My time off while I recovered was supposed to be productive. I had visions of industrious engagement with the great books of the Western Canon. It was finally time to set aside the petty thoughts and electronic distractions and get to work. The inertia of recovery made me even more distractible, intellectually flighty, and self absorbed. I flitted from video to video, article to article, Facebook post to twitter feed, riding a wave of inattention and avoidance. What happened to my concentration? Like an elastic band stretched too far too many times, my attention span went slack. Even youtube videos move too slowly, and I find myself reading Facebook posts and instagram captions while dimwits hurl their precious invectives at the enemy ists and isms. None of it is really captivating, fascinating, or absorbing. I’m paying so little attention to any of it but I still need it to be on, I need the useless tirades, the boiler plate haranguing, the spittle, the head shaking, the talking over, the talking down, the contrived debates where the contempt each participant has for the other oozes out of the screen.
Why would anyone want to argue with a person that fundamentally disagrees with them? I’ve never understood this. Is it the possibility of humiliating someone? Of catching them in contradictions, and exposing their hypocrisy to the world? Do we not understand that the tools we use to undermine our enemies can easily be turned on ourselves? I think that’s why people become so focused on the weaknesses of their opponents, real or imagined. If it weren’t for the evil feminists, or the leftists, or the conservatives, men’s rights activists, communists, libertarians, marxists, oligarchs, big pharma, big business, anarchists, criminals, black lives matter, all lives matters, I hate cops, I respect and defend cops, free markets, controlled markets, the federal reserve, islamophobes, transphobes, brown muslim terrorists, white christian terrorists, the NRA, the NAACP, the NSA, the UN, structural inequality, systemic racism, globing warming, global warming hoaxes, Donald Trump, and that guy that cut you off in traffic, we’d realize how hollow we are, and that our own thoughts and desires are self defeating.
Not only do large groups fight with each other, they also fight with themselves. Scholastic, hairsplitting, nut twisting disputes erupt over terminology and semantics, over definitions, history and legacy. No, that’s social democracy, communism is…. We’ve never had true fill in the blank, we have a mixed blah blah blah. I agree with original intent and aim of generic movement a, but the fourth wave, red guard mutation is a betrayal of yada yada. Then you have the fallacy mongers, the dorks that just finished reading an introductory logic book and fancy themselves indisputable masters of argument. Well actually that’s a reducto ad absurdum, ad hominem, straw man, begging the question, circular reasoning, genetic fallacy. What about the fallacy accusation fallacy, where you commit the egregious error of thinking your fly by night grasp of latin and logic gives you even a semblance of clout? Whenever someone mentions a fallacy I always imagine their underwear getting yanked up over their head, or I hear the sound of an inhaler.
I’m not sure if enough people are aware that Socrates was a huge dickhead. What did he really do? He would speculate on the transcendent conditions of human life, and encourage people to seek the good. Well enough. But how did he go about that? The greater part of his life was spent making people look like jackasses using disingenuous argumentation. Just read any dialogue where he gets into it with a sophist or friend of a friend. He takes a common sense position, which is totally adequate for the purpose of social cohesion and practical action, and through a process of vicious abstraction and ironic questioning, turns it into a baffling mystery, a piece of nonsense no sensible person could any longer accept. Once a reasonable, everyday assumption has been unraveled, he offers, well, not much beyond vague aspirations and clumsy, inelegant myths. Sounds pretty goddamn familiar.