Historical Inevitability

The idea that history is cyclical has been put forth by many historians, philosophers, and fiction writers, but one Italian philosopher, named Giovanni Battista Vico (1668-1744), wrote that a fall is an historical inevitability. In his book La Scienza Nuova, Vico suggested that evidence of this can be found by reading history from the vantage point of the cyclical process of the rise-fall-rise, or fall-rise-fall recurrences, as opposed to studying it in a straight line, dictated by the years in which events occurred. By studying history in this manner, Vico suggested, the perspective of one’s sense of modernity is removed and these cycles of historical inevitability are revealed.

To those of us that have been privy to the lofty altitude of the information age, this notion seems impossible to the point of being implausible. If we are willing to cede to the probability of a fall, as it portends to a certain historical inevitability, we would only do so in a manner that suggests that if there were a fall, it would be defined relative to the baseline that our modern advancements have created. To these people, an asterisk may be necessary in any discussion of cultures rising and falling in historical cycles. This asterisk would require a footnote that suggests that all eras have had creators lining the top of their era’s hierarchy, and those that feed upon their creations at the bottom. The headline grabbing accomplishments of these creators might then define an era, in an historical sense, to suggest that the people of that era were advancing, but were the bottom feeders advancing on parallel lines? Or, did the creators’ accomplishments, in some way, inhibit their advancement?

“(Chuck Klosterman) suggests that the internet is fundamentally altering the way we intellectually interact with the past because it merges the past and present into one collective intelligence, and that it’s amplifying our confidence in our beliefs by (a) making it seem like we’ve always believed what we believe and (b) giving us an endless supply of evidence in support of whatever we believe. Chuck Klosterman suggests that since we can always find information to prove our points, we lack the humility necessary to prudently assess the world around us. And with technological advances increasing the rate of change, the future will arrive much faster, making the questions he poses more relevant.” –Will Sullivan on Chuck Klosterman

My initial interpretation of this quote was that it sounded like a bunch of gobbeldy gook, until the reader rereads it with the latest social issue of the day plugged into it. What did the person think about that particular social issue as far back as a year ago? Have they had their mind changed on the topic? Have they been enlightened, or have they been proved right on something they didn’t believe as far back as one year ago? If we do change our minds on an issue as quickly as Klosterman suggests, with the aid of our new information resources, are prudently assessing these changes in a manner that allows for unforeseen consequences? This tendency we now have to change our minds quickly, reminds me of the catch phrase mentality. When one hears a particularly catchy, or funny, catchphrase, they begin repeating it. When another asks that person where they first heard that catchphrase, the person that now often uses the catchphrase, and didn’t start using it until a month ago, say that they’ve always been saying it.  

Another way of interpreting this quote is that with all of this information at our fingertips, the immediate information we receive on a topic, in our internet searches, loses value. Who is widely considered the primary writer of the Constitution, for example? A simple Google search will produce a name: James Madison. Who was James Madison, and what were his influences in regard to the document called The Constitution? What was the primary purpose of this finely crafted document that provided Americans near unprecedented freedom from government tyranny, and rights that were nearly unprecedented when coupled with amendments in the Bill of Rights. How much blood and treasure was spent to pave the way for the creation of this document, and how many voices were instrumental in the Convention that crafted and created this influential document?

Being able to punch these questions into a smart phone, and receive the names of those involved can provide them a static quality. The names James Madison, Gouvernor Morris, Alexander Hamilton, and the other delegates of the Constitutional Convention that shaped, crafted, and created this document could become an answer to a Google search, nothing more and nothing less. Over time, and through repeated searches, a Google searcher could accidentally begin to assign a certain historical inevitability to the accomplishments of these men. The notion being that if these names weren’t the answers, other names would be.

