Popular opinion is stupid…

America has a long history of rushing to judgment atop a wave of “popular” opinion. 

Witness the fiasco of NASCAR leading the charge against person or persons unknown who allegedly hung a noose in the pit area. There was a popular outcry, a swift investigation by the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, a hue and cry from talking heads across the spectrum that racism in that business must be plucked root and stem. Of course it turned out to be nothing more than a knot in a rope pull that had been there for at least a year. It was the very definition of nothing to see here, but it was hopped on by the professional and social media as the great scourge of the age. Talk about a lie getting, ‘round the world before the truth manages to get out of bed. 

At least we’re behaving true to form. Far better to commit to a spectacular, emotional response up front and early than to take the time to do the work of evaluating what’s really happening and decide on a practical, dispassionate response. 

It seems that if left to our own devices, we have a collective tendency to see enemies under ever bed – and respond in an emotional furor. As far back as the late 1600s, we were committed to knee-jerk reactions under pressure from the mob. Back there and back then something on the order of twenty men and women (and several dogs, if memory serves) were executed for practicing witchcraft. 

In the 1950s we were fond of seeing Reds around every corner. The coercive power of and individual destruction wrought by the House Un-American Activities Committee still stands as a testament to the utterly misguided means deployed when emotion, rather than logic serves as the basis of action. 

Here we are in 2020 once again revisiting past practice and seeing perceived evil at every turn. Because emotion is running at a fever pitch – drummed up by those who benefit most from chaos – we revert to a form older even than our republic. Then again, tearing down has always been easier than building – and the emotion of the mob will always be more appealing than putting in the dispassionate effort to determined how to get there from here.

We’ve been at it now for over three centuries later, for all our advancement, I sometimes wonder if we’ve really learned a damned thing.

Talking about “X”

I read with bemused interest a response to one of my Facebook posts this morning. The gist was something like “I didn’t see you say anything about Topic X, so you shouldn’t say anything about Topic Y.”

I had loads of opinions about Topic X. I said plenty about it electronically and in person when the issue was raised. Even with that being the case, I reject the premise of the assertion that if you don’t talk about X you can’t talk about Y.

See the thing is, I’m the one who gets to decide what topics I’m interested enough to speak about publicly. I don’t defer that decision to friends on social media, or the mob in the streets, or anyone posing as a tribunal of “appropriate thought.”

I have and will continue to think about, post, and discuss any topic I find interesting, annoying, or otherwise worth giving a bit of attention. For as long as I’ve had a presence on the internet I’ve allowed, if not always encouraged, differing opinions to chime in on my posts… but please don’t mistake that for ever believing I need to march in lockstep with the mob or seek anyone’s permission for holding my own opinions. Coming in to my “house” in an effort to play thought police is very rarely going to work out the way you hoped. You’re always welcome to your own opinion, but you’re never entitled to have mine too.

That’s a hill I’m absolutely willing to die on.

You won’t see this…

A few nights ago, I was wondering what someone was up to and realized we hadn’t talked in a while. This was a friend from way back there and back then, one who once might have almost been something more, but for unlucky timing, fate, or whatever interceding. It wasn’t all that long ago we carried on endless late-night conversations, just talking about the day that was or what we hoped for tomorrow. Maybe it wasn’t Big Love, but there was a connection there, a real friendship if nothing more.

I guess I was surprised to find we’re not even electronic “friends” anymore. That’s fine. People don’t really change, but circumstances do. I don’t have any expectation of ever knowing or standing to ask for the what or why.

I’m not angry, but I am just a little bit sad. 

I’m not the kind of guy who runs out and makes new friends. I don’t have the energy or interest. It’s why I’ve always put a premium of hanging on to the old ones.

I don’t suppose they’ll ever see this, but I hope our paths cross again someday. I miss their insight and honesty and trusted counsel from someone who always seemed to get what oddities were floating around in my head.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. One day shipping. I know there’s a pandemic (despite or apparent collective decision to ignore it). Shipping times have been all jacked up, but “arriving on or before” has been reasonably reliable throughout. I placed an order last Thursday that indicated next day delivery. It was, of course, a no show. By Saturday afternoon the order status changed to “delayed.” Then it was the Sunday and federal holiday Monday. On Tuesday the status changed again to “There may be a problem with your order.” By Wednesday, the status changed yet again to “We think we lost your order” and offering a link to request a replacement. I duly followed the link, requesting the replacement… about two hours before the original item arrived on my doorstep, delivered by a third-party carrier that was never once mentioned in any of the shipping information I received from Amazon. Sometimes I think they are true masters of logistics. Other times it feels like they don’t have any idea what’s actually rolling through their system. 

