For reasons I’d rather not list, I’ve been forced to think lately about this messy thing that invades our lives whether we invite it or not, called “other people”…where people go wrong, and why. How they make it tough to get along with ’em. The deleterious effects they have on one another. The mistakes they seem to make, apparently with innocence, but then the mistakes have been made so many times before. I’ve thought about this before, and I’ve written about it a few times.
The taxonomy known as Ten Terraces of Liberalism shies away from the specifics of cause, opting instead to focus its inspecting lens upon levels of severity. It leaves much ground uncovered, for this reason. The ground it does cover has to do with specific methods of initial recruitment. And the Seven Steps to Insanity is another taxonomy of levels, more vertical than horizontal; the former traces how people become more and more liberal, the latter traces how they become just-plain-nuts.
So let’s look into what’s been left flapping in the wind, untied, so we can get it tied down.
First, there are Pie People. Pie People are easy to define. Their area of special interest is economics, and their fundamental error is an unsubstantiated belief in wealth’s fungible nature. A dollar in my pocket is proof-positive you can’t ever have it in yours for however long it remains in mine. Any billionaire you see, therefore, is ipso facto evidence of deprivation, and perhaps extortion, of hundreds of thousands of innocents who should be wealthier than they really are.
The Pie People believe in an economic “pie” that is of a fixed diameter and mass, although the size of the slices out of that pie may vary by size. That’s why when my slice is bigger, the net of all the other slices must be diminished — including yours. Naturally, the only fair thing to do is to make all the slices equal.
Elimination-of-Risk people are closely related to this. Both of these types of people, are associated with obsessive-compulsive behavior. The more they get of something they wanted, the more they want — again. It never stops. Pie People want everyone to have the same amount of stuff, and elimination-of-risk people want life to be safer and safer until there is no risk at all. They have it in common that they fail to see that they just got everything they wanted. They constantly feel like they’re being had. And so when they get what they want, and as a direct result everything turns to crap, they naturally fail to see that too. They want more more more. And they get it.
This weekend I scrambled under a deadline to put together a document that is of a private nature, and I’ll not elaborate too much on what is in there…but there is one section that is worthy of reproducing here.
This is a schism that has been opened wide under the foundation of every single culture, I suspect, that has achieved any semblance of “civilization” since the beginning of history. …Humanity has been struggling, since its inception, to figure out if it’s worth the hassle of trying to drive any & all risk of failure out of the day-to-day challenge of living life.
Behind that question, a second question emerges: Could there be danger involved in trying to eradicate any and all risk? To those who assert that it’s worthwhile to drive risk of failure from our existence, or at the very least that getting rid of all risk is relatively harmless, the recent history that is the bailout boondoggle intrudes as an inconvenient lesson. It has been ill-advised, reckless, certainly very expensive, and toxic. Even people who don’t typically believe in the free market, are now perhaps more worried than they’re willing to admit about the loose soil under our economy that is the ongoing survival of firms that — according to conventional market signals, that were overruled in an exceptional case — shouldn’t continue to exist. Such a situation is, indeed, the primary cause of the bursting of the housing bubble that took place a year ago.
Lots of good, sound, logical points are made why we shouldn’t do it. We do it anyway. It turns out to be a huge mistake. Entities that should be successful, fail; entities that should fail, because of artificial “bowling bumpers” put in place, succeed.
When it’s over, anybody who honestly inspects the situation and puts some quality thought into thinking about what it is they’ve seen, has to admit this was a huge mistake and we shouldn’t have done it. And yet — the next time the same situation comes up, we look seriously at doing it yet again, and more often than not we do try to eliminate risk all over again.
I should add that, as I write this, there are murmurs from Washington that since the “Stimulus Plan” didn’t lower the unemployment rate and might have even raised it, what we need is a “Stimulus II” or “Son of Stimulus.” I rest my case. We think we are evaluating the results of the things we are doing, with some honesty. We’re wrong.
Now, here’s a heady question: Do the Pie People morph over time into the Elimination-of-Risk people? Or is it the other way around?
So far, it seems to me the faction most opposed to common sense and rational thinking is the E.O.R. people. They have shown themselves capable, as I pointed out above, of looking upon the wreckage of their flawed ideas and in that very moment solemnly pledging to do it all over again…to fix the wreckage. If sanity is something that can be casually expunged, so it can never ever be retrieved again — they are very close.