Removing my personal opinion that Madison, Morris, Hamilton, and those at the Constitutional Convention composed a brilliant document, for just a moment, the question has to be asked, could the creation of Americans’ rights and liberties have occurred at any time, with any men or women in the history of our Republic? The only answer, as I see it, involves another question: How many politicians in the history of the world have voted to limit their present power, and any future power they might achieve in the future, if their aspirations achieve fruition? How many current politicians would vote for something like term-limits? Only politicians that have spent half their life under what they considered tyrannical rule would fashion a document that could result in their own limitations.   

How many great historical achievements, and people, have been lost to this idea of historical inevitability? Was it an historical inevitability that America would gain her freedom from Britain? Was the idea that most first world people would have the right to speak out against their government, vote, and thus have some degree of self-governance inevitable? How many of the freedoms, opportunities, and other aspects of American exceptionalism crafted in the founding documents are now viewed as so inevitable that someone, somewhere would’ve come along and figured out how to make that possible? Furthermore, if one views such people and such ideas as inevitable, how much value do they attach to them? If they attain a certain static inevitability, how susceptible are they to condemnation? If an internet searcher has a loose grasp of the comprehensive nature of what these men did, and the import of these ideas on the current era, will it become an historical inevitability that they’re taken away in a manner that might initiate philosopher Vico’s theory on the historical inevitability of a fall?

I’ve heard it theorize that for every 600,000 people born, one will be a transcendent genius. I heard this secondhand, and the person that said it attributed it to Voltaire, but I’ve never been able to properly source it. The quote does provide a provocative point, however, that I interpret to mean that difference between one that achieves the stature of genius on a standardized test, or Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test, by scoring high enough on that test to achieve that lofty plateau, and the transcendent genius lies in this area of application. We’ve all met extremely intelligent people in the course of our lives, in other words, and some of us have met others that qualify as genius, but how many of them figured out a way to apply that abundant intelligence in a productive manner? This, I believe, is the difference between what many have asserted is a genius in a one in fifty-seven ratio and the one in 600,000 born. The implicit suggestion of this idea is that every dilemma, or tragedy, is waiting for a transcendent genius to come along and fix it. These are all theories of course, but it does beg the question what happens to the 599,999 that feed off the ingenious creations and thoughts of others for too long? It also begs the question that if the Italian philosopher Vico’s theories on the cyclical nature of history hold true, and modern man is susceptible to a great fall, will there be a transcendent genius that is able to fix the dilemmas and tragedies that await the victims of this great fall? 

Philosophical Doubt versus the Certitude of Common Sense

If philosophy is “primarily an instrument of doubt”, as Scientific American contributor John Horgan writes in the fifth part of his series, and it counters our “terrible tendency toward certitude”, can that sense of doubt prevail to a point that it collides with the clarity of mind one achieves with common sense? In an attempt to provide further evidence of the proclamation that philosophy is an instrument of doubt, Horgan cites Socrates definition of wisdom being the knowledge one has of how little they know. Horgan also cites Socrates’ parable of the cave, and it’s warning that we’re all prisoners to our own delusions.

“In Socrates’ Allegory of the Cave, Plato details how Socrates described a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality. Socrates explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not reality at all, for he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the manufactured reality that is the shadows seen by the prisoners. The inmates of this place do not even desire to leave their prison; for they know no better life.”

platocave“In the allegory, Plato (also) likens people untutored in the Theory of Forms to prisoners chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave. Behind them burns a fire. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects, that pass behind them. What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see.” 

What does Socrates’ cave symbolize? This allegory has probably been interpreted a thousand different ways over the thousands of years since Plato first relayed Socrates allegory. A strict reading of the allegory suggests that the cave is a place where the uneducated are physically held prisoner. The people are also figuratively held prisoner to their own ideas about the world from their narrow perspective. A strict reading would also detail that the philosopher is the one person in the story free of a cave, and thus an enlightened man that now knows the nature of the forms. One could also say that in the modern era the land is littered with caves, and that the philosopher cave is but one. One could also say that those that remain in that philosopher’s cave for too long, it may become an insular, echo chamber in which they, too, become a prisoner.

