So, I had pretty much worked and tasked myself silly all week like a good American, and then I finally got a day off and got some quality rest. I got up before my snoozy gf and started drinking coffee and reading the headlines. I wasn’t just surprised (by the new lows in politics/antics of the Trump administration), but I was surprised I was still being surprised by this.
And it wasn’t just that. This wasn’t the first time I was to be surprised to be surprised. What is it to be surprised? Well, off the top of my head I’d say you’re expecting things to roll out one way, and then something pretty significantly different from that happens, usually suddenly. Enter caveman psychological explanations for normal human consciousness, the ‘surprise’ reaction gets one to fight or run or otherwise be ready for whatever is happening so fast.
All right. But what is it to be surprised to be surprised? The bushes are full of things that keep jumping out, so by now my caveman brain should not be surprised that, once again, something is jumping out of the bushes. I’ve seen this movie. Something jumps out of the bushes every. single. time.
And so it is again. Yet I’m surprised anyway, and the conditioning has brought me to a point where I am surprised to still be surprised. Lay psychonaut that I am, this phenomenon draws me into an awareness of my own web of sub- and semi- conscious expectations. The primordial “watch out for those bushes” thing is in there. 2 + 2 = 4 is way, way down at the bottom. There is the whole fabric of how to “be nice” and interact with other people properly, admiration and aspiration to the virtues (honesty and humility seeming to be the most important. You gotta treat people right, but sometimes ‘the virtues’ demand behavior that creates conflict, so the test of whether causing conflict means you’re a jerk or not boils down to whether it is selfish greed or something Or service of some higher virtue motivating things. Sorry if people are offended but religious arguments have never had the final say in my thinking, talking snakes and so um it doesn’t ultimately make sense to me even though I can see the picture presented, but that isn’t what I am really here to debate today).
I’ve got this multi-layered structure of sub- and semi-conscious expectations. Some of it is primordial caveman impulse. Some of it is a gauzy fabric of childhood/juvenalia social morality rumination. As a modern person who received a modest technical plus literary education, there is the sort of crystalline structure of proven or probable facts, the axioms, math and formal logic and philosophy and law and all the dots that, in my incomplete and amateur way, I have thus far managed to connect. Then there is the lives of the people, against a backdrop of the Lives of the Saints (the real life ones and also the ‘fake saints’ for propaganda purposes) and the Lives of the Poets (the guys that said Fuck It All, I am super smart and I am just going to get wasted, write literature and chase girls till I die young). In modern times you can observe the lives of the Ghandis and the Martin Luther Kings, or the lives of the Jim Morrisons or the Curt Cobains.
Somewhere in there is the Lives of the Politicians and Public Figures. Are you still with me? I’m getting to Mob Voodoo, I really am, but I want to paint this picture of a background web of adult socio-psychological expectation and get you to see the Lives of the Politicians and Public Figures as woven into that context. Let me supply a personal example. In I think it was the 7th grade, I learned the word ‘lesbian’. I hadn’t heard of or even imagined the concept until that day. At first blush it was a wildly titillating thing to think about, but at the same time I didn’t even believe that there was such a thing. Someone was pulling my leg. But not much time went by, and without even talking to anyone about it, I could see how I liked girls and maybe girls like girls, too. It could happen, I guess. Gay dudes were a little slower to process, but really not by much, I mean, girls sure seemed to like dudes, so maybe dudes might sometimes like dudes, too. Further observation confirmed that this was just the way it is, my not-even-opinions notwithstanding.
Then I woke up a little and it was the 80s and there were rampant gay slurs and every other kind of slurs all over the place, at least where I was. Of course, of course there was the eternal bible-beater background radiation of “gays r bad because if you break the rules, Gabriel is gonna whip out his sword and then you are gonna have to pay ur own rent.” And, isn’t that kind of a mob thing to do? If you are a greasy dark-ages Italian with a loose moral compass, what are you gonna do? Maybe team up with some of your friends, gather the rubes together in one place and gesticulate wildly at your pointy hat, insisting, “Talking snakes! Talking snakes!!” until they drop cash into the dish. Whatever else you want to say, that con is at least effective. But I am being ham-handed for the sake of brevity, I really don’t want to debate religion but this idea of Mob Voodoo. Are you still with me? The Lives of the Politicians and Public Figures in the context of a modern mesh of sub- and semi- conscious expectations?
