Social media affords all of us the luxury to express positions—sometimes strong positions—to a partially captive group of dozens to hundreds (or more) individuals on a whim—something only priests and presidents, if they were lucky, had the privilege of doing a century ago. And whether one considers the reactions of their interlocutors (both real and imaginary) in these exchanges to be fair or justified does not change what they, in fact, are. It is extremely, often frustratingly, maddeningly, stupefyingly difficult to get anyone to consider a dissenting point of view; to change one’s mind is nigh impossible. But to help someone reify their priors, unintentionally, is all too easy. No matter how righteous the cause or aims, blunt objects are unreliable weapons, and outcomes contradict intentions with frightening regularity.
Given that, it seems worth considering, before fighting fire with low-cost signaling, the individuals with the forbearance to defend a position peacefully and rationally—nudging it along with measured reason and well-crafted incentives, often with more tangible risk facing back at them—and how, ultimately, those signals could undermine the hard-earned incremental gains made by others. This isn’t to say that all reactions to strong signals are countervalent, nor is catalysis a total unicorn. Just where the balance lies, however, is hard to say, and the sooner we see more serious effort into quantifying the net effects, the better.
I count myself among those inclined to be swayed by the forceful, contrarian, and radical—not always for the better, mind you—but bludgeons seem only effective when the idea is novel or scarcely considered prior. More often, our views are like cooling wrought iron—hot and pliable upon initial consideration but more rigid with every further rumination until nothing short of a spiritual epiphany or life-disrupting event can make it warm again, and the more we feel we personally have at stake in a matter, the more we’re inclined to consider it through the lens of our self-interest. Subjects like nationalism, race, and gender receive great consideration early on in our lives, gaining even greater share of our consciousness as we become adults. By the time we’re rent-paying, procreating adults, the thought that we can bash someone’s gargoyle into a lovely meadowlark is a great way to break the hammer; at best you might get the wings to look okay, but security will come turn the hose on you before you can finish anyway.
All this is to say that there are ways to nudge humanity toward better behavior, though few measure up to attrition. This is why “hook ‘em young” remains the surest strategy for teachers, evangelists, environmentalists, and advertisers alike. However, browbeating recalcitrant adults with jarring positions is, more often than not, a super-ratchet up the crazy pole.
Consumer choice is, ceteris paribus, a good thing, though it too often competes with sustainability and public health, making it less of a good thing. Thus on the one hand, kudos to Chipotle for expanding consumer choice by providing diners a GMO-free option among the lot of chain establishments and in the process, ostensibly providing a healthier and more sustainable alternative to the norm. On the other hand, curse Chipotle for validating naturalist, anti-corporatist agitprop and catering to the essentialistic sensibilities of brainwashed wackos.
So lemme backtrack a bit. There are certainly valid reasons to be cautious in regard to GMOs—golden rice is but one glimmering success; fuck ups, too, will happen—but I’m not interested in rehashing them here. Let me say, however, that “They’re banned in Europe” and “I heard the scientists at Monsanto won’t eat in their cafeteria!” are not among them. Enter popular burrito-maker’s hard-line stance, and I’m afraid “They won’t serve them at Chipotle” becomes another arrow in that same quiver.
The problem with Chipotle’s new policy is the same one raised by the rest of the GMO labeling and prohibition movement—that is, it seeks to render a thorny-among-thorny area of scientific discovery as monolithic. When the perceived vanguard of conscientious food-made-fast puts a full moratorium on them, the reverse-halo around* GMOs will only glow brighter**, regardless of what the literature says.
*Do reverse halos encircle? Maybe they embed.
**But certainly they wouldn’t glow, would they?
Now here’s the part of the post where I confess that I’m neither an expert in genetics nor in agriculture nor in nutrition, and thus my opinion is approximately worthless. (Read all this, and you’ll know roughly as much as I do.) However, one field where I can claim some modicum of expertise is water resources, and it is by that spirit of essentialism that effluent reuse gets branded “toilet-to-tap” and shot down by water utilities and city commissioners, much to the detriment of the hydrological cycle and all who depend on it. Why? Because river water good; toilet water icky.
Asymmetrical expertise aside, I’m pretty certain that water quality metrics are far easier to measure and quantify than sustainability metrics, which makes the analogy all the more discouraging, and the science of nutrition is even flakier yet. Adherents to this-or-that “lifestyle” very often do resemble zealots of other stripes, and as someone who’s spent a substantial portion of his adult life managing some variant of eating disorder, I’m all too aware of both the allure and the wickedness of the valuation-by-categorization approach to subsistence. That’s not to say nutritional wisdom is all doctrine and neurosis, just… a lot of it might be, and we should be very, very skeptical of any claims regarding the effects of GMOs on our bodies when we can scarcely narrow down which foods—GMO or not—might give us and/or prevent cancer.
