Blog

Keeping it real since 1975.

More on "Civility". Fnord.

Okay. First off, it wasn't me. Just for the record. While it's certainly something I would do, I have decided to use a literary reference since it is a library campaign.

Illuminatus trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, they used the word fnord, as Wikipedia entry describes it, "Fnord is the typographic representation of disinformation or irrelevant information intending to misdirect, with the implication of a conspiracy." Ah. That's the ticket!

Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's a conspiracy to affect any sort of meta change that degrades our society in any kind of devious way. On the contrary, I think the people at the library are well intentioned people who really want to try to make Howard County a better place to live. However, like I pointed out with a previous post, they may be having the opposite effect on our fair city and county. Since the original post last April, I've been getting a fair amount of positive comments in person as well as online. Obviously, I'm not the only person who feels this way.

Bear with me for a while.

I've recently been reading Nixonland by Rick Perlstien on my Kindle. This book chronicles the life of Richard Nixon and his affect on American culture. One of the key themes was Nixon's Orthogonian Society.

[The] Othogonians, was for the strivers, those not to the manner born, the commuter students like him. He persuaded his fellows that revealing one's unpolish was a nobility of its own. Franklins were never photographed save in black tie. Orthogonians wore shirtsleeves. "Beans, Brain and Brawn" was their motto. He told them orthogonian - basically, "at right angles" - meant "upright," "straight shooter." Also, their enemies might have added, all elbows.

 Perlstein, Rick. Nixonland: the Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008. Page 22

What Nixon spent his life fighting was the elites of his youth who knew what was best for the country. Stephen Fry recently discussed a similar phenonomon on his blog and also on his latest Podgram. But that's a tangent, however recommended reading/listening it might be.  The point is that Nixon managed to convince the masses that the elites don't really have their best interest at heart, but he does since he's one of them. Orthogonians Unite! and all that. Throughout the 50's, 60's and early 70's, Nixon cultivated that attitude and managed to convert the lower classes to identify as Republicans. Now, those still on the left continued to work in an intellectual frame of mind, and therefore, became the elites as well in the mind of the blue collar people. The result of which was that crassness was, in a way, celebrated.

I can certainly understand this feeling. I was a nerd in high school as well as a Sci-fi and anime fanboy. If I ever revealed my passions, my contemporaries made fun of me and some even tried to beat me up. It wasn't until I started attending Otakon that I really began to celebrate my own geekdom openly. Here were groups of people like me. I was really part of society. I imagine that most working class people probably felt similar feelings. Here's a guy in power who's one of us.

With this crassness, the younger members of the left brought their own form of crassness. Talks of revolution. Overthrowing the establishment. Everything that the orthogonians held with contempt. With that expression, it was met in kind by the new left. Harrasment of soilders returning from 'Nam and the like. This continued to spiral out till today with each side saying that they know what is best for the other.

In a recent post, Aaron Brazell discusses some of the recent flame wars within the bloggosphere. Godwin's Law is probably a phenomenon of this evergrowing crassness within society. "If you don't agree with me or see the world the same way I do, then you're a fascist!" I'll admit I'm guilty of that too, but it's usually to people who truly are fascists in the Mussolini definition of the term so it's not entirely a baseless insult. :)

Which brings us to "Choosing Civility". I already did my review of Forni's hissy-fit earlier, so I won't go into that, but the overall campaign needs to be addressed. This is merely a localized manefestation of "I know what's best for you" attitudes that tend to perpetuate crassness of society rather than engaging in a discussion of proper behavior which tends to build community as well as understanding on both sides.

As I was listening to WAMU this morning, I was listening to the Diane Rehm show. In the first hour, Diane was interviewing Maggie Jackson and Rick Shenkman on the lack of critical thinking in the current crop of students. This was a fairly interesting show, but with my current musings, I couldn't help but think about the presenters in terms of "knowing what's best for others". While they certainly had their points I really must think about what it is that they're doing about it. Really, what are they doing about it? They wrote books and they're being intereviewed, but are they involved locally? Are they getting people of similar thoughts involved? i've heard from my elders about similar themes, but are they trying to some up with solutions? I rarely see that either.

I think we need to begin a dialog about what civility really means. What does it mean to be a thoughtful person? What does it mean to be an informed person? What does it mean to be a member of a community? I'm not sure myself, but I think we need to get beyond the current mode of thinking and get down to some action. I don't know what it'll take and I'm open to suggestions. More on this later.