in that makeover of human depravity. Joe Kenda’s tales were real enough to leave me mildly nauseated after a while: Joe Kindle keeps insulting my intelligence with teases about the latest “humorous, sexy murder mystery”.

One more quick example: I was looking up the Romanian word for “bull” because I know almost no Romanian whatever, and I needed to make a linguistic point about the modern languages descended from Latin. I’m not kidding you: the first full page of a dozen entries that popped up on my computer screen when I Googled my question offered Romanian street parlance for “bullsh*t”. Seems that we have all forgotten about the male bovine with a bellowing voice and what Jack Falstaff called a “pizzle”. How did we come to the point where coprologisms have more currency among us than basic words for basic realities? What does that say about us?

So, no, I’m not real happy with things. It’s because I can still generate the energy to be upset that the notion of effective action continues to mean something to me. Would we be better off just smiling every time our decadent culture serves us up a dish of “bull” when we ask for bread?

He Who Forges Lies About a Knave Is Himself a Lying Knave

I need to make a short “razoo” (as my grandfather would have said: ancient Texan for Italian razzia) to another state very shortly. The place where I always stay is sure to have that pompous, sanctimonious, snarky monument to journalistic anomia, Chris Cuomo, blaring away on CNN in the breakfast room; so I’m packing my ear plugs, and I will either get early dibs on the far table shielded from the TV by a corner or else graze parapatetically in the lobby.

I absolutely can’t stand Cuomo. The last time I stayed at this venue, he drove me from the dining room fuming like an overheated waffle iron. I can’t detect a tinge of equitability in how he covers news. And the rest of CNN isn’t much better. The other day I stared in disbelief as, toggling off of Netflix, I discovered some reporter hot on the trail of an “incident” involving Trump’s thrusting another head of state to the ground. The video showed one man placing his hand gently on the other’s shoulder and sliding past him in a crowded room—but the audio described…

Well, something like newly elected Representative Gianforte of Montana’s decking, choking, and pummeling of a reporter. If you or I had behaved like this in public, we’d not only spend the night in jail (and, upon adjudication, probably stay there the next ninety days), but we’d also see our professional and communal reputation permanently ruined. Here CNN has a legitimate case of newsworthy molestation; and, since Gianforte is a Republican (unlike former Florida Representative Alan Grayson, whose pathological bullying was constantly airbrushed from national headlines), his outburst is being covered around the clock.

Yet Gianforte has now been elected to the US House of Reps. Perhaps even more vexatious, the list of luminaries in the right-wing commentariat who have defended him and/or impugned Mr. Jacobs (the reporter) in knee-jerk reaction to CNN’s feeding frenzy includes Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Dinesh D’Souza, and Brent Bozell, the last three of whom can lay a credible claim to being something more than showmen (though they might not appreciate the word “intellectual”).

Overplaying its hand, as always, CNN wants to maintain that Trump essentially committed the assault—that Gianforte was only his surrogate… which is preposterously absurd, and would be emotionally disturbing even in an early adolescent. (“Mom, it was that Wally who made me steal the PlayStation. I wouldn’t have done it, but I see him cheating on homework all the time.”) I didn’t vote for Trump (or his opponent), precisely because his reactions remind me so much of an early adolescent’s, and a certain amount of this misery has been drawn down upon him by his own buffoonery. But he hasn’t tackled anybody since his highly staged, burlesque drubbing of Vince McMahon on Smackdown.

Speaking of right-wing punditry… I’m really, really, REALLY sick of Limbaugh and Hannity referring to people who made my electoral decision as establishment-Republicans who think they’re better than the working class. Trump’s entire business life has been a long tale of playing insider’s games, and his political philosophy (insofar as he has any) is every bit as paternalistic and nanny-statist as Bill Gates’ or Warren Buffit’s. This kind of “with us or against us” analysis has all the finesse and discrimination of the mob’s decision to murder Cinna the poet after Caesar’s death because one of the conspirators was named Cinna.

But again, accusing Trump of dealing out body slams to foreign heads of state as he navigates through a crowded room is just as idiotic—or attributing to him the blows that fell from another man’s fists. Such idiocy is routine in the mainstream press, and it’s also international. Peter Helmes wrote at his site, Die Deutschen Konservativen, last month of a mainstream German news story titled, “Ferguson Three Years After the Unrest—The Fight Against Racism in Trump-Land.” I wouldn’t even let such tendentious garbage as that title leak into a blog entry (quite ignoring the minor detail that, as Helmes stresses, Trump was building hotels three years ago).

And as brutal and appalling as Gianforte’s assault on a journalist was, where have we seen any story on mainstream news chronicling California professor of philosophy Eric Clanton’s assault with a deadly weapon (a padlock attached to the end of a chain) upon the heads of three Trump supporters—young students all—at Diablo Valley College? The date was April 15. Well over a month ago now. Guess we’re not going to hear Chris Cuomo covering that one.

