Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ours Should Not Be A Life In Small

It was bittersweet to see the photos of the Space Shuttle, piggybacking on a 747, making its final landing at Dulles International Airport this week. As conflicted as I feel about the whole shuttle program, there is little doubt that this final resting place for this piece of Americana may well be more than a museum for what has passed. It could very well become the graveyard of the America we once knew.

For all its many faults, ours has not been a country that dreamed small. Even individuals and small communities saw themselves as part of a far larger, more grand movement. This continent could be made American; the land could be tilled; roads and canals and railroads would knit together its most disparate, isolated places and spaces, bringing the country together. Victorious in a war against the greatest threat western civilization ever faced, we had both the technical know-how and desire to look up and see, in the vast emptiness of the night sky, possibility, even promise.

Having reached the Moon, our eyes and ears roaming even further, going in to orbit became routine, part of the workaday practice of being America. An extension of our best sense of ourselves, the exploration of space was testimony to our willingness as a people to risk much in order to gain much. From the first, faltering colonies on the banks of the James River, this willingness to place our collective selves in the hands of Divine Providence in search of greater gain - sometimes commercial, to be sure, but also seeking a place to live out a sacred calling that differed from those around them, or just to break ground in hopes of building something one's children and grandchildren could continue to build upon - was best expressed by those earliest astronauts going out in to orbit and beyond in craft that, to our eyes, look flimsy indeed. Like the sailing ships that brought our ancestors to these shores, willingly or not, these early spacecraft are a marvel of will over ability, much as the land they founded would become.

That will has withered, however. Rather that risk, we insist that even the maintenance of the most basic parts of the links that bind us, our roads and bridges and rail lines and airports, are just too expensive to manage. Not only do we no longer look up and imagine a future, we barely look out from our homes anymore. Rather than see what we can achieve together, we elect leaders who reflect a fundamental fear that, our greatest achievements behind us, we cannot even hope to hold on to those things that bind us together.

Our politics, like so much else, has become a life in small. We seem a people no longer capable even of knowing our past, let alone learning from both the best and worst of who we have been. Arguments flare up over even the most basic realities of who we have been. These fights, proxy struggles for our identity, show us that we no longer even know who we are anymore. Struggles over race and religion, labor and ideology, demonstrate a fundamental fear among so many of us that our identity is disappearing. Even as our country grows more culturally diverse, taking in to itself more and more of the larger world, ever redefining "America" in wondrous ways, there are far too many of us who rage against any thought that who we are becoming should differ from who we once were. In the process, so much else is lost, the once proud idea that "America" is always a work in progress offering opportunity and, perhaps, real hope, dreaming big and achieving even bigger no longer even a recognizable husk.

We view one another not as fellow Americans who may well see different means toward a common end as a source for positive struggle together. Instead, those things that separate us have become unbridgeable gaps between those who are and are not true to whatever vision of America we see resulting from common work and life. No longer a helpmeet along the way to greater triumph, far too many Americans insist our public life is little more than an obstacle to achieving what we would be far better attempting on our own. This despite the many lessons from the past of the role the state can play, both for good and ill, in helping us along the way to meeting the challenges that face us.

So, even as our common life dries up and our physical infrastructure becomes increasingly abandoned to those who insist we can no longer afford to be a great nation, perhaps the greatest loss we face is the desiccation of the imagination. For all that it is true much of our current greatness was achieved over the trampled bodies of the poor and our African-American and Native American and Asian American fellows, I have long wondered why it became some kind of axiom that bringing these (and so many others) in to our common life, acknowledging the evil we have done as we invite them along as fellow Americans, is some kind of hindrance to a future where we can still dream big, and work toward a common vision of America that brings all of us along.

Why do we even have voices that insist that it is no longer possible to have or do things together as one people? Why do we not join in laughing at people who claim we can no longer afford those things that were built as a common inheritance? Why do we no longer even think it possible to look out from our cities and towns, our prairies and mountains, and see work we need to do together?

More than anything, these are the thoughts that trouble me at the moment. Led for far too long by interests that see private profit over public welfare as the only real end of our common life, we have forgotten that securing the public welfare first is the only way to ensure private profit. Along with this dream-drought, we have harbored far too many who would lie about our history, tell us we were not who we thought we were in order to insure we do not interfere with their gain at our collective expense. Our politics has become shadow play, meaningless ritual without any sense that it serves a larger purpose even as the voices within it have become more strident.

