Saturday, December 9, 2017

Cheap Speech (Before I Wake Up Dead, Pt. 4)

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who aren't here yet) -- the Stickies -- to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

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Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars
Marie-Louise -- My sublime, drop-dead gorgeous muse (right shoulder) and back scratcher
Iggy -- Designated Sticky
Dana -- Designated gentlereader (left shoulder)

"Democracy is the road to Socialism." -Karl Marx
"Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage". -H.L. Mencken

Dear (eventual) Stickies & Great-Grankstickies,

Cheap speech. I (relatively) recently encountered this phrase for the first time in one of George Will's bi-weekly columns.

[Are you aware that bi-weekly can mean either once every two weeks, or, twice a week (as it's used here)? Apparently, Sister Mary McGillicuddy was wrong, nobody's in charge of the English language.]

Mr. Will's column, The Steep Cost of Cheap Speech, was about coping with life in the Dizzinformation Age. He makes reference to a Yale Journal article written 22 years ago by Eugene Volokh, who invented the phrase cheap speech. Mr. Volokh predicted that while the internet would make it much easier for everyone to communicate with everyone else, there would also be significant downsides. Good call.

Bad News - Good News

Now, obviously, I've no way of knowing how the current cultural chaos will have worked itself out by the time you're reading this, or even if it has.

In the meantime, my access to (potentially) 7,499,999,999 readers without having to go through a middlemanperson, is historically unprecedented. That's the good news.

[Not that there ain't, and always will be, ideological middlepersons attempting to save us from ourselves for our own sakes.

Xi Dadda and seemingly ever-growing cohorts of like-minded hardcore partisans in both of America's primary political parties come immediately to mind.]

The bad news, for me at least, is that I'm in competition with any number of the aforementioned 7,499,999,999 citizens of planet Earth for your attention as well as the attention of my current and potential gentlereaders.

The bad news, for all of us, is the tsunami of cheap speech the Dizzinformation Age has created. But everybody knows about that/talks about that/writes about that. What I'm going to explore is what I call the Local/Global Paradox.

[Wait-wait-wait, what about all the other problems created by the internet and other technologies?]

That's a book, Dana. Remember, this is a series of letters written to my beloved Stickies as if my deletion is imminent. I'm going to restrict myself to the Local/Global Paradox and what I call Soft Nationalism. Now, stand back and be amazed (or appalled...).

The Local/Global Paradox

The internet has obviously made the world smaller and more homogenized and made it possible for any given cranky geezer prone to Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness to park his wrinkled butt in front of a keyboard and unleash tidal waves of cheap speech upon the globe. 

However, the never-ending kerfuffles of the United Nations and the European Union, the Donald's willful misunderstanding of trade treaties and trade deficits, and the tendency of most of the kids on the playground to pick on North Korea's misunderstood Dear Leader would seem to indicate -- inhale -- when Marvin the Martian lands and demands to be taken to our leader, it's gonna' get ugly.

While the two preceding paragraphs do indeed present a paradox, it's not even the paradox I'm concerned about. Hoo-boy, a double paradox, this is why I told you to be prepared to be amazed!/appalled? (bemused?).   

The paradox I'm concerned about is the one illustrated by the fact that while we are the world, at least for the purposes of a certain soda pop manufacturer and various and sundry utopians -- locally speaking, and I'm speaking specifically of my native America here -- the net is turning us into a ginormous small town.

The typical American small town, the one that lives in the back of the psyches of all Citizens of the Republic (COR, yes, it's back) is a small town with certain characteristics. COR of a certain age may well be visualizing something like Bedford Falls, Flyoverland, USA. Younger COR are more likely to be visualizing something like Potterville (with smartphones). Heavy sigh.

[Note to Iggy, google: It's a Wonderful Life when you get home (the gang is out doing their Christmas shopping).]

Now, being a small town there's at least one absurdly rich family and/or bitter, twisted, greedy patriarch. Being a small town, everyone thinks they know almost everyone else in spite of the fact most of them don't know themselves very well.

