Attention-Deficit Narcissism

A friend recently commented to me upon an office-memo (one which I’d never read, apparently: the easier communication becomes, the more garbage suffocates your mailbox) that exhorted us to wear denim “in solidarity”. Seems that an Italian court recently convicted a man of rape and then gave him a slap on the wrist because his victim had been wearing tight-fitting jeans—so tight that her cooperation would have been needed in removing them. Therefore… tomorrow, everybody wear jeans. Brilliant.

I immediately recalled Michelle Obama’s equally scintillant response to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls: use the hashtag, “Bring Back Our Girls”. Remember how well that worked?

And it did, you know: I mean, it worked as intended. It made the pompous, distracted fantasists who used the hashtag feel better about themselves. They were showing “solidarity” with the kidnapped girls. It didn’t keep the girls from being brutally raped, sold in to sexual slavery, and forcibly “married” to swine whose Satanic religious beliefs promote such practices… but the bored, desperate housewives of the Beltway could collect their morning Starbuck’s knowing that they had fulfilled some kind of lofty mission in Never Never Land.

My friend also reminded me of a recent “solidarity fad” that involved skipping lunch to commiserate with the poor. Apparently no one made the suggestion that the unspent lunch money be dedicated actually to buying canned foods for the Salvation Army. The objective wasn’t to do anything practical or useful: it was to make the participants feel good about themselves during the few minutes of their day when they impersonated someone a hell of a lot less fortunate than they.

Seems to me that there’s a genuine epidemic of this kind of thing—and it indicts a psychological pathology of some sort that we would do well to investigate. Are we not so immersed now in a virtual reality that it has become our default reality? Have we not so many ciphers and so much shorthand—avatars, selfies, Twitter names—to signal our fleeting electronic presence that a stable concept of self has grown a thing of the past? Why, we may not even be male or female for two days in a row! We may look Caucasian… but Caucasians are racists, so we “identify black”. It’s brutal and abusive (“it feels like rape,” in current parlance) to be forced into a group just because Mother Nature has put you there. Mother Nature, that great rapist, seems to have no regard for the purity of our hearts that wars with our disgraceful genes.

And so we are hunger victims for half an hour. We are not helpers of hunger victims—we are those victims. We are the rape victim in tight jeans for a day. We are the parents of kidnapped children. We don’t do any of the sufferers the least practical good, or even extend a shred of real moral support… but that isn’t our intent. We are not in search of solutions or means of offering comfort: we’re in search of drama and anguish that designate us as among the world’s wrongfully abused, its “owed-somethings”. We’re “owed something”. That’s the essence of our restless, protean, electronic self. We should be more noticed and more admired—and we’re just not getting that notice and admiration. The world, the great damned world, doesn’t see us in all our worthiness and high virtue.

If we were actually to help the suffering, that would mean that we had the power and resources to do so; and if we had power and resources, that would mean that we numbered among the privileged. No, no, no! We are not privileged! We are suffering! We’re not receiving our due! We cannot give, because we need!

I would modestly propose that our slippery, shifting sense of self is the precise cause of our feeling constantly disparaged and ignored. For how can something receive notice and admiration which is always turning into something else? We would be narcissists if we could only focus better on our own person… but with us, it’s as if Narcissus has been distracted from his handsome reflection in the pool by a dragonfly, a goldfish, a falling leaf that creates a ripple. Our all-exclusive image keeps fading from our view. Where did it go? Where are we now? Did you see where I went? I have to find me!

How can this be characterized as anything other than a mental illness?


More on Freedom of Speech

Continuing my last remarks about free speech… say that you write the very worst kind of blog post. Say that you ask your readers, “Where are the twenty-first century Harmodius and Aristogeiton who will assassinate Obama… or Trump… or Smith… or Jones?” My God, you’re encouraging the assassination of a U.S. president! You must be apprehended immediately and locked away until your teeth fall out!

Why? Is the assumption that someone will undertake an assassination through reading your words who would otherwise never have thought of it? What kind of condescending, intrusive, prurient, censorious, holier-than-thou Gestapo tyro believes that we average Joes function that way? “Me read stuff say to go shoot Trump. Unh. Where me go get gun? Unh.” If the only thing standing between any public figure and a bullet is the censor’s power to excise the word “bullet” from public discourse, then the public figure had better never remove his bullet-proof vest—because the word isn’t really needed to stir the thought.