Am I, perhaps, bewailing something that never was? Is it possible that I romanticize too much over a past that never existed, ignoring the millions of victims for whom the dream of America was little more than a device insuring their destruction? Without ever once denying the point, I would insist that the sight of the space shuttle Discovery, not even landing under its own power, heading on to a future as a museum piece in a nation that insists that museums are a luxury we can no longer afford (never mind roads or schools or networks for the free flow of information) is the only evidence I need to demonstrate that, unless we demand an end to it, the voices that continue to call for an end to our common life will drive away the last of any attempt even to dream of something better for all of us tomorrow.

Food For Thought

Chew on this (thanks to Kait Dugan at Kyrie Eleison):
Even in the form of a servant, which is the form of His presence and action in Jesus Christ, we have to do with God Himself in His true deity. The humility in which He dwells and acts in Jesus Christ is not alien to Him, but proper to Him. His humility is a new mystery for us in whose favour He executes it when He makes use of His freedom for it, when He shows His love even to His enemies and His life even in death, thus revealing them in a way which is quite contrary to all our false ideas about God. But for Him this humility is no new mystery. It is His sovereign grace that He wills to be and is amongst us in humility, our God, God for us. But He shows us this grace, He is amongst us in humility, our God, God for us, as that which He is in Himself, in the most inward depth of His Godhead. He does not become another God. In the condescension in which He gives Himself to us in Jesus Christ He exists and speaks and acts as the One He was from all eternity and will be to all eternity. The truth and actuality of our atonement depends on this being the case. The One who reconciles the world with God is necessarily the one God Himself in His true Godhead. Otherwise the world would not be reconciled with God. Otherwise it is still the world which is not reconciled with God.
- Karl Barth, CD IV.1, 192-193

Friday, April 20, 2012

Much Better Start Than Yesterday

Remember this post? I summed up this way:
[W]ithout an attempt at analyzing music qua music, there is no way to come to terms with the meaning the music has. Relying upon historical accounts, without those accounts taking in to consideration musical detail, also fail in the end to give us as full an understanding as we might otherwise prefer. Moore's work is a good beginning in reframing our discussions of rock music by insisting on the primacy of the songs themselves.
Then, of course, the inevitable happened.
In the first paragraph you quote, after the writer claims that aesthetic questions are primary (or, rather, “the” aesthetic question, whatever that may be) he goes on with nary an address to aesthetic questions.
To which I responded:
Because that's the entirety of the book. The "aesthetic" question is just that: "the primary text" is the song itself, examined as a discrete unit, using the tools of musicological analysis, as a method of unraveling the many matters related to understanding rock.

I will admit the use of "aesthetic" puzzled me when I read it, until I realized it is used here in an analytical, as opposed to descriptive, manner. The questions you and I, and perhaps others, might consider under the heading "aesthetic" Moore actually sets to one side. Which is, all in all, a good thing, I think, as there is far too much baggage about the relative merits of pop versus classical music, among and within various sub-genres of various musical styles. I heartily agree with Moore that there is no way, a priori, to judge the artistic merit of any particular song or musical style. In that sense, more philosophical understanding of "aesthetic", the matter is one of value judgments, for which there is no handy musicological, or any other, tool.
The conversation deteriorated quickly.

At one point, I suggested Feodor's problems were not with me, but rather the author and that he take his questions to the author. At the same time, I thought, "What an inspired idea!" So, I emailed Moore, who is Professor of Popular Music at Surrey University in the UK.

This morning, I opened my email, and found this waiting for me.
Very many apologies for waiting so long before answering - I needed to get time to read your blog. I think you have it absolutely right - for all the book's faults you have described exactly what I was trying to do. I found the ensuing conversation interesting & quite fun too (although your interlocutor never did contact me) - I have soon to think about a third edition & I may bear some of that in mind. I am delighted to read that you found the book enlightening - I have recently published what is, in effect, a follow-up, again with Ashgate, in which I try & pin down some of the interpretive ideas which I don't think I really understood when writing R:PT. I hope most of it is still accessible to the non-specialist. There's some blurb at - let me know if it strikes a chord & I'll try & get a copy to you.

Thanks for taking the trouble,


Let's see. . . free book for a review, offered by the author who's a respected academic musicologist covering a field I personally enjoy.

That would be a, "Oh, hell, yes!"

And may I say that Moore is gracious and kind, and no apologies are needed. The only other author who has ever returned an email of mine is Gary Dorrien, who was just as gracious and polite as Moore.