Which brings us back to thorniness and the fact that some applications of genetic modification do, can, or will, in fact, promote sustainability and health, and by shunning GMOs wholesale, Chipotle is taking a stand for essentialism over empricism. As an observer, one has to question their motives, and the CEO makes it rather easy, more or less providing the answer (loosely translated), “I know this is bullshit, but it’s what our customers want.”
On the spectrum of bad reasons to argue a point, “They’re just out to make a buck” is roughly a notch below “They ban it in Europe” and maybe one ahead of “I heard it from my friend Steve”, so let me be clear that I don’t consider Chipotle’s profit motive a grounds on which to judge dissonance in their business ethics. I mention this angle, however, to make the bland and uncontroversial point that Chipotle is merely reading a trend and needing to placate a loyal and vocal subset of its customer base–one that tends to conflate the concepts of cruelty-free, organic, healthy, sustainable, and GMO-free.
Is that a good thing? Again, hooray for consumer choice. But I do genuinely worry that we’re on the road toward GMO prohibition in the U.S. and E.U., if not globally. And while GM may not hold the great panacea to end all scarcity, there’s no reason to deprive it of that chance. Chipotle’s moratorium alone can’t and won’t unify public opinion in opposition to GMO; on the other hand, it’s certainly a data point in that direction.
This is “Jackals.” I originally wrote this on the piano, and it was bouncier and not quite as fast. What piano remains is the best of that effort, but really, this was meant to be a punk song. My brother ran with that and added the drums, guitar, and bass. Vocals are a combined effort.
This is “Creative Destruction.” Lyrically, I was trying to write a Talking Heads song, and musically, a Pixies song. I wrote the skeleton on piano, but my brother gave it more appropriate instrumentation.
For the second time in my life, I’ve been called out by my loyal reader, singular, in the dormant comment thread of a “final” post for committing silent, anti-climactic blogger suicide without so much as a goodbye. And while I wouldn’t count on pre-takeover Yellow Chair Sports ever coming back, I would not write this space off as dead quite yet.
I’ve made attempts to blog since my last post—lord knows Toto is no one’s ideal parting shot—and maybe one of these days I’ll make an incoherent textual collage out of my dozens of half-finished drafts. In the meantime, I will use this space to share some videos with those of you who, despite the neglect, still subscribe to this blog and whom I haven’t already sent these videos to via personal email.
The videos are the fulfillment of my brother’s and my desire to purge our brains of songs we’ve written through the years before career demands and child-rearing responsibilities preclude it forever. (This will happen rather soon.)
Yes, I too “truly dig this”—without irony; without reservation—just as I truly dig the original version of “Africa” by Toto. Why? Because the absurdity of a 27 year-old enjoying a 30 year-old arena rock ballad is just too damned funny to keep to myself? Of course not! No one likes anything for that reason. I like the song “Africa” because its sounds are pleasing to my ears and associated brain receptors. That is how music is enjoyed. To like ironically is impossible. So why the qualifiers?
“In the 70s, no one would admit that they liked Abba. Now it’s fine. It’s so kitsch. Kitsch is an excuse to defend the fact that they feel a common emotion. If it is kitsch. you put a sort of frame around something – to suggest you are being ironic. Actually, you aren’t. You are really enjoying it. I like Abba. I did then and I didn’t admit it. The snobbery of the time wouldn’t allow it.
I think there’s also another element. By the time we reach adulthood, our preferences have mostly crystalized. On top of that, we’re so wearied from resolving conflicts that we fear drawing attention to interpersonal differences in preference for worry that it will lead to another exhausting disagreement. Earnestness is an invitation to argument, and argument gets us nowhere. So let’s just say I may or may not like this, but if I do like it, I don’t like it in any serious way that could oppose your dislike of it. Now let’s talk about something we know we both enjoy, or better yet, hate!
Perhaps it’s just a function of my age, but it seems that the capacity for simple enjoyment is under constant assault. It’s unacceptable to like something without apologizing, rationalizing, equivocating, stipulating, or—to the other extreme—fetishizing the fun right out of the very thing we enjoy. In this respect, we deserve our own misery. So please—just enjoy stuff, okay? You don’t have to tuck it under your shirt, and you don’t need to paint your chest with it either. It’s there; it’s a part of you, not all of you; you’re fine; I won’t judge you. Promise.
[One more post, and then I will shut up. Promise.]
