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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Do The Practical Thing

Spike Lee
Still from Spike Lee's 1989 classic, Do The Right Thing
'Tis madness.

This is to be, no doubt, one of my more narcissistic blog posts, so be forewarned, and be excused if you find yourself rightfully inclined to skip it (and this is the sort of disclaimer that depression brings.)

Dmitry has a provocative essay on long-term vs. short-term planning/thinking/acting - Monkey Trap Nation (all together now: Go Read The Whole Thing) - which sent me into melancholic reverie. I'm not going to extract from, or comment directly on, his post, as it is, or should be, self-evident that the long-term wins the day.

What is less self-evident is that being "practical" is almost always not the right thing to be. Now, this observation may be severely distorted by looking through the shit-stained glasses of this particular moment in history, but I find this eyewear to be difficult to shed in my current state-of-mind, so I am going to assign a universality to this observation, at least for today.

For whatever the reason that I have this congenital affliction, I find it impossible to run with the pack and to be practical. It is arguably very self-destructive to refuse to operate an automobile in America, self-destructive to rage against the wage-slavery of apple-pie America, alienating to reject the sanguine and cooperative mentality of the multitudes who not only resign themselves to it, but nearly to a (wo)man actively defend it to some degree - from the "what can you do?" resignation up to the toxic arguments of the "I've got mine" defenders of meritocratic social Darwinism.

The kicker is, at the end of it (and this is where I'm feeling a bit whine-y and experiencing the concomitant self-loathing), is that life can be a fucking wilderness with the sad and quixotic impulses that afflict. One is not St. Joan of Arc or Nelson Mandela, nor is one Rosa Parks or the Nazerine, but one suspects (nay, one hopes) that these even these remarkable human beings also felt the malnutrition that comes from being separated from the easy compatriotic intercourse with fellow primates (however apocryphal that ultimately may be - hear Mike White's sad exposition on this point towards the end of this fine interview with Marc Maron.) Perhaps they possessed an eloquence and grace that mitigated or even eliminated such pathos - but I doubt it. Doing the right thing is, and probably should be, always the hardest thing - though I cannot muster a sensible explanation for this at the moment.

(To assure the reader of my own self-awareness, yes, I kick myself for even bringing up these personalities in the context of discussing my own feelings.)

There is, to get back to the subject, a lot of pressure to relax and "get with the program," to narrow one's vision to the day-to-day, to eschew these quixotic contemplations of the ideal, to get a job and to just Thank-God-It's-Friday my way, week by week, through this short and ultimately unrewarded and unrewardable life. It would be easier, it seems, and indeed I've spent most of my despicable life doing just that. I say it "seems" it would be easier, of course - my congenital philosophical afflictions has always compelled me to hold forth even as I do today about the dark implications of our behavior even as we knocked pints at the pub (I can be so interesting to talk to) - but as time wore on I couldn't bear the hypocrisy of the armchair quarterbacking of how-things-should-be. Bite the pillow and be the change you want to see and all of that.

I'm all in, as they say, at this point, so I get to sit here and write of the angst that accompanies such a decision, even as it is like a poison to complain about it, not to mention how it most certainly invites a certain "I told you so" Schadenfreude from those who remain "all in" on the prevailing paradigm. It is of small comfort to know that this paradigm is a deadly one, that it too will fall. It remains that it is a lonely place.

This was thrown into sharp relief this past weekend when a dear friend of mine temporarily rescued me from my hermitage and spent loads of money on me, treating me to some dinners and drinks and a spring training ballgame. I descended (ascended?) to a customary place where I was amongst the consumers, a fellow consumer, looking at and partaking in the shiny America that yet persists in spite of its own looming demise. The schizophrenia and compartmentalization involved in attempting to enjoy this was paradoxically exhausting and ultimately depressing. I had a part of my brain saying "yes, the life" as the more modern and mordant personality within silently scolded.

It is the practical thing to do to go with the flow. There is no reward in doing the right thing. Indeed, the right thing can look an awfully lot like the wrong thing, when all of the signals you get from your fellow primates, the creatures you love and depend upon in order to feel human, are telling you, practically screaming at you, that all you can hope to accomplish on your best day - with your attitude - is to ruin their enjoyment of the day.

And so, I suppose, there are times to be silent, times to simply smile and be grateful for fellowship, to lock it all up inside and to hold council on the brightly-lit ugliness that you behold amongst the laughter and the, yes, joy. Because that is what they are doing, and we are, after all, in this together.


  1. Jesus Christ, I'm turning into Holden Fucking Caulfield.

  2. Michael Petro - I was bored this afternoon so I read and to my amusement, I enjoyed Monkey Trap Nation. “Where are they going to escape to with all this loot? Costa Gringa? El Gringador?” I thought, “Well yeah, as a matter of fact, as I recall that is not far from the recently purchased Bush family ranch. Thank you for that link :)

    It remains that it is a lonely place. Yes, sometimes more so than others. And yes, sometimes you do sound like Caulfield. Sometimes we all do, but like White suggests, ‘It’s an opportunity to get to know yourself’(paraphrase).
    Thank you

  3. Heh. Somehow I think that the Bushes will not be welcome there (tho I remember when he bought that land.) They, along with the rest of that administration, are pretty much trapped here in the USA what with all of that war-criminal talk overseas. He'll live out his days in Texas, I'm sure. :)


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