Mustaches will be distributed for general safety purposes.
Have you ever done something somewhat self-indulgent like, I don’t know, eaten ten cupcakes for breakfast? Then, if you were alone at the time, have you ever justified it by saying, “I’m a grownup. I can do what I like.” But then, if you were with company, you justified it by sheepishly claiming that you’re such a child?
Yeah, me too. Practically every day.
What’s up with that? I don’t know.
Anyway, the theme here is ignorance.
That’s the slogan of the new world. Don’t attract too much attention. We all know what happens to people with a good idea stated intelligently.
They get rewarded beyond their wildest dreams, of course. They receive all the treasure in the possession of people in power. And they get a new hat.
But the dreams in question are the twisted ones that you wish you could forget. The treasure turns out to be leprechaun gold, and the person in power comes from a place where all the views are opposite to yours. I had a joke to go with the hat too, but I can’t remember it. I’ll circle round to it if it occurs to me.
Because that’s one of the truest tests of an operating imagination. It doesn’t take a huge amount of strength of character to maintain a viewpoint when it’s the same viewpoint as your average mob. There’s nothing more affirming than a mob. Except a coke-addled mob…or a mob that’s all on LSD. I’ve heard that the LSD mobs had a pretty affirming effect. Ooh! Or a mob that’s all on iowaska. Group hallucinations really bring a crowd together. Just ask Maynard Keenan.
That’s the main issue. I think it is, anyway. It’s hard to think. It’s difficult and it’s unpleasant. Take it from a chronic over-thinker. I can’t turn the thing off. I think about why I didn’t evolve with an exoskeleton. Armadillos almost did. I was a few genes off. I think about how easily it could have been that nipples turned out not to be at all scandalous in western culture, but mouths did. I mean, it could have happened, you know? And imagine if our attitudes about those things had been swapped.
I think about kissing. I mean, how weird is kissing? What is with that? We might just as likely have started smelling each other. That’s what the tribal Mongolians did. And it had a basis in a culture that I understand, because they thought of your smell as being part of your soul. So smelling somebody is taking part of their soul into you. Which is actually an idea that a lot of cultures have had, in a way, because most cultures drew a connection between your breath and your soul, and therefore your breath and whatever motive force it is that gives you “life,” whatever that means. That’s what the words “spirit” and “ghost” and things mean. Etymologically, “spirit” and “ghost” also mean breath, just coming out of different languages — spirit is Latinate and ghost is Germanic. Speaking of which, it’s weird to me that ghosts are scary but spirits are benevolent. It was within the past few hundred years that it was the opposite. In Shakespeare’s English, spirits were angry, wandering leftovers from lives that ended badly, and ghosts were kind old things that you would more likely call venerable than anything else.
Venerable means worth kissing, by the way. Back in the depths of its word root.
See? Everything’s connected.
So take it from someone who knows: thinking is exhausting. I don’t want to do it any more than I have to, just like everybody else.
I understand the allure of a common belief. I understand the enticement of an appeal to the masses — to relaxing into the warm mineral bath which is the confidence of belonging to a fandom that includes billions. I understand wishing for that comfortable, supported feeling. I would never claim that I’m above, or even next to, feeling driven by it. I spend a lot of my time seeking out community. In one sense, community is where your beliefs are shared, which means that you don’t need to a) think about everything you do to decide whether it “fits in” or b) think about everything you’re saying to ensure that you’re making sense to the people around you.
Community, in a sense, is where shared “rituals,” if you will, and shared “jargon,” if I may use the term, support an environment where people can take basic things for granted and then strive to greater fulfillment.
Whatever that means.
I understand wanting that. If that’s what “fitting in” means, then I understand wanting that.
Thing is, though, sometimes I feel like I’m tricked into “communities” that don’t represent my beliefs. I am tricked into them because they include so many people who I know and respect that I have trouble imagining why I would have trouble fitting in with those groups.
I’ve been struggling with this recently, because I have a solid job. It’s a calm job. It’s a solid job. It pays my bills. It doesn’t demand too much from me emotionally. It doesn’t mean that I can spend my life splurging, because it’s a solid job, not a great job, whatever that means. But there are chances for advancement in this job. I could, if I chose, study up on the industry and go after promotions. I could align myself to make more money — to strive for greater significance in the company. Why not? Other people in the department do that. It’s a thing you do in a job, right? I’ve heard about it. I’ve heard about huge groups of people doing exactly that: securing a low position and sleeping their way up the ladder till they’re in a position to engineer the assassination of the CEO. It’s the old story. The American dream, you know? All I have to do is embrace the company, buy some lube, and I’m practically there.
I’ve already got this foot in the door, right? There’s no reason why I shouldn’t cut my hair, stop writing, and just make money till I die. Right?
That’s what everyone wants, right?
The next thought is, “Your life is unfulfilled, there, dude. You’ve got a gift. What about that, bro-has? What about your ‘calling’?”
Which the imaginary voice of the mass — of the “workhorse” community that I joined when I got this job — tells me to stop saying. It’s self-indulgent to think that any of my art matters, right? I have a solid job. A lot of people can’t say that. I should be grateful, and stop whining like some entitled Millennial. That’s what the imaginary voice of my community is preaching: profit, career, stability. That matters.
It’s a difficult community to oppose. Imagining different answers is like grating my brain against a cheese grater.
You know what? I started this thought thinking that it would be a bit of mild joshing between me — the casually anarchic punk writer — and the mass of society. That I would present a kind of funny argument about how hard it is to think out of phase with your community. It is hard. Communities make compelling arguments. That’s why we like them.
While writing this, I’ve lost my sense of humor, and I’ve made myself sick to my stomach. Because there’s definitely a way of making light of the fact that one of the luxuries of the First World is fear-induced complacence. It’s definitely hypocritical of me to write from a position of being a complacent workhorse American, and say that there’s something messy in a system that creates an attitude that creative thought doesn’t matter — that imagination will actually hurt you. It’s possible to make calm, sprightly little jokes about a community where the Superbowl attracts more participation than Shakespeare Festivals, and Shakespeare Festivals attract more press than MFA programs, and where MFA programs get more funding than art class in middle school. I can make jokes about that.
But right now, I’m not interested in making a joke about it.
There’s a doctrine of participation that we’re all asked to adopt. We’re instructed to be afraid to stand out — to fear veering away from prescribed formula — to toe lines that are supposed to be so inviolate we can’t even see them to question them.
This is an old song. It’s been sung before. I’m not making any better observations than the thinkers whose shoulders hold up the floor where I dance.
This is not news. Just another tear in a bucket full of blind fish.
I still want to say it. It will need to be said forever, because it will be a problem as long as the strong can profit from the complacent. So, you know…till the heat death of the universe.
It needs to be said, over and over again, even though the void will swallow it up, over and over again.
Think. Choose. Live your life.
Participation without imagination is how we get fucked up. We don’t all need to think off-kilter. But we all need to know why we make the choices we make, or we will permit our world to end by our complacence while we add to the statistic that makes Survivor’s hundredth season the most watched entertainment event in history.
Which I will say in the public spheres with a fake mustache on, so that no one will know it’s me. I will have a vat of fake mustaches for all comers, because it’s a dangerous world to have ideas in. We need to be careful that nobody recognizes us, so that we can live long enough to keep thinking about why we would even feel self-conscious at all about this cupcake. It’s just a cupcake. And we want it. What’s the big deal?
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“ART IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF HOPE.” Gerhard Richter
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