What makes people go violent isn’t the suggestion that they do so. In fact, suggesting an extreme act to people who are already riled up may very well be a good way to make them cool down. “I said that I wanted to punch him in the face… not behead him in front of his children.” Forcing speakers and writers to shut up about certain ideas can confer martyr status upon them and mystique upon their idiot notions. It also makes the extreme seem like a distinct possibility. If you say before an audience, “Aliens landed in my back yard last night and told me that you are in their pay to betray the human race,” everyone around you would start laughing… unless, that is, I jumped up and roared, “Shut up! How dare you! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Once I take an insane notion seriously, it no longer seems so insane to others.

Besides, if I were in law enforcement, I would want the wacko to keep writing so that I could see what bottom-feeders rose to the surface to make comments on his posts. I might even employ an agent to pose as the wacko. Once people start volunteering themselves to be assassins, my job of surveillance becomes much easier, and the world turns into a rather less dangerous place.

I’m far more worried, frankly, about the types who think that we consume and act upon suggestions the way a cow consumes grass and turns it to patties. They have a profound contempt for us as fellow citizens and as human beings, those speech-police. What would they not do to us in order to “protect” us?

Enemies of Free Speech Must NOT Be Silenced: Let Everyone Hear Their Gibberish

Yesterday I read about an editorial pronouncement published in the Wellesley College student newspaper that tried to enunciate an official policy of suppressing free speech. The document came out incoherent at several points, not surprisingly (though the reasons for its incoherence were sometimes surprising: the editors literally wrote the opposite of what they had intended in a couple of crucial places). The case, as presented by these Keystone Cops of monitored speech and others of their brigade, amounts to the following.

Some expressions move people to anger, hatred, and hence—potentially—to violence. Violence hurts people. Therefore, any speech that stirs the audience up is subject to instant suppression (depending on whether the arbiters deem that the audience is right or wrong to get stirred up about a given issue).

This argument is self-annihilating. I think any adolescent of average intelligence would quickly ask, “So who judges the judges? How can we know that their right and wrong isn’t just the way they happen to feel that day?”

Yes, exactly. But beyond that, think about what the argument implies with regard to people generally. They can’t think for themselves. They have no natural power of reason—no inborn ability to join claims logically nor any common humanity that alerts them to unfairness or outrage. All such faculties are myths, according to today’s academy. Logic is simply programming pounded into the masses by a patriarchal establishment. “Decency” is the same thing. Both are given highfalutin names to cloak them in respectability… but they’re mere brainwash. If some firebrand orator pushes your buttons and you are a member of the great unwashed, you will fall prey to his manipulation. You can’t do otherwise: you’re defenseless.

Well, not quite. Your defense is that the forward-thinking opponents of the establishment will shut down the firebrand before he assembles a crowd (which manifestation of power, of course, requires that they themselves be the de facto establishment, if I may be forgiven a lapse into logic). And since reason of both the logical sort (inner consistency) and the intuitive sort (moral imperatives) is all illusion, those who stage the protective intervention and bundle the would-be speaker off to Siberia don’t have to justify themselves in any sane manner. All they have to say, by their account, is that they’re shielding our ears from hateful speech and our eyes from hateful publications. This overweening nannyism-gone-berserk could cover up tracks of the most horrendous kind, naturally. The self-elected components of “society’s conscience” could be euthanizing their critics left and right, and the masses could be persuaded to go back to their video games and smartphones as long as whistle-blowers didn’t stir up “hatred”. No whistle, no foul.

I suppose that my last two paragraphs amount to the same thing as, “Who will judge the judges?” But I wanted to emphasize that advocates of selective suppression are, in fact, advocates of arbitrary suppression, and hence of suppression without practical limit—categorical suppression. You either have the freedom to speak your mind… or you don’t. If a redneck anti-intellectual Hotspur were to exhort his hearers to round up all academics in Humanities programs and put them in a concentration camp, I would want him to speak his fill. Then I, in my turn, could point out to him that he’s doing the very thing for which he so detests academics in Humanities programs. If our hearers are too dense to understand my point… well, then, we’re all dead, anyway. But I’m fully convinced that if they hear my side and my opponent’s, they will recognize themselves and the children they hope to rear in my world that allows discussion of ideas, compromise, recognition of errors, insight, and—in a word—growth. The permanent infantilism of those wretches who live under Him Who Would Be God is not what any “decent” person hopes for his or her babies.