2. Someday, just once, I’d love to know what it’s like to be part of an organization where the left hand has any semblance of a clue what the right hand is up to… or I could just continue to flail helplessly in a bottomless morass of abject fuckery until it’s time to turn out the lights. Either way, I guess.

3. Personal bubble. After a week of continuing to mute the hell out of people on Facebook, I’ve started doing the same on Twitter – Except this time I get to block whole words, phrases, and hashtags instead of (or in addition to) ignoring entire accounts. I’ve grown weary of feeds spewing uninformed content, virtue signaling, and purity tests so I’m opting to continue to curate my personal online bubble. There’s enough absolute shit to deal with day to day without being flooded across my social media platforms too. For what it’s worth, I haven’t needed to do a thing to Instagram and will cheerfully stay there… ummm… for the articles. The left and right hands.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Strategic” Amazon ordering. It used to be simple. I’d drop an order with Amazon and later that day I’d get a notice that the item has shipped. In the days of the Great Plague, shipping delays have revealed a problem I find more problematic than even the delayed ship times. Let’s say I order a 30-pound bag of dog food on Monday, a paperback on Tuesday, and some plastic kitchen implement on Wednesday. Those things use to ship separately. Now, more often than not they end up in the same box. Like the last one I received – with the kitchen utensil mangled, dog food bag ripped open, and the paperback folded, spindled, and mutilated. So now I keep a running list of things I need to order from Amazon and let each one clear all the way through shipping before ordering the next. It shouldn’t need to be this way, but it is.

2. Social media. In this age of plague, social media has revealed a lot more about some of our friends and family than most of us probably wanted to know. I did my level best to overlook some of the more wild-eyed speculations flowing through the tubes of the internet. Eventually, though, I capitulated and started the liberal application of the mute option. Getting the worst offenders from both sides out of my feed has done wonders for my blood pressure, so maybe the initial annoyance was worth it.

3. Historically I’ve had the ability to fall asleep pretty much the moment I close my eyes. I’m not complaining about missing out on the lying awake or tossing and turning that some people complain about. The last week or so, though, has been jam packed with tossing and turning or somehow thrashing around in my sleep.  I know this because when my brain stutters awake in the pre-dawn darkness, the comforter is halfway across the room, there’s a blanket piled up where the pillows should be, and my legs are utterly tangled in the top sheet. Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that, but I don’t feel any less rested than usual, so I guess it’s whatever.

What I learned this week…

There’s a whole subset of people out there who really think the government has come up with some far reaching, super-secret plan to take over the world / give all of us a tracking chip / cull the surplus population / some other wackadoodle idea that they’ve trolled up from the depths of the internet.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years working for the government that these nutjobs think is plotting the subjugation of the masses. Having worked in the belly of this particular beast let me just say from experience that most days it barely manages to keep the lights on.  

Sure, they’ve had a couple of good days – the Manhattan Project was mostly kept secret – but largely, the whole creaking apparatus leaks like sieve. At its very best the workforce is managed rather than led. Good luck getting the thousands of government employees needed to carry off such a far-reaching scheme, each with their own interests and petty empire to build, all lined up and moving in the same direction. Then remember that they’ll be orchestrating these devious plots using technology that the average Fortune 500 company would be embarrassed to have in their inventory. 

If there was some generation’s old plan for the Illuminati to seize control there’s not a chance it stays secret. If, in defiance of all logic and common sense, it did stay secret, the government would lack the leadership ability of basic infrastructure to see it through. Even if all that wasn’t true and there is a conspiracy of unprecedented scope and scale at work, what on earth would make someone believe that the whole house of cards depends on the “truth” not spewing out on YouTube? Surely if these shadow forces are crafty enough to circumvent all other checks and balances, they’re savvy enough to keep their tracks off social media, no?

Still, this week I learned that people who I personally considered reasonably sane and rational, educated, and thoughtful have dived down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole… and that’s just disappointing on so many different levels. 

Mute…

I stated definitively that I would never “unfriend” someone on social media because of their political views. I’ll block you in a hot second if you can’t manage to be at least civil, but never because of views alone. I have to confess that there are more than a few people out there who are really putting my determination to keep my word to the test.

The simple fact is I mostly don’t care what your politics are. It’s not the basis on which I pick my friends. I do however, judge people who simply decide to abandon the best available science and the rigorous application of reason because those two elements don’t quite jive with whatever particular world view they’ve staked out.

