Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

You’re Crazy!

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Why is calling somebody “crazy” or telling them “you’ve got problems” the last stone people throw after they’ve thrown all of their others?  I mean, consider that many of us live sometimes with no real understanding of why we’re here.  We have to try to figure out what that meaning is.  And if you look at what people do with their short time here, you’d have to conclude that it’s a mad rush to either get something or avoid something.  Getting or avoiding that thing always means there are always people (including families and workplaces), religions, governments, lobbyists or corporations ready to tell us what that should be.  And they often try to coerce or frighten or threaten or shame us so that they can make us believe it.  Weakening people so they can be strong is the timeless story.  Delegitimizing person B or their concerns in the eyes of people C through Z to take away their legitimacy and build up ones own has a proven track record.  This slimy trick is as old as we are, so why is it something victims are always surprised to feel, and perps are never shy to do?

Likewise, why is it that the people who call shots think they’ll always be calling the shots?  I remember an experiment in college where the PoliSci prof divided the class so that everybody with A-M last names would get X more points added to their grade and everybody with N-Z last names would get X points taken away from their grade.  Instantly, there was animosity between the two sides of the room.  It was a thought experiment for God’s sake, but the students reacted just like thousands of years of political thinking predicted they would.  Then, he reversed the rewards and punishments and the downtrodden were now the shot-callers, and the formerly privileged class was now the underclass.  There were murmurs of reclaiming past glories and bringing down the uppity.  His point was that everybody eventually becomes the goat, and it’s always unfair and the privileged are privileged only as long as somebody else says so.

There are plenty of laws on the books and rules of decorum that say we’re better than that.  It’s what we keep telling ourselves. The most idealistic among us say eventually humanity will fulfill its Jeffersonian potential and such pettiness will disappear.  We will make just laws and follow them.  The watchers will no longer need to be watched.  But yet, people keep wanting or avoiding that thing, and that desire continues to be mysteriously and inextricably tied to power and control and coercion and influence and social pressure and politics.  And to say “that’s just the way it is” is a capitulation that admits that everyone from Jefferson to Hammurabi was a fool to believe otherwise, and that what we do to each other doesn’t matter as much as to what degree and who sees you do it.

This view of the universe; this tension between our highest ideals versus where we actually are and what we are actually capable of, is I think, the pivot point of difference between convervative and liberal ideologies.  Do you think we need to be managed by something larger than our individual selves because we’ve proven to ourselves to be treacherous, state of nature type creatures unable to see beyond our own selfish interests?  Or do you think that because we are free agents, natural law is all any of us need to show us how and what needs to be done to live together without laws?  It’s not a simple question but it has two simple roots; our trust in and confidence for each other, and our view of our own existence.  If we are so afraid that we have to use sticks to beat each other down, then we are doomed.  If we believe we will eventually transcend ourselves and leave our pedestrian selves behind, we have hope.  But to not admit where we are in our pathology right this minute, is a mistake.  As Kafka understood, you’d be crazy to think otherwise.  But it’s probably best not to think about it too much, right?

Written by Interviewer

January 11, 2013 at 03:27

Posted in Scratchpad

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