Sunday, September 29, 2013

Breaking Bad Stuff (and apology for recent opaqueness)

Sorry, I realize that last item was about as clear as salad dressing. I'm convinced there's an interesting observation in there, but it's tough to articulate. I'll take another crack at it someday. Thanks for tolerating the occasional half-baked idea here on the Slog!

If you're a fan of Breaking Bad, you thrilled to the uber-exciting episode titled "Ozymandias" a couple of weeks ago. If, like me, it left you thinking about the Shelley poem, don't miss this fascinating explanation about how the poem - which is way deeper than I'd ever imagined - is a tale of not one but six egomaniacs.

Also, I know this is a bit late, as the Emmy's are over and neither Aaron Paul nor Peter Dinklage won, but, still, don't miss "Aaron Paul vs. Peter Dinklage: An Awesome-Off Far Bigger Than The Emmys". Love both those guys.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


If you've got a zit on the tip of your nose, all injustice appears to stem from that.

The terrible discovery for fat people who lose weight is that, once the shower of praise from friends and loved ones abates, life remains as malicious, unjust, and heartless as ever. Same for poor people who get money, lonely people who get friends, and black people who get Obama.

The world is "off", and it has nothing to do with you. Yet, whoever you are, including billionaires and movie stars, things seem stacked against you...and it feels personal. So we (mostly unconsciously) attribute the brunt of it to whichever personal characteristic we happen to focus on.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Qualities such as kindness, intelligence, generosity, and a sense of humor are of service to others. Beauty, by contrast, serves only its possessor.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

For Example...

It struck me that many of you won't want to surf through the untold thousands of snarky comments to my Libertarianism article. Can't say I blame you! So here is my favorite single bit of mule-ish miscomprehension:

I wrote (in part):
Every system is corruptible, and in the end all but a tiny minority gets screwed. Fortunately, things inevitably churn. Discontentment peaks, corrupt, unviable systems are overturned, and a fresh new corrupt, unviable system replaces it. The ending of Animal Farm is not a tale of failure. On contrary, it's humanity's sole saving grace that the pigs in charge are periodically replaced by slightly less entrenched pigs. That's really the best we can hope for. Blame Eve for eating that apple.
And this is a response I got on Twitter:

I noted that some of the people leaving gut-stupid comments seemed otherwise intelligent. Sure enough, this person is - I kid you not! - the communications director for the Brookings Institute. The communications director!!!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Eerie Internet Moment

You probably have no idea that a Slog article I wrote years ago ("How I Outgrew Libertarianism") suddenly and randomly was anointed a week or so ago with widespread online attention via a link on Reddit (which quickly metastasized to other sites). I wouldn't have known, myself, except for the appearance of a slew of new comments here in response to that old posting.

The crowd arrived en masse, like a horde of cicadas. They read and they snarked, and, just as suddenly, they were gone, on to the next momentarily trendy nexus of attention. You can read the couple dozen comments posted here to the Slog, but untold thousands of them sprung up on Reddit, Metafilter, and elsewhere (google for the full picture - and note that there are several separate humongous Reddit discussions). To prolong the cicada metaphor, the din and droppings all played out in remote fields, and it was all completely impersonal.

Almost no one read beyond the one Slog article, or, judging by the conversation, registered that I'd founded a web site some likely visit. And most appeared not to have even read the article closely. Disagreers off-handedly rejected it as poorly-written garbage, while, completing an eerie equilibrium, the confirmation bias of kindred spirits was fed. I didn't perceive much in the way of careful attention or insight. 

But the really jarring thing is that while I'd written the piece with great care, and felt that I'd stated my points quite clearly, not one phrase or idea failed to provoke caustic snarky miscomprehension. Writers aspire, above all else, to be clearly understood, so the degree of utter misapprehension - by commenters who seemed otherwise intelligent! - left my teeth grinding. At this scale, there was no way for me to circle back and rebut. I'd have just been buried in mounds of empty snark.

The strange thing is that, having browsed hundreds of sharply critical comments, prompting me to reread the piece several times, I still can't see how I could have done a much better job of explaining the personal experience I was relating. When people are determined to misunderstand, misunderstanding's unavoidable. Per Maslow's hammer, if all you have is snark, everyone looks like an asshole.

Worst of all were those who agreed with me but tried to reason with the haters, conceding that while the article might have been poorly-written by a conceited shmuck, hey, c'mon, the guy did at least have a couple of interesting things to say. I learned early with Chowhound that haters are nowhere near as bad as defenders. Lord defend me from my defenders.

The scale was inhuman, the snark eviscerating, and the whole episode felt entirely unpleasant (exception: the one guy who posted that i'd helped change his mind, who I chalk up as an anomaly). These "Internet fame" moments demonstrate the utter depersonalization of mass attention - and the sheer vanity behind any effort to "get one's voice out there." At best, one can stroke confirmation bias while irritating the bejesus out of everyone else , but that's a dialectic of little interest to me. Heaven, I think, is a small open-minded following of readers willing to at least entertain unorthodox views. So I sincerely thank all of you non-cicadas for reading along!

See also:
Writers As Clowns....Plus George Benson
Explaining Salinger

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