Public Display of Private Convictions


#1

I went to a Christmas concert a couple weekends ago. It was a nice show, and started with a very good rendition of Springsteen’s arrangement of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but the show was the pick of the other people I was with, not mine, so I brought a book as supplemental entertainment. I’d seen or heard the book On Bullshit mentioned in connection with Trump, so I’d picked it up at the library and brought it along.

During the intermission people wandered off for snacks and bathrooms, so I had the book out and was reading away. In the row behind me, outside my line of sight but well within my hearing, some other people, apparently old friends, were catching up. One man was doing most of the talking, and he summarized a decade of his life over ten minutes, talking about the terrible man he’d worked for (because the owner was a liar and everyone knew it, but the speaker would be fine because the owner knew the speaker wasn’t afraid of him and would stand up to him, and anyway he could walk down the street and get a new job any time he wanted to), then about the business he started, which didn’t work out because trusted the wrong people, but at least he could sleep at night because he was honest and he didn’t have to keep track of which lies he’d told.

Which reminded him of his hate object, Hillary Clinton. And, with that, he shifted the focus of his monologue to Clinton, and liberals, and political correctness, how Clinton had to start each day remembering which lies she’d told yesterday, and thank God we had Trump to drain the swamp, and a lot of things I can’t remember now because my interior HUD was flashing red warnings and I was self-managing furiously to avoid an emotional hijacking, but he basically started in on the Trump-supporting Fox-News-watching bullet points of how to hate liberals and blame them for the world.

About ten things sprang to mind at once to say in response. I was having trouble picking one because I’d come for a show, not a debate, but this being the time not to stay silent but to speak up I felt I had to say something. The thing that really made me turn around was hearing him accusing HIllary of lying after all the things we’d learned about Trump the Con Artist and Serial Bullshitter throughout the campaign. The man speaking sounded like he truly lived in a separate reality. Just no intersection at all.

So, rather than saying “are you fucking kidding me”, the most insistent of possible responses competing to burst forth, I just turned, held up my book and said “I’m reading this because of President-Elect Trump.” I was improvising; there were other things I could have done, but that’s what came out. The title was in small print, he was older, he couldn’t see it, so I handed him the book, and he read out the title: “ON BULLSHIT”. Probably not a word often spoken aloud in that concert hall.

I couldn’t see behind me, so I don’t know how the others in his group were reacting, but it was just me and this gentleman speaking. He said Washington was one giant corrupt mess and what we really needed to do was take all our nuclear weapons and drop them on Washington, just take the whole place out, just nuke the whole thing. (From orbit, after dusting off? Probably not, he wasn’t in the right demographic to make that joke.) I think he may have been reaching for agreement, and he could have had that if he’d stuck with addressing corruption, but after nuclear weapons all I had for him was a dismissive OK (with body language saying “sure buddy, whatever you say”) and turning away. A small internal voice said he needed kindness and maybe a little help more than anything, and I should just disengage, having already done what honor required. He went on for a little longer. The last thing I said was “I can agree we need to fix some things in Washington”, and that was the end of it.

I give myself a C/C+ grade. I spoke up, which is good, but I was too confrontational, and it didn’t move the world in a better direction for anyone except myself and for anyone around me who shared my views. I didn’t enlighten anyone or increase the peace. All I did was create a little psychological space in which to exist.


Back at the start of the show, after the opening act but before the headliners came on, the master of ceremonies came out to welcome the audience. He said what you’d expect – nice to be here, wasn’t that number wonderful, we have a great show for you tonight – and went on to intro the headliners. The last thing he said before they came on was, “and let’s Make Christmas Great Again!” And then he snarked, “what, too soon?” and dashed offstage as the headliners walked on, meaning his little joke got huge applause.

Yes, at one of the most divisive times in the recent history of our nation, that was much too soon.


So, what about you? What close encounters of the political kind have you had, in person?


#2

They serve no purpose any longer, except to frustrate and isolate us. There is a media environment curated for every political persuasion, no one changes their views, most deeply held convictions are pure bullshit, anything outside the Overton Window is ‘naive’. Sorry to be so pessimistic, but I don’t see this train stopping until it runs off the tracks.

Did you enjoy the book? I felt it was a little stilted and should have been an essay, but nonetheless a good work and timely.


#3

I thought it was a straight-forward Pirsig-Church-of-Reason recitation of where BS sits in the constellation of related concepts, and didn’t have a lot of soul to it. I shouldn’t use that to criticize though, since the author pretty much said that’s what he wanted to do. It did teach me a bunch of new words for BS. I always thought bah, humbug expressed disgruntlement, but hey, learned something new.


#4

Could be I lacked the context and background to appreciate it fully.


#5

When others are doing their thing IRL like the situation described and not engaging me directly I tend to mind my own business.


#6

Did you get your book back?


#7

Yes, and fortunately he didn’t have much of a pitching arm.


#8

I’ve been fortunate in that it hasn’t come up in public. In private I’ve told someone I know to cut it out with the e-mail forwards about #nextpresident, but that happened during the election. I did hear one second-hand story from a friend who had dinner with an old schoolmate and his wife. My friend was going on as usual about his amazement that millions of women voted for this gross chauvinist pig, to which the wife icily responded, “including me.” Silence for a moment, broken by the husband who said, “yeah, the two of us haven’t been talking about politics for a while now.”

The essay does one thing very well: it makes the not-always-obvious distinction between BS and lies. This is a useful thing to know when a grifter slimes his way into one’s life (e.g. the next four years for every American).


#9

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