Monday, October 12, 2009

Why I'm Glad There Are Still People Smarter Than Me

Here's an oldie but a goodie. I wrote this last year, maybe the year before and ran across one of the rejection notices from essay submissions. Figured, hey, why here you go.

The key word is “still”, not “me”—because intelligence is being rooted to extinction like truffles to threatened pigs. Dug from the ground and consumed without the taste of it, without pleasure, relish, or satisfaction but merely for excretion and subsequent disregard. Life presents one challenge: to grow. I’ve been reading one of those books that when I was younger (not by so much) I said I had to read one day. One of those “assignment” books, 1984, except my high school teacher gave us Sinclair Lewis’ The Jungle instead. Here are the things no one should ever die without doing: tasting a woman; holding a man in one place; listening to music with eyes closed; reading something so good it obliterates identity in fell swoops; being happily alone; gulping ice water in a field under a noonday sun; most importantly to an aging populace, remembering without altering, because the older we get the more pressing the need for truth. Young people have the advantage of having miles to go before they sleep and in that time the lies they’re buried under fall off from time to time. Young people have time to become old. Older folks only have time to… ellipse. To follow three dots down a long dark corridor, hands out for guidance along the walls. Older people have the advantage over the young of knowing there’s a destination waiting that can’t be seen but we are drawn down that corridor whether we’re afraid or not. George Orwell never intended 1984 to be an instruction manual for the greed that drives a corporate government. Fascism is not solely a military thing. 1984 wasn’t meant to sell Nike shoes or be publicly debased as a reality show. But those he pointed the warning finger against were smarter than so many of us, so smart that they took Orwell’s masterful work of howling truth any sane person would be damned before they let happen, and openly, indelicately, clumsily made it real. Being dumb is just a matter of ignorance. Being stupid is a matter of craft, and we are inundated with stupid everyday. It makes me sad.

The best thing for being sad…is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake listening to the disorder in your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. – T.H. White, “The Once and Future King”

The words make love to me. The words are pure, the thoughts pristine. The only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting…is to learn. Consciousness that asks “Is this all that I am, is there nothing more?” instantly transports the mind to a higher state. T.H. White was immeasurably smarter than me when he wrote that passage. Smarter not like disingenuous companies or political machinery, but smart in a way it’s easy to imagine god quietly approves of. Here’s what stupid does: it convinces that reason is overrated, that analysis belongs to the thrice-damned, i.e., the elite, redundant, and counter productive. The general public makes the perilous mistake thinking stupid is dumb. A good piece of it is, but the larger portion creates marketing campaigns that propel industries that manufacture wildly inane products that nobody needs but millions rush out to buy. Stupid fashions political campaigns that attack opposing candidates for their lack of national acumen when at 14 the opponent marched in a gay pride parade because somebody cute said he or she planned to march too. Stupid does this because they know they can get so many to believe there’s value to it.

They will not get us, because, like Forrest Gump, I may not be a very smart man but I know what love is, and I love you. You’re riding this world with me, and you’re here in my mind. I invite you in to share meals. I will not harm you in any way if you are strong and true to yourself and have no plans to harm me. I offer the words of T.H. White. I offer the works of Harlan Ellison. I present the genius of Toni Morrison. I laugh at the infectious wit of Terry Pratchett. I beg you to listen to Ziggy Stardust. And if you have never read Elmore Leonard, what's wrong with you. There are people fighting on your behalf. This is a notion that is meant to be savored as though it is the last bite of a long day. I’m glad there are people smarter than me because they remind me to be smart too. They show me they care about me. They love me.

They really really love me.

Or at the very least like the notion of me. Which is fine and acceptable.

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