Thursday, October 23, 2003

Manifesto!

A while ago, when I was in between writing projects, a friend of mine suggested that I take the time to write a manifesto. Aside from giving me something to work on, he pointed out that manifesto-writing was sort of a grand tradition and had done wonders for the careers of Marcel Duchamp and the Unabomber. I love urinals and wearing hoodie-and-sunglasses ensembles, so these are just the guys I want to emulate. I was sold.

I never actually wrote the manifesto, but I did sit down and make a bunch of notes about what I would want to cover if I did. And , for posterity, here they are:

- People should have the right to say pretty much anything, or to otherwise express themselves in any way they want. An objective standard of "offensive" is pretty much impossible to set; without universal standards, there's not much point in trying to set restrictions. Besides, a universal ability to say offensive stuff is balanced by a universal ability to think that the speaker is a total jackass. For example, some nutjob wrote a letter to the Star Tribune recently saying that he, personally, is glad that Paul Wellstone died last year, because this stopped the "creeping socialism" that's ruining our country. Pretty obnoxious, but he has the right to say it, and I have the right to consider him a prime shit-fer-brains.

In other words, my right to dislike you keeps us both free.

- Since all we know for sure (established through countless hours of drinking beer with philosophy grad students) is that we're alive right now (and for how much longer is anybody's guess), and that it's more pleasant not to be upset than it is to be, it makes sense to make the most of your time alive by not getting overly bent out of shape by stuff. Sure, somebody does something crappy to you, get angry. it's natural and human. But then get over it and let it go before you spend your whole life muttering to yourself about how bad you've got it.

- Most work in our society is completely pointless and exists mainly to give people something to do.

- A certain class of people have figured out how to game the system and amass an inordinate amount of money (and, thus, a greater share of resources) for themselves. And this is just an inherently sucky feature of Capitalism. But I can't think of any system that allows for personal freedom where this wouldn't be a problem. Some people suck, and I guess we just have to accept that.

- Just because you can do something doesn't mean always should. I think I should have the right to get my amp out and crank it and rock out in my apartment; but I'd be a real dick if I did that all the time.

- I'm pretty convinced that caring about American politics is getting more and more like caring about pro sports- lots of people are more fundamentally interested in seeing their side win than they are in issues. And I often get the feeling that I have as much influence on the outcome of the NBA finals as I do on US governmental policy.

The behavior of most political people I've watched in the past three years pretty much confirms this for me.


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See, it would have been a pretty boring manifesto.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The Worst Kid in Minnesota

We have some newish (3-4 months, maybe) neighbors in the apartment adjoining ours, and I am coming to hate their offspring. They look fairly normal- he's your standard chunky, truck-drivin' south Minneapolis rube-in-training; she's very thin and washed-out; and their kid (I'm bad with kid ages, but I'd say between one and two- he walks but doesn't speak in any coherent manner) is cute enough, in the rare moments he's quiet.

But lord almighty, that kid makes the noise. Several times a day, at intervals of roughly 2-3 hours, the little bastard will just let loose with the most ungodly howls. If you're a Public Enemy fan, think about the tortured-dolphin noise looped in the background of Terminator X to the Edge of Panic, but at higher volume and repeated for maybe twenty minutes. For a while, I thought that the new neighbors were some sort of sadists, getting their kicks poking at the kid with hot irons.

But no, there's no kid-torture going on. Just one noisy toddler. When he's not howling, El Nino Diablo is fond of grabbing mommy's car keys and playing with all of the buttons, sending the alarm on her Durango into full freakout mode. This happens a couple of times a week. Another game the little shitweasel likes to play involves sitting in the neighbor's sun porch and looking across the front yard into our sun porch to see if any grownups are out there, say, having a beer and working on an essay- and if a grownup is there, he howls something resembling "hello" and bangs on his window frame to get your attention. And when you, breaking down in disgust after five minutes of this, pull the shades down, he starts crying at the top of his lungs.

He likes to play a variation of that game with the cats; they love to sit in the sun porch windows and watch the goings-on in the front yard, and whenever the kid sees one of them, he screeches a variant of "kitteeeeee!" at them. Invariably, they put their ears back and stare at him as though they're seriously thinking about putting their weight against the screen, jumping down at him, and checking out baby flesh as a supplement to cat nuggets.

And if they tried, I'd wish them nothing but success and enjoyment.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Self-Delusion

A friend of mine recently told me that he's becoming fascinated with the Catholic church. I can't say I agree with him, but of course everyone has the right to go off on whatever tangents he feels like- I'm sure he doesn't get this comic book thing I've been on for the past few years.

Thing is, at the same time he's also getting really into Communism. And he doesn't see the irony (I asked him). He thinks that the poor are getting a raw deal, and yeah, I suppose they are; and so he feels that the oppressed need to band together and through the Man and his capitalism into the sea and all that. Simultaneously, he thinks the Church kicks ass because they have some programs that help the poor. Never mind the Communist doctrine that religion is an opiate for the masses, or that John Paul II used the Papacy to work against Soviet Communism; as far as my activist amigo is concerned, it's the most natural thing in the world to combine the two mutually-exclusive Big Cs.

I think this is pretty silly, but I certainly don't begrudge him is silliness. He's kidding himself, but who isn't? I'm pretty sure that we're all kidding ourselves about all sorts of things, of varying levels of importance, and that it's just part of the human condition. I know lots of people who kid themselves into believing that their employers deserve every ounce of energy they can muster, and that staying until 7 to get some report out will make all the difference. My brother-in-law is kidding himself that the Democratic Party has his best interests at heart, and that if he just plays the game, he'll be rewarded with a sanely-governed heaven on earth. Half the people who write letters to the Star-Tribune (and about 90% of those writing to the Pi-Press) kid themselves that there's a big man in the sky who'll help us all out if we follow some rules in a book, and that this big sky-man will be upset if we don't make it the official position of our government that he's tops. All kinds of people are kidding themselves that they have any sort of grounds upon which to make personal evaluations, positive or negative, about Tom Cruise or Shaquille O'Neal or Demi Moore or George W. Bush.

I'm kidding myself about lots of things: that I'm a good mountain biker, that my band is something special (I'm sure all 9000 of the bands in the Twin Cities think that they're the innovative and melodic island in a river of excrement), that my prose is lively and insightful, that I'll be able to stay thin as I age, that I won't have to work in an office forever, and so on. And actually, I'm glad that I can (for the most part) pull the wool over my own eyes on this stuff. I think it's necessary. If we all faced the unvarnished truth, that each goddamned one of us is no more special in the big scheme of things than the ants we think nothing of stepping on, that there's no meaning to any of this unless we put it there, well, there'd be wave upon wave of mass suicide as people tried to face reality without the crutches of self-deception. There'd probably be nuclear war. If we can all delude ourselves into feeling better, well, good for us.

My father is kidding himself that there are forces aligned against him, that if you're not with him you're agin' him, and that he's honor-bound to put all of his money into frivolous, harassing lawsuits and, if he gets the chance, to kill his imaginary foes.

But, then, he's fucking nuts.