Tuesday, November 29, 2011

refrigerator magnets

Somewhat to my chagrin, I got an almost instantaneous acceptance yesterday from the local newspaper of a short article I had written. It was a piece of fluff and I don't get paid for it, but I had cobbled it together in about an hour and was surprised at so swift a response.

The article was about the wit and wisdom of refrigerator magnets ... and by extension the pithy refrigerator magnets of the mind. It was just an observation about the sound bites of wisdom that anyone might collect and then use as guide posts or excuses for the way in which they controlled and led their lives. "A stitch in time saves nine," "If someone offers you something for 'free,' grab your wallet," "Man without God is like a fish without a bicycle" etc.

The article was fun to do in the sense that I could dredge up some of my favorites and those favorites served as a skeleton upon which to fashion the article. But I was also mildly embarrassed: Quoting others as a means of supporting my own points strikes me as both common and vaguely slimy. It is common in the sense that 'everybody does it' -- adducing evidence and support from others as a means of buttressing and perhaps elevating 'my' stock. But it is slimy in the sense that 'my' arguments are devalued: What's the matter with saying, "I think" or "I believe" and letting others draw their own conclusions? The answer is that those advancing the arguments are afraid no one will listen to them ... and they are probably right: My opinion is just my opinion just as your opinion is yours.

My mother gave up writing magazine articles in the 1950's because it was just about then that the publications she submitted to decided that arguments needed to be footnoted. "According to" or "as leading expert Joe Bumfuck said" became the norm. She had grown up in an era when writers could make whatever argument they liked and, assuming that argument was in some way cogent, readers would be left to decide whether they agreed or not. It was a time of reality and responsibility. But then the 'experts' were introduced with no investigation of whether those experts had any more honest credibility than Joe Bumfuck. It was an implicit suggestion that if a large enough segment of society agreed with something, it was therefore true.

I dislike riding the horse of another and therefore felt a bit slimy resting my fluff-article's case on the wit and wisdom of others. The article was not profound or serious, but still, I dislike the framework in general. If no one listens, well, no one listens: That doesn't change my view unless I choose to change it. If the Catholic Church or Buddha or Barack Obama or Albert Einstein or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says so, does that make my life any more or less credibly uncertain? Will I be better thought of if I use the technique? Does being well-thought-of really provide a relaxed and peaceful life? For fools, I imagine the answer is yes.

But I dislike being a fool. I already have enough evidence that being a fool is pretty thin when it comes to providing a relaxed and peaceful life. Better anonymity than the applause of others.

PS. Here's the article as it appeared, badly copy-edited, in the local paper on Nov. 30, 2011.

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