Stupid And Proud Of It


 

 

The first time I was exposed to the idea of “alternative news” was the Police Gazette magazine in our local barbershop. This was in the nineteen-fifties, a time when World War II was not that distant a memory. Every month the headline would concern Hitler found alive in Argentina, Brazil or Paraguay. Flying Saucers were also big on their list, and scantily-clad women in high heels attended secret parties in remote locations visited only by the super-rich.

About ten years later, when I was in college I discovered the National Enquirer, and its deranged cousin the Weekly World News. By this time, I had traveled to Mexico and realized that they had long proudly hosted a national press that catered to the functionally illiterate. You could buy comic books for adults, and books of photographed dramatic scenes that were the printed equivalent of soap operas. All these publications reflected a reality that America had largely bypassed and now downplayed, the division of our populace into varying classes based on education and literacy.

During the 1960’s,  children we would watch Three Stooges films played on television, and there was one episode where Moe played Hitler, and they showed a map of the world. They held on this map for minutes, giving the audience time to read all the funny place names. It took me seconds to read them, but back in the 1940’s, the average Three Stooges viewer needed more time. A lot more time.

Today we have Trump Supporters, the Deplorables, a group of proud anti-intellectuals who ape the Fascist leanings of their Orange leader, the modern-day Mussolini. They sneer at higher education and liberal values,  making 1970’s TV’s Archie Bunker look like Noam Chomsky. They laugh at “snowflakes” and those who expect our nation to be kind to the weak and dispense justice to the poor. The only interest one can be proud to claim is enlightened self-interest. Dick Cheney had it and look at him, now he’s a billionaire!

This will not end well. The deliberate embrace of the stupid, the transparently false, the celebration of belief over fact, the whole-hearted crassness that allows us to treat our allies and enemies alike as inconsequential suckers will turn on us. We will pay for our arrogance and stupidity. Or I suppose I should say, “we will pay for their arrogance and stupidity.” Because we already are.

 

 

here’s is a five-minute recording of the author reading this essay

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A REVERIE


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TOO RETIRED FOR COMFORT

mostly talking about what it’s like to be me

He found it hard to stick with any one thing. More than a short attention span, he manifested a terror of committing to a singleness of purpose. His life was a pastiche of unfinished projects, halfhearted dabbling, unfocused whimsy.

He was born that way. Often he would tell a friend who realized the depth of his affliction “It isn’t my fault. I was born this way.” Had he tried medication? No, sadly there was no cure for what ailed him. If there were, maybe he could have amounted to something, but since there wasn’t, he would have to be content with who he was, a person who left behind a trail of half-finished business.

One day he resolved to come up with a solution. He would devise a task so simple that follow-through would be effortless. He would simply count his breath as he went about his day. If he lost count, he would start over again, but he would always be counting. It would give him a sense of purpose and a plan he could stick with.

He found that counting grounded him. Counting your breath is so effortless that it doesn’t stop you from doing something else at the same time. You can’t easily talk and count your breath, but you can keep count on your fingers while you’re talking and then add that sum to the grand total once you’ve stopped talking.

Once he had improved his abilities to concentrate, he found that he could come up with new ideas that were popping up from some strange place inside him. A font of creativity with no known source, but it must come from a synthesis of what he was taking in. Things he’d read, movies he’d seen, conversations he’d had, all entered his psyche and then exited later as something different, improved, or at least mutated.

Now he needed more than just the ability to pay attention. He needed to find something worthy of that attention, something to pay attention to over a long enough time period to matter. He could learn a foreign language, master a musical instrument, take up oil painting…there are lots of activities that take years to achieve any sort of competency. He needed to choose.

THE SEDUCTION OF EVIL


 

 

All the absurdity and stupidity displayed every day on the news, then amplified and echoed on social media, has the ability to distract us from developments more worthy of our attention. Yes, our government is corrupt, surely everyone is aware of this. We could consider the present state of affairs a crisis, or we could simply acknowledge that there are problems for which we will need to find solutions and move on.  To allow ourselves to be absorbed by horror and anxiety serves no one. Maybe this permanent state of emergency is the plan the tyrants had all along. We can immunize ourselves by directing our attention at things that empower us.

 

I’m not talking about limiting ourselves to “happy news.” Being absorbed by the news in general, just like being too rabid a fan of any entertainment, is a large step on the path to powerlessness. What did people do with their free time before the Internet? Lots of different things that are still available to us now, if we can only look away from the fascinating horror that tempts us online.