This whole writing thing does have its rewards. So, thank you, Professor Moore, for making my day's start far more pleasant in most every respect. And, that whole vindication thing? Yeah, that was nice.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Day From Bad To Worse

It's not quite eight a.m. as I start to type this, and my day has not been one anyone would label "banner". Miriam's home from school today; poor thing has a really bad cold. Emergency and one-time expenses are going to make the rest of April pretty tight. It's raining.

The one upside? The cat attacking my wife's right heel while she sat at her desk. I started laughing so hard I got THE LOOK.

Probably not the best morning to read this.
“Now, what I would hope that people would do in the media is — maybe you should do a little research, and start looking at what political ideology they stand for. There’s a very thin line between communism, progressivism, Marxism, socialism — or even, as Mark Levin has said, statism. It’s about nationalizing production, it’s about creating and expanding the welfare state. It’s about this idea of social and economic justice. And you hear that being played out — you know, now with fairness, fair share, economic equality, shared sacrifice, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.”

“And it’s also about the creation of a secular state. And this whole argument that the liberal left is trying to take you down, talking about women’s contraception, is really about a federal government that is reclassifying religious organizations, for them to be able to manipulate them however they wish. So that’s what I wish people would focus on.”

West also challenged his opponents to a debate: “And I would welcome anyone, to have a discussion, and a debate about political ideology. Because when you look at what’s happened in this country right now, you tell me that this government is not nationalizing production: automobile industry, financial sector, health care, cap and trade, and not going through the legislative process — look at what they’re doing through the EPA, as far as the energy sector. Look at what’s happening with the National Labor Relations Board. Who would have ever though we would live in the United States of America, where the federal government would be telling a private-sector organization where they can relocate?”
At first, I wanted to laugh. I mean, come on. This is Class A ignorance, wrapped in shiny stupid paper, delivered to America for free. I really want West to keep winning elections because this kind of thing is just golden.

Then, I saw this short piece from Charlie Pierce, which includes a link to and a quote from a Politico "analysis" of West's words.
The conservative congressman hasn't explicitly said as much, but he's following a path blazed by Michele Bachmann, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul. Each of them ignored the historic barriers and reasons why House members haven't typically sought the presidency because they've were prescient enough to recognize that the equation has changed dramatically. What changed? Thanks to Internet and direct mail fundraising and the national platform offered by cable news shows, even a House backbencher can now build a well-financed national following. And Barack Obama's victory, just four years removed from the Illinois state Senate, suggests the boundaries surrounding the question of office-holding experience have been erased.
As I wrote in a comment, I couldn't be that stupid if I wanted to out of fear I'd hurt myself.

So, along with the rain, a sick kid, a delay in the arrival of coffee, I've had to read the kind of political analysis that only makes sense to morons, written by people who get paid a fair chunk of change to be stupid in public.

Despair, thy magazine is Politico.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

God's Gift To Our Moral Scolds

President Obama's trip to Colombia was not his most successful foreign venture. Our southern neighbors have been, for years, far less tolerant and indulgent of the assumption of American pre-eminence. The inclusion of Cuba, while certainly long overdue, has caused consternation even among some who might otherwise support the President.

Worst of all, those whose job is to protect the life of the President have been caught in a still-evolving scandal involving Colombian prostitutes.

I have one of those urges to go to DC and smack these people upside the head. Do they honestly believe it is possible for folks in their position to get away with stuff like this? Displaying less common sense than my ten-year-old daughter, they got caught in a prostitution scandal; they got caught in a prostitution scandal in a country that has been, for more than a generation, the flash-point for drug production. Plagued by cross-currents of violence from narco-terrorists, indigenous rebels of varying ideological stripes, and state terrorism, Colombia is a country where the potential for honey traps such as this should be obvious. If it weren't bad enough these agents were off carousing with hookers, they were doing it in a country where the agents had to be aware such behavior would become potential fodder for exploitation by unfriendly groups.

Even more trying to our tired souls than the matters of the safety of the President and senior officials whose protection detail apparently leave thought and sense behind are the lectures that are starting to dribble in from our National Sunday School Teachers.
I realize that some party poopers will not share my delight at the Secret Service becoming a double entendre. But at the very least, this scandal, like the General Services Administration’s spending spree in Las Vegas, should serve to refute claims that the federal workforce is out of touch with ordinary Americans. As it turns out, some federal workers reflect our culture all too well.

