Perhaps you’ve experienced a few encounters online the past year or so in which people openly defy practical truth in favor of their closely embraced ideology. Much of the world, it seems, is quite busy manufacturing their own version of reality, clinging to it with all their might, or trying to force it on others to affirm their own sense of worth.
The pandemic and political climate in America (and probably the whole world) is making people more determined than ever to make the latter come true. Just this morning I was forced to block a guy on Linkedin whose frequent posts are full of delusional political and religious ravings. Then he went on the attack through Messages.
I first met him back in the late 1980s while working at a newspaper. We were both a little disturbed by the policies and behavior of management at the time, so we commiserated and sought ways to bring about positive change. Apparently he went down a tough road after that.
As he described it, he’s been through financial and work issues, plus the loss of his father to problems caused by service in the Vietnam War. He also made it a point to tell me that his family tree has served in the military for three hundred years…and what had I done to serve my country? He also demanded to know what sacrifices had I experienced and what hardships in life have I ever had to suffer?
It’s hard to put all that anger into perspective without actually talking to him. These days he’s a prison chaplain who worships a sect based on an ancient priest and martyr that he explains as something “Christians like you have long forgotten about.” I explained that I’ve read quite a bit about Christian history. But that didn’t satisfy him.
Blasts from the past
Lacking progress in his attacks, he tried to close his point by stating that he thought I’ve always had too high of an opinion of myself, and that the “secretaries” at the newspaper secretly complained that I showed up in the office in the afternoon with sleep lines on my face from taking naps away from the office during the afternoon.
That I found both revealing and funny. There were indeed salespeople who took breaks during the day to take naps, but it wasn’t me. I knew this for a fact because I was invited to one of their homes on a workday, only to find three of them lying around with their ties and shoes off, watching Andy Griffith, Dick Van Dyke and I Dream of Jeannie to pass the morning away. I was aghast, but they were friends, so I let it pass and went on my way. To each their own. I had a job to do in providing for my family.
Working it out
Far from taking naps during the day, my preference was to grab a workout if time permitted. That worked off stress and kept me focused on the day. If I went home during lunch it was typically to go for a four-mile run, grab a shower and get back out there selling or promoting the paper once I moved up to that position.
So his recollections might be accurate about people showing up with nap lines on their face, but it generally wasn’t me. That might have happened one time.
Yet he is projecting that memory on me for his own angry benefit. Granted, his view that I had a high opinion of myself was probably accurate in some sense. It takes every bit of confidence one can muster to go out there and sell ads or sponsorships in a competitive market. Once I had moved over to marketing, it took guts and creativity to conceive and execute programs to increase circulation, drive value-added sales and create collaborative programs with community partners, NGOs and municipal partners.
By example, I developed a program with ten local banks to use subscriptions as an incentive for opening new accounts. It happened that the $10 base value required as a bank incentive matched well with what the circulation manager needed to gain in compensation to qualify as paid circulation for a set period of weeks. We launched the program and it drove more than 100 new paid subscriptions in a week. The promotion was so successful it drove the circulation manager into closing it down because it scared him. He didn’t like things that weren’t under his direct control, you see.
Behind all the bravado and drive it took to implement programs such as those, I was an admittedly insecure guy simply trying to make a living for his family. I had anxiety, for one thing, that sometimes bordered on depression. Over the years, I learned healthy strategies to address both of those. But during that period, my self-opinion was typically more critical than “having a high opinion of myself.”
But my sense of social justice was a far more powerful instinct. So was my notion that a fair workplace was important. About that I was always deliberately an advocate. I may have been confused at times by office politics, but my native sense of right and wrong was unwavering. Over the years I helped co-workers find legal representation when they experienced sexual harassment, and stuck up for direct reports assigned insane extra work for which they were not being compensated. The latter cost me considerable personal political capital, and I wound up leaving the company. But I have no regrets about that. Doing the right thing often requires sacrifice.
Some of those ardently “socialistic” tendencies came from aspects of my upbringing related to the exasperations of a demanding father. But it also had to do with personal values instilled in me by a lifelong involvement in Christianity.
