Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Because I Know Best: I have a love/hate relationship with stuff like talk radio and the blogosphere. There are times when I need to just wallow in conversation about stuff I feel matters, and these are places to do it. But a lot of times I get frustrated with either how, either because they're uninformed or biased or more interested in converting than in looking for truth or in some other way locked into ignorance, some people and hosts and pundits and bloggers and columnists can be.

It reminds of something Douglas Adams wrote about. In a bit called "Turncoat" in The Salmon of Doubt, he talks about why he's so pro-science, despite having " . . . made [his] reputation making fun of science and technology: depressed robots, uncooperative lifts, doors with ludicrously overdesigned user interfaces (what's wrong with just pushing them?), and so on."

Despite having become entranced at a young age with comedy as a means whereby "extremely intelligent people could express things that simply couldn't be expressed any other way," he came to feel, by the end of his life, that maybe we had "too much comedy these days."

But nowadays everybody's a comedian, even the weather girls and continuity announcers. We laugh at everything. Not intelligently anymore, not with sudden shock, astonishment, or revelation, just relentlessly and meaninglessly. No more rain showers in the desert, just mud and drizzle everywhere, occasionally illuminated by the flash of paparazzi.

He says further:

There's always a moment when you fall out of love, whether it's with a person or an idea or a cause, even if it's one you only narrate to yourself years after the event: a tiny thing, a wrong word, a false note, which means that things can never be quite the same again. For me it was hearing a stand-up comedian make the following observation: "These scientists, eh? They're so stupid! You know those black-box flight recorders they put on aeroplanes? And you know they're meant to be indestructible? It's always the thing that doesn't get smashed? So why don't they make the planes out of the same stuff?"

The audience roared with laughter at how stupid scientists were, couldn't think their way out of a paper bag, but I sat feeling uncomfortable. Was I just being pedantic to feel that the joke didn't really work because flight recorders are made out of titanium and that if you made planes out of titanium rather than aluminium, they'd be far too heavy to get off the ground in the first place? . . . There was no way of deconstructing the joke (if you think this is obsessive behavior, you should try living with it) that didn't rely on the teller and the audience complacently conspiring together to jeer at someone who knew more than they did. It sent a chill down my spine, and still does. I felt betrayed by comedy the same way that gansta rap now makes me feel betrayed by rock music. I also began to wonder how many of the jokes I was making were just, well, ignorant.

Not only is he right about comedy, but he exactly describes how I feel about any sort of thought. We've so cheapened the concept of "insight" as to render it meaningless, become so glutted with people who proport themselves to be knowlegeable while offering little more than pap.

So many people want to live in a world where Dr. Laura can solve all their problems in time for the hard break on the hour, where watching a 30 second news bit makes a man capable of casting judgment on entire nations, let alone an obviously evil or stupid person here or there, where anything someone who disagrees with me does can instantly be explained, because all you have to do is assign them the most sinister or boneheaded motivation you can think of.

Which is all well and good until one of the mouths stumbles onto a topic you actually know something about, and you realize that all their ramblings are probably as uninformed as the one on subject xyz.

At such time, I always end up fleeing back to experts. Reading actual books. Talking to people who sincerely know something about something.

Into such a place I go again now. Reading suggestions are welcome.

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