Monday, July 04, 2011

Are You Tough Enough, Strong Enough, Fit Enough?

Blake: We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize?
[Holds up prize]
Blake: Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired.
from "Glengarry Glen Ross" 1992, found at IMDB
A show of hands: who here was shocked when David Mamet announced that he was a conservative? The man who celebrated strong men preying on weak women, womenly men, and scorning mercy is a conservative? Nooooo, really? What's more, his "conservative" views are remarkably like his characters: Nietzschean humping of the muscled up thigh of the leather glove that slaps, the boot that stamps, and the lip that sneers. Whoopie. Mistress Roxana might help him with his problem without his needing to inflict it on the world.

Mamet has a claim to an American vision, a claim given to him by theater critics who noticed in his abusive, abrasive, and humiliating works an accurate mirror to the world America had become, first in the home (apparently, theater critics have alcoholic fathers) and then in sexual and office politics. The common theme is that America is about competing, and everyone is competing, whether they know it or not, and the strong will not merely triumph over the weak, but they will degrade and punish them, too.

You can tell from my tone, can't you, that I disagree?

I don't want to give it away too much, but, gosh, I'm not sure I can keep it in much longer. The Ayn Randian vision (Nietzsche misunderstood for America) that each superior person must take what is necessary and that compassion is a slave quality is anti-Christian. Rand herself made the point openly. Mamet's expressed vision was beyond her, though, because his strong men were not John Galt as much as John Gotti. (Of course, I rather think that John Galt is John Gotti.) Nevertheless, as countless articles have suddenly realized and you and I have known all along, there is a truth to the observation that the world sure seems to be acting like one of those plays.

Part of this is that it only takes one jackass to dominate the soundscape and convince the farmer that the entire corral of horses is filled with asses. One really determined sociopath can trigger defensive and offensive reactions, and so it just doesn't take much. (I wrote, somewhere, about the person galloping down the hall being a jerk and the rest ducking out of the way, but I can't find the post. I may have deleted it as being obviously about a co-worker.) Then again, our corporate structures have seen no reason not to hold a carpet knife to the collective carotid artery, so there is fear enough for all.

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change." - Charles Darwin
We are in competition, constant competition, in the American system, and it is "survival of the fittest." Since Americans know that "fitness means being physically fit," it follows that our society should favor and honor the most athletic, the most intelligent, and the most speedy. They are the fittest. Never mind what you just read. Darwin meant, we're convinced, what we think he meant, even though he never said it nor intended it.

This is the heart of the Nietzschean and Objectivist myth, after all: we will have the greater person by having the best person who will be the fittest person, whether we measure fitness by will or power. The fact that Darwin argued that the best was the most adaptable to the changing circumstances, that Odysseus (the crafty) is better than Ajax (strongest of warriors), just couldn't get through those prejudiced skulls.

We should be thinking about who's creative, who's malleable, who's quick to modify, but we instead worry always.

"... there are so many fools placed in heights of which they are unworthy, that he who cannot restrain his contempt or indignation at the sight will be too often quarrelling with the disposal of things to relish that share which is allotted to himself." --Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling.

Are you the right one? Will you keep your job through the year? When you go to the interview, will your looks be adequate? When you go to the dance, will someone be cooler than you? When you wake up in the morning, the referee looks at your eyelids flutter and chants, "1, 2, 3... fight!" Therefore, you must always assert yourself against others, over others, away from others.

I had a brief exchange recently with someone who said that it was impossible to have an identity without opposing someone or something.

The secret of envy is competition, and the seeds of it come from looking about. Oh, sure, it is tied up in pride, but envy is not reserved for the well to do wishing for the material goods of their neighbors. It's in every person who says, "Oh, pshw! Can you believe how much they pay that jerk?" It's comparing.

Descartes beginning point of philosophy was Cogito ero sum. It is quite possible to say "I am" without saying, "and I'm glad I'm not you!" There is no need to contrast in order to be oneself. When the discussion of "I can't believe they pay Bozo so much" starts, it should only be to resolve with "We should all be paid well."

Envy may thrive more today than any time in its history. In a land of plenty, people grouse about income taxes and what's "theirs." In a place of riches, people look over at their neighbors more and more to decry how those people are acting. Envy takes time away from building any part of a self, fills one's heart with ashes, and leads only to imitation or negation, but it is one of our dearest, deadliest friends.

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