But in this same document, I continued to describe another modern people-problem…one that might be even worse still. The “parade people”:
I’m writing here about those poor wretched souls who seem to go through life disbelieving in, or doubting, or failing to observe, any connection that might possibly exist between the things they do and the positive or negative consequences that are visited upon them. These people seem to see life as some sort of parade, an endless and meanering tapestry of surprises, hopefully pleasant ones but at other times unpleasant ones; these things just seem to “happen.”
Passive voice is the rule. I didn’t fuck up at my job; I got fired. Mean ol’ boss came in one day and laid the smack down. Poor me. Got my car taken away by that man who works for the cruel, heartless bank. Don’t talk to me about failing to make the payments. What good does that do? What happened was that I got my car taken away. I lost it. Poor me.
It’s often done by proxy, which is to say by one person on behalf of another; this is classic enabling. He has a learning disability. Her weight problem is genetic. His private life is separate from his performance in public office. They’re sending their children into Israel with dynamite belts because they have no other way of defending themselves. There wouldn’t be any crime if the economy was just a little bit better. They didn’t get divorced because they got married too young and grew apart; HE changed, and in so doing drove her into another man’s arms. He made her do it.
These people aren’t known for taking extra steps to stop bad things from happening, in fact they are known for reacting with acrimony and resentment if it’s ever pointed out something could be done to stop bad things from happening. Their view of life becomes limited, and necessarily their view of their own role in life also must become limited. They extend this limited view to others they know, after awhile. If you know them, you feel the weight bearing down on you that you shouldn’t be working too hard. Why do you have to go to work today? Why don’t you call in sick? How come you never call in sick, unless you’re really sick?
That’s why I call them “Parade People”; the assignment seems to be to sit or stand…and watch. That is all that is expected from any of us. Except, that is, for the people who make it happen. These people are elitists, embracing the social contract that we should get along with each other and recognize each other as human beings — but they only feel the obligation of honoring that among their own kind. Should you ever go out to lunch with them, you’ll find they don’t treat the “help” the same way they treat their friends, who are “real people,” who in turn are cooler because they have fewer things to do. Together, they’re all supposed to wait for the next surprise to come along, and display the appropriate and expected emotional reaction to it. That’s it. Then wait for the next surprise. Apart from that, it seems nobody is really supposed to be doing anything. Except for those stupid grunts who somehow have the “job” of putting the parade together.
The slightest suggestion that someone, somewhere…anyone…has what it takes to perhaps impose an effect on what the next thing is that comes down the road…gets these people angry. Think about this for a minute or two. Recall your own experiences with people like this. They don’t mildly, simply, coolly, dispassionately disagree. They get mad. Like they’re involved in some kind of a civil war.
That’s because they are.
And so perhaps they have a tendency to evolve into the cornfield people.
Earlier this week, blogger friend Rick chose to challenge a left-wing Christian blogger who said she was “sick of war.” I joined in, and together we courteously made the point that war does have its purposes. Trouble is, you can’t be courteous to the cornfield people. After she declared she “had enough” I decided to test the boundaries here and try to figure out just how hypersensitive the cornfield people are. Answer: Very…although I was left with the distinct impression that if my opinions on the issues were more to her liking, the eggshells upon which I was walking would suddenly be made of cast iron, and I’d have much greater latitude.
All of the points she had to make — each and every single one — had to do with some wish that she had, that someone or something would cease to exist. Not much thought about what was to become of the wretched things. They should just stop…being. That’s why I call people like her “cornfield people.” The reference is to the six-year-old boy in the Twilight Zone episode who wishes people out to the cornfield. It’s an ingenious little tale (Physics Geek was kind enough to write in and provide a link to the story from which the TZ episode was made).
This behavior remained consistent, and continued until the very end when she announced that she had to unexpectedly put down her dog of eight years, and really, really couldn’t stand this anymore. Comments closed.
