Friday, November 28, 2008

Sunday Sermon

Post formerly in this space (of 11/22, "Deconstructing Barry") removed by author (update 12/1: reprinted above). Thanks to the commenters here and the few over at AmCon (where it has also been deleted, by me) who got it and were intelligent and fair in either criticism or praise. To the style-critics, I'll let you know when I tire of my usual shtick and start crafting punchy two-paragraph missives on what Blogopundit said in reaction to Instablogger's critique of Snarkette's refutation of Blogopundit's...etc. I'll have to get over my shyness and revulsion regarding circle-jerks, both real and analogous.

The blog environment is wonderful in a lot of ways; in others it is profoundly depressing. It's beyond me how any idea, small or large, ingenious or insipid, being instantly pounced on by the glib attentions of the mob, will survive in the future. Everyone checking in with their opinion, mistaking the right to it with the need for it; as if everything is to be put to an immediate referendum, and thus quickly approved or dispensed with. My God, how we disdain doubt and cower before the merest hint of contradiction. Stray, dissident thoughts are pounced on like fumbles, disappearing beneath the desperate mass of converging egos. I'm rambling, but suffice it to say: not everything has to be neat, practical, clear-cut and promptly resolved. That first impulse is always less thoughtful than what comes in time. But we all behave now as if time is nearly out--even though, or perhaps because, technological innovation gives us more and more of it. This leisure of time and freedom is new to humanity, and we sometimes embarrass ourselves. We need to start acting like we've been in the end zone before.

The transitory nature of the blog post, and the rapid, coalescing migrations of the internet's vast audience, with its here-today gone-tomorrow attentions, makes for writing both too glib and too plain. Above all it's introduced an element of desperation into our discourse. The blogosphere resembles a depression-era dance marathon.

It's also created a whole new reader; he who mistakes his lack of concentration for authorial incoherence, his shortened attention span for your long-windedness, his inflexible and unsubtle intellect for conviction. Do not humor him. Taunt him mercilessly until he shapes up or ships out for whatever dull, reassuring confines he may find among his like-minded.
As for the piece that was here originally, its only real flaw was in being over-edited, not overwritten; it was about half as long as it should have been. My sin was self-consciously editing it down, and cross-posting it where it didn't fit. It will be back, longer and bellicose as ever. What can I say? If you want someone to write for you the way a military unit marches, the blogosphere is overrun with this sort of thing. Several such authors are two clicks out by way of the blogroll to the right. But if this trend keeps up we'll all be communicating in monosyllabic grunts before long. I understand the elegance of minimalism in fiction, but there is no real place for it in the essay. That's not to say that a piece shouldn't be properly lean; this isn't the same thing.

As for military drill, I've done it. It has a certain appeal, especially for someone who's always felt awkward and ill-suited for society. "One big heel" our drill instructor used to enthuse, compelling us to stay in step. Sometimes we marched right up onto the sealed concrete between two barracks, and that big heel would echo off all of that cool, flat stone about us in a positively intoxicating fashion. You don't need me to tell you how dangerous a thing that is, how much it says about us. The converse of safety in numbers is danger outside of them.

Every profession, George Bernard Shaw said, is a conspiracy against the laity. Likewise, every organization is a conspiracy against the individual. Conspiracies we engage in against our autonomy. Necessary, but no less destructive (not always necessary, and rarely as necessary as any proposal to organize shrieks). If there's to be any benefit for you and I in this gut-wrenching levelling of culture and society that now passes for modernity, this mindless, ongoing demolition project for which respectable opinion is forever scrambling to fashion rationales and contrive pretexts, it should be that we claim our rights as individual men in relation to the State and all those quasi-states and aspiring tyrannies--"movements", organizations, activists. If we can't keep them from pulling the rug of tradition and custom out from under us, if we can't keep from doing it to ourselves in our infinite capacity for greed and blindness, at least perhaps we can resist the new hierarchies and oppressions the ambitious are fashioning for us. This is a salvage operation.

Never lament the state of this or that "movement"; it's all a farce, a ruse for organizing us rubes. I have a few colorful suggestions for your various "movements."

Contrary to our instinct, the result of democratization is not necessarily liberating. Quite the opposite. First ideas will be given no time or room to breathe, then they will simply start expiring in the womb. There is no true or lasting wisdom in mass opinion or consensus, just coercion of one sort or another. Only in solitude and reflection can one see beneath the sometimes mesmerizing reflection on the surface, to the murk beneath. There's no guarantee of anything but satisfaction at having had the courage to look.
"Strike me, but listen!" Thucydides is said to have cried to a general who had raised his hand in outrage at an inconvenient truth. Well, curse yourself for doing it, but look.

Like mom used to say, having two ears and only one mouth means one should listen twice as much as he speaks; we all need to read more and write less.