Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"I'd like to go on record as saying that........."

Nada Surf--"Enjoy The Silence" (mp3)

No, you wouldn't.

You actually would rather not say anything at all. You would actually rather not get involved. You might figure out something that you might have said, but only in your brain, and it's not going to go much farther than that. Why is that?

Whether we're talking about something as grand as participating in a real public protest or as insignificant as posting on this blog, you really would prefer not to go on record. You don't want to be held accountable for what you believe, especially if it is to be recorded or written down for posterity. Then someone might hold you to it or might judge you for it or just plain pin you down.

Whether we're talking about what you do or don't like about your job or your circumstances, whether we're looking at the country or the government, you don't want to be seen as an irritant or a troublemaker or a rabblerouser or a flat-out pain in the ass.

Although, apparently, if someone called you on the phone, someone who sounded official and anonymous and who needed your response in order to tally up the statistics for a poll, then you would probably say what you thought. You wouldn't volunteer it exactly, but if given a series of options, some choices, some prefab answers to a generic question, you would pick one. And no one would know that it was you, hidden as you would be among the percentages that make this country great, that establish patterns and create trends with no one really having to risk anything.

If you could get out on the street beneath the cameras that are everywhere, where no one could see you, would you write what you believe on walls and bathroom stalls? Do big words on bigger walls give you enough space to say?

Or you might join a group that has a batch of values that you can jump into and swim around in some kind of collective rage about some selfish cause like your own supposedly-miserable circumstances? Believe me, it's been done, is being done right now, by people who think it's important to protest about money. As a great man once said, "I look out, and I see a crowd of people waving placards with dollar signs on them, and they are all invisible to me."

John's post from yesterday used one of the favorite quotations we like to utter from time to time: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Thoreau was onto something there, wasn't he? But what I never thought about until now is, why? Why do the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation? Why is their desperation quiet? The answer, as you well know and I am just figuring out, is contained within the quotation itself: because they are in a mass, and because they are quiet.

The mass of men (and women, for sure) lead lives of timid rage. The mass of men lead lives of unspoken realities. The mass of men lead lives of ridiculous subservience. The mass of men lead lives of detached democracy. The mass of men lead lives of alcohol-curbed disgust. The mass of men lead lives of impotent inaction. The mass of men lead lives of...........Thoreau said it best...........quiet desperation.

We like to utter it because it is phrased in such a way that it allows all of us to say it aloud and, therefore, be a part of the "we," and not a part of the "them," that quiet, desperate mass. We can look out of our windows and see them, in our minds, shuffling past, while we, heads held high, live lives of boisterous satisfaction!

But the population explodes, the world shrinks, and that mass of men out there threatens to subsume us all like the monster in The Thing. And while you pretend to progress meaningfully in your cliquish mini-societies, even there you will hardly speak a meaningful word, for fear of offending or confronting or facing down a bully or questioning a friend's ethics, and so, slowly, ever so slowly, you becomes we, we becomes me.

The third photo, by the way, is there to reflect my admiration for Mr. Danny Glover's willingness to be arrested as part of a protest against Sodexho.


Anonymous said...

You're a teacher, right? At a nice school? If so, do you and the other teachers do anything that might teach kids to be anything more than quietly desperate (but successful!) in 20 years? Could you or others do a better job than you are now?

Just curious.

Bob said...

Interesting questions (posed anonymously, of course). The short answer: we try to get them to look beyond money, to serve others, to be sensitive, but,of course, we could do better with that, though to really do that would require a cultural change that none of us are willing to undertake, you know?

Thom Anon said...

Not that Bob needs any defendin', but as a product of his efforts and those of many of his fellow teachers, here I am 20 years later not giving much of a damn about money and each day doing my level best to stand up for what I believe.

Thanks for that, by the way.