(and so the wheels start to come off)
By DAVID BROOKS In 1811, there was no anesthesia. In those days one either had surgery without--or died. The heroes of yore by necessity developed a chelonian shell. To prove this point, I knocked back a gin and tonic and gave myself a mastectomy. Heroically, not only did I have a full removal of my right breast, but moreover I had the courage to write about it.
And in doing so, I learned something fascinating--this isn't just a mental struggle but a head struggle as well. Because brain is inside of head. I realized that I would never be a person of character and courage if I did not write this up in a column for the Times (also I would never get paid for it--my editor is a bastard). And then very quickly go on national radio and television to talk about how important it is for us to find that humble yet courageous determination within us and thereby be able to go and talk about our moral humble yet courageous determination on radio and TV. How else would people know about it?
Heroic Functions (Not Pertaining To My Colon)
You may say, “Wow, this guy is some self-appointed guardian of virtue who is able to criticize anyone and everyone except himself, and therefore in all likelihood the worst kind of hypocrite,” but what? You’re wrong. (Asshole.) It's simply of function of my moral-humble-courageous-determination accompanied by gritted teeth. A heroic function.
My struggle reminds me of me and my character: It is not only mental, it is also head-al. Heroism exists not only on the battlefield or in me cashing my paycheck or racking up book sales but is also brain-al, in the ability to face unpleasant thoughts--specifically, unpleasant thoughts about what's wrong with America and why they're not doing as I've told them--and how they just seem to ignore my tooth-gritting-heroic-yet-humble-but-still-courageous-determination.
In the past, you see, Americans lived at a time when people were more conscious of the fallen nature of men and women. Yes things fell, dear reader, and in ways much worse than sagging genitalia.
People were held to be inherently sinful, and to be a decent person one had to struggle against one’s weaknesses.
(This did not include weaknesses such as the desire to own other human beings as slaves or use them for sex or go Rwanda on aborigines--that was just business.)
This meant conquering mental laziness with arduous and sometimes numbingly boring lessons (no doubt Science by now has will very soon have demonstrated that boredom makes us better people). It meant conquering frivolity by sitting through earnest sermons and speeches--or memorizing the Koran.
Singing, dancing, flying kites, and worst of all, spontaneous hand-clapping are all to be frowned upon. Whistling and blowing into an empty wine jug, although not necessarily desirable or capable of leading to our self-betterment, are probably not detrimental and moreover not mentioned in any religious text I know of.
But I digress: People who write sermons (and otherwise make a living by boring the shit out of everyone) have studied some religious text, and therefore are quite capable of telling others how to live, even in an era when everyone could read aforementioned texts if they cared to do so.
A Matter of Character
We must conquer our modern selfish self-approval by staring straight at what is painful. For example, I have to twist logic into pretzels that would consternate the most avid yogi to prove that Dubya was a great president--not because he did anything right—oh no, my friends, greatness does not arise from success—it was because he had a little thing I call character. The character to make bad decisions with terrible timing; the character to not do anything in a crisis; the character to go on a vacation of mountain-biking and working out in his private gym, regardless of those who thought he should be working (except when he did work it was usually a disaster but see previous comment about character); the character to decide to invade Falluja on a whim and then uninvade Falluja; and then the character to invade Falluja again; and the character to courage to fly over New Orleans; the character to follow the blunderings of his own massive ego and continue the war in Iraq and insist that it’s going great, year in and year out, until it wasn’t; the character to make the same mistakes, over and over and over, no matter what his critics said.
And in this character we can see courage: The courage to lay waste to so many human lives, devastating so many hopes and dreams, snuffing out entire families, even--all the while exhibiting the compassion of a dim-witted mastodon humming a showtune while blithely crushing a litter of baby mice beneath its left forefoot.
But times have changed. Shrubya is gone now. Character is gone. Morality is dead. There’s less talk of sin and more talk about why God created a universe in which everyone wants to sin--and then abdicated responsibility for the whole durn thing (which plainly makes no sense whatsoever).
Fortunately, I am here--here to fill that gap--that gap between you, your lazy flabby moral fitness, and God and the self-loathing He wants for you to have. But our lazy/flabby/self-loving culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness. And that, oh gentle-yet-disgustingly-morally-flabby reader, is why He put me here: To judge you.
The resultant mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable. After all, he only made six years of terrible decisions and the American public really stopped caring years before the surge, after being told we were constantly winning, and then it turned out that we were neither winning nor losing, and then it turned out that we were winning so that we could leave Iraq and leave them to start bombing each other all over again, and their so -called leaders have about as much chance of getting along as two ethnically-un-diverse prison gangs vying for control of the heroin distribution in Cell Block C...or that the plan was never Bush's in the first place, or that Bush himself realized only too late that he had given control of his foreign policy to a neo-imperialist with absolutely no respect for human rights whatsoever. If this isn't liberal flabbiness, what is it? Could I have been wrong? Please--when have I ever been wrong. I mean, I write for the NY Times...so that's pretty goddamn unlikely. To use a fancy word, there’s a metacognition deficit--but it's not in me. It's in YOU.
You're welcome, America.
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