I have to run off virtually at once, so I hope my Gentle Readers will be satisfied with a short piece today. Not that “short” should be taken to mean unimportant. Indeed, the short stuff is often more important than the long rambling rants.
Writer and “professional tinkerer” Alexander Rose, author of Pay the Two Dollars, wrote therein that most people would rather plead guilty to murder than to ignorance. It’s a stark and uncomfortable insight, because it’s demonstrably correct. But it’s a special case of a more general rule:
All of us. Each and every one, without exception. It’s as difficult an undertaking as any in the realm of self-expression.
Ponder the following bit of dialogue:
“I’m the world’s biggest excuse-making machine when things start going bad. ‘He’s just under a lot of stress.’ ‘It’ll get better – I’ll just wait his mood out.’ ‘Nobody’s perfect.’ That last one’s my big one. And it’s the dumbest one. Sure, nobody’s perfect. But lots of people aren’t absolute dickwads.”
Rationalizations of that sort are something other than what they appear. The speaker might have thought she was making excuses for her ex-boyfriend. But what was the effect of thinking or uttering those rationalizations? What practical purpose did they achieve?
Exactly! She stayed with him a while longer.
So what was she really defending? Might it have been her own decision to accept him and tolerate his “imperfections?” Could it have been anything else?
We hate to admit that we’ve been wrong – and the more serious the error, the more determined will be our defense of it.
Have a convenient, widely applicable rationalization on me:
Have you ever used that one, or a variation thereof? I wouldn’t be surprised; it’s a fairly common response to “Why do you put up with that shit?” But it’s less an exculpation of the offender for his cruelty, crudity, or crassness than it is a defense of oneself for being a passive enabler of the behavior at issue. It’s also a mile marker for the lapse of standards for public behavior, which is nearing the checkered flag of social disintegration.
We – the good people of America, and yes, I include myself in that category, thank you very much – have become so averse to confrontation that today we’re allowing thugs of very worst kind to act out in ways that, a century ago, would have led to broken bones at least, pistols at dawn at worst. There are many reasons for this, but that’s not what’s uppermost in my thoughts just now. Rather, it’s our readiness to defend our own spinelessness by offering a seeming excuse for bad, often deliberately offensive behavior.
We’d rather defend our own timidity with a formulaic rationalization than stand foursquare for public decency and order. Those who are assaulting that decency and order are emboldened every time we “tolerate” it. It’s why we’re losing our country.
There’s a brief, illustrative vignette near the front of Robert Ringer’s How You Can Find Happiness During the Collapse of Western Civilization that comes to mind. The book isn’t near to hand at this instant and, as I said earlier, I have to run off almost at once. Perhaps I’ll transcribe it later today.
Meanwhile, ponder the above and what it implies for our national future.
UPDATE: Here’s Ringer’s vignette:
It was early in the afternoon of a hot summer day. I was standing in line at a neighborhood ice cream stand, with five or six people in front of me and about the same number lined up at an adjacent window. As we stood quietly waiting our turns, a rather unpleasant mix of screeching musical instruments, wailing voices, and sharp electronic pulses began to fill the air.
As I and the other patrons in line turned to see what all the ruckus was about, the intrusive sounds were practically upon us, Crossing the street and heading straight for the ice cream stand was a scraggly-looking teenager, sporting one of those now-familiar “I’m a bad dude” looks on his face. As if his gait and demeanor weren’t menacing enough, he was also armed with the ultimate punk weapon—a “portable radio” that, considering its size, would have fit rather comfortably in the right hand of Godzilla.
As Mr. Bad Dude sauntered up and attached himself to the adjacent line, the discordant “rock” sounds from his gigantic noise machine became more than just mildly irritating. Then a most interesting thing happened. Just as I was expecting him to do the natural and civilized thing—turn the radio down so as not to annoy the other people in line—he startled everyone by deliberately turning his rock blaster up.
The message was clear: “I can do whatever the hell I want. You don’t like it? Tough s—, man. I’m bad.”
All at once it hit me. He was right. He could do whatever he wanted, and if I didn’t like it, that was my tough luck.
That is the end of Ringer’s description of the event itself. There follows a passage of philosophizing about what the event symbolized about the collapse of Western Civilization. Now, for those Gentle Readers who’ve been following along up to this point, I shall ask a most pointed question:
Explain your answer. Try to avoid excessive profanity.
A: Clearly leadership no longer existed then. What are chances today?
Fear of pain and confrontation. Mostly pain.
Americans don’t seem to talk to strangers spontaneously as much as we did before, even when it’s virtually certain not to be taken in a negative light, and it might be a symptom of diminishing mutual trust. A vignette from yesterday at the small local post office:
A guy was standing with his mail and a chit at the current “social” distance from the package pick-up window. Another customer had just come in. All of us well over 60 y.o. A post office employee called to the man waiting, who was facing toward me and the incoming guy. Waiting guy did not react. PO guy called again, a litte louder. Incoming guy pointed at the PO guy, as did I. Waiting guy still did not clue in. Then I said “He’s talking to you,” and business resumed. That’s not the first time and place I’ve seen people use gestures even when gestures have failed, and plain spoken English is obviously [sorry] the best way to communicate.
A very popular couple of older guys (50-ish probably at the time) were morning DJ’s in my metro area in the deep south back in the late ‘70’s-early 80’s. They did comedy sketches that cracked me up, and also some light-hearted news commentary. One of them had a constant expression when commenting on outrageous news events, that “some people just needed an old fashioned pistol whippin”.
That’s even more true today than back then, and a lot of those people hold elected offices.