If I didn’t already suspect it, Sunday night convinced me that much (not all—please note this subtle distinction) of the nonviolent and anti-war sentiment expressed by the left over the last ten years was team spirit—proof of membership more than principle, preening more than pacifism. Underneath the talk, they, like their flag-waving adversaries, always yearned for that feeling of victory—not just to be a victor but a righteous victor—and bin Laden’s murder was the first militaristic act in ages to clear the bar. The tolerance for destruction was always there, only with a stricter standard for what is righteous.
That isn’t to say I advocate extreme pacifism—I like to believe I do, but I don’t think it would hold up to an onslaught of counterexamples and hypotheticals—nor am I against preening. After all, it’s a principal reason why we express beliefs in the first place (consider this post a case in point), and rallies are great places to meet chicks. I would just like to hear more lefties admit that because pacifism doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to fake. Green living makes pretty plumage, but war is serious shit.
If you’re curious how I can admonish the celebration in one breath and defend Rashard Mendenhall’s 9/11 conspiracy talk in the next without being a hypocrite, I can’t, and I don’t. That’s the consequence of writing from a voice, as opposed to my voice. As I mentioned in a previous comment, Median Disposition Vinnie is a bore—always equivocating, never taking a stand. Instead (how to say this without sounding crazy…) I mine the voices in my head (…probably not that, but I’ll go with it) for the one that’s feeling ignored and let him speak. Monday’s cap was a victim’s lover, a pacifist, furious and stupefied that a violent act inseparable from the one that took my friend’s life could send the masses into full pep-rally without pause for how that might tear me apart. No, I am not this person; I don’t know this person; but I am fairly certain this person exists. If I had more restraint and humility, I would know their voice gets heard without my intervention, but I don’t. It’s misleading, patronizing, probably useless, but it’s what I do.
Maybe Rashard Mendenhall was a fool for saying some of the things he did. I don’t believe that, but I can understand why people would, especially those reacting to the conspiracy theories. Still, what I don’t understand, what I can’t seem to get over, even four days later is this: A destructive act, one in a long series, committed as retribution for even more destructive acts was cause for celebration, and only those who questioned the celebration were expected to defend their reactions. Even Median Disposition Vinnie can tell you that’s fucked up.
Athletes are paid exist to run fast and avoid getting injured. Rashard Mendenhall was wrong to advocate nonviolence say something unpopular. Rashard Mendenhall should apologize for yesterday’s tweets having opinions. Rashard Mendenhall should be denied access to a keyboard his own thoughts.
I expected my muted, somewhat sheepish reaction last night to be a place-holder for a nasty, anti-jingoistic rant, but now that the steam has cooled, that rant no longer seems necessary, appropriate, or heartfelt.
I would, though, like to clarify that I meant no disrespect by my un-celebratory mood; I genuinely don’t understand the cause for celebration. I would attribute this partly to an anti-celebratory bias; saying that I don’t like to celebrate my birthday wasn’t just meant to be cute. In my mind, all celebration is tempered by duty and doubt and tinged with pessimism—after all, the next inflection point is invariably a trough—and at that point, there’s not much room left for catharsis.
To celebrate “righting” a tremendous amount of destruction without any hope of undoing a single iota of that destruction is—in my book—no celebration at all. The act of retaliation was itself another act of destruction—small, perhaps, by comparison to the act being retaliated and arguably instrumental toward prevention of further destruction (not my point to debate)—but it was nonetheless destructive. Because the initial act of destruction is not only part cause but the effective reason for the smaller destructive act, I consider the two inseparable; celebrating the latter necessarily celebrates the former to some degree, or outright ignores it.
You may disagree with that logic, and I suppose you could argue the same if, say, tomorrow we found a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. And while I don’t deny that this would be fantastic news, I’m not sure how heartily I could celebrate that either. The undoable destruction would leave me at least a little pensive, if overwhelmingly hopeful.
What happened last night, though, was an appalling end to an appalling series of events instigated and escalated by appallingly destructive human choices. To celebrate it like the birth of a first child is not just reckless but, I think, perverse. I apologize if this sounds like obnoxious finger-wagging, but honestly, that’s what it’s meant to be.
It’s quite possible—some would say likely—that civilized human society and the very continuation of our species is more imperiled than most of us come close to acknowledging. I hope it wouldn’t take our collective demise to regret past celebrations of human destruction, but if seeing three countries in less than two years nearly obliterated by natural disaster hasn’t reformed us, I don’t see many other possibilities.
Then again, I don’t like celebrating my birthday either. I guess it’s possible we’ll get the day off work from now on, so there’s that. I don’t have much else. Seems like I picked the right night to turn in at 9:30.