Yes, I Am Embarrassing

Yes, I know I am embarrassing. I make no apology.

I used to feel that way about my father, sometimes, when I was a teenager. But, that was more my own awkwardness and insecurity, cringing when papa was playfully extroverted in mixed company. He was never crude nor boorish, to require such embarrassment on my part, but knowing him so well and, as it were, seeing through his public affability, I reacted to his mild put-ons as if I had a more sophisticated understanding into social engagement than he did. Now that I am older than he was then, I know better, and I am shamelessly embarrassing. I’ll tell you why.

From my earliest days, I realized that people, generally, are very inattentive; in a word: unaware. They amble blithely in their personal little bubbles oblivious to all that lies outside them. They babble loudly in their little groups in cafés without any thought to disturbing the people around them. They drive their cars with minimal notice of traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians. They have an unfailing ability to not-notice you if they are waiting tables or behind a counter you are in line in front of. There are just an uncountable number of ways that people can not-see, not-hear, not-notice and not-know. Of course, sometimes this not-noticing is intentional, arising from laziness, envy, fear or hostility. But, most of the time is it just simple mindlessness.

Because of the commonness of human narrow-view, short-focus bubble-vision, coupled with perceptual insensitivity, communications are often garbled, incomplete, misdirected, mistimed and ineffective. Who is without complaint on this score, whether at work, at school, among family and friends, and out and about in public?

So, I have learned that it is necessary to be quite redundant in my verbal and written communications. This was especially true in all my attempts to teach in schools. To assume that people will listen and read carefully is sheer folly. By the way, the adults in schools: teachers and administrators, are equally deficient in this regard as are their students. Just ask students how many of their homework assignments have been lost by their teachers, and how often their grading reports have been late, erroneous or missing. So much for teaching by example. But, I digress.

In brief, repetition is the essence of pedagogy. Repetition is the unavoidable necessity of successful communication. So, when I want to ensure that my message is received by another consciousness, I repeat myself: in the speaking of the message, in the writing of the message, and in the repeated sending of the message.

Those who notice this repetition easily form the impression that I am “old,” and even “dumb.” Family and friends who observe all this can then feel embarrassed by old, unsophisticated papa. But, I have made the calculation that it is acceptable to be taken for a bit of a clown if that ensures that the messages I care about have been effectively transmitted.

The messages I care about are those that will make for better lives for my children, and also all children; even though I think most American kids (and adults) are spoiled brats. But, “man is a social animal” (as Aristotle said), and the second best way to ensure a good future for my children is to advocate for a just and peaceful society, of benefit to everyone. This motivation has led me to advocate for social democratic (left wing!) political causes and candidates for public office. My advocacy is quite limited, since I have no talent for politics, no talent for persuasiveness, nor affinity for civic affairs, do-gooderism, joining groups, or just getting on with people generally. I prefer working on my own projects, reading my books, doing my music, playing with my equations, and enjoying wandering through my own daydreams and ideas.

So, my advocacy boils down to writing essays and rants that I throw onto the Internet so they drift into the personal bubbles of a few scattered unknowns, entertaining some, enraging others (who deserve it), and encouraging a few. Beyond that, I speak with the people I commonly see (and who tolerate me) about the causes of the day, if they want to. I am a committed supporter of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign (in 2016), and I advertise for that cause by wearing two highly visible “Bernie 2016” badges every day. Sometimes people smile at me, sometimes their assholes pucker, but usually I glide through a human sea of not-noticing — both conscious and unconscious. I have plowed up a mountain of embarrassment before me, and I trail a wake of relief behind me. And, I don’t care. Transmission gets through.

I have high hopes for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and for the new generation resplendently buoying it up. But, I also have no confidence in the character of the American people who see themselves as part of the establishment, or who fool themselves into believing they are entitled to its privileges by dint of their heritage and attitudes. It is a disheartening realization that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump can each claim millions of Americans as devoted fans.

Former president Jimmy Carter is correct to say that the United States “no longer has a functional democracy,” because incorporated Big Money can and has bought politicians and elections, so that the vast bulk of the public has little impact on government policy, which they are paying for in money, blood and impoverished futures for their children. And, all that sacrifice subsidizes the obscene corporate looting of the public commons, and the subversion of government to the service of very selfish and destructive special interests. Even so, the remnant of democracy that we still have seems able to produce political figureheads for the oligarchy, whose dismal characters do reflect the embarrassing reality of the dominant traits of the American electorate: morally weak intellectual mediocrities who are tolerant of corruption, sloppy to the point of incompetence, and cravenly selfish. Not everybody, and for most not all the time, but in aggregate just too much.

If this were not so, Bernie Sanders’ vision would have been implemented long ago. The opposition, in 2016, to Bernie Sanders’ campaign and its vision is really of the same type as that before 1865 to the vision encapsulated in the 13th Amendment. I like to believe that the vision of the Sanders Revolution will eventually prevail in the United States, when the evolution of the aggregate character of the American people finally arrives at the requisite “higher level.” But, it’s so damn slow!

My children are all essentially adults at this point, and I think I am ready to go back to being fully un-embarrassingly selfish, to drop all efforts to “communicate” with what George Sanders called (in his suicide note) “the sweet cesspool” of human society, and to wander playfully in my own logic bubble producing my “art” (whatever that may be) for my own satisfaction, since really nobody else cares and why should they? I would very much enjoy the calm and serenity of not caring about anybody beyond those close to me. We’ll see.

Those of you who would prefer to read a much better reflection of satisfaction with life in its later years should read W. Somerset Maugham’s entry for 1944 in his book A Writer’s Notebook. A short excerpt:

“There is a nobility which does not proceed from thought. It is more elemental. It depends neither on culture nor breeding. It has its roots among the most primitive instincts of the human being. Faced with it, God, if he had created man, might hide his head in shame. It may be that in the knowledge that man for all his weakness and sin is capable on occasion of such splendour of spirit, one may find some refuge from despair.”

One thing I’m sure of: once I stop embarrassing you all, my piano playing will improve.

3 thoughts on “Yes, I Am Embarrassing

  1. There’s a fundamental distinction hidden in these remarks about your personal situation. The teacher is to some degree always a militant. As such he must plead, repeat and over emphasize. In regard to time, the artist’s stance is different. He doesn’t expect immediate reception or, in most cases, any reception at all. He has to be satisfied with putting his creation together according to his lights. Your dilemma is an honorable one that can sometimes bear fruit. Forgive me, dear Manuel, the oracular tone. The wind is blowing from Greece this morning.

  2. And there’s our dilemma. From the rooftop of our two-story nest, I can throw a stone into Homer’s sea. But I can’t bother with its color. I’m thinking of the swamped craft the Italian coastguard couldn’t save all of the migrants from this morning. That was before another patched-up tub scarcely made it away from the Libyan coast before it went down losing “twenty or thirty”. Our 24hour news service is a wonder. I’ve learnt today that it costs US$1200 to go from Khartoum to Tripoli by the desert route, and another $1000 to get deck space to Italy. But when my wife asks me why something isn’t done to stop the drownings I don’t have any more of an answer than the news reader.

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