Back at Rick’s place, I noted that not only could her entire argument be distilled down to a singular wish that this-thing or that-thing be made to disappear…and she never once had anything else of substance to say…but she maintained through it all a narcissistic “It’s All About Me Me Me” unidirectional sensitivity about what she found offensive. In whatever. Had she put a moment’s thought into the idea that perhaps she can say things that sound offensive to others, she’d have her own answer about why she was being oh so picked on in this rough-and-tumble world we call the blogosphere…in which, for reasons unknown, she thought her hypersensitive ego could be safely ensconced. But she couldn’t even read accurately. She hallucinated some kind of awful things I said about her family that I never once said. This is a good lesson for us all, I think. These people are out there. Some of them are capable of getting jobs. If they disagree with you it’s all your fault. They’re walking claymore mines.
If their thirst for drama ends up doing you harm, they’ll not be sorry. They’re elitists, and they’re cornfield people.
They go around finding things offensive. It’s not a two-way street with these folks, just like Anthony’s reading minds in “It’s A Good Life” was not a two-way street.
I love that story because although it’s primarily concerned with the life the grown-ups are forced to live, “if Anthony would let them,” a subtle side-plot is Anthony’s gradual development of a strange, dysfunctional personality — a personality that isn’t good for anything. He’s building it every day he lives (presumably, in both the book and the TV episode, everyone starves to death)…because he coasts on through his childhood never being told no.
You can tell, as I draw my little arrows in oh-so-light-pencil from one type to the next type, that I think there’s a connection amongst all these, a connection of cause and effect. But I’m really not terribly sure what it is; what pupates into what. I do know, be that as it may, what it is they all have in common. All these folk, for whatever reason, are living out only a piece of the gift we call “life.” Perhaps they’re simply afraid to embrace all of it. They cannot compromise on too many things. They want everything done their way. But if everything really is done their way, the rest of us only live out a piece of life as well. We end up watching snow fall on our crops in midsummer, just like the grown-ups at the end of the TZ episode. In fact, you could make a perfectly acceptable argument that Atlas Shrugged is the same story, with a few more pages and a more meandering plot. The primary sequence of events, and the characters & motivation, are all the same.
All of this may be taken as a lead-up to a wonderful essay Neo-Neocon has put together called “My Friends The Liberals.” You’ve made it this far through my own scribblings; in for a penny, in for a pound. You should stop whatever it is you’ve been waiting to get to, click open her post and read every single word, including the comments. Highlights:
I mentioned that my liberal friends often diss America. This happens so often that it is almost a verbal tic. Often, their fellow countrymen/women are contrasted to those wonderful Europeans, who are (take your pick): cultured, sophisticated, linguistically diverse, international, pacifist, non-imperialist (now, anyway—since history began post-WWII). Americans? The opposite.
If someone tries to point out certain things that are unequivocally and more conventionally “good” about America, such as the fact that the US was in the forefront of international relief after the tsunami, it is brushed off as a very small and insignificant matter compared to the manifest wrongs we’ve committed. Their belief in the general evil perpetrated by the US around the world is not built on a single event, nor can it be eradicated by pointing out a single fact, or even a few. It is a huge edifice built on thousands of smaller bits of supposed knowledge, and to mount an assault on it would take several courses and piles of reading matter, and might not be successful even then.
Are you beginning to see the depth of the tragedy here? All this effort is put into being positive. To think happy thoughts. To see the other side of those who might casually be categorized as the least worthy among us. To find reasons why such-and-such a guy is stealing liquor from a drugstore…maybe he’s trying to scrape together a few bucks to get his dying daughter the chemotherapy she needs, et cetera.
That’s supposed to be the redeeming quality. The ability to see the other side, to recognize beneficial attributes that would go otherwise unnoticed.
And yet I think all sane people, occupying any position along the ideological spectrum, would ‘fess up that “[M]y liberal friends often diss America…it is almost a verbal tic” has nothing positive going for it whatsoever. There is some dark alchemy at work that metastasizes this drive to do good, to think those happy thoughts, to “dream of things that never were, and ask ‘why not?'” — into something acrid, caustic, and trenchant.
No, worse than that.
Something that, by its very nature, is antithetical to the living of life. Something parasitic. Salt sown into the soil where our crops are supposed to grow. Something that stops us from living some of life today, and all of life tomorrow.
Anthony’s snow, perhaps.
Update: Seeing lots of parallels between this lamentation, and what Peggy Noonan is noticing. Perhaps we’re seeing exactly the same thing, and making our comments in different ways?