June 01, 2004

Two talks and one debate at least since the last time I mentioned any talk, on subjects ranging from a historically-contexted examination of cigarette marketing to globalisation to a proposal for local electoral reform (which cannot possibly succeed within its existing format, under any of the short-term governmental outcome possibilities of what has to be one of the most charismatically dull - because "safe" - elections I have ever observed), and at least three e-mails therefrom which require my writing. This time, the talks accomplished their described purpose (that of sweeping overview within a field), and the speakers approached their chosen subjects with the perspective that alternate approaches to their subject matter also had relevance. (In fact, at least one of the speakers only missed one direction of approach that I could identify, although of course there would have probably been others that I could not.)

Perhaps predictably, since the talks accomplished what they were intended to do, without artificially narrowing their scope but also without any gasping insights: I had very nearly missed saying anything about them at all ... and there might very easily be more talks of a similar nature which go unmentioned here. Basic competence, being neither blazing brilliance nor stunning refusal to stray a single step beyond the minimum necessary, very easily becomes socially invisible: perhaps, in politics and the routine majority among corporate jobs, a desired thing? After all, to be socially invisible can also mean to play it safe against the ever-present possibility of misstep.

The alternative is to risk displaying brilliance. But - although we seek authoritative leaders! people to make our decisions for us! - we tend not to be kind to those we feel to be outside our control. Our leaders must retain the image of being in charge of things, but we must retain the illusion of their accountability to us. Both being wisps of fog, neither holds the inherent potential for real change. Only inertia continues to pull forward along the railroad tracks ... and if the wind happens to deposit a piece of metal across the rails: derailment!

Wide open land all around, all kinds of ways around the obstacle which would render it irrelevant: but how can we even look out the windows to consider them until the way forward - the "only" possible way forward - has been utterly eliminated? Railroaded into a single, inertial image of social progress: what else but complete and irreparable derailment could challenge us into considering even a single, non-destructive alternative?

Smile of the day:

A few days after George W. Bush's inauguration, a man came up to the uniformed Marine on duty at the White House and said, "I would like to see President Clinton."

The Marine politely answered, "Sir, Mr. Clinton is no longer president."

The man said, "Oh, all right," and walked away.

The next day the Marine was again on duty, the same man approached and again asked to see President Clinton, the Marine again answered, "Sir, Mr. Clinton is no longer president," and the man again acknowledged and walked away.

The next day when the same man approached the same Marine and again asked to see President Clinton, the Marine, a little annoyed, said "Sir, I have told you, Mr. Clinton is no longer president. Don't you understand that?"

"Yes, I do," said the man, "but I just enjoy hearing it."

The Marine smiled. "See you tomorrow."

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