The protophobe (“First-Amendment Fearing”) Left of our more insane campuses is nothing less than the new KKK. I don’t like lynching, no matter who does it. I’ll bet you don’t, either.

Life Isn’t Managed by a Diagnosis and Some Pills

I just read a student paper that discusses bipolar disorder at some length. We used to call it manic-depression. To my untrained mind, the latter sounds more like moodiness and the former more like some sort of cerebral malformation. Of course, that’s exactly the impression that the medical community desired to promote. You should be depending on your doctor, not yourself. It’s caveman logic to think that, if you’re having mood swings, maybe you should do some soul-searching. Delving into spirituality, taking pride in developing a tougher character, fighting your darker half, learning how to be your life’s hero… scary, primitive stuff, that.

For none of it sounds very “medical”, does it? Let’s call the dark place a disease, instead, and let’s prescribe lots of expensive drugs for it (with unpleasant, perhaps fatal side-effects: but to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs). The public, having long been primed to take the easy way out of every predicament—to believe, even, that the Constitution (whatever that is) guarantees a right to a corrective pill for every complaint—readily delivers itself into the hands of white-coated technicians. Add to that the glory and mystique of belonging to some class of “sufferer” (any will do—and the more, the better)… and you find Americans lining up to receive their “bipolar diagnosis” and its special batch of talismans and magic potions.

My student has confided to me that she, having herself received the diagnosis, bravely chose to fight her war through therapy rather than drugs; yet she has noticed that the medical establishment expresses ever less interest in tolerating this approach. Too much money to be made peddling the drugs… and, I suspect (since I’ve long concluded that the will to power is the strongest of all corrupt human motives), there’s too much joy in Medico-ville associated with know-it-all diagnoses and consequent prescription-writing. Why would a doctor seek to empower you when he can easily sweep up that portion of control and add it to his own plate?

I’ve probably fought depression all my life. I don’t really need a term for it, other than “the human condition”. I’ve never seen a doctor about it and never taken a pill for it (or booze, or a joint). I had two pretty close passes with suicide when I was young, and I feel that the ordeals made me far stronger and reordered my vision of reality.

When I made a very casual and fleeting joke about absenteeism in a class last fall, however, in which suicide played a part, I was hooted at by several students as some kind of insensitive brute. “Sufferers” must be cuddled in a warm blankie like little lost puppies retrieved from a hailstorm: they must be smothered in sympathy and nursed on carefully filtered optimism. My experience at the receiving-end of this spontaneous outrage played no minor part in my decision to retire this coming year. The feelings of that day will forever remain with me… and they will forever disgust me.

I am outraged at the outrage. Life is tough, and I have found it sometimes miserably so. But I don’t need a diagnosis and a fat bottle of pills, any more than I need big hugs and Teletubby-colored glasses… or a fifth of Jack Daniels, or a Sunday School sing-along. Jesus was crucified, and he promised us about the same fate if we walked in his footsteps. Mulling seriously over that has been the ultimate therapy for me.

Abortion, Ritual Sacrifice, and… “Conservatism”?

It almost seems like abortion is a dead issue (no pun intended). When hold-nothing-back mouthpieces of the Twitter generation like Tomi Lahren (of whom I lately wrote) can’t grasp the basic facts as they float one garish utterance after another like helium-filled balloons at a birthday party, discussion no longer appears to have much point. And Tomi, recall, is supposed to represent “conservatism”.

Her position, stated infamously (if very casually) on national television, is essentially, “Hands off my guns, and hands off my body.” In other words, the government’s intruding into a woman’s pregnancy is equivalent to its confiscating the weapon with which she would have deterred a rapist climbing through her window at midnight.