I’m getting sooo very sick of all of this! I don’t write about politics in this space, and I’m not doing so now. I’m writing about how ashamed I feel to be a human being lately. May I please submit an official Species Change Form to the appropriate authorities for immediate consideration?

Greed Downs Honesty 10-0 at Coors Field

My son, knowing of my fascination with the physics of baseball (and perhaps mistaking it for a love of the game as it’s now played), wanted to surprise me with tickets to the Cubs-Rockies game when I was in Denver last week.  That was the day when an afternoon hailstorm broke out windshields all over the city.  Rain continued non-stop: it was perfectly clear to anyone with half an eye and a two-digit IQ that no baseball would be played that night.

Yet the official word was that the show would go on.  So we duly drove downtown during rush hour in a cold, steady drizzle to crawl our way into a parking deck and trek miserably to the ballpark.  Since nobody could take a seat in the unprotected areas (and since Cub fans represent a massive cult in any American city), the bottled-up throng could scarcely be navigated.  Moving from A to B was like trying to get a red square on one corner of Rubic’s Cube without shifting the blue one on the far side.  (I could never master the Cube.)

With my martyred wife in tow, we tried to find something edible.  Really amazing, how a big league ballpark can’t even give a concession to Chipotle or Subway.  Disgusted by the options, we exited the stadium to explore nearby sports bars and bistros.  Of course, all were overflowing… and the rain continued to pour.

At last we returned to the park and managed to find a dry spot.  (My son had paid pretty good money for seats that turned out to be sheltered.)  No longer hungry, we just watched the great green field soak up more water under blazing light towers.  Half an hour later, the game was officially postponed.

No one can convince me that the string-pullers of this operation ever had any serious intention of giving the green light.  No–they saw a chance to draw thousands of people downtown to spend a pointless wait milling about beer, burger, and nacho concessions.  I’m sure the local bars also loved the decision.

This is one thing I hate about Big Baseball.  It’s big business, in the worst corporate sense.  It taps into a clientele so vast that alienating a few hundreds or thousands here and there, now and then, poses no threat to the overall Product.  We’re cattle, straining to get through the chutes and to the troughs wherein the Operators have poured an insipid swill for us to slop down.  No consideration for the struggles of the little guy fighting weather and traffic, not a thought given to the several dozen fender-benders that likely occurred around game time, a big shrug to the hundreds of cases of sniffles that children and oltimers would suffer the next day… hell, it’s a business.  If you don’t like the risks of patronizing it, go fishing.

Message to MLB: I’m not holding anything in my hand (or my wallet) that I’m willing to pass to your side of the table.  Go fish.

One Small Step for Incoherence, One Giant Leap for Anarchy

I used to think that I would eventually get used to student papers littered with sentences like. “Each patient knows their chances are not good,” and, “An author at that time would be rejected if they had no sponsors.” Nope. Ain’t gonna happen.

The third-person plural pronoun referring to a singular antecedent has become a fixture in our postmodern babble. Too bad. Sometimes the result is insolubly confusing. “The applicant who convinces the judges of their argument’s vulnerability from either direction will become a finalist”; “the patient whose doctors understand that they need more sleep is in good hands”; “a coach whose players perform beyond their expectations is very lucky.”

Why must we put up with this skull-mush purée? For it seems that we must; not only do you and I commit such agreement errors all the time in conversation (where misunderstanding can be quickly corrected), but the arbiters in university English departments are increasingly decreeing that third-person agreement gaffes are correct—not tolerable, but the only way to go. One ambitious termigant in my own department has refused to address me civilly in the two years since I challenged her championing of the singular “they” in a public email. I hadn’t realized that the issue was so sensitive. Guess I’m lucky that I didn’t get slapped with a sexual harassment suit.

And that’s what it’s all about, you know. Maupassant once quipped that all stories are about either sex or death, and this one is about both. Our language must die so that sexually specific pronouns may never again be spoken. If the student or patient in our sentence is designated a “he”, then we have just committed a sexist crime; and if we choose “she” to privilege the female, the new god is still not propitiated. In fact, we may have made our situation worse, for our willingness to shift feminine in all generic cases could be misread as a gesture arising from that hotbed of quintessential sexism, chivalry. (Naturally, “she or he” runs into the same quagmire if we try to redeem the offensive order of “he or she”).

Equal time for the genders is no longer what’s at stake. The new objective is the utter annihilation of genders.

