Friday, January 23, 2015
Fools, Liars and a Few Good Men
Being a student of literature (and a writer) I always have respect and reverence for the great authors; those who have learned to use language like Rembrandt used a paint brush or Heifetz used a bow. And it's not just a matter of their artistry, but also their integrity. Language, of course, can be used for a variety of purposes; to inform, educate, entertain and misdirect.
It can be used for good or ill, and it is the latter that distresses me.
There are writers in my lifetime whose works I would describe as valid and genuine; authors who - despite any personal politics and agendas - paint an honest and accurate picture of society. People like Garrison Keillor, Studs Terkel and Gore Vidal, amongst others. There are those who can take a definitive mental picture of us and transform it into words, without any kind of distortion. If you think about the fine controls on a TV set or those in a Photoshop program, it's relatively easy to add too much color, or take away too much clarity, or otherwise just warp the image beyond recognition. It is no different with language.
And then, there are men (and women) who use language in a careless manner, and I'm not talking about mechanics (grammar, punctuation and spelling). As a writer, I understand the importance of adhering to the guidelines. In college, my bible was Perrin's Writer's Guide (4th edition). If you were writing a scholarly or professional paper (much less a novel) this was your go-to source for the accepted rules of writing. I'm willing to be forgiving where mechanics are concerned if the author really has something worthwhile to say. Mechanics can be corrected and fine-tuned, but there is no substitute for truth, honesty and integrity.
As the images above suggest, I'm afraid that our society, our culture has become more a matter of liars and fools. There are so many who intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent the truth and sadly, there are even more fools who are ready and willing to believe them and bestow upon them a false crown.
There probably aren't any new motives under the sun; love, fear, anger, hatred, the desire for freedom, the desire for power and material gain. There are a few you could add to the list, but those are surely at the top. Most of what we think, say and do would fall under one of those headings.
At the low end of the spectrum, you have the Fool; someone who is not particularly educated or experienced, either by school or by Life. Their frame of reference in general is limited. They can only define things in an elementary sense. Now, there is nothing particularly wrong with being a simple man. Surely, Thoreau thought of himself as a simple man, but he was hardly ignorant. Thoreau thought about life in ways that many men never will.
The Fool can be either a writer or a reader/listener, or both. He simply doesn't have what one would call a full tool box where language and reasoning are concerned. Some might suggest that religion can contribute to the production and creation of fools. It can, if one chooses to limit one's exposure to the rest of the world and the world's literature. I once knew a man who considered himself "born again," who made a statement about "…the Bible and all that other worldly writing." That kind of person can be downright dangerous. But I don't lay the blame solely on religion. There are plenty of non-believing fools in the world; people who are only too willing to believe any variety of bullshit if you accompany it with some other kind of linguistic shiny objects.
The next level of ignorance above the Fool are the Imprudent. These are people who possess a kind of working knowledge of language. They are like children with a set of Legos. They can join things together, but it doesn't resemble anything logical let alone useful. America's Sarah Palin pretty much gave birth to the phrase word salad. This woman could string together words like so many beads, but they made no sense. No doubt, to her they did, but to other rational, educated people it was babble.
These people can be even more dangerous because they're like boys trying to make a pipe bomb. They don't understand the materials they're working with. Their work is crude at best. At this level, we're talking about low-intellect politicians (as contrasted with true statesmen) and media talking heads. People with only a novice level of language mastery can create some fairly twisted and ugly rhetoric. They misrepresent the truth, they see meaning where there is none and gloss over other subtle points. Worse, they can create fallacious meaning that fools are anxious to accept as fact.
Obviously names that come to mind are Fox news, Lou Gohmert, Lindsey Graham, Michele Bachmann, and Pat Robertson. Like people with physical and congenital disabilities, these people can manage to tie their shoes and perhaps balance a checkbook, but when it comes to higher-level reasoning, they're lost.
And at the top of the list, we have the bald-faced Liars. They range all the way from a street corner huckster running a shell game to medical frauds to religious cult leaders to senators. What is perhaps most egregious is not just the boldness of their deception, but that they know there are Fools just ready and waiting to receive their fraudulence. There's simply no visible shame in their actions. They're lying and they know it.
I really wish there were such a thing as a national public access channel where an average educated person could get in front of a camera and microphone and speak directly to an issue in a way that other - shall we say - more respectable commentators could not. There are a few things I could say about current political issues that neither PBS or NPR could air. Oh sure, as individual citizens, we can vote, we can contact our representatives, we can write letters to newspapers, but we don't have the kind of media presence required to call a spade a spade.
Just recently, there was the instance of former governor Mike Huckabee making disdainful statements about vocalist Beyonce', when he, himself had performed onstage with controversial used-to-be rocker, Ted Nugent. No cogent man with a lick of sense or honesty would expect anyone to take him seriously after chumming-around with someone as toxic as Nugent, but supposedly Huckabee never saw or sensed the hypocrisy or irony. There's simply no acquittal for this guy; he's either the liar, the fool, or both. This was even pointed out to him, face-to-face in an interview broadcast to over a million viewers. He didn't see it. He wouldn't cop to it. Anyone that dense shouldn't be allowed near sharp objects, let alone a microphone.
Then, there was that issue about Fox news fabricating the story of Muslim no-go zones in Europe. I mean, just literally pull something out of your ass and put it on a national media network!
In amongst all the Liars and Fools, we have what I like to call the Quiet Ones and the Loud Ones. There are people who are never the first to raise their hands in class, who would rather not stand up and give a toast or a speech; people who are just trying to get through an average day without barking their shins on the coffee table. They're people who, if you showed up at their door cold and hungry, would take you in, warm you up and feed you. They're people who might not always complain if you were rude to them. They'd rather not make a fuss. Garrison Keillor's fictional home town, Lake Wobegon is full of such folk.
And then, there are the Loud Ones. These people will gladly take part in a parade or a demonstration. They're not afraid to speak up. Sometimes they're all too anxious to do so. They complain about bad food when it often isn't all that bad. They're not always rude, but they can be. They like to crank up their car stereos until the windows are ready to blow out. It's one thing to be outgoing and quite another to be vulgar. But they differ from the Quiet Ones in that they're usually anxious to speak up or speak out.
So, mix 'em all up and what you get is a) those who don't know much and generally keep quiet about it, b) those who think they know something, but are too lazy to do a hoax check and quick to claim it's veracity, c) those who do know something and take pains to write it down in a cogent manner, d) those who don't really have a f*g clue, but will swear there's a conspiracy against them, and e) those who actually know something and either deny it, create misdirection about it, or outwardly lie about it to your face.
I won't even get into the topic of climate change.
Altogether, not what I'd call a healthy environment for truth and integrity. How can you just deny a fact? Or just literally make something up and put it out there like 2+2?
But that's the world we're living in; a world where alongside improved tornado detection and enhanced disease detection we have instant bullshit. In stereo and Technicolor.
We have military spy satellites with resolution down to 10 inches, and R-range radar that can see through walls, but not a hand-held bullshit detector we can point at a U.S. senator and have it go off with lights and a siren.
Welcome to our brave new world.