Wednesday, September 02, 2009

YouTube Wednesday:

The Importance of Living

CARPE DIEM. Much as I respect him, my friend InstaPunk is sometimes too abrupt and dismissive. He overlooks points that should be addressed because they seem peripheral or silly to him although they really aren't to others. This happened the other day when IP linked a Metalkort post about hockey, noting to one of our smartest commenters, Billy Oblivion, that sports could be "transcendant," which prompted Billy to reply thus:

There might be something transcendent about playing sports, but I can't (note *I*) can't find much of interest in *spectating*.

Of course, as may be clear I'm not big on the whole "transcendent thing". I just don't get it. This could be because I'm probably not neurotypical.

There are a lot of borderline sports I enjoy participating in, including bicycling and nordic skiing, and I really do enjoy *participating* in them. Can't sit still to watch them for very long though. And certainly can't be bothered to get involved in the cult-of-personality that is modern professional athletics.

Oh, and of course shooting. I can't wait to get back to the states so I can play with my guns again. Being that I'm in a war zone the military won't let me have one.

And I like running, or at least I did until it started hurting too much.

I just don't get watching.

IP responded by comparing Billy to Marvin the Robot (see clip above) and disinviting him to this year's Super Bowl Party, which drew a further objection:

But this IS fun.

I'm watching my country (and my childrens future) spin down the drain while a bunch of people are standing on lip of the sink yelling "Go Back Go Back", and a much MUCH smaller number are down there in [the] vortex trying to change things.

So if I sound Marvin when I write it's at least partially a function of where I'm at, and partially a function of having a brain the size of the universe and seeing no way out of the mess we're in.

I would much rather teach my daughter history and math and writing than teach her how to corn gun powder and improvise first aid and medical supplies.

Malthus was a dick, and his disciples are hell bent on making it happen.

At which point IP riposted with a quip (admittedly irresistible) about "a brain the size of the universe" and exited left (pursued, no doubt, by bearBilly's brain).

I'm not content to leave it there. Yes, Billy's in a war zone, for which he has our admiration, but that also gives him a specific gravity that other readers might find more compelling than it should be. Is Marvin's really the mood we should all be in, especially given that many of us are forced by day-to-day circumstance to remain on the "lip of the sink" rather than down in "the vortex" where Billy implies every one of us should be?

I don't think so. And I don't think you should think so, either. If the vortex is as strong as Billy (and others, including IP) believe it is, we'll all be drawn into it eventually. Should we fight it? Yes, of course. But that doesn't mean we have to be continuously grim until the day it sucks us finally down the drain. There's a huge difference between whistling past the graveyard and holding a defiant garden party in the graveyard. The former is denial. The latter is the highest form of resistance. It affirms the vitality that will not be defeated by the mere proximity of death.

I don't think anyone here is in denial. We have been, posters and commenters alike, plainspoken about the nature of the threat to our way of life. But, as Hemingway observed, it's possible to be serious without being solemn. We know what's going on. That most assuredly does not mean that we're required to abandon the living of our lives in favor of constant grousing about the worst things that could happen. That's its own flavor of submission and defeat. Let us weep and wail about all the terrible things that might happen while our own misery accelerates the arrival of the inevitable catastrophe.

That's fucking bullshit. As is Billy's distinction between "playing" and "watching." Every life includes plenty of both. Hell, we're all players in dozens of ways. We go to work, we discharge our professional and personal responsibilities, we look after our families, we labor to keep house and home together because these are our primary fields of battle. And we also "spectate" at the endeavours and accomplishments of others. We do that when we read a book, listen to a song, watch our children play Little League baseball, pay attention to political events that affect us, and invest our enthusiasm in sports or other subjects that inflame our curiosity and passion. Should we stop investing our enthusiasm in such things when there's a storm on the horizon? Or should we take all the more pleasure in them because there's a storm on the horizon and moments matter and life is short? Did Winston Churchill give up grinning while Hitler's Nazis closed in on Britain in 1940? No. Did he give up following Harrow's cricket season? I don't know, but I know how I'd bet.

The human record is legion on this question. People survive terrible times precisely because they have the ability to keep on living life in the face of crushing threats that by any rational measure should plunge them into doleful misanthropy. Curiously, what Billy seems to be interpreting as denial is exactly what we wind up celebrating most in the human spirit.

Herewith, today's YouTubes:

First, a fictional American entry that has nevertheless become a classic portrayal of what's called "grace under pressure."

[I could also give you the movie version of M*A*S*H as an example of necessary insanity. But I won't. It's too close and obvious an example. Football! Humor! Shit like that.]

How did the Brits who weren't Winston Churchill behave at the lip of the sink while they waited to be drawn into the Nazi vortex? Well, they didn't just sit there muttering...

You want reality? Tell me why people still read (uh, spectate at) The Diary of Anne Frank? Because right up to the moment of cataclysm, she was living her life. And that's her revenge on the people who murdered her.

And for a final example, what we have elsewhere described as one of the best film treatments of the holocaust, a movie that depicts popular culture as a heroic resistance from the lip of the sink, even as the vortex is strengthening and claiming its casualties. But the lip of the sink has its own invaluable role to play.

I sympathizeempathize with Billy's depression. I would have answered his comment differently. When he said this...

I would much rather teach my daughter history and math and writing than teach her how to corn gun powder and improvise first aid and medical supplies.

...I would have said this...

If you teach her both, she'll be more alive than she'd be in a world where only the first set of subjects was necessary. Rejoice for her. She will have a full life, however long or short it is in years. If you measure it otherwise, the totalitarians have already won.

It's what I'd say to all of you, too. If anybody asked. Which, to be honest, they haven't. And so I laugh at myself for my pretensions. A pretty good response to feeling so serious so much of the time, if I do say so myself. Anybody else feel that way?

P.S. As I reread Billy's comments, I realize that I have probably just branded myself as "neurotypical." My apologies to all those of you who aren't.

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