Maybe we should stop blaming the feds for being like the rest of us — it’s hardly surprising that bad actors and buffoons find their way into the public sector as well as the private — and think of other lessons to draw from the scandal, such as possible recruitment tools: Work for the government and get a complimentary upgrade to a hot-tub suite? Join the Secret Service and be a playuh at the Pleyclub? Surely the GSA, a sleepy backwater of the government responsible for property, would raise its profile if it changed its name to the Garish Soiree Administration or the Grandiose Shindig Agency.
For crying out loud, a person would think no one in the history of the Universe had ever been caught being naughty. You'd think no country had its infamous individuals who specialized in debauching themselves. Isn't it bad enough we have to listen to moral scold clicking their tongues over the Lohans-Hiltons-Kardashians-Jersey Shore cast-Britneys of the world? Now, we have these antics raised as emblematic of some kind of unique American decadence, in whose footsteps members of the Secret Service are supposedly following?

My problem with this isn't "OMG, HOOKERS!!!!!" The display of a lack of any common sense among those who are supposed to protect the lives of our highest officials is outrageous. Is this lack of common sense some form of unique American culture? I would certainly hope not; I would not like our country known worldwide as the place where people lose all sense of perspective and priority at the drop of a thong.

None of this is to suggest that I approve of the antics of folks known far more for their penchant for going out in public without underwear than any positive achievement. Nor do I think paying prostitutes is the best way to spend one's hard-earned money. I am saying that these matters, which seem to be filling Millbank with the kind of moral superiority one would expect from members of the Anti-Saloon League, are not what trouble me the most.

The lives and safety of our highest officials are in the hands of people who seem to have no sense whatsoever. I admire the willingness to take a job where the most basic duty may well include sacrificing one's life for someone else. With such a job, obviously, comes a high level of stress that can display itself in excessive bouts of revelry when off duty. When accompanying the President in a foreign country, however, wouldn't one think "off-duty" didn't exist? Even more than OMGHOOKERSSEXSTRIPPERS!!!!!!, I am outraged by the idiocy and lack of thought on display here. Except, alas, the reality of OMGHOOKERSSEXSTRIPPERS!!!! is just too enticing for people to ignore, so now we are going to have to put up with all sorts of morality lectures from people like Dana Millbank.

Thanks a lot, Secret Service.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Jesus Is Risen?

Taking a break from writing to check out the mid-day news, I'm wondering now if all the cheering and celebrating nine days ago meant anything to anyone.

Whatever our differences might be, Christians from around the world gathered and in one voice in thousands of language declared that Christ is risen!

I'm struggling, at the moment, to see that it matters to anyone. Anywhere.

We Christians are supposed to believe this is kind of a big deal. We Christians are supposed to live as if it has changed everything. We Christians are supposed to proclaim to the world that all of us are now free from sin and the death it brought in its wake.

We are supposed to live as if it matters.

Nine days later, even a quick glance at the news makes me wonder if anyone has been paying attention.

Does it matter anymore that this guy died, then was raised never to die? Does it matter that the Creator of the Universe loves us all so much that the Son came for us? Is there anything worth saving?

Would anyone go, today, more than a week after the Big Event, and stand at the empty tomb and laugh with the same joy they did that morning when the world changed?

Excuse the pity party; it seems to me we just haven't quite got it through our thick skulls that everything's different now. "Same shit, different day" seems to be the rule, regardless of the claim by Christians, once upon a time, that it just isn't so. For the moment, the mourning that had turned in to dancing has returned, leaving me grieving for us all.

Instead of, "He is risen indeed!", we Christians seem to have responded, "Meh."

Theology And Confession

With thanks, as always, to Ben Myers for letting the world know about the best theological writers out there on the internet, this post at The Divine Wedgie (what an awesome blog name) got me thinking about something.

What if we in the Church were far more concerned about how we confess the faith than how we profess the faith? What if we recalled that the first confession of faith, as recorded in the Bible, consisted of three words yet contained all any Christian needed to say about who God is, who Jesus is, what God in Christ has done for the world, and what it means for us and the world? Jesus is Lord. That's all any Christian really needs to affirm. Each word, individually, is so loaded with meaning the Universe wouldn't be large enough for what they contain. Taken together, in pieces and in total - Jesus is; is Lord; Jesus is Lord - says all that needs to be said.

Obviously, we aren't satisfied with this kind of simplicity. We prefer to put all sorts of stumbling blocks on the road of faith, insisting believers navigate the maze of our own construction in order to pass the test of belief we have set up. It's a ridiculous, haughty exercise of human sinfulness to insist that it is profession that is as important as confession. Confession is the mark of the Christian; profession is the source of far too much human-engineered confusion and strife.

