A bashing thought

Letter from John Mattingly

Disparagement – August 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine


I enjoyed your disparagement letter so much I have nothing disparaging to say, though I admit to a single bashing thought: Dick Lamm’s description of Americans (“materialistic, uninformed, wanting what they can’t afford, and too ignorant to sustain a democracy”) so aptly describes our current administration I thought for a moment Lamm might be short-hiking between switchbacks on the campaign trail.

I especially liked your observation that modern commentary is more of a duel than a discussion. What do you think of these items as contributing causes?

1. In many (most?) cases it takes less energy to take pot shots of criticism than to fire the big guns of workable solutions.

2. The sheer volume of information now available (and necessarily mastered for informed discussion) is so large that our culture has come to favor the sound bite, which a growing number of folks seem to think means taking an actual bite out of you, or whomever.

3. So many people are competing for the attentions of so many other people. Never in the course of history have so many fought for the attention of so many. Extraordinary histrionics are required to be heard. Is this an isotope of Warhol’s prediction that everyone would eventually have 15 minutes of fame? If you’re not famous for something subtle, try crying out loud. Or blowing up a building.

4. The JIT (just in time) phenomenon, enabled by computers and servo tech, has made all of us a tad less patient and tolerant — in general. Micro processors (the way I remember it) were supposed to liberate the latent leisure lying in the system. Instead, it herded us all onto a treadmill that sped up, forcing us to run faster and faster to stay in the same place. In this frenzied state, one is more apt to lash out than tie in.

5. Because media is everywhere, informing us to some degree or other, many of us feel compelled to have an opinion on issues with which we have no influence or involvement. This dissociation (the talking head) removes the direct and dire consequences of getting angry, “blowing it,” jumping off the dock or acting off the wall.

6. Because so much of our everyday experience is becoming virtualized (TV, computers, cell phones, one-touch electronic devices, doors that open themselves, toilets that flush automatically when we turn our back on them) and because we evolved as a species to act and solve problems in a tactile world, a static charge builds up in us from all the virtual, non-tactile experience. That is, we experience a lot of energetic activity without expending any. We get irked, irritated, outraged to dissipate accumulations of the fiat energy.

7. And finally, there seems to be a wider audience for confrontation than conversation. Popular taste and preference are therefore accountable.

Humans appear to be in transition between carbon-based and silicon-based life forms, and most of us are frustrated by the changes — in culture, science, economies, if not the world in general — that are occurring faster than we can adapt to them. The frustration vents from all corners.

As to the particulars of the immigration issue, I appreciated your thoughtful exposition of its intimidating complexity. Has anyone suggested offering Mexico the option of becoming the 51st state? Absurd as this sounds, it’s far less so than building a wall, and might be a sensible strategic move (like Seward’s acquisition of Alaska) given that current demographics suggest that by the 22nd Century, the western United States might be recaptured by Mexico (or vice versa) through our own democratic process.

Also, the structures of human society have tended toward larger and larger. From tribes to bands, communities, cities, states, city states, nations, colonial aggregations, etc. As international problems become more common, international legal and political structures will become more necessary — and are, barring natural disaster, inevitable.

Perhaps the real problem with immigration is the boundary itself, which exists as the consequence of a 19th Century structure that no longer exists in the 21st Century. Yes, there is a line dividing Mexico from the United States, but it is a dotted line at best, and like lines of latitude, the boundary is a purely human construct that has, can, and will change or disappear in response to powerful demographic forces.


John Mattingly