Thursday, November 12, 2009

I was a teenaged dumbass

You know, I briefly considered joining the Republican Party; mostly because I hoped to become a part of something much smaller than myself.

Marty Beckerman was some sort of College Republican writer and now he regrets it:
"I wasn't merely the libertarian, live-and-let-live, fun-at-parties kind of conservative whose primary concern is balancing the budget; I was a spiteful, narrow-minded, fire-breathing paranoid lunatic who questioned the patriotism and morality of my liberal fellow citizens. Recognizing the error of my ways has done wonders for my mental health but left me with constant, unremitting remorse; I really want to go back in time and kick my own ass."
It sounds to me like he just went through the sort of phases that kids go through at that age, only with the exceptional bad luck of gaining nationwide exposure during that phase. Many teenagers go through a sanctimonious and superior phase, and it often leads them to extreme stances, whether they're rallying to "destroy maleness", as a graffiti I once saw phrased it, or bitching about all the "welfare deadbeats"- oh, and mom, I need you to wire me some money, by the way! Amusingly enough, my university made the bizarre decision of putting all of the left-wing hippies in one dorm (the one with the recycling) and the business major frat right next door. It was like an archipelago of insufferableness.

Luckily for me, I was raised the old fashioned way, which is to say that my parents frequently told me I was a dumbass. They also taught me something very important: every single belief system you ever encounter will be right about 10-20% of the time, at most. I often joke that my parents taught us never to believe in anything very strongly. But, Claire will tell you, that's sort of true. They also, charmingly enough, warned her in all seriousness before we got married that I am a dumbass. My parents, ladies and gentlemen!

Anyway, I never really went through a phase of espousing any ideology very strongly, but I definitely went through an insufferable phase of thinking that I was a dumbass, but that everything anyone else thought was also pretty stupid. School, work, the Church, romance, family, government, left-wingers, right-wingers... all stupid in my book. Oh yeah, I was a ton of fun to be around!

For me, what helped was listening to angry punk rock until I was in a better mood. I would imagine that the dittohead crapola appealed to Beckerman because he was in college and surrounded by people who believed as fervently in PC college crapola. An easier solution would be to watch South Park and laugh at all that stuff, while remaining open minded to the occasional bits of wisdom that other people can offer. That was the most humbling thing for me to realize: that all those different beliefs really are correct 10-20% of the time.

Instead, I think some people search desperately for some body of thought that can offer them the illusion of knowing more about reality than they do.
"Much like our previous chief executive, I should have seen the danger of sealing myself in an echo chamber to prevent contamination from outside viewpoints; I began only hanging out with conservative true believers, only reading conservative books, only getting my news from conservative media outlets. In order to avoid journalistic "left-wing bias," I embraced right-wing bias, foolishly confusing sensationalist entertainment with debate and truth-telling. Outrage became my drug of choice."
Yeah, well, welcome to the Internet. In the last week, I have read blog posts from lefties informing me that, with the new health care, bill Barack Obama has denied women their basic civil rights (all of them!); and blog posts from righties claiming that once the health care bill is enacted, the United States will cease to exist as a representative democracy. Outrageous!

I think the term for this is "doubling down". Actually, in economics, I'm told it's called the "sunk costs fallacy"- you go big because you've invested too much in a losing proposition and you think that will "save" your initial investment. In the case of poor squire Beckerman, he apparently wrote a book about how "the 60s culture" (translation: Satan) led young women to engage in whorish behavior that is destroying the foundation of the American family and its way of life. And some things about socialism.

Salon has an interview with Beckerman from that point, and indeed, he comes across as an obnoxious little shit: both a mixture of not knowing very much about what he's talking about and looking down on everyone else who might actually have something to teach him. A 21-year old, in other words. Unfortunately, Beckerman had media outlets recording him acting this way, either in the hopes of broadcasting the message that young women are whores, or that young men are angry loons. Have you ever met people who work in the mass media? I've met a few and the thing I realized pretty quickly was that they don't like other people very much.

Anwway, now, he's recovered, sort of. Here's a good line:
"It doesn't matter whether you are liberal or conservative, but it's dangerous to always think with exclamation points instead of question marks."
Of course, the article sort of hypes his website, which hypes his mean spirited youthful books; so it's hard to know if this is sincerity or its performance. But, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for the kid. He received two very real curses disguised as blessings:

1. His parents and teachers must really have stressed "self-esteem", because they apparently encouraged him to publish "Kill All the Cheerleaders" and "Generation S.L.U.T", books in which he claimed to speak for his generation, without the slightest indication that he had the wisdom or insight to do so very well, and probably because he really wanted to. I think a lot of parents overestimate the abilities of their children, and the end result is that the kids have to face reality in a much more painful way than having their parents tell them they're dumbasses.

2. From the sound of it, he was a mediocre writer with very little perspective on the outside world repeating empty misogynist talking points- which suited him well to the corporate media environment! Published by MTV Books (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) and interviewed in all of the major media outlets, his complete lack of any sort of larger awareness was perfectly matched to "the context of no context". He wasn't a conservative or a liberal; he was more of an empty cipher looking for attention. Most kids are at that age. But the media is fueled by this steady supply of empty ciphers who voice very strong and angry opinions that they don't really know if they believe. Which leads me to believe that the media moguls are children, essentially.

When people are young, they try on shallow, fleeting, meaningless identities, cling to them fervently for short periods of time, and abandon them at will. This is normal behavior. What worries me is the sense that this culture offers them nothing beyond that.

I wish the kid well.

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