The various mutual denunciations of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, Anglican, Wesleyan, and Evangelical professions of faith are testimony to the all too human willingness to dismiss large groups as unworthy of God's love and care. Add to that the many and varied and contradictory theological schools, the disputes that range from the denunciation of St. Paul's mission to the Gentiles through the disputes between St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure to the Reformation and its radical off-shoots, to the explosion in theological exploration of the past two to three centuries, we have been far more likely to insist those with whom we disagree are not just wrong, but dangerously so, than we are willing to lend an ear to something new, to be open to the Spirit blowing from a direction of its own choosing.

The modern Christian churches have been, it seems to me, far more concerned with theological conformity than confessional simplicity. Theologians as different as Friedrich Schleiermacher, G. W. F. Hegel, Adolf Harnack, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Gustavo Gutierrez and more have been denounced by one or another individual or group for the ultimate sin of heresy. Yet, isn't heresy little more than the insistence that, sometimes, what passes for orthodoxy might have missed something important? While it certainly is the case that heresiarcs tend to be far more "dogmatic" than the orthodox, it is often the case that such errors as they make - whether the members of the Corinthian congregation who insisted there was no resurrection of the dead or the panoply of contemporary folks who insist on a "personal relationship with Jesus" as a mark of salvation - are those rooted in love.

There continue to be people who insist that Jesus' claim that the Way is narrow makes them Divinely appointed engineers, marking off the boundaries of acceptable profession of faith. That's OK, I suppose; everyone needs to feel needed. All the same, even if one or another detail may not jibe completely, it seems to me Christian unity should rely far more on our mutual confession, Jesus is Lord. Everything else is negotiable.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Assumptions Of Our Betters Are Usually Wrong

It was the summer of 1984. I was at the laundromat in my hometown of Waverly, NY finishing up folding some clothes. My parents were out of town for the week, and my mother has this thing about people using her washing machine - to detail my mother's eccentricities would fill a small library - so I was down at the end of the business district, sitting in one of those old, molded plastic chairs. The gentleman my sister was dating at the time was on his way to pick me up (incredible as it seems, we had to agree on a pick-up time, because, obviously, there were no such things as cell phones) because ours was a one-car family. I'd been sitting and reading a book that now seems quaint to me. At the time, however, to my fevered young mind it had the clarion call of a revolutionary tome. Helen Caldicott's Missile Envy was among three books I read that summer that were important for shaping the way I thought about politics over the ensuing years. Not as long lasting, or re-read as Godfrey Hodgson's America In Our Time, which I still find indispensable for understanding so much of our recent national life, but still, Caldicott's book was important, for a while.

The car pulled up, I gathered up the last of my clean clothes, and was heading out the door. A gentleman stopped me on my way to the door and said to me, "That the book by that Australian doctor?"

I nodded.

"So, you think we really are gonna blow ourselves up?"

I shrugged. I could tell Lou was getting impatient. Lou tended to get impatient.

"Well, if we re-elect Ronnie, we just might." He smiled at me, because I think he could tell my ride was getting antsier by the second. I nodded, chuckled, and left.

That exchange, taking less than twenty seconds, has remained in my mind for almost twenty-eight years for one simple reason: It's an illustration of a maxim my Father used to offer to me, a maxim whose truth took me far too long to absorb. My Dad would look at me like I was some kind of ridiculous creature who was clueless about way too much and say, "You don't know every goddamn thing." How right you are, Dad. I'm sorry you had to remind me too often.

There are few persons more insufferable than those who believe themselves to be, despite all indications to the contrary, superior to others. We Americans, happily egalitarian in our outlook, are offended more by the assumption of hauteur than we tend to be than racial or sexual bigotry. We assume there are bigots out there, so why be surprised when some idiot says something hateful? We tend to be shocked when someone takes on an air of superiority, dismissing so many others as beneath their notice. Maybe because they enjoy NASCAR or reality TV. Maybe because they can't tell Brahms from Schubert from Mahler, but can instantly recognize the guitar styles of Carlos Santana and David Gilmour and Joe Satriani. Perhaps they have never even heard of Plutarch or Augustine, but own every book published under the name V. C. Andrews. The reasons for the presumption of superiority are many, varied, yet all wind up as fodder for a kind of Manichean world-view, a set of dichotomies in which "we", the privileged in our education and outlook, are both culturally and intellectually superior to "they" with their tendency to succumb to the Bread and Circuses of Hollywood.