Yet rather than inquire about anything along those lines, this “friend” on Linkedin instead accused me of being a hopeless liberal and Leftist whose “commie” ideals were ignorant and impractical in this world. In this era of political and cultural conflict, he is not the only “friend” that has gone wholeheartedly ballistic about such issues or told me I was fucked in the head.
I find it ironic that some call me arrogant for thinking I’m so smart while others brand me stupid for failing to recognize the genius of their typically shallow mirth at “winning” in some aspect of the culture wars.
To me it is performance that matters. When that Linkedin accuser questioned whether I’d ever had to suffer or persevere in life, he presumed or imagined that I was a namby-pamby commentator whose life was easy and/or consumed with complicity with liberal ideals, and nothing else. He doesn’t know about the prolonged period of simultaneous caregiving I sustained for a mother who died from cancer, a father who was a stroke victim and a wife who died from cancer after eight years of treatment. All while ushering kids through high school and college, and trying to remain gainfully employed even after companies fired me the day after they learned my wife was sick.
Rather than respond, I probably should have just unfollowed and blocked the Linkedin tormentor who turned into a Blast from the Past. Chalk that one up to Lessons Learned Again. But if we all give in to this insane brand of fascist aggression consuming our culture today, it is clear that repression and oppression will win the day. That’s where things are headed.
If I’ve learned anything from forty years as a competitive athlete, it’s that the most aggressive among us are often the most fearful and insecure. I’ve seen it happen time and again in the competitive arena. It takes place everywhere from pickup basketball games to the highest level of competitive sports. People often try to cajole and bluster their way to victory.
Rage vs fear
I think of the musclebound softball team that had long intimidated the Sunday league until our hit and run crew came along with the fundamental game of good defense to finally beat them. You could hear their voices go from bluster to rage to fear in the course of a couple innings as our runs piled up and their control of the game slipped away. Their voices passed from triumphal taunts to near pitiful complaint. But they never dominated us again. We owned them for eight straight years in both league and championship play. They won a game or two, but never a series, and certainly not the overall title. Their days of triumphal reign were over.
I recognize the same angry triumphalism in the tactics of the Linkedin despot and the cult-like worship of religio-fascist dominating America today. The false compliments hiding personal taunts, followed by insults. The desperate ploys to undercut and undermine other––especially with personal insults and inaccurate information ––while claiming victimhood for themselves. It seems so many lives are now spent obsessing about the persecution the world imposes on their carefully concocted worldview. “Life’s not fair for people like me!” goes the rave. “And it’s people like you that make it unfair.”
But in reality, it is people who willfully get their information wrong and choose for heroes the forceful icons of religious anachronism and political brutality that for millennia have turned this world into a hell on earth. That is the blast from the past that has emerged to impact the present. It is the classic tactic of advancing self-profiting lies in order to dominate the dialogue and try to make others give up. Much of it is disguised as “tradition,” just as the religious authorities who conspired against Jesus chose to do. Their self-righteousness is wrapped either in robes or flags, but it’s the same shitty fabric either way.
Covering yourself in a garment of patriotism or religious fervor (or both) is a shallow trick, but it often works. Until it doesn’t.
Race day clarity
I recall the day that I started a five-mile race and was half a mile into the course when a guy next to me turned and said, “How fast are you running today?” He was trying to broker a victory for himself.
Without looking over at him, I stated, “Faster than you.” Then I took off with determination, gapped him by an immediate 150 yards and went on to win the race in 24:49. I never saw him again.
Now I ask you: Was that because, as my Linkedin tormenter suggested, that I had a “high opinion of myself?” Or was it simply because I was prepared to do the right thing and carried it out? If we’re going to talk about liberalism, or being a “liberal,” then let’s define it accurately:
Liberal: favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
Not a word in there about oppressing the rights of others, or for that matter, as a construct of the culture wars today, not taking away religious freedoms. A liberal believes that its equally fair to provide freedom from religion, just like it was fair of me to exercise freedom from the constraints of that runner trying to manipulate me to run his brand of race.
The world is a confusing place when so many people are trying to manipulate the outcome by turning races of every kind into a brokered venture of purpose and values in order to come out looking like a (the) winner. That vicarious collapse of values opens a void into which the false heroics of fraud and deception so easily come marching in.
And I think you know who I’m talking about.