Anti-intellectualism, declining public debate, 2016 election

The Dumbing of AmericaAnti-intellectualism, declining public debate, 2016 election, all three are starting to come up as topics of discussion among my Facebook feed.  A good friend of mine who is either a Gen-Y’er or a Millennial, I’m not sure about the cutoff, practices the Internet phenomenon of curating the news on social media to stimulate discussion (and maybe to show off how much he reads, which is an admirably considerable quantity). The post in question came from a roundtable discussion held in New York City and sponsored by Basic Books about “The Future of the public intellectual.”

He prefaces the quote about our culture’s predilection toward anti-intellectualism and the newer phenomenon the “declining complexity of public debate” by saying, “This is just stuck in my mind for some reason. I don’t even recall reading the original forum discussion [from the piece in The Nation],” (Jp Pagán, Facebook):

“I’m struck by what one wag called the herd of independent minds; by the fact that what too often passes for intellectual discussion is a process of trying to suit up everybody in a team jersey so we know just who should be cheered and who booed…,”

When we’re looking around for who should get the blame for the declining complexity of public debate… [one is the] celebration of a self that views the world solely through the prism of the self, and much of the time a pretty “icky” self at that. It’s a quivering sentimental self that gets uncomfortable very quickly, because this self has to feel good about itself all the time. Such selves do not make arguments, they validate one another.”

That got me thinking about how my generation–the baby boomers– has contributed to the current state of affairs and how those things will affect the 2016 election, as well as our chances of meaningful change.

I should warn you ahead of time, being a baby boomer, I didn’t read the original article in The Nation because, being a baby boomer, everything is about me and my considerable hoard of knowledge and learning and my quest for enlightenment–yours not mine. I’m already there, deal with it.  (Now you know why I love Jacques Derrida and deconstructionism).

Having lived through most of the baby boom journey, I’m of the opinion that selfishness and entitlement are the defining characteristics of my generation. And that it, more than anything else, has added to the U.S.’s love affair with anti-intellectualism and contributed mightily to the declining public debate about which my friend Jp was talking.

We turned on and tuned out when we were young because it felt good–that and it was also fun to tell our parents fuck you. As we turned off and tuned in, we pretended we never did drugs, forgot all the kumbaya, said greed was good, and searched in vain for our inner-children.

In the process we bankrupted the S&L industry. Crashed the stock market twice. Created junk bonds and derivatives. Deregulated the banking industry to codify usurious lending practices bad enough to make the Mafia jealous. Face it, loan sharks can only break your bones or kill you. The government can go after your heirs. We spent more than we earned. Took corporate welfare to the heights. And when it all fell apart, turnselfiesed to the government to fix the problem. Oh and let’s not forget, we started two pointless wars which cost countless billions and thousands of lives. Disengaged from our civic duties we treat the government like a provider of services rather than our responsibility. And we hire lawyers for everything to prove nothing is our fault.

So I agree that it’s impossible to have fruitful discussions when our vision is focused on our selfies as opposed to pointing the lens outward and seeing the world as it is.

Buddhists have this notion of big “I” and little “I”. Both exist and require attention but when we see our big “I”, we know our job is to act compassionately and for the benefit of others.

If only things were different. I wish we held onto the best of the ideals of the sixties and early seventies. But the whole counter-culture revolution was all about me, as in . . . I’ll take whatever drugs I want because they make ME feel good.  I’ll sleep with whom I please for the same reason. I deserve to live better than my parents so I’ll treat the equity in my home like an ATM and cry when I get nothing after the final sale.

It appears to be too late for us baby boomers. It seems we cast aside the ideals of our youth and cast the standard of social justice on the field of battle.

My message to people like my friend Jp: Your generation is next in line to run the show. The question to ask yourselves as a cohort is whether you want to follow the path laid out by us or whether you have the courage and wherewithal to do better.


With guys like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and that douche bag Chris Christie on once side of the aisle and the narcissistic would be queen Hillary running for president–the Fantastic 4, I wonder whether the Gen-X and Y’ers and the Millennials can withstand the gravity from the black hole we created.

You guys are on the event horizon. Whatcha gonna do?

50 Shades of Curmudgeon and the art of Facebook kibitzing

Today I posted the following status on Facebook:

I’m thinking about taking a break from discussing the issues here on FB. Apparently no one is ever wrong–except me.

That was followed by a string a of good natured jibes because my friends know I’m full of shit:

“you are soooo wrong about that”

“play George Costanza for a day ….before you type think through your thought(s) and then write the exact opposite … if you are always wrong then you will now be always be right”

Doug’s right. Besides, I had it figured out a couple weeks ago…. the problem with the rest of the world is that they are always 5 drinks behind….