Socrates bolstered this interpretation when he informed a young follower of his named Glaucon that:

“The most excellent people must follow the highest of all studies, which is to behold the Good. Those who have ascended to this highest level, however, must not remain there but must return to the cave and dwell with the prisoners, sharing in their labors and honors.”

A strict reading of this quote might suggest that the philosopher should return to the cave to retain humility. Another reading of it, could lead the reader to believe Socrates is suggesting that it is the responsibility of the philosopher to share his new insight with the cave dwellers. A more modern interpretation might be that the philosopher must return to the cave to round out his new found intelligence by commingling it with the basic, common sense of other cave dwellers. Inherent in the latter interpretation is the idea that in the cave of philosophical thought, one can become prone to lose perspective and clarity, and they can become victims of their own collective delusions.

The philosopher could accept an idea as a fact, based on the idea that the group thought contained within the philosophical cave accept it as such. This philosopher may begin to surround themselves with like-minded people for so long that they no longer see that cave for what it is? The intellectual might also fall prey to the conceit that they’re the only ones not living in a cave? Or, the intellectual may see all other caves for what they are, until they come upon their own, for theirs is the cave they call home. As Horgan says, citing the responses of “gloomy” students responding to the allegory of the cave, “If you escape one cave, you just end up in another.”

One of the only moral truths that John Horgan allows, in part five of his series, that trends toward a “terrible tendency toward certitude” is the argument that “ending war is a moral imperative.” This is not much of a courageous, or provocative point, as most cave dwellers have come to the same conclusion as Mr. Horgan. Most cave dwellers now view war as something that should only be utilized as a last alternative, if at all.

For whom are we issuing this moral imperative, is a question that I would ask if I were lucky enough to attend one of Mr. Hogan’s classes. If we were to issue the imperative to first world countries, I would suggest that we would have a very receptive audience, for most of the leaders of these nations would be very receptive to our proposed solutions. If we were to send it out to tyrannical leaders and oppressive governments of third world governments, I am quite sure that we would have an equally receptive audience, as long as our proposed solutions pertained to the actions of first world countries.

Former Beatles musician John Lennon engaged in similar pursuit in his “make love not war” campaign, but Lennon directed his campaign to first world leaders almost exclusively. Some of us now view this venture as a colossal waste of time. If Lennon had directed his moral imperative at the third-world, and their dictators were genuinely receptive to it, Lennon could’ve changed the world. If these third world leaders agreed to stop slaughtering, and starving their country’s people, and they also agreed to avoid engaging in skirmishes with their neighbors, John Lennon would now be viewed as a hero to all for achieving peace in our time. This scenario also presupposes that these notoriously dishonest leaders weren’t lying to Lennon for the purposes of their own public relations, and that the leaders did their best to live up to such an agreement while having to quash coups to take the government over by a tyrannical leader that has other plans. This is, admittedly, a mighty big asterisk and a relative definition of peace, but if Lennon were able to achieve even that, the praise he received would be unilateral.

What Lennon did, instead, was direct the focus of his sit-ins, and sleepins, to the leaders of the Britain and The United States. The question I would’ve had for John Lennon is, how often, since World War II, have first world countries gone to war with one another? Unless one counts the Cold War as an actual war, or the brief skirmish in Yugoslavia, there hasn’t been a great deal of military action between the first world and the second world since World War II either. Most of what accounts for the need for military action, in modern times, involves first world countries attempting to clean up the messes that have occurred in third world countries.

If Lennon’s goals were as genuinely altruistic, as some have suggested, and not a method through which he could steal some spotlight from his rival, Paul McCartney, as others have suggested, he would have changed the focus of his efforts. Does this suggest that Lennon’s sole purpose was achieving publicity, or does it suggest that Lennon’s worldview was either born, or nurtured in an echo chamber in which everyone he knew, knew, that the first world countries were the source of the problems when it came to the militaristic actions involved in war?

