Light anecdote. So the other day I was visiting a friend who came into town. After I spent some time with her I tagged along to someone else’s house to pre-game (for those who don’t know this refers to the act of drinking before drinking in order to make any large party make any sense whatsoever (many of you probably know I never actually go to the “game” because I can never make it make any sense whatsoever)). Not long after I got there, a trio of freshman boys arrived with cases of alcohol. They probably got it from an older friend of theirs. His name is probably Todd. (I should note that the group of girls I was with are very attractive and likely won’t need to buy their own alcohol for years. They’ve got the game down.) When one girl observed how much they brought, a child sporting a chin strap and a neon green hat with “RAGE” written in impact font in all caps responded in the most appropriate voice, “Yeah, and we’ve got a hundred dollars worth of more alcohol coming later.” I immediately jumped into the exchange asking, “What does your dad do?” If he knew what I was actually saying, he did a great job of hiding it, because he replied with, “a contractor for something something incorporated” without missing a beat. I’m fairly confident that everyone else in the room did get how dickish I was being. My mind was giving all sorts of high fives to my tongue.
Overview. I like most other people would admit that I’m not fond of assholes. I think that asshole behavior should be recognized, evaluated, critiqued and made fun of in order to encourage better behavior that has more compassionate regard for human beings. In this way I’m a critical person. I’ll watch most movies looking for themes and originality and cross-reference with what I’ve already seen, I’ll reply to Facebook posts if I find the point mean, I’ll think at times when others may find that annoying, I’ll write essays about assholes, I’ll think in lists like these, and so on. Yet one of the pitfalls of being critical is that you run the risk of being judgmental, that you distribute your critique based solely on a higher moral ground, not considering the situations and experiences of others, that people may be different, that you may be wrong. In other words, people who critique just become assholes themselves. This is why there is such a disdain for movie critics, atheists, and anchors not on Fox News. So many think, “Who are you to tell me how to think? How to live?” Critique is a very personal invasion in that is forces us to evaluate that, and because it asks these very close questions, the critic is constantly at risk of bullying, even if not intended.
Conflict. This terrifies me because I hate bullies more than I do assholes. I define assholes as people who simply think of themselves before others, in effect hurting others due to their lack of regard. I think we all do this, but at wildly varying degrees. Bullies are worse than that. Bullies are people who’re either gifted with attention or deprived of it and first become an asshole. But, they take the extra step to learn how to abuse that attention (or lack thereof) in order to mistreat others. There’s a bubble of confidence and comfort (or lack thereof) that comes with being a bully. It’s a kind of bad learning that we should teach better.
Aside. Ok, so the thing about me defining stuff is that it makes me sound like I got a firm grasp on all of this when I really don’t. These are all malleable terms that if I ever stop reevaluating and figuring out then I’m all the more likely to be an asshole. I have been an asshole. I have been a bully.
Context. Part of growing up sucked for me because of assholes and bullies. Growing up I felt like an outcast that had a harder time experiencing things that other kids did with ease. I felt I had to always be proving my intelligence because I didn’t do the best on those tests that chose what classes you could be in and that made me feel inferior. I would joke because the alternative was despair, despair felt from people who were better at being mean and getting dates and starting false rumors about me, people who took advantage of my disadvantage. This has left an indelible scar I’m trying to make serviceable. Because of this I have a certain affinity for those with similar scars, those who’re informed of what they can’t do. I try to keep those people close to me and some of my other friends have a hard time understanding why.
Revisiting. I’m still not sure if it was right to act how I did towards the kid in the neon RAGE hat. He might be a great guy, but I reserve the right to assume it’s more likely that he’s just some young punk trying to get his dick wet. I believe in critique, but I also realize that hate breeds hate, a bully of bullies is still a bully, and ridicule without consequence serves nobody but the critic, but perhaps now you realize why I feel so strongly about this (because of that whole context part).
Recognition. I get why some people find critique exhausting, though I think it’s because they simply confuse it with mere judgment and aren’t comfortable having their lifestyles critiqued. This is what I enjoy about stand-up comedy, particularly live. To me there are few things more beautiful than your most intimate beliefs challenged and evaluated by a charged wit and loosed mouth behind a microphone. Stand up comics get more done with that than modern philosophers do with their degrees, than I do with my stupid blog.
Self-reflection. I started writing this essay believing I would never publish it because I didn’t think doing so would convince anyone who didn’t already agree with me (this happens every so often). It wasn’t until the revelatory ending I’m about to write that I even fully believed what I was saying. Revelatory endings are like that.
Extrapolation. I believe that thought can make what we do better, yield us kinder and more compassionate people, aware and unfettered by impulse, bullies, and those who do not represent the truth. I believe that truth is nourishing and should be a constant. I believe a part of that constant is that people should be respected and treated without criteria.
Continuation. If this sounds like I’m standing on a soapbox on top of a mountain I would agree with you without moving my head very much, though I may debate the altitude of the mountain in question. This all may not convince anyone, but for whatever reason I would like it to known that this drives every single thing that I do.
Application. And while this all sounds sweeping, the kind of things you only recognize at the tops of mountains, I feel it influences all the meaningless stuff we do: how we look at strangers, how we observe, the kinds of jokes we make, how we comment online, how confident we feel in public, how much milk we drink out of the fridge. I think the world could be a better place if we were. I don’t think being critical is about trying to do everything right all the time or even feeling that you are doing everything right all the time, but about honestly measuring how much we all take away and provide.