Of the species of intellectual aristocrat, there are none more smug, more worthy of contempt from the rest of the Universe, than the college sophomore. I confess, here and now, that such a one was I. If I could go back in time and find myself, I'd probably beat the shit out of my 19-year-old self, just as an object lesson. One of the reasons that little snippet of conversation has remained in my brain was the immediate reaction I had: Someone in my hometown not only knew who Helen Caldicott was; that same person was afraid of the same thing I was! I'll confess (seems to be the day for it) that I am deeply ashamed of that reaction. It was a moment of nearly unforgivable presumption on my part. Such wise-foolery is the mark not only of youth but equal parts inexperience and ignorance. It is nothing to read a book and absorb its lessons; it is another to live a life and absorb its lessons, and let that living meet the book, argue with it, and let the two tussle it out to some kind of truce. At 19, I had far too little living under my belt to make any judgments about, well, pretty much anything. Now that I've lived far more years since that incident than I had up to that point, I would like to believe I have come to the conclusion that assumptions and presumptions are something we should never make about others.

Which life-lesson (hardly a huge one, I know; still, important enough, I think, as well as relevant) one would think David Brooks, older than I, would have learned years ago. Alas, as his latest column makes clear, the only thing worse than being inordinately proud of oneself, is not having anything for which to feel so inordinately proud.

When he published Bobos in Paradise, Brooks took over his main thesis - that there was an emergent class of young persons who aped the bohemianism of long past without taking on the burdens far too many of a previous generation of social and cultural outsiders had to bear. Like poverty. Social and cultural and political ostracism. Resigned to a life firmly outside the mainstream, true bohemians accepted, even reveled in their role as outcast and misfit, bringing the world everything from modern art - its cubism and surrealism, the nihilism of Dadaism and the psychology of Abstract Expressionism - to the highest form of modernist music, jazz to the kind of movies that deal in ideas and images instead of stories and characters. They never sought fame or money or prizes. They pursued a life of self-affirmation and expression, sometimes in the service of social and cultural and political improvement; sometimes, however, there was little more than the narcissistic joy of affirming one's existence within a society that worked very hard to deny their existence.

Brooks' markers for what made this creature he'd discovered, which he called "Bourgeois Bohemian" (thus, Bobo), however, weren't steeped in a study of how any person or group actually lived. As a critic in Philadelphia Magazine noted in 2004, Brooks didn't know what the hell he was talking about.

This remains true nearly eight years after being detailed so well. His current column, with its weird praise for the trash art of our pulp writers shows that Brooks is an ignoramus of the first water. Even a casual acquaintance with the writings he details should make any reader of Brooks' column laugh so hard he or she has to run to the bathroom to pee. Brooks, however, would wonder at the source of such laughter.

Yesterday, a good friend of mine said that my blog posts are "too cerebral", that I'm not focusing on the average person's desires. That's the kind of phrase that puzzles me. Who, precisely, is this "average person"? What are their desires? I doubt that, in most ways that really count, I would be outside whatever Bell Curve this person imagines the determinant of the social average. Further, isn't it somewhat insulting to say that average people aren't concerned about how stupid so much of our public discourse is, how venal and erroneous so much of our religion tends to be; like Brooks' nonsensical assumption that folks in a rural county prefer Dollar General to Nieman Marcus (without any evidence to support this assumption), isn't the assumption that the average Joe just doesn't care about this stuff rooted more in stereotype and prejudice, rather than real evidence? I've always operated under the assumption that I'm no different from the guy who sweats through a ten hour day fixing the plumbing in a house, or putting a roof on a building. These folks care about all sorts of things like a decent wage for their labor, decent schools for their kids, clean and safe roads on which to drive, safe neighborhoods and cities in which to live, safe food to eat and safe water to drink. All the things, in other words, that I write about.

I have no interest in pretending I'm something I'm not. Nor do I have any interest in pretense. Few things bait me more easily than someone making a claim that having a bit more education in this or that abstruse subject matter confers some kind of superiority upon an individual. How ridiculous a notion is that? Yet, we live with it just the same; bad social and cultural commentary is rooted in this kind of phony elitism, engaged in by people who tend to be, upon even a little digging, not only wrong, but almost overwhelmingly ignorant.

Much like I was on that long-ago Saturday afternoon in the Waverly Laundromat, David Brooks needs someone to walk up to him and smack him around a little bit and yell, much as my father did, "You don't know every goddamn thing!"

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