Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Best and the Brightest

Though it may not be evident to the reader, I do know that it is unseemly for me to protest too stridently that I am just as good as people who have achieved exponentially more worldly success than I have, and this does effect some restraint upon my writing. Still. my heart dies a little whenever I see Wall Street multimillionaires extolled as the best and brightest minds of my generation. That this frequently occurs in articles or other fora decrying the deprivation of all this dynamic talent from other fields such as the arts, academia, and even science, which have presumably been left with very little for themselves, rubs the wounds of failure that much harder. All I can say, since I personally seem incapable of either effectively combating the image of this as truth, putting some curb on these people's ability to amass such an extent of power and wealth within an evidently largely closed system, or to succeed to a comparable extent in some alternative system, is, I dearly hope it is not true.

I was re-reading some Plato lately--yes, it is ridiculous, especially as I seem to understand anything important about it less now than I did when I was twenty, though I still do not think reading it is completely valueless--and I was struck by a statement in the Republic in which Socrates (I assume) observes that the "best and strongest natures are most thoroughly corrupted in bad environments". I thought this might apply to certain aspects of the contemporary scene, where the perception among much of that part of the public that are not possessed of the best and strongest natures is that for a critical mass of their superiors life has gone beyond mere triumph and claiming the positions of leadership and wealth that are rightfully theirs, but of actively making life more unpleasant and unnecessarily difficult for everyone beneath them. I know this has been the case more or less in all times and all places, but the degree and kind of the pressure fluctuates in different eras, and it is my impression that currently we seem to be in a fairly severe downturn in the cycle, in which the brightest and strongest people, or those who are supposed to be they, are dissemenating very little in the way of joy, or optimism, or sense of shared humanity through the greater society, and are applying the hammer instead. I am probably more optimistic than most that the mood and tone of society, if not concrete economic and social conditions, will eventually improve from what they are today; while I don't see myself ever taking much of a part in that change, my children, if they live, will be able to pass much of their youth and young adulthood in, I hope, a more generally positive atmosphere than what I have perceived to be the norm in my own life. Properly, it seems one should take some delight in the most intelligent and energetic people, or at the least a good many of them-- else the alleged desirability of these qualities seems difficult to conceive; yet I find most of the people who are supposed to be the best educated to be nearly as dreary in personal intercourse as I am, which leads me to believe that something is missing.

Why are the strong so strong? What is the source and nature of this mental power? This is not a minor question, for whatever this quality is the lack of it not infrequently has the effect of rendering a human life in a post-religious society, in particular that of the male of the species, essentially worthless, whatever other positive qualities he may have. Not necessarily unpleasant or devoid of simple delights, but not usually, except in rare instances of unique talent, a life befitting a Man. This life properly demands a high, or at least comparatively high degree of testosterone combined with an equally virile and energetic intelligence, the two traits constantly feeding off of and amplifying their counterpart. Other than working harder and more purposefully than most people in our society have any idea how to go about doing, there seems to be little the person of mediocre mind can do to actually improve his intelligence; what seems to be hoped for in his case in that education will persuade him somewhat of the breadth of his limitations and he will defer more readily to those of greater understanding. It would seem that the testosterone deficiency could easily be cured by medical means, and that the general population would be pleased by this, as it hates languid and effeminate men, but the tendency to be over- and perhaps unnaturally aggressive seems as yet to outweigh any of the more positive effects of this treatment.

On Debt

I have to finish this post in the next 25 minutes--as well my 2-year old is refusing to take a nap--so I am going to truncate this section on debt in order to rush it to the press. In short, I have always for the most part been afraid of it, and have tried whenever possible to avoid it assiduously, and now I realize in middle age that that was in many ways as foolish as indulging every idle whim. When I think now of certain experiences I missed or places I did not go to or improvements to my appearance I neglected to undertake because I didn't have 50 or 100 dollars and I refused to even consider the possibility of enhancing my daily life through the power of credit, I wonder if it was really worth it. Men with high testosterone and self-regard do not let the lack of present funds get in the way of living, and they tend not to worry about or be much stressed by the consequences of being in or even defaulting on debt comparative to what I would be. The regrets I have in life are primarily the lack of interesting experiences and social interactions, and the failure to develop either proper adult talents or skills. Money obviously was not the only obstacle preventing me from attaining these things, but allowing myself a little wider vision (of that substitute for real money, credit) to operate in might have allowed for a little more expansion of life itself, wherein the world I inhabited was not such a pinched and constricted one, both of experience and possibility to generate income.

I also note that while I have at various times taken out loans, for college, cars, household necessities, etc, and while in the past especially this debt always weighed heavily on my mind and sense of possibility, the instant they were paid off all memories of the worry they caused me seemed to dissipate into nothing and seemed as if they never existed; yet as this worry was a dominant part of my life, the result is that it seems as if my life has consisted of very few actual episodes or events or periods even of fervent mental activity, spaced out at very long intervals.

Titles/Phrases Read in Youth That Stick in the Mind All Life Long

1. Ja, the Rebels Eat Babies

This was the title of Chapter 1 of Gettysburg from the 1950s Landmark series of children's history books. This expression pops into my head about once a week. The bit about eating babies referred to wartime propaganda, but I never figured out where the Ja came from.

2. You Can't Do Business With Hitler

This was the title of a Reader's Digest article from 1938 or thereabouts that had been ripped out of the magazine and stuffed into the pages of an old (but cheap) book I bought at a book barn in Bucks County, Pennsylvania when I was a teenage (circa 1985). I'm sure the article was ridiculous, but the title caused my grandfather, who rarely laughed at anything, no small amount of amusement for a few minutes, enough for the incident to be memorable more than 25 years later.

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