May I offer the following analogy in dissent? Say that you contract to be the lifeguard on a stretch of ocean beach during the summer. You demonstrate superior swimming ability and are offered the job on the spot. Great. Now the summer proceeds to unfold without incident, and you fall into the habit of munching potato chips and swilling softdrinks rather than leaving your shaded throne to swim around the pier once in a while. You grow fat and are easily winded. But so what? It’s your body, isn’t it? Don’t you have a right to abuse it if you so choose?

Well, no, not really. Not in this case. The terms of your employment assume that you will remain performance-ready; and if you fall out of shape, furthermore, another may die. The swimming novice who screams and flails beyond the pier in late August will drown because you can’t reach him, thanks to your consuming interest in supplying pleasure to your taste buds. You were supposed to be that person’s lifeline, the door to another day for someone who can’t survive without help. You should not have accepted your post if you intended to ignore its responsibilities.

Unless a woman is raped (against which outrage a gun is a pretty good insurance policy, as Tomi says), she should be able to partake liberally of the joys of sex—if such is her inclination—while preserving a few abstinent days in the middle of her monthly cycle. Or if that’s just barbarically severe, then she can always equip herself with contraception (or purchase one of the wide variety of contemporary toys that promise to keep her happy). If she chooses to handle her body in such a way that she risks conceiving another life, then she needs to be prepared to supply the lifeline: those are the “terms of engagement”.

Frankly, I don’t see why any educated woman should find herself in an unwanted pregnancy unless she wants the drama of it—unless, that is, she wants to perform the sanguinary rite of passage into a sick sisterhood that is represented by abortion. Today’s cutting-edge feminists say they don’t need or even like men, anyway: they tend to prefer each other. So why does this remain such a hot topic with them, unless they require a blood sacrifice to cut their ties with human decency the way a gang initiation requires a drive-by murder?

Cutting Cards to Determine the Start of World War III: A Good Idea?

As determined as I am not to use this space to talk politics, I’ve been asked repeatedly over the past 48 hours about the missile strike on the Syrian airbase… and, frankly, with a son who’s just turned twenty-two and memories of our nation’s Vietnam days still prominent, I’m thinking a lot about asinine military moves and their consequences.

Actually, nothing I want to say is really political. I leave that to others. Trump-apologists are spinning away at their media looms, while Trump-haters are studying with equal ingenuity how to represent the strike as a disaster. (The ingenuity is required because most of them, as a matter of record, have long wanted Assad removed.) For myself, I’m content to make a few observations.

I’ve never been a fan of “putting Putin in his place”. This line of reasoning seems childish to me almost beyond belief. We’re not talking about Wrestlemania here. Putin is no choirboy, but we should be courting him away from an alliance with the Chinese. His cardinal sin of “invading” Ukraine followed upon a violent and illegal coup staged by pro-European West Ukranians–and he was actually invited into East Ukraine by a regional majority whose petitioning for basic concessions from the new government (e.g., being able to teach their children in their own language) was arrogantly ignored. Virtually all of the people who are now screeching, Putin est delendus, were warning after the Crimean plebiscite (and it was a legal plebiscite, by the way) that Putin would forthwith move in on Poland, Finland, and so on. Didn’t happen. Why is anyone still listening to them?

I’d be happy to put Bashar al-Assad on my “drop dead” list… somewhere well below Kim Jong Un. The Hannity brigade is trying to represent the elimination of the former as somehow leading to that of the latter. Wish I could understand how that works… hope it does. I guess the Chinese are supposed to be so unnerved at the sight of this drunken U.S. cowboy wandering the streets with sticks of dynamite that they hustle their own drunken punk, Kim the Kid, back into the stable with his Derringer. That, too, doesn’t strike me as a very adult way to address problems which could erupt into World War III.

With whom will Assad be replaced? With another Morsi, democratically elected by the local equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood? Are we really eager to firm up an alliance with the House of Saud and Erdogan–doesn’t this suggest that our definition of “intolerably repressive dictatorship” is rather too well lubricated?

Trump claims that seeing video of poisoned children altered his resolve to hold aloof. Does anyone remember Madeline Albright’s making almost identical remarks about seeing photos of mass graves in Bosnia before our involvement there? Turned out that those photos were faked. Are we so sure that we have all the facts in the present case?