Even my wife got in on the act,

“Honey,just send around happy thoughts of the day like I do! Ya know, “the crappin’ rainbows stuff… Might make you less crabby.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good conversation–especially with smart people who have different points of view.

Today’s post was a reaction to a thread from which I just extricated myself. I posed the question:

So, here’s a questions for those who side with the Palestinians because you believe the Israelis were not entitled to settle the land and create their own country. Where’s the righteous indignation as ISIS kills everyone who disagrees with them, gobbles up territory from several sovereign nations without the leave of the local inhabitants and sets about starving the Yazidis?

Mostly it was a great conversation. My friends are smart, well read, and passionate. My point was that the ISIS was engaged in a murderous land grab in which people were brutally tortured and killed over 5,000 people and yet the Hamas apologists were completely silent on the matter.

That seems hypocritical to me. That’s when my favorite amateur Aristotle cum English teacher chimed in with,

“It sounds like you’re suggesting an equivalency between ISIS and Israel.” Which then prompted a comical discussion about equivalency. (Yeah I know I’m living 50 shades of curmudgeon.)

Ari, examined the word from every possible angle and concluded

But Bob, if you’re suggesting that people who condemn Israel must also condemn ISIS, that only works if there is an equivalency. The converse would be that people who condemn ISIS should also condemn Israel.”

These conversations usually peter out after a few days so I pressed on. We bantered about who deserved the moniker hypocrite and clarified some facts.

All was well until Ari weighed in with  “true hypocrisy would be if someone took the position you described on Israel, and then stated that ISIS actually HAS the right to the land they have taken.” And, “Actually, the more common use of “hypocrisy” involves a person’s stated values not matching his actions. But in this case we’re not talking about actions, simply stated opinions.

E gads. Why didn’t I see that? There’s hypocrisy and there’s true hypocrisy. Just like an unwary swimmer, I failed to notice even though my head was pointed at the beach and it felt like I was swimming forward, I was heading feet first into a whirlpool of tortured analogies, nuances without differences, and word parsing that would, as my mother used to say, drive a saint to drink.

Upon reflection, I should have just quit. Just as with a real rip tide, the only way out is to take the ride or swim parallel to the shore. As a former Fire Island lifeguard, I would have ridden the current and body surfed in. I knew better. As a Facebook kibitzer, I put my head down and swam against the current.

Things deteriorated in slow motion. I countered with,

I really don’t have the patience to niggle over definitions. Henceforward, the horse carcass is lying on the side of the road with its skin flayed to the muscle. You are most welcomed to continue flogging.

Then we parsed the world flogging , Says Ari, “I hardly think that constitutes ‘flogging.’” Followed by,

So Bob, every despicable act you have failed to object to on Facebook is one you approve of?” And the coup de gras, “Ergo, failure to object to a despicable act does not constitute approval of the act.”

Ouch got me there.

Unfortunately, I have never developed a facility for walking away from a provocation. My big mouth has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years. Especially when I was an elected official. So I got crankier and crankier.

He just went on and on,

My analogy is comparative, not absolute

Okay, this is falling into a familiar pattern: I say we shouldn’t be concerned with what Hamas SAYS, and you counter with an argument about what Hamas DOES. These are two different subjects, however much you may try to conflate them.

I finally lost it,

As there are thousand and one reasons why “the other guy” is the problem, it appears more suffering is required. Frankly, as long as the U.S. government does not draft my son to fight this any other war that does not involve defending our own backyards, the Palestinians and Israelis (and other country) are free to kill and torture each other for all of eternity.

Suddenly I was now apathetic, even though I posed the question, spent days reading my friends posts and links and formulating responses.

Well Bob, if you’re that apathetic, why have you gone on so long about this?

Then we tortured the words apathy and action, which apparently does not involve asking questions, reading, writing, discussing the issues with friends, and replying to their posts. There is doing and there is doing,

What you post on Facebook are only words, Bob.

To which I replied,

Case in point Aristotle.  You’re niggling over the definition of the word action and trying to make a distinction where none exists.

He finally put up the white flag.

I’ve really had enough of this discussion.

I tell my kids all the time, you don’t have to respond to every provocation. if only I listened to my own advice. It’s funny how we become our parents. They used to tell me not to smoke as they lit one cigarette with the burning end of the last. You know, do as I say, not as I do.

Maybe there’s hope for the next generation. I never smoked.

As always comments are welcomed.