Look, I’m not even going to argue we should blindly follow along in lock step with the pronouncements of the scientists and doctors. We should at least acknowledge that modern medicine has a pretty good track record of keeping most of us alive well past the age when our distance ancestors were food for worms. At the very least, our decisions should be informed by science – even if we just use it to acknowledge that there’s a price in lives to pay for rushing to return to business as usual – and no, I’m not making a judgement there, just admitting that it has to be part of the calculus.

I know no one ever likes the smartest kid in the class. That’s practically the classic American trope. I’m not saying you even have to like the scientists, but history tells me that we’ll ignore them at our peril. I’m not going to unfriend anyone because they want to trust in the blood of Jesus instead of the shot of antivirals… but you can bet your ass I’ve been muting people with wild abandon these last couple of weeks.

The great unfriending…

Yes, here we are in the depths of the Great Plague, but pandemics come and go. Partisan politics, however, is truly the show that never ends.

I was struck over the weekend by a friend’s short diatribe on Facebook. I should point out that I use the term “friend” here in the classical sense, meaning someone I know personally and whose company and biting wit I enjoy. 

The gist of the post was basically asking “Who have you unfriended” because they don’t share your political opinion?

Well, uh… No one.

You see, I don’t have a litmus test or demand purity of doctrine or thought from the people in my circle. Knowing people of every stripe, from true-believing Marxists to free-booting capitalists, not just makes my everyday conversations more interesting, but it helps me refine and better understand my own beliefs. Not being stuck in a one-sided echo chamber where only one “right” answer is allowed makes me a better, more reasonable human being. 

If the only way I can be your friend is to avoid any original thoughts and dedicate my waking hours to groupthink, I guess you’ll have to do what you have to do because I’m never, ever going to be that guy. The best I can promise is to agree where possible and respectfully disagree where not.

In any case, I’ll be the guy over here supporting independent thought – even (and perhaps especially) for those whose thoughts I find most disagreeable. 

Rent strike…

I read an article this morning calling for a 90-day or longer “rent strike,” which seems to be a classed-up way of saying even if someone can afford to pay their rent, they’re not going to do it. The assumption of this movement is that property owners across the country should just absorb the cost of housing for people who can’t or won’t pay.

Until a few months ago I was the smallest of small time landlords – having one condo unit that I rented out. Over the years of owning the place I squirreled away enough operating funds that I was able to make repairs and hold two or three months cash reserve to tide over those months between the departure of one tenant and the arrival of the next. In my very best year, I cleared $1495. Most other years I was lucky to break even or be a few hundred dollars in the black when we did the final accounting. There were more than a few years when I had to augment the rental income with cash infusions from my “day job” to make sure all the bills got paid.

That’s all a long way of saying that expecting landlords across the country to carry the freight of a rent strike indefinitely is absurd. Even assuming the property owner has a “day job” what they’re suggesting would have driven me into the loving embrace of the bankruptcy court at about the ninety day mark. 

The big bad landlord these people want to screw over isn’t only the 10,000-unit holding company or Bank of America, it’s also the retiree who lives down the street or the working man across town who took a step on the property ladder by buying a trashed property and fixing it up. I’m well aware that blood from a stone isn’t a possibility, but the fact that social media is running amok with people who want to portray withholding all rent, especially by those who have the means to keep their obligations, as a heroic act of rebellion is just infuriating. 

The vine and fig…

It occurs to me that part of the reason weekends are so much better than weekdays is I pay virtually no attention to the news on Saturday or Sunday. Of course I catch bits in dribs and drabs from Facebook posts, whatever is trending on Twitter, or what the BBC pushes out in alerts, but I don’t make a conscious effort to seek out news during those 48 hours blocks.

Maybe some would say it makes me a bad citizen, but it makes me a more sane human being. It’s probably worth the trade off. I think I’ll continue trying to keep the shitshow of events entirely outside my own sphere of influence confined to the 5 days of the week that are already dicked up by other factors. Two days of willful disengagement out of seven days in a week don’t feel like an outrageously big ask. 

I’m left to wonder if we might not all be better off if everyone spent more time tending to the things that are within their own span of control and less tuned in to Big Events over which no one has any real control. It’s a pipe dream, of course. There are too many people too tied in who seem like they might just get off on soaking in the drama. 

As for me and mine, we’ll double down and take a page from General Washington to increasingly strive to be the kind of man who seeks mainly to  “sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”