Laziness and Presumption of the Conservative Mind

Conservative MindIn my continuing adventures with my difficult person, I have been told repeatedly that I am lazy and ungrateful. This is entirely typical of the conservative mind. I am lazy because I do not want to spend a great deal of time working on a project that pays almost nothing and, if anything, makes me a less valuable commodity. I am ungrateful because the businesses involved are doing all their work (which is little) out of the goodness of their hearts.

The reality of the situation is that I am a known author with a book that has an almost mythical reputation. It will sell. And I certainly could have self-published it and made far more money than I will under the current contract. I did not want to republish the book and I was talked into it during a moment of weakness. The publisher and the distributor will make far more money than I will. But I don’t care. There are people who want the book, and now they will be able to get it. But to the conservative mind, I am being done a great service.

But note the conservative delusion. We sign contracts, but that’s all just pretense. What’s really going on is that the rich are so kindhearted that they are providing work for this miserable writer who would never make a cent if it weren’t for their largess. One has to wonder why the government had to start the WPA during the Great Depression when there were so many rich companies who exist only to make work for useless people like me.

The Conservative Mind Begins

Let me explain to you how all this got started. I got two hysterical email messages because I had submitted a book chapter where the header line listed the wrong chapter. I wasn’t pleased at the freak out. I wrote back rather more aggressively than I should have that this was the result of the publisher’s demand that chapters can only be so long, because apparently, all books have to be exactly the same and she never bothered to look at the book in the first place. And then the dam broke and I received hundreds of words of bile. So I apologized and said I had misunderstood the tone of the original email. This was responded to with many more hundreds of words of bile. The conservative mind just can’t let things go. Anger and hatred are what drive it.

This is the conservative mind. I should be grateful to my betters and be willing to work hundreds of hours on this book. And I should always be a good little boy and constantly voice my utter gratefulness that anyone in the world would be willing to publish such a poor and unprofessional writer as I. Now compare this to the liberal company I work for. When I took over managing writers, the biggest concern was that I encourage the writers. The owner of the company understands that the money he makes is a direct result of the people who work for him. He sees the employer-employee relationship as one of equality and mutual respect. And this employer pays me more in a week than I will ever make off this book.

But this isn’t just about the current situation I find myself in. If you watch Fox Business, you will see lots of people going on about how employees should put up with every kind of indignity. They should work for nothing. And if they do it just right, the employer will reward them with a good job. This is why unions are unnecessary — they presume that workers should have some kind of equality of power to employers.

The Conservative Mind’s Faux Threat

To give you an idea of just how ridiculous the conservative mind is in this case, the first email messages I received threatened to kill the project. This was supposed to make me frightened. But my position was, “Great! Let’s kill it!” But of course, the book won’t be killed because the publisher knows that the book will make money. Now I am told we can’t kill the book because people have put work in it. This is a typical moralistic argument that conservatives use against others, but would never accept when directed toward themselves. Part of the cost of doing business is paying for things that don’t work out. Newspapers of old used to assign twice as many articles to be written as were ever published. But in the modern conservative mind, they can never risk anything. It can charge extra for losses it claims will incur, but it will never allow those losses if it can use a moral stick against what it considers to be its lessers.

So you might be wondering why I being so public with my anger. Well, I’m not mentioning the publisher by name. And really: what do I have to lose? The book will be published, because despite what the conservative claims, it is being published because it will make money. None of the hundreds of words telling me how awful I am have been in the service of getting the book done. Well, not completely. I now plan to provide the finished book by next week. But the result of that will be that I’m going to do far less to improve and update the book than I was doing. The publisher has yet to read anything I’ve sent. The concern is that the headers must be right, I must provide scans of the tiny number of images in the book, and that the text must be double spaced. So the publisher will get the really important things: proper formatting.

A world with only conservatives would not be a world worth living in. And I am so looking forward to delivering the book so that my only communication will be the occasional tax document.

Difficult People: Are You One of Them?

Difficult PeopleI’m not the easiest person to get along with. But I don’t consider myself a jerk. I’m not one of the difficult people. I don’t try to be difficult. But like most people, I have bad days; I take things the wrong way; I lash out. The problem I find is that when I’m having an argument with another person, I don’t know whose being the jerk. In most cases, there’s blame on both sides. But that in itself is something I’ve learned about such encounters. It’s a very good sign if you can see that you are at least partly to blame.

What I’ve noticed is true of the most difficult people — the ones who are forever getting into altercations — is that they think the world is against them. According to them, just about everyone in their lives are difficult. For a normal person, this should set off alarm bells. There really are only two possible explanations. The first is that you choose really bad people to hang around. For example, suppose you are a hate radio addict, it would be stupid to live in Berkeley. You would find a lot of people who think very different than you do. If that’s the kind of conflict that you like, have at it. But don’t be surprised that your relationships are difficult.

Difficult People Find Others “Difficult”

The most common issue, however, is that people find others difficult because they demand that everyone act just the way that they want. If that’s the case, you are going to find people “difficult” but the real problem is that you are difficult. They are just the way they are. So regardless whether you have decided to surround yourself with people who are naturally at odds with you and your worldview, or you require that everyone agree with you and do things your way, the problem is you not the world.

Difficult people have found a loophole in civilization. They’ve realized that most people are just too nice to tell them to shut up and mind their own business.

