A Sweet Deal For Book Clubs

So, it appears The Society of Experience is becoming popular with book clubs in Canada and parts of the United States – this is wonderful news. As a token of my appreciation for this interest, I’m offering the following to anyone part of or organizing a book club: if you decide to add The Society of Experience to your book club’s reading list I will gladly make myself personally available to answer any questions you may have about the book, or writing in general. If you are in the Toronto area, I’m willing to make a personal appearance (time limited of course – please book early), otherwise I’m happy to connect with your group via Skype/Facetime or just plain ol’ email.

Get creative – throw me an idea! And remember, The Society of Experience is available in paperback and now eBook.

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I’ll Show You Stupid

Possibly the worst tactical mistake you can make, politically, is to make fun of an opponent’s lack of intelligence. I say this because not only is there an influx of politically active people on the world stage who fall under the category of “lacking intelligence”, but there is an absence of memory about how publicly scorning such people only empowers them (and, most importantly, voters).

It’s hard. When someone says something completely false – and stupid – the well-educated person’s knee-jerk instinct is to say “You’re an idiot”. Fair enough. But, it’s the taunting that backfires. For example, look at Sarah Palin. I think she represents a necessary evil in American politics: a self-elected Voice of The People who campaigns on the rather wispy argument that the US is run by a bunch of elitists who don’t understand “real Americans”. It’s all a bunch of crap (by elite, do you mean they have an education? don’t you want the people running your country to have an education? to have seen something beyond the borders of your own country for sake of perspective? who the hell are ‘real Americans’? does this imply ‘false Americans’?), but it serves its purpose. And what do her critics – who, to be fair, constitute most of the people on the Earth – do? They make fun of her.

She’s an idiot. A moron.

The problem is, she’s a moron who appeals to a growing number of disenfranchised people who are looking for a proud, politically and morally uncomplicated banner to wave proudly over their heads. And yes, we can argue about why this is and who the supporters are, but – not to say that history is a 1:1 reflection of the future, because it’s not – history has shown that history doesn’t give a shit about those questions. Reflection happens in the future – that is, after we politely chortle to ourselves at all the nonsense of Palin, her “Tea Party”, and her scads of uncivilized minions. That is, after they take the next election.

The elitist/commoner non-argument (it’s a ploy, really) is as old as politics itself. We’ve had something very similar (and thankfully, tamer) happen in Canada. Our current government is a coalition of reformer factions who merged in the late 90s/early 00s to take over the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party (this would be the same as if the current “Tea Party” took over the Republican Party). They removed the word Progressive from the name and lead the country as a minority government. They too campaigned (and still do, whilst in power no less) as the party of the People, as an alternative to whomever stands against their policies (aka “the elites”). It’s old hat.

Before they came into power, they – as the Alliance Party – tried very hard to unseat the ruling Liberal government (tangent: can you imagine if the US had a party called the Liberal Party?). Their leader was a man named Stockwell Day, who rode onto the scene (quite literally) on a Sea Doo. He was all charisma and commonality. But as time wore on, people found that his reformist ideas weren’t very deep and a lot of the people in his party were either yahoos or – elitists? – began distancing themselves away from him. The chrome on his veneer began to chip away and the man became a running gag; the Prime Minister of the day, Jean Chretien, joked openly that he preferred having Day in opposition (as to suggest his chances were that much better to win elections against the Alliance). Long story short, all it took was a few years, a “unite the right” movement, and a new leader who could streamline (that is, squelch) internal strife and you had a winner. That is to say, the toppling of a government.

I suppose what I’m saying is this: making fun of people like Sarah Palin because she doesn’t come across as polished, or sophisticated, or well-educated is ineffective. All you manage to do is inflame the passions of people – many of whom may have been too lethargic or apathetic to vote in the first place – so that they start creating local campaign offices. There is nothing like being intellectually offended to raise someone’s ire – anyone’s, no matter where or how they were raised. Raise the ire, that is, so as to make them active agents on behalf of those scorned by the “elites”. Agents of “change”.

George W. Bush was publicly derided by intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike in almost every conceivable medium and venue, yet he served two four-year terms as President of the US. If you want to take down the likes of Palin, take her down as you would take down Reagan or Thatcher – that is, as an opponent worthy of debate, worthy of your concern. To do less would be to knot your own noose.

