Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Right Stuff...

Hello Friends.

Have you seen the video by the Occupy Wall Street people? Occupy Wall Street is this grassroots group that are literally occupying Wall Street by showing up in throngs and marching through the financial districts of major American cities to protest the unfair practices of stock traders and the SEC. A member of the organization was being interviewed by a guy from Fox News and thoughtfully, articulately, totally put the Fox guy in his place. You can see the video here

I first saw this video through my friend Lewis commenting on his friend Quinn's link on Facebook. I mention this only to explain that I don't know Quinn, or only know him tangentially through Lewis, and while I certainly had no business on his Facebook page, something about this video didn't hit me right and I had to comment.

"This is good but I'm betting completely fake!" I said. I went on to complain about the shaky camera, no way a news crew, even Fox, would record something of such poor quality. Somebody else replied that this was a Fox interview, but it was filmed by a third party camera. Fox would never air it, naturally, and this third party managed to capture the footage. "If that's the case then the audio is too perfect!" I whined. "How can this 'other camera' pick up the sound from the Fox microphone?" Nobody replied.

Instead of feeling strong in my argument and magnanimous in my victory, I felt nothing. In fact, after yet another view of the clip, I realized the audio was as shaky as the video and could have quite possibly come from a bystander's camera, as the previous commenter had suggested, and still felt nothing. I should have realized at this point that the message of the video (which I've completely forgotten at this point) is far more important than whether or not it was rehearsed or set-up. Not only, then, did I have no dog in this fight, but by arguing an insignificant point with a group of strangers, I'm sure I didn't make any new friends. I should have asked myself before getting into this pointless argument what was more important: doubting the means by which something was presented, or listening to the impassioned argument of an activist whose stance I supported? In essence, did I want to be right, or did I want things to be right? But I didn't ask myself those things at the time. Instead, a new Dream was born.

Dream: Be right all the time.

Goal: Achievable. On the surface, it would appear impossible to be right all of the time. I don't and could never know everything there is to know about a given topic, so actually being right would be difficult. But I don't have to be technically right, I just have to believe it to be true. If I think it is so, if I believe it is so, then isn't it so? Let me explain further.

Plan: Adopt the traits and characteristics of the people I know who believe themselves to be right "all the time." For instance:

Fervor. Say what you will about folks like Bill O'Reilly, Nancy Grace, Glenn Beck et al., these guys think they are always right and they whip themselves up into a frenzy over it! Professional talking heads, these three and others like them don't let things like facts or statistics cloud their arguments, they go all in with their ridiculous stances on things and respond to pesky criticism by GETTING LOUDER! "I GUESS WE SHOULD ALL JUST LET AMERICA GET MURDERED BY OBAMA AND TOT MOM! IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE SAYING? SHOULD WE MURDER AMERICA? YOU'RE AN AMERIMURDERER!!" These terribly wrongheaded opinions occasionally worry me, and I wonder about how society is crumbling around us, but then I remember these aren't the prevailing opinions, just THE LOUDEST ONES! Sometimes I wish Matt Taibbi would leave his comfy spot at Rolling Stone, or Arianna Huffington would appear someplace other than her blog and Bill Maher's show, and Janeane Garofalo would stop couching her politics in slouchy, slackery, "I don't really care but this is what I think" bravado and they would all yell as loud as these dudes on the other side. But that would be stooping to their level, of course, and nobody would change their opinion on anything anyway, because in addition to their fervor, these blowhards (and people who are always right) share another important trait in common.

Incuriosity. The most important thing to remember in order to be always right is never to consider information that proves you wrong. There are several clips on YouTube of people like O'Reilly and Nancy Grace being corrected by guests on their show, being proven completely wrong, "owned", as the kids say, and they will have none of it. They have no desire to learn anything new as it may contradict their flawed, but deeply held beliefs. Politics and media aside, we all have those people in our every day lives who have an answer for everything, who can't wait for a chance to prove their expertise, who seek every opportunity to impress you with the least impressive information. For instance, you might say to such a person, "Cold out today, isn't it? I almost froze to death waiting for the bus." And they respond, "Yeah, it's cold, but I've been in colder weather. One time I walked to work in minus 60 degrees. Yeah. I slept in a freezer for a week once, I don't even care." They, too, share this tendency to be incurious. They will share all they know about a particular topic, but not so as to discuss it with you, just to show off all the information they have. If you have one of these friends telling you about Spain, for example, and you say, "Actually, I spent a year in Barcelona and I found that..." they will not listen to you. You can actually see their eyes crust over while they mentally scroll through a list of topics over which they can lord their superior intellect. That's the main thing.

Bravado. I remember once doing this exercise in an acting class, or a terrible improv workshop, or some pretentious drama group, called something like "Ask the Expert." The idea was that you would play a character who was an expert on a given topic, copper piping, we'll say, and the rest of the class would ask you questions about copper piping, and you had to answer every question. The point was not to know everything there was to know about copper piping, but rather to act as if you did. If you said, "The best copper piping comes from Iceland because Bjork's mother is a slut", it wouldn't make any sense, but if you said it like you believed it to be true, you'd be doing well at this particular exercise.

As I review this list I realize that of course I don't want to be one of those guys who thinks he's right all the time, these are not attractive qualities to have. But I'm afraid I might actually be that guy, in spite of myself. As a child, I could never lose an argument. I lost plenty, naturally, but wouldn't take it like a champ. Quick to foot-stomping and tears, I was one of those terrible "I'm taking my ball and going home" children. As much as I'd like to think I've matured beyond that, I catch myself too often putting my two cents in when its unfounded or unnecessary, arguing something inconsequential as if its extremely important, and participating in discussions not to prove any point, but just to show people I know something about the topic. For instance, the other day two coworkers were discussing that show "Gene Simmons: Family Jewels", a show I've never seen, but I knew that Gene Simmons had recently married Shannon Tweed, so I said, "Shannon Tweed came into a store where I was working once. I didn't see her, but apparently she was buying medication for her mom." My coworkers looked at me like, "So fucking what?" and they were right. Is it ego or insecurity or a combination thereof that keeps us talking when we have nothing to say? I don't know, but I think a Simpsons reference might be useful here, as Simpsons references often are. Check out this closer:

Lisa: It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Homer's brain: What does that mean? Better say something or they'll think you're stupid.
Homer: Takes one to know one.
Homer's brain: Swish!

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