Showing posts with label Essays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Essays. Show all posts

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Joan Didion's 'On Morality': The Extremist Test

There's a Bob Dylan lyric in Highlands that always makes me smile: "She said, "you don't read women authors, do you?"" I typically don't. Despite what I'm sure would be Moonbeam and Steinem's insightful CNN-style psychological "analysis" to the contrary, that has less to do with the Holy Uterus than the fact (and it is a fact) that women rarely write anything I'm interested in reading. It's the same with standup comedy. I'm not all that interested in a narcissistic "female perspective." I'm not required by social law to interest myself in such things, either. Because, you know, I'm a man. Sue me. But only after you read a volume or two on middle age suicide and the male prostate.

I mercifully digress.

There is one very significant exception: Joan Didion. I bought We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, a non-fiction collection, with Orwell's. She's fantastic. Slouching Toward Bethlehem's essays/articles are on par with Mencken's, if less vitriolic and venomously entertaining! On Self-Respect and On Morality are worth finding and devouring.

Here's an excerpt from On Morality, written in 1965. That's significant, as you'll see. Crusading moral certitude isn't new. We were hatched in that fire; it's part of the American DNA and what makes us particularly susceptible to propaganda and makes this technologically amplified conflict between our moralistic ideological religions so dangerous. Didion's Lionel Trilling quote deserves its own space and I literally squealed when I saw she used the word, "agitprop!" And the last paragraph? Ooof! We need a test for those infected with the Extremist Virus. Joan Didion has it:

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Propaganda or Education; Patriot or Traitor; Riot or Protest?



 In one of many examples of how he knew the herd better than it knows itself, Edward Bernays, the man who took "propaganda" and rebranded it "public relations,"pointed out in the late 20's that whether you perceive something as "propaganda" or "education" depends upon what you've adopted to explain the world for you: your belief system; which god you worship. That's shamefully self-evident and explains why most are, almost literally, physically unable to consume "their" "news."

Whether you would have seen our 18th century mobs as "patriots" or "traitors" depended upon the same thing: chosen identity and an adopted perspective skewed by subjective "faith." Stampeding herd dynamics functioned the same in Boston and Philadelphia as in Paris, Moscow, Havana, and Berlin. The difference between these four and ours is that our founders understood and feared the mob. They attempted to straddle saddling a temporarily useful but snarling and unpredictably dangerous beast with long-term stability and "liberty." 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Crowd: Mencken or LeBon?


Several times over the last few years, I'd bounced a counterargument around in my notebooks: the possibility that LeBon's character sketch of The Crowd has it backwards. The existence of a mob mentality is unquestionable, but maybe it doesn't psychologically transform an otherwise reasonable individual into a frothing barbarian. Instead, perhaps the induced hypnotic flock-state simply unleashes the domesticated savage's suppressed impulses; ones that are always boiling just beneath his thin civilized veneer.