Monday, July 30, 2007

Threat to National Security

Have you seen those commercials lately where you can send in your gold in a special envelope and receive cash in return? They are full of the requisite testimony from "real customers." The only plausible explanation I can come up with for this business is leprechauns. Think about it. You know I'm right.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Strap in; it's about to get bumpy

So, while trying to get through seemingly endless mindless reading for an assignment at my job this week, I’ve been rewarding myself for making small bits of headway by finding quotes I like and decorating them prettily and posting them around my desk. One in particular sparked an argument with Houseboy and made me want to get all serious and deep-like. Here is the quote:

The concept of “Mental Health” in our society is defined largely by the extent to which an individual behaves in accord with the needs of The System and does so without showing signs of stress.

Now, there are all sorts of levels of acceptance of this quote at face value, and resistance can be encountered to the idea that much (if not all) of psychological diagnosis stems more from what we as a society value than from any inherent or biological cause. But the real impetus of the argument we had was over the author and the work. It comes from a work technically named “Industrial Society and its Future,” a.k.a. the Unabomber Manifesto. Houseboy helpfully pointed out that I might want to avoid just putting up a quote and putting “Ted Kaczynski” under it, as it might offend or hurt people who read it (not to mention making me look like a crazy person).

Well, I countered, isn’t that part of the point? Of course the man was bad and wrong to kill innocent people. I really REALLY wouldn’t want people to misunderstand me in that. I don’t think it’s ever acceptable to kill people in pursuit of an ideology. And probably most people would say that was their problem with Mr. Ted. But many (most?) people would actually be internally inconsistent on that matter. At the very least, our societal understanding of the definition of murder doesn’t bear that out. War is not murder, yet war results in the death of many innocent people, and is usually the result of pursuing an ideology, whether that be Democracy or Capitalism or whatever. The most extreme example of this is Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We literally obliterated not only soldiers, but women, children, puppy dogs, hamsters and goldfish. Rebuilding efforts don’t exactly make up for that.

The point is that this quote should make you think on its own merits, even if you didn’t know who wrote it. But knowing who wrote it might actually make you think even harder. It should make you face WHY there is something in your brain (and mine too) that wants to turn a valve when you hear that name. That there is this overwhelming desire to put him in the crazy box and shelve him way up high in the attic of crazies and never ever think of him again.

There is an ongoing debate in the world of literary exegesis about the role of the author in his/her work. This is of course a many-layered and complicated discussion which I’m going to boil down willy-nilly for my own purposes. Basically there are two sides to how much you should think about what the author intended in reading a novel/play/poem. On the one side, the author is paramount—his or her intention is what we as readers should be trying to discern. On this side, WHO the author is becomes very important—so Kaczynski’s murderous acts factor in to what we think of what he says and how much import we attach to his words. On the other side, the author is essentially meaningless. Once they have left the mouth or the pen, the words become public property and have mutable, pliable meanings. Each reader brings his/her own history and preconceptions and shapes the text in reading it. I’m pretty sure there’s some Derrida in there, if you’re interested. In this view, the author’s own actions, history and personality have little to no relevance. We must take the words alone, without attachments, and create our own significance. So, here, we can look at Kaczynski’s “manifesto” and pull meaning as it applies to us and our worldviews, or as it problematizes the same.

What I’m suggesting is that we try to pull a little away from the first and into the second. Try to see the concept in its own light and address it on its merits first. Then, if you agree or disagree with it, you can address Kaczynski as an exemplar or an anomaly. Think about his protestations of the alienation of man from society and the ways we let the structures we created control us. Think about how it controlled him and about how he attempted to break free in a devastating and destructive way. Think about what we can do to regain our humanity in a faceless technological society without sending anonymous mail bombs. And finally, think about why we don’t want to think about some things, like what being “crazy” really means, and why we are afraid of the implications of addressing our societal structures as impermanent and not handed down from God.

Then go get a snack, because you’re probably hungry.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Final All-Star Push

So Pat Neshek is on the final "Monster 2007 All-Star Ballot" and he needs your votes. He throws side-arm, which is neat. Can you throw side-arm? I didn't think so. So, vote for him. I also recommend Webb on the NL side. He's a sinker-baller, and that is almost as neat as a side-armer. Can you throw a sinker? Yeah right. Throwing a 60-mile an hour pitch that "sinks" because it barely makes it to the plate doesn't count. So, click on the link above, then on "Cast Your Final Vote." Then, you know, cast it. Because you all pretty much owe me for f-ing this up.