So I have this concept of gay people as I am living the rest of my life and then one day Obama is president and promoting gay marriage. I hadn’t really liked the religion-based policy alternatives, but I hadn’t made a ‘deep dive’ into the subject, either. Why shouldn’t gay marriage be legal? I dunno, that would change things I guess, but if they are gonna get thrown out of The Garden I don’t think I am good enough to escape the same even though I am not gay, so being divided against them isn’t going to do any good at this point and what problem do I have with other people’s sex lives anyway? None! I really don’t care as long as they they keep it off the sidewalks &etc, straight, gay, auto, you name it. So Obama comes in and gay marriage is legalized, and that is a change and a disruption of my expectations because, yanno, it wasn’t that way before, but at the same time my internal thoughts and the public discourse seemed amenable to the whole thing. Obama created some conflict with that one, but it was in the service of, if not a higher virtue, an all-American one. Equal rights. Why you gotta devise exceptions? Yah, I’m being ham-handed again, I know why jerks do that, let’s not go there.
All right, so there’s the Lives of the Politicians in the context of an adult web of sub- and semi- conscious expectations. In the Obama example, I wouldn’t say I was surprised to be surprised. Policy changed, but it seemed to fit, if you will. Reading the headlines lately, I am having my expectations about the Lives of the Politicians and Public Figures upended and contradicted on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Am I sometimes aware of a beneficent, even majestic hand at the tiller of events? Sometimes it sort of seems that way, even if it is in a primordial something’s-in-the-bushes kind of way. And if that is my expectation, maybe I have been foolishly optimistic. Look at history- look at my own history. The Nazis killed off some of my ancestors who didn’t abandon Poland soon enough, for basically nothing. They weren’t Jewish, or Gypsies, not that that’s any excuse, it just further exposes the emptiness of the Nazi murder campaign. This is hardly a new story or type of background for a person to have in human history. Expecting that there is a “majestic hand” driving events is, logically, naiive at best.
Still, this is America, here and now. I don’t expect Nazis for sure. Honestly, I expect things on a certain level to run in accordance to reference to at least some kind of commonly recognizable virtue. Is it ultimately talking snakes or is it ultimately utilitarianism? You can’t put your finger on it, but Providence smiled on America and we better not waste the blessings, if you will. But even when we don’t agree on the specific policy, I think Americans can recognize the virtue or the reasoning behind the opposition’s approach. Do you think the Confederates didn’t understand the abolitionists’ position? Of course they did. Do the bible-beaters not understand pluralism, the 1st Amendment, equal rights, privacy and freedom? Ha! I’m being ham-handed again, let’s not go there.
You want me to reveal what is the debate about Mob Voodoo. Ok, let me tell you. This constant repetition of the violation of my sub- and semi- conscious expectations to the point that I am >repeatedly< surprised to be surprised is making me paranoid. I feel like maybe this is an intentional scheme. I feel like maybe bad forces have seized the tiller, and are employing a strategy of deliberately attempting to shift the expectations of the public, even though I can’t tell you what is the further goal.
I think The Mob is old, and smart, and unscrupulous. If anyone can work something like voodoo, it is The Mob. And this seeming attempt to re-orient the expectations of the public (because, hyper-verbose as I may be, I don’t think I’m the only one) strikes me as some kind of voodoo. It is like the New Religion, only I haven’t figured out all the logical counter-arguments to it yet, and may therefore yet be vulnerable to its effects.
I present all this in a sort of Greek fashion. I have not tried to conceal the raw or even broken nature of my thinking on this, and in fact some of the subject involves sub- and semi- conscious expectation, which we should not expect to be entirely rational. More generally, in ancient Greek times, many questions never seemed to get finally resolved, and so I think that (and I’ll cite writings of Plato) if a group of crackpots and weirdos got together to talk things over, this sort of “unresolved” nature of things would make everyone involved not just more tolerant of diversity of opinion but more open to things like formal logic, rhetorical technique and fallacy, and the kinds of scholarly tools that held out hope that maybe, someday, some of these questions really could be resolved.