Sand in the Gears

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The emotive impulse

September 16th, 2009 Posted in Curmudgeonry

I don’t know when or how the American experiment will end, but I am fairly certain that the dread day will find most of us texting or carrying about signs or otherwise expressing our deeply felt, ill-reasoned, poorly articulated opinions about it. This nationwide bout of narcissistic expression began, I am certain, with the first parent who let his child get away with saying “I feel” when he ought to have said “I think.” This slip was allowed, I imagine, because the child didn’t have any reason, or knowledge, or wisdom to justify an “I think” statement. But he just had to hear himself talk, so he went with “I feel,” and the nation has been adrift ever since.

I don’t object to self-expression within proper bounds, mind you. Tell your beloved how you feel. Pour out your heart to God. Crochet a furious little doily to express your opposition to warmongering for oil, or oil-mongering for war, or whatever it is that has put a bee in your precious little bonnet. What doesn’t get talked out, after all, gets acted out.

What I object to, however, is this practice of acting out our talk, based on a fantastically inflated notion of our own merit. This might shock you, Kanye West, but I don’t give a good gosh-darn about you, your music, or your opinions regarding who should or should not be winning whatever award they are passing about these days for best demonstrated ability to divorce culturally illiterate teenagers from their parents’ money.

And as for you, Joe Wilson, if my four year-old can keep his trap shut while I hear his brother’s point of view in some petty dispute, then shame on you and your parents, and on every member of your party who has resorted to the “they did it first” defense. If we’re going to start shouting like ill-bred schoolchildren every time we think we hear a fib, then that’s the end of political discourse in this country, as well as most  sermons, for that matter.

Just where did we develop the notion that our opinions are so desperately important that we are justified when we hurl them at people the way monkeys sling their poo? Sure, I have plenty of opinions, but you find them here, or wherever someone pays me to speak or write, presumably for audiences who know what they are getting into. You won’t catch me barking my opinions into my cell phone so that everyone in the airport can hear, or shouting down someone’s speech, or shuffling about in front of the White House with one of those signs which, no matter how cleverly the person has worded it, might as well just read: HAVE GONE OFF MEDICATION, PLEASE NOTIFY MY THERAPIST.

I understand that in a constitutional republic, people are afforded certain liberties to speak their minds. But we are also afforded, please let’s remember, the right to zip it. To keep a stiff upper lip. To grin and bear it. Because for the most part, our opinions are usually much more fascinating to us than to everyone else. Take it from a guy whose website address is his own name.