Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Whole of the Ass

"Positive ideals are becoming a curse, for they can seldom be achieved without someone being killed, maimed or interned." -- E. M. Forster

With apologies to the delicate Mr. Forster, it seems that positive ideals are all the world these days, but one should in no way believe that for being "positive" that they are designed to add, to supplement, or to achieve progress. They are, instead, ideals of certainty, ideals of propulsion. They are creeds, banners, slogans.

On my desk, I have a photo, framed, that I got from I recommend the site, and I will link you directly to the place, so you can buy your own. It says, "It's best to avoid standing directly between an ambitious jerk and his goals." That's a motto, for me. The people who come in see it, smile or laugh, and share a sympathetic nod, even the ambitious jerks whose paths I am avoiding. This is not merely because, "Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover every body's face but their own," as Swift wrote in A Tale of a Tub, but because, in this case, the satire and the satirist seem to apply generally to the folly of the world.

You see, if you look about your work place, you will notice a great many jerks, ambitious and otherwise ("otherwise" includes bitter, vindictive, small minded, guarding, shredding, and oblivious), but you will notice one central thing about them: there are those who cause reactions and those who react. The ones who make everyone else react and compensate are the asses. (I do not mean that in the vulgar Usonian corruption of "arse," either. I mean it the way a dictionary would mean it.)

Back in the 1980's (beginning in the 1970's, I suppose), business manuals and business schools began advising, training, praising, and paying people to become "Leaders." Dingleberries of all flavors began reading Musashi and fancying themselves Samurai. They taught themselves the "art of the kill" and looked for "Human Resources" and "assets" and other junk. They sought, in short, to be not testosterone infused -- all of my feminist friends with their analyses of the homosociality of the corporation have valid observations, and all of the feminist analyses of the boardroom's hostility to the female are accurate, if historically bounded -- but asses.

The Scythians were set in flight by the braying of an ass, according to Roman historians congratulating themselves on defeating Mithridates.

An ass is excellent at going the direction it is already heading. It is not so good at adapting to circumstances, however, but the ass is not particularly interested in those circumstances in the first place. Alternately saturnine and sullen, so long as its actions are unhindered, the ass goes forward or kicks back.

Look at your workplace, I say, and you will see that you are reacting to a jerk. The person you spend all of your time trying to make up for, trying to compensate for, trying to mitigate, is almost certainly an ass. If you are not doing so, then you are an ass. If you feel that things are pretty much in good shape, except that people won't do what you tell them to do or want them to do, then you are an ass. The ass has a direction.

In the political sphere, we are in a pathetic place right now. We have a technocrat President. The last Democratic Party ass we had as president was Lyndon Johnson. Bill Clinton was something else. He was a negotiator, a mediator. I'll get to these people. In some ways, they're the worst of the barnyard. The technocrats are extremely competent. Competency is the new loyalty, one D.C. insider quipped (reversing a satire of W. Bush, who substituted personal loyalty over knowing how to do one's job). He is also a great orator, of course, but he's not an ass. His opponents, though, are filled with "positive ideals." They're positive that an ideal world will have "no government" and a strong military, and pure state's rights, with the federal military giving them Predator drones to shoot brown-skinned immigrants, positive that the ideal society will be "free" with more prisons and dissent will be "free" and arrests for communists will be a matter of course, along with phone tapping. Their positive ideals make no sense whatever, but that's because they're ideals. They're not real and not designed to be real, or even in contact with reality.

So, what do you do, if you're not an ass, and you are deafened by the braying?

I don't know. Why would you think I would? I put a sign on my desk that I purchased on the Internet, so obviously, I haven't a clue.

I can tell you some things that don't work, though.

One of them is to believe that the ass is really a dog. If you believe that the animal is expressing reasonable demands that simply need to be heard, decoded as cries for help, and addressed in a meaningful way, then you are going to get your head stove in or staved in. I know a person like that. He keeps attempting to mitigate. By avoiding all anger, especially his own, he believes that it can be averaged. This is how he was raised, no doubt. "All of us are equal, and all are alike," the dictum goes, "and no one is bad."

That's true, but people do bad things, and people resist improvement, and, while you are getting your catcher's mask and the rubber bullets and the sticky foam, they're gnawing at your leg or burning down your farm. This is a high price to pay for the "virtue" of not being positive, yourself, of not being aggressive.

This deluded person is not the negotiator. He is, instead, so passionately afraid of the jerk, the ass, that he is refusing to admit that he, too, is a beast, that there are beastly qualities. The negotiator, on the other hand, knows full well what an ass is. He's a jerk of a different stripe, because he's an advertiser, a pitch man, a confidence man. He is running numbers while he's counting change and talking about the weather. If he's complimenting your shoes, he's wondering how to convince you to make yourself naked. He wants to use Aikido on you. Your own impulses will be channeled gently so that your jerks become his impulses. If they can't, then they render you neutral.

The negotiator is a jerk with a smirk.

My method is more common, more defeated. I take Pascal's advice and try to tend my garden. I cannot, though, because the asses are tromping up and down the halls and trying to bellow at me. Therefore, I opt for a separate peace. Each time, I look at their positive ideals and try to negotiate harm reduction. My day is spent in a constant calculus of injury prevention, seeking the grand prize of inertia against all of these unbalanced forces.

My method does not work. It requires constant worry. It also means reaching inside for every resource: aggression, resentment, satire, isolation, and positive ideals of my own. I have to rummage through the entire quiver for whichever tool, whichever prick, will turn the beast aside that is at my door. Most of the time, though, I try to stand off to the ass's side.

Asses have lousy peripheral vision, what with the blinkers and all.

Such as me are the worst. We are worse than the people who lay down grease, trying to figure out the best trajectory for the kicking noise box to go when it begins its charge. We keep suing for peace on terms of our own, keep ditching our allies. We do so either because we are exhausted or because we are wise, because we are clever or because we believe it is not worth the bother to try to grab the reins, because we're missing fingers from those squared teeth already or because we're Scythian savages who want to ride the plains unhindered, but we do so. We strand our friends. We leave the creature to hoof up and trample down everyone else's garden, so long as our precious carrots bloom.

An ass cannot get a good head of steam up, unless timid or grizzled people like me duck out of the hall. The positive "reformers" who want to "take our country back" (from whom they do not know, exactly, except that they are sure that once it was theirs and now it is not, and they feel the loss, even if they cannot measure it) need the freshmen in Congress who want to be unnoticed, the veterans who want to calculate that these groups come and go, the compliant reporters who feel that the crazy sells and the fact checking bores (and takes up time). The office jerk cannot make everyone react unless "everyone" decides that hindering that creature's momentum is certain to be an effort without allies and, in so doing, assures the next victim that blocking the beast will be done alone.

As for positive ideals, there is one:
Isaiah 11:8: And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.

An ass or an asp. Either way, it would be the New Jerusalem.

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