To those isolationists that will acknowledge that most of the world’s problems occur in the third world, they suggest that if The United States and Britain would stop playing world police and let these third world countries clean up their own messes, we would achieve a form of peace. To these people, I would suggest that the world does have historical precedent for such inaction: Adolf Hitler. There may be some that suggest that war with Hitler was inevitable, as Hitler was such a blood thirsty individual that he could not be appeased. Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did try, however, and he was trumpeted for achieving “peace in our time”. Chamberlain’s nemesis in the parliament, Winston Churchill, basically suggested that Chamberlain tried so hard to avoid going to war that he made war inevitable. Churchill suggested that if Britain engaged in more diplomatic actions, actions that could have been viewed as war-like by Germany, such as attempting to form a grand coalition of Europe against Hitler, war might have been avoided. We’ll never know the answer to that question of course, but how many of those that live in the caves of idealistic utopia of ending war, as we know it, would’ve sided with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and against Churchill, in the lead up to, and after, the Munich Peace Accords? How many of them would’ve suggested that Hitler signing the accords meant that he did not want war, and that heeding Churchill’s warnings would’ve amounted to a rush to war? Churchill has stated, and some historians agree, that the year that occurred between Munich and Britain’s declaration of war, left Britain in a weaker position that led to a prolonged war. How many of those that live in anti-war caves would’ve been against the proposal to form a grand coalition of Europe against Germany, because it might make Germany angry, and they could use it as a recruiting tool?

The point of listing these contrarian arguments is not to suggest that war is the answer, for that would be a fool’s errand, but to suggest that even those philosophers that believe they have the strongest hold on truth may want to give doubt a chance. It is also a sample of a larger argument that suggests while the philosopher’s viewpoint is mandatory to anyone seeking a well-rounded perspective, these people are not the only ones in need of one.

If the only people a person speaks to in a day confirms their bias, they may need to visit another cave for a day. They may not agree with other cave dwellers, but they may hear different voices on the matter that influence their approach to problem solving. The point is if the only thing a student of philosophy hears in a day is doubt directed at the status quo, and that they must defeat that certitude, how far can that student venture down that road before they reach a tip of the fulcrum, and everything they learn beyond that progressively divorces them from common sense?

In the hands of quality teachers and writers, philosophy can be one of the most intoxicating disciplines for one to explore, and some are so fascinated they choose to it as their life’s pursuit. Those of us that have explored the subject beyond Philosophy 101, on our own time, have learned to doubt our fundamental structure in ways that we felt compelled to share. This period of discovery can lead some of us to successfully question everything those that formed us hold dear. At some point in this self-imposed challenge to pursue answers to simple questions that are more well-rounded, some of us reveal that not only have we escaped the prisoner’s cave, but we’ve become prisoners in the philosopher’s cave. Few recognize when their answers to the forms dancing on wall reveal this, but those of us that have, have had an intruder inform us that “It’s a goat.”

plato_-_allegory_of_the_caveIt is a goat, and we always knew it was a goat, but in our progressed state of mind, we view our intruder’s assessment as an oversimplification. Those of us that have had our ventures into higher learning challenged will forever doubt the basic tenets of such simplistic platitudes, but a part of us also envies the common sense and simple logic they display that we call a “terrible tendency toward certitude”. We thus learn, firsthand, of Socrates stated need to return to the prisoner’s cave and combine the discipline of philosophical learning with simple logic.

If philosophy is an attempt to introduce doubt to those sure of basic principles, does it also invite unnecessary confusion, through moral equivocation, that leads an individual to leaps of objectivity that defy common sense? Is a guy that kidnaps a woman, and holds her captive in his basement for thirty days, a bad guy? What if he performed inhuman deeds upon this woman that shake us to our core when we have them detailed for us? Some might consider it an oversimplification to call this individual a bad man, but to others it’s common sense. It’s common sense, that if a man does something that horrific, that man must be, in one way or another, separated from society for a time, in the hope that he doesn’t do it again. It’s common sense, to some of us, that that man must be punished, or rehabilitated, in some manner. It’s also common sense that a society have such rules set in place to introduce some doubt into the sadistic mind, as he’s planning to pursue his sadistic desires. This societal structure is put in place