Thursday, April 30, 2015

Synthetic Outrage

"We were spittin' venom at most everyone we know
If the damned gave us a road-map then we'd know just where to go"

Modest Mouse - Spitting Venom

I wouldn't put Bill Maher up there with Voltaire and Socrates, but every once in a while he does manage to make public discourse look like more than a rotting scrap in postmodernism's teeth. For instance, I loved his recent "new rule" on liberal proselytism. Granted, that's largely because the phrase "bedazzle codpieces" by itself should win one of his writers a raise, but also because facetious wannabe liberals' in-group dynamics and tribal loyalties have become a major impediment to progress over the past half-century and it's so goddamn gratifying to hear it said, if not on prime-time major networks then at least on HBO.

It's particularly poignant to me because I have often felt guilty of the sort of Procrustean declamations he mocks. In my snarlier moments I have mercilessly vituperated against people whose company I'd previously enjoyed, or at least tolerated to an order of magnitude above that of the average naked ape. Still, overall, I say damn the social graces, full vitriol ahead. We should be aiming for the moon, shooting at the stars, and those who only espouse petty, narrow, socially favorable views in order to be lauded as some sort of eusocial moral paragons within their local civic milieu, well, they're just blocking our shot.

Every social movement or point of contention, through the mutual validation it provides its participants, will soon become dogma. In the constant blind competitive social climb, social apes will constantly push thine envelope ever holier. From humane treatment of livestock to vegetarianism to veganism to different levels and honor-badges and Olympic medals for veganism, there's always one more way of saying "Oh, you're only an angel? Well, I happen to be a saint." Each climbing his own tree sees it as the forest. Each seeks the high inquisitor's seat in enforcing the ever-stricter orthodoxy of whatever dogma serves as moral high-horse. Feminism, proletarianism, pacifism, what-have-you-rights' activism, all become pretexts for grandstanding. This cannot even be called "hijacking" because it is the tendency of the majority of the species. It's the enlightened few who sometimes manage to hijack base inter-human competition, to enlist the masses in a worthy cause through promises of socially advantageous moral rectitude.

No social movement is worth adherence once it becomes a recognizable movement. Every individual sentience must tend toward anarchy and as such should trend-backflip away from righteousness-by-association. However, let's not forget that it takes a great deal of pushing to secure even a chance at progress. Maher himself has joked on previous shows about the need for more left-wing extremists to push the "middle" of various debates away from the American public's overall reactionary tendency. We may rightly despise those outliers but it's dangerous business to truncate them no matter how much neater they allow us to plot whatever we might care to call "liberalism." That gayer-than-thou outrage has its place - in "camp." The overall media narrative, the unappetizing presentation, managing how we discuss such buffoonery, that's a much bigger issue.

That being said, there is especially one area of thought which could stand a much greater dose of intransigence, and that's the importance of thought itself. We are thought. We do not possess minds. We are minds. The capacity for reason, for clear, incisive analysis and bountiful creativity are the measures of our existence. Stupidity, thoughtlessness and willful ignorance must be beaten down mercilessly, dropped like so much ballast. It's all well and good to talk of alliances of convenience, but when your ally is incapable of providing a coherent rationale for his views, you're only setting yourself up for future disaster. Instead of saying "can't liberals all get along" you may simply have to make up your mind that mindless fanaticism even in the service of a supposedly humanist goal is not liberalism, but merely chauvinism of a modern flavor.

By-the-by, I'm tickled pink that a couple of gay fashion designers seem to have as thorough a knowledge of human reproduction as your average grade-schooler and just as much perspective. "Synthetic" my vaccinated, plastic-clothed, hospital-delivered ass.

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