And if the murder of children is the “red line”, then haven’t Bush and (especially) Obama killed enough children in drone strikes–at least a thousand by some estimates–to qualify as an atrocity? Or is being shredded by shrapnel below “red line” threshold because death by sarin gas is so much more agonizing?

My inclination is to call crap on all this. I do hope it ends well, since the first dominoes have already toppled… but I really, really don’t like the sense of being manipulated and fed loads of garbage. There’s enough of that coming from leftwing media without the further contributions of neo-con Machiavellians. B.S. is as toxic to aging civilizations as sarin is to children.

Baseball: A Tidy Morality Tale of Degradation Through Technology

Baseball season officially begins tomorrow. I love baseball… but not as I used to. Or, rather, I still love the game, but I don’t much care for the way professionals play it now. It used to be so much more tailored to the pastoral motions of a country lad swinging a scythe or an axe, with all the body’s members working in concert and clever hands getting every last bit of possible acceleration out of a handle. Now it belongs to big, muscular men who hurl their equipment around like barbells in the weight room and are carefully insulated from flying debris by special gloves, special pads, special flaps and guards. The finesse is gone. The higher skills are gone. Even the fielders’ mitts are virtual butterfly nets. The whole dance has grown comparatively predictable and boring.

The late Ralph Kiner was the only commentator I ever noticed awarding proper credit to the altered bat for the game’s degeneration. Bats were once a yard long, with little tapering. Hitters (or “strikers”, as the nineteenth century knew them) used their sticks to balance as a tightrope walker does before they actually carried a saber-like swipe straight into the pitch, smacking it with spread hands whose fingers were as cunningly positioned along the handle as a flautist’s on his melodious instrument. Even when I was a boy, Mantle and Mays still had very level strokes and could make split-second adjustments with their feet and hands.

Wooden bats were always cracking and shattering, though—and replacing them cost money. High schools and colleges were only too happy to shift to aluminum models in the Seventies that could be used all year long and were hence much kinder to the budget. As the metal alloys employed were refined, the new-age bat was reshaped to proportions that wood couldn’t possibly have imitated (though big league models would come ever so close by the Nineties). Barrels grew massive and handles toothpick-thin. Length also diminished to allow yet more mass to be packed into the barrel. In turn, this meant that loss in the acceleration of the longer bat’s sweet spot had to be supplemented by placing the hands all the way down on the knob—and also (as soon became apparent) by recruiting taller boys with longer arms. Tall boys seldom have quick, clever feet. Fortunately, fine footwork wasn’t required for the evolving swing: the lower body grew almost stationary, allowing the upper body to wale down on the pitch from high over the rear shoulder and put maximal backspin on the ball in the (ever less likely) event that contact was made. A backspun ball will climb very high; and if a really tall boy hits it really high on a slightly windy day, it will end up sailing over a fence. Otherwise, and especially for shorter boys, it becomes a simple pop-up—a “can of corn”.

So thanks to technology, baseball became a big boy’s game, and then a big man’s game. The steroids scandals of the Nineties might never have happened if bats had not shifted shape so as to reward blunt upper-body strength. Now we spectators have become so used to seeing the home run as the only alternative to the tedious pop-up (or the weak ground ball—the consequence of a steep downward swing that comes too early and meets the ball on its upward follow-through) that nothing else in the game interests us. We prefer the annual Home-Run Derby to the All Star Game that it precedes; and certain “innovators” are seriously suggesting, even, that we cut extra-inning affairs short by staging a home-run shootout the way soccer breaks ties with penalty kicks.

For those who care, this is quite a fascinating morality tale. A massive, across-the-board degradation of skills among players, strategy among coaches, and even patience and taste among spectators was all set in motion by a seemingly benign adjustment in the bat’s building material at lower levels of the game. We practically never see the entire range of consequences that will follow from technological change: the variables are too numerous and human behavior too complex. Yet once we have embarked upon the changes, we can almost never work our way back up the road after rethinking our selection. Indeed, we can almost never rethink it, because the new ways too quickly reprogram our entire outlook. We become trapped in the devastating folly of supposing our lifestyle better and better merely because it’s not that of our grandparents. We have no idea what we’ve lost; and, in our Lilliputian cocksureness, we scoff at the notion that we have lost anything at all.