The vast majority of my relationships are extremely positive. But when I get into a fight with someone, I’m very concerned that I’m in the wrong. And even when I don’t think I’m in the wrong, I’m willing to take blame and get back to work. Life’s too short. But if the other person involved is not interested in accepting olive branches — indeed, if they use the olive branches to expand the conflict, then I know the problem is not me. I’m just dealing with a difficult person — a jerk.

I’m not sure what the difficult person gets out of being a jerk. But I can relate what I think is a telling experience. I had just spent half a day working with a difficult person and was told various things about how I should live my life. It wasn’t just advice of course, it was peppered with claims that I was an idiot and didn’t know what I was talking about. Later, I was going to dinner with this difficult person, and we ran into someone they knew. And I stood there for a good 15 minutes as this poor man was told exactly the same things I had been told with only slightly fewer insults. I wanted to say, “I’ve heard this lecture; could you give it on your own time?”

Difficult people have found a loophole in civilization. They’ve realized that most people are just too nice to tell them to shut up and mind their own business. But when someone does get the point of not being able to take it, that’s when the difficult person gets their greatest victory: oh, how wronged they’ve been by all the difficult people in the world!

The only way that you can know if you are a difficult person is to look out at the world and see what it thinks. I don’t think I’m a difficult person because the only person I know who thinks I’m difficult is widely considered one of the most difficult people working in their industry. The people who work with me have all kinds of pejoratives to describe me — but mostly just “weird.” But “jerk” is not one of them. Nor is “cruel.” But the real question is not figuring out if you are a difficult person; the real question is how you can avoid them.

Morning Music: Disco Inferno by The Trammps

Disco Inferno - The TrammpsThe phrase “Burn, baby! Burn!” has been associated with the 1965 Watts Riots. As a result, I’ve always found it fascinating that it would find its way into The Trammps’ mega-hit “Disco Inferno.” It is, I suppose, what Thomas Frank wrote about in his first book, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. It isn’t that those ad men were just trying to co-opt what was cool. It was what they thought was cool and they were simply using it.

It’s certainly the case that the songwriters, Leroy Green and Ron Kersey, were not making a political statement. The song came from a scene in The Towering Inferno, where a disco is burned down. “Disco Inferno” is pure fun, the way that the very best Disco music was. But it must certainly be that the writers had the phrase in their mind because they had heard it associated with the Watts Riots. And there is something kind of sad that just one decade after a riot that took the lives of 34 people should be so vague that the phrase could be co-opted to mean nothing more than burning up the dance floor.

But that’s the nature of our modern society. The Watts Riots started over the police stopping an African American man. The reasonableness of the whole thing is not the question, however. The issue is that we had then, as we have today, a racist system. People denied justice will hold in their resentment and anger for only so long. And to nitpick over the exact timing or cause of their anger is to miss the whole point.

Disco Inferno: Burn That Mother Down

When I see white people like those who took over the Malheur wildlife sanctuary, it makes me think of all the people who have real grievances. Throughout its brief history, the Black Lives Matter movement has been nitpicked to death. A twelve year old African American boy with a toy gun is driven up on and murdered by police within seconds. But when armed white men take over a public building because some rich people are being held accountable for their acts of arson, we get a month-long negotiation to see that no one is harmed. Yet it is the Black Lives Matter protesters who are condemned because they aren’t doing it right. They aren’t courteous enough. They don’t wait their turn. They somehow never know the exact right words that would make their problems all just go away.

African Americans, like all minority groups, are just supposed to shut up — unless they are providing us with entertainment as delightful as “Disco Inferno.”

Anniversary Post: Soviet Union’s Cult of Personality

Joseph Stalin - Cult of PersonalityOn this day in 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave a speech to party insiders, “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences.” It was basically an attack on former Premier Joseph Stalin. You can’t read about it without being told that it was all part of Khrushchev’s efforts to consolidate his power against the remaining Stalin loyalists. And while that was certainly the case, the implication is always that the Soviet leaders had ulterior motives but somehow here in America we are pure as the driven snow.

I guess it is just when I grew up and the fact that it was in a conservative household that I find so sad our tendency to trivialize the government of the Soviet Union. It isn’t that I have a all that much respect for it. But it was complicated. My father liked to point out that although they had elections in the Soviet Union, they had only one political party. While that was largely true, there were various factions of the party. And I really can’t say that there was less diversity within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union than there has been between the Democratic and Republican Parties.

It is certainly the case that what Khrushchev said in “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences” was widely shared. They knew they had a major problem on their hands when Stalin was in power. He was exactly the kind of autocrat that the communists hated in the fascist leaders. The truth was that Stalin greatly admired Hitler until the Nazi leader stabbed him in the back. (This was a major mistake; the Nazis probably would have survived World War II if they had managed to keep the Soviet Union out of it.)

Whose Cult of Personality Is Worse?

The Soviet Union changed over time. And it eventually allowed a man as liberal as Mikhail Gorbachev to rule it. Can you imagine the United States ever electing a leader that would admit to our major errors? As it is, even Bernie Sanders, a man who is hardly a radical, has been vilified by a whole industry of opinion leaders who supposedly represent the left of politics.

Also on this day in 1991, the Warsaw Pact was disbanded. Yet NATO continues on. To counter what? Wasn’t the fall of communism the time when the west should have most firmly embraced the United Nations? But instead of using the event to make a better world, the United States used it to consolidate its power. We don’t have a cult of personality here; we have a cult of “exceptionalism.” And it is dangerous. Donald Trump could become our next president. And there are a lot of people in this country who are thrilled at the idea of a cult of personality. Even when it requires the personality of Vladimir Putin.