I could go on and on about what psychological perversion lies at the heart of such linguistic anarchy… but really, what lies at the heart of anarchy in any of its expressions? “Evil, be thou my good!” cries Satan in the masterpiece of that arch-sexist poet, John Milton. The anarchist desires to see the world helter-skelter. Up must go down, and in must go out. Creation must be undone to the point that no clue of its original design remains. The people who push such counter-programmatic programs have some kind of invincible grudge against life. Since they cannot remake it to be just the way they would have liked, they will satisfy themselves (so they think—for these people are never satisfied) with stealing the sense of life from everybody else. At least they will have accomplished something, merely by doing that. They will have forced everyone to share their single guiding insight as they shout from atop an infernal dunghill, “None of it means sh*t! Nothing! None of it!”

You think this is too far a reach from a single solecism? After all, as the academic advocates of illogic never tire of saying on this issue, Shakespeare also used “theys” with singular antecedents once or twice (as if the Shakespearean corpus were the meticulous relic of a single intelligence writing under minimal pressure and entrusting his work to the capable hands of infallible redactors). Well, you probably don’t watch this sort of degeneration happening every day from a dozen directions, as I do. A brick here, a brick there…. The edifice isn’t going to blow up: that’s not the plan. It’s going to collapse into rubble one fine day when one brick too many is removed from a critical wall.

That day, by the way, may already have arrived.

More on Attention-Deficit Narcissism: Clemson’s Racist Anti-Racism

I keep running across exhibitionist behaviors that model what I’ve called Attention-Deficit Narcissism. The sufferer of ADN is so consumed with his own image that the rest of the world might as well not exist–or it only exists, we might say, to the extent that he can project himself into it, always in the very favorable light of a merciful, compassionate, enlightened person or the very poignant light of a cruelly martyred victim. Yet our wretch has such a shifting, sketchy sense of self (probably thanks in large part to social media) that he must be forever projecting new images on top of old ones, often without any regard whatever for the coherence of the whole package. Such walking insanity renders the afflicted wholly inept as students, writers, scholars, leaders, lovers, or friends. They are emotional powderkegs that ignite without rhyme or reason.

The chase after the golden mantle of cultural diversity, of which I wrote last time, has turned the Western world upside-down. Without the slightest real understanding of the group which they effusively (and briefly) patronize, the ADN-delirious rush in like the crazed followers of Dionysus, sporting sombreros or turbans or headdresses, and eat chili peppers or dolmades or toasted locusts for fifteen minutes. They create an image and move on. The elite strata of society, especially, teem with restless waifs who are thus inebriated, both because the pampered class is most immersed in technology’s toxic artifice and because it is most insulated from the real-life consequences of misjudging a particularly dangerous group (and, one might hazard, because its lives of fantasy are the most meaningless among our species).

I can’t think of any other way to explain how the elite brain trust at Clemson University could agree upon publishing a horribly, despicably, and genuinely racist announcement that students of African descent may not be penalized for showing up late to class. Supposedly, punctuality nestles in Caucasian DNA, but not in theirs. Did the pompous idiots who issued this decree stop to reflect upon the centuries of racial stereotyping that projected black people to be just such helplessly, hopelessly tardy dolts? Did they trouble themselves, for instance, to ponder the character of Lightnin’ on the old Amos ’n Andy TV show (originally created for radio)? Shuffling along and pushing his janitorial mop none too urgently, the brim of his baseball cap flipped up in the opposite of a “bear down” position, this unambitious young man couldn’t deliver the simplest message to Andy or the Kingfish without drawling a single sentence into half a minute, usually forgetting its beginning by the time he reached its end.

If you’re black, this is the kind of “consideration” you get at Clemson. I wonder if any student of African genes has come to a sufficient boil to wave aside all the freebies the ADN crowd wants to lavish upon him theatrically… and to file a lawsuit?

Why “Gender Studies” Is the Enemy of Women

Without a guiding principle of common humanity, all of the “minority studies” prosecuted on campuses around the nation can only substitute one kind of bigotry for another. Unless we have a coherent, transcending, and immutable value—a moral idea—from which to moor our conviction that disparaging certain classes of people is wrong, the oppressed can only rise up to become the oppressors in a closed circle of insane activity.

This is my conclusion after wading through a semester’s worth of papers infected by feminist ideology. Have women been largely deprived of a voice in the past? They, among others, have tended to be silenced: yes. Should we therefore not study the literature of the past? How much of the tree should we cut away—because any well-trained feminist will tell you that the muted only began to raise their shouts volubly in the Seventies and Eighties of the last century. So no texts should be studied, then, which precede those decades? Or do we study eighteenth- and nineteenth-century texts composed only by women? The pickings will be slim, if the feminist claim is correct that few women in the past were allowed to publish, or even to write. We could dig up personal artifacts like diaries and private letters; should we replace Racine, Swift, Goethe, Balzac, Hawthorne, and all the other males with volumes of retrieved billets doux and missives from sister to sister?