 

 

 

 

What if…?


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What if the world we already inhabit were a thousand times more amazing than we can appreciate? Could be that we’re surrounded by good luck, magic, unimaginable opportunity, and fantastic wealth, but we can’t see it.  Not yet. If we could adjust out thinking all this opportunity and wealth would come into view.

 

Maybe the solution to our temporary blindness is to give up. Stop trying to figure things out, make things happen, control outcomes. get people to like us or think we’re important. Just stop it. Wait a few days and see what happens.

 

Something will happen. Things will change, maybe for the better, perhaps quickly.

 

It’s worth a try. We can always go back to our old ways. Struggling to manage our lives as best we can, to squeeze the last drop of advantage out of every situation. The reason such actions haven’t brought pleasure or satisfaction so far might lie in the fact that contentment doesn’t arise from having advantage. Getting ahead is not getting happy.

Way Too Much


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Too much already so nothing matters
 
I keep thinking I should start a project that would take me months to finish, write and photograph a long piece, and then find somewhere to publish it. But then I look at the steady stream of detritus that flows through my laptop every day and realize that nobody needs any more writing or pictures. Nobody needs any more of anything.
 
I could delude myself into thinking that my diligent and purposeful activity would eventually make some sort of difference to somebody, but I think it would at best amount to self-deception.
 
There are too many choices for my limited attention. I subscribe to Netflix and there’s a lot out there for which pay a paltry sum. Last night we watched one of  the worst movies I’ve ever seen on Netflix. Last month we watched one of the best TV series I’ve ever seen, three seasons worth, thirty-nine, one-hour episodes.
 
I saw a movie in a cinema last month, but it was the first time I’ve been out to see a movie since we started up with Netflix.
 
I no longer “read” anything. I skim. I’m always browsing, hoping that something substantial and evocative will grab my attention for longer than a few seconds. That rarely, if ever happens.

Catholic or Buddhist?


 

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I grew up Catholic, baptized shortly after birth, educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen, first by nuns, then by Jesuits. Our neighborhood revolved around the parish church and school. In St. Louis, people would judge your social class by your parish. “She’s from Our Lady of Lourdes.” Oh, that speaks volumes.

 

Now I live in Thailand, and here in Chiang Mai, Buddhist temples are even more omnipresent and important to the community than were Catholic churches when I was a boy. All directions are given regarding the nearest temple. Fundraising parties that last five full days abound. There’s literally a  temple every half mile in all directions. The first morning sounds I hear through our perpetually open windows are the gentle gongs of  monks walking down lanes, seeking alms.

 

There are school classrooms attached to many temples, but most education is done in public schools. Uniforms are compulsory here, up through University level. Thais love uniforms. Even employees of companies wear uniforms. Nurses wear nurse uniforms like we used to have in America before about 1960. Boy and girl scout uniforms abound.

 

Conformity is not frowned upon in Southeast Asia. There’s an Asian expression, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I chafed under the regulations that demanded I wear a uniform for the first eight years of schooling, but here I take comfort seeing students in uniforms.. It reminds me of home. I remember having the same feeling when I went to Ireland in 1971. I saw Dublin school girls waiting for a bus who were wearing the same color skirt and blouse the girls wore back at our Lady of Lourdes, in St. Louis.

Florida Man Speaks


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I’m one hundred percent male and I live in the North of Florida. I own guns. I never cared much for school, and everything I learned to earn a living I did on my own. If a guy knows how to fix cars he’ll never want for work or money. That’s me. I’m not rich, but I have all the money I need to get on with the business of enjoying life.

My friends think like I do. We hate the democrats, especially Obama and Hillary. We like to chant “lock her up!” all together, and if anyone tries to argue with us we say “What about Hillary’s emails?” and that shuts them up.

I was married a couple of times, but I guess marriage is just not my thing. There’s always some woman who will give a guy like me sex, so I’m not worried about being horny or desperate. Women hold nothing over me. I can take ’em or leave ’em. That’s what I like about women. They’re not in charge.

I might not be tall, or strong, rich or smart, but I don’t take orders from nobody. Florida is my kind of place. You could move a guy like me up north to someplace like Maine, and I’d be nobody at all. Down here I’m king.