Being a small town, everyone keeps an eye on everyone else. People being people, there's no shortage of gossip, speculation, envy, and judgment.

People being people, there's no shortage of sins and crime. The kind they lock you up for and/or the kind that keep you from getting into heaven.

The ginormous town called America has three neighborhoods. Although they're geographically diffused, ideologically speaking they're easily identifiable. The Left Side, The Right Side and Middletown (pronounced mid'-el-ton). 

Instead of Henry F. Potter, we have the 1%. Just like the character in the wonderful movie, the 1% is portrayed in an over-simplified, black and white fashion because everyone knows of a Henry F. Potter type and can relate. 

Of course reality, as always, is complicated. For example, most of the Henry F. Potter types I've known/know range from almost successful to reasonably successful. There just aren't that many people in the world that are lifestyles of the Rich and Famous successful (LRF). 

Interestingly -- many of them that are seem to be entertainers of one sort or another who have been made LRF rich by members of the 99% willingly tossing a few dollars at them for what are often second-rate (or worse) performances.

Ironically -- many of these same entertainers, who have gotten absurdly rich for being pretty and/or good at playing pretend and/or singing and dancing and the like -- love throwing mud at other absurdly rich people that work 80 hour weeks and can't ever have enough money and who clearly have psychological problems. 

But as a group, the psychopathologies of the former tend to dwarf the psychopathologies of the latter. However, even that is worth money considering that the reporting of the extremely lucrative Famous and Famous For Being Famous industry is famous for their lurid stories about the psychopathologies of the famous and the infamous of both camps.

And all of this is complicated by the fact that everyone in America, globally speaking, is at the top end of the 1%. Another paradox rears its head. Citizens of the Republic who simultaneously suffer from obesity and Global Whining syndrome.    

The Bedford Falls Sentinel has been reduced to a weekly publication with the inevitable web site. It's more of news-letter that a news-paper. Thanks to 24 x 7 x 365 Infotainment/Social Media industry there's no need to wait for the daily paper with space limited prioritized news, space limited advertising, and of course, a gossip column and entertainment section.

Nowadays, the news never stops and if it bleeds it leads still leads. Thanks to global reach and the need to pack the 24 hour day with filler between the ads/commercials, we now have if bleeds it leads squared.

Infinite entertainment and gossip is always on and available via mobile rectangles in our pockets. The bad news is thanks to the Data Dragon's minions -- the Botmonsters, the Algorithmites, and their ilk -- we're becoming small towns of one. Individuals living in the same household, still quaintly called homes, can choose to live in virtual securely gated and carefully curated communities wherein they can play the part of Henry F. Potter. 

And who needs to go to one of those boring old town hall meetings, the kind romanticised in the bourgeois art (imagine Mr. R. trying to make a living in our enlightened Piss Christ era) of Norman Rockwell for example when you can tweet/troll/post fake news without having to leave the house? 

Well... except for those feeling the need to channel their inner chimpanzee, particularly if there are media to perform for and/or if some George Soros evil gnome type is providing funding and make work for the IUPPP&PVTTOT. If the media fails to show you can have a friend live stream you, you might go viral.

Mrs. Powell, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" 
"A republic madam, if you can keep it." -Benjamin Franklin 

At the moment, the internet is providing slippery slope lube for our de-evolution into a ginormous small town with a direct democracy and the inevitable fractious factions. By the time you read this we may be the Vaguely/Formerly/Kinda/Sorta United States of America.

The virtuous, high-minded, citizens of Athens that ordered the death of Socrates would approve wholeheartedly. I hope the country comes to its senses and crowns me (temporary) king before it's too late. Restoring the Republic is gonna take a minute and I'm not getting any younger (and I didn't even get to soft nationalism yet...). Poppa loves you.

Have an OK day.

[P.S. Gentlereaders, for 25¢ a week, no, seriously, for 25¢ a week you can become a Patron of this weekly column and help to prevent an old crank from running the streets at night in search of cheap thrills and ill-gotten gains.

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©2017 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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