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For *’s Sake

It’s been one of those battle-cries of mine the last while. Everything in the world, culturally-speaking (and I don’t necessarily mean high culture) seems to be evaporating into mindless bullshit.

The AV Club – a site I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with already – just posted an interview with actor Paul Giamatti. In the opening summary, the interviewer describes the plot of his latest film, which reads like a counterscript of 1999’s Being John Malkovich and yet there is no mention of this parallel anywhere in the article, something even Entertainment Tonight would do. The interviewer talks about this upcoming film with Giamatti as if it and his role – the John Malkovich role, if it were Being John Malkovich – were just soulless objects to be discussed out of necessity. In other words, it’s just like any other media-junket interview, like something you would read in InStyle or Chatelaine. Not that those examples are b-a-d, but when you pride yourself as better, especially savvy, tongue-in-cheek better, you shouldn’t even be in the same postal code as InStyle or Chatelaine if you want to retain your reputation.

The Motley Fool – again, a site previously known for being savvy, even though they deal with the stock market – now reads like Ain’t It Cool News, complete with arguments which, under rational analysis, seem completely idiotic and antithetical to what one would assume is their mission statement (ie. being different than the rest of those brain-dead-and-short-sighted Money sites).

Oh, and CNN. Not that they’ve ever been more relevant than a Reuters news ticker, but they’ve gone from mediocre to stupid by allowing one of their show hosts, Lou Dobbs, to continuously question the origin of Barack Obama’s citizenship, a paranoid suspicion virulent in the libertarian/right-wing fringe of the U.S. that has been repeatedly disproved (read: he doesn’t want Johnny Foreigner running and ruining the most-possibly-greatest-country-ever-in-the-world).

Now, one of the arguments I can imagine hearing is: well, Matt, in a 24-hour newsday (whether on TV or the Internet) when people expect constant information there inevitably has to be weaker material. To which I say: I understand, but I’d settle for less information over less hours (if need be), if it means the information will be consistent and better. After all, you are what you eat, and in this day and age we feed on media in an astonishingly unconscious and voracious manner.

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He Dreams of a Post-Partisan World

In the TV miniseries adaptation of the play Angels in America, the city law-clerk protagonist at one point pronounces that politics have transplanted religion in America, and in fact have replaced it. He says this with zeal, as if it were emancipation.

It pains me to think about that, but pains me more to consider just how correct (if depressing) an observation it is.

Lines have not been drawn, but cut into the tree bark of North American society as if with a pocket knife. You are either one thing or another – you cannot be a third; this is a very American pronouncement. The United States has traditionally always been about distilling conflict into two polarized Hatfield/McCoy entities. You are either Democrat or Republican. You are either a capitalist or a socialist. But this language, particularly over the last few years, has seeped into Canadian political (and trickled down to social) culture. Partisan hackery, demagoguery, journalists berated by right-wing think-tanks into believing that they suffer from left-wing bias, and the left ineffective as ever at conveying any sort of unified idea of what the hell it’s trying to say.

During the last federal election, our Prime Minister commented that “ordinary Canadians” couldn’t sympathize with pleas for restored funding from arts communities when said artists were, as he put it, always seen celebrating at taxpayer-funded galas. There was a brilliance in this (bald lie of an) accusation, as it was obviously never intended to promote discussion. There was no debate intended to be had; the intent was to rile the artists, causing them to get angry and speak-out publicly, with the consequence being that “ordinary Canadians” (ie. supporters of Harper or those already on the political fence) who saw this behaviour had their suspicions confirmed: artists are ungrateful. Art is a drain on national resources. How dare they ask for more of our hard-earned money (which “ordinary Canadians” spend liberally on movies, music, televisions…). The nerve.

This is a perfect example of how the dark science of politics have usurped the dark magic of religion. You are either a follower of the ministry or you are a shameless sinner. A “neo-con” or a “fiberal”. The role of partisan perversion in the distortion of ideas and communication is to conquer the citizenry through division. Demagoguery is an alien-sounding word which, used as an accusation, elicits shrugged shoulders from the general public nowadays. And yet, it perfectly describes what politics have devolved into.

I do not hate religion in itself, nor do I hate politics. Rather it is those treacherous, self-interested few who have the most to gain from either of these pursuits that I do not like and whom I will fight against (if only philosophically) so that they will not achieve power.

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