Or maybe we should rewrite the male classics so that they no longer offend our newly developed sensibilities… or maybe we should teach them with constant whistle-blowing and lecturing about infractions during lengthy time-outs. Of course, we must not assume that there is anything other than “the gender issue” in these or any other texts that is worth discussing. All the other “values” claptrap”… mere propaganda designed to dull young minds to the subjugation being worked upon the under-class: mere spin to secure the “patriarchy” in its position on top of the socio-political dog-pile.

But if it is wrong for human beings to behave like scavenging jackals, nipping and scratching for first bite at the carcass, then why is it wrong? Why shouldn’t the strong overpower the weak? Why should we be outraged that men have oppressed women, or the majority the minority? Isn’t that nature’s law? And when feminists try to make us trash our male authors and recreate a canon full of female authors, aren’t they just trumping with the guilt card to get what they want—aren’t they just playing the fox’s part rather than the wolf’s in the fable?

The only possible protest against such cynicism is that, no, human beings are not mere animals—that right and wrong do exist independently of cultural conditioning, and that using raw physical power to seal up a soul silently inside a frail body is culpable brutality. The acquisition and appreciation of such higher values would be excellent reasons for reading literature. But if three are no such values—if all literature is only propaganda—then there can also be no cause for any man to feel obligated to extend equal rights to women, or for any tyrant to care about the feelings of his miserable subjects.

The more college literature programs draw us away from seeking basic human values in time-honored texts, the more they condition us to a decadent world where might makes right. The more teachers of literature insist that combing through the pages of the past in search only of “gender relevancy” is what literary specialists do, the more they ensure that gender inequality will come roaring back with a vengeance—inequality, and every other kind of barbarism. To shout above the shouters is to promote a degenerate culture of mindless screaming.

True Forgiveness Isn’t Always for the Asking

I’m not going to look up the names, because they’re irrelevant to my intent, and I also don’t want to leave the impression that I am judging harshly any particular individual. I can’t slip myself into the soul of the daughter whose aged father was gunned down last week by the so-called Facebook killer. Within a day or so of the incident, she appeared on CNN and announced to the world that she forgave the murderer and would indeed give him a hug if he were captured. Somehow or other, maybe this was what she needed to say for her own inner peace—and when CNN comes bearing down on you with a mike and squinty, manipulative questions, you might very well want to say certain things just to tie the reporters’ tongues into pretzels. I sure would.

What really disturbed me, rather, was the second line of talking heads—those who jabber about other media jabberers—eager to purvey this blanket forgiveness as a splendid testimony for the Christian faith. Glenn Beck’s channel, The Blaze, was ablaze with such interpretation. With all due respect to the grieving daughter… no, I wouldn’t call her words a beautiful testimony at all. God places us on earth, we must believe, to find our way toward Him as well as we can during our allotted span. Anyone who interrupts another’s journey, deliberately and wantonly, is playing God with the most hideous arrogance. It’s a wicked act, that peremptory cutting of the cord called murder; and ultimate forgiveness for it can and must come only from God himself. For such creatures as we are, striking a beatific smile and warbling, “It’s okay, it’s okay! I forgive you!” is not an option. The benediction sounds a bit as though we have decided to play God in one of His other famous roles.

We must take the murderer at his word if he claims that he has indeed sought God’s pardon, and we must wish him well in that endeavor while also holding him accountable to the laws of men. We are not to enact cruel vengeance, which would corrupt our souls as the criminal has corrupted his; but we must take all legal steps to deny him chances at committing similar outrages in the future. To shrug off the deed of someone who has presumed to declare life meaningless and short-circuit whatever meaning or understanding might have been emerging for another is to participate in belittling the divine plan. I don’t like the smell of that.

If a narcissistic lunatic like the callous Facebook murderer had cut down someone dear to me, I think I would have said this: “You’ll be caught, and I hope you are safely in a cage before you interrupt someone else’s life. I hope you stay in that cage until you can do no harm to anyone, or else—if it’s the will of society—that you be legally executed so that your sad end may intimidate other self-obsessed lunatics. I don’t wish agony upon you: may your end be swift. If you want to see me, explain yourself, and beg forgiveness, then I will consider myself bound to hear you out… but I’m afraid I haven’t the power to absolve you of anything. Beg forgiveness of him whose life you took, and of Him who gave no man the right to end another’s life for amusement. As for me, I have nothing to forgive. We’re all mortal, and we all leave this world in one way or another. I pray that the soul of the one I’ve lost has found peace. If you want peace for yours, then ask it of Him who can give it. That’s in your power.

“I will warn you, last of all, that I’m inclined to regard your contacting me as another bit of grandstanding—and I’m not in the least interested in being one of your spellbound spectators. You’ve already committed murder to put yourself in people’s eyes. If I detect that this plea for forgiveness is Act II of the same sick drama, then I get up and walk out when I get the first hint.”

Evil exists. You can’t fight it by forgiving it—and what portion of a troubled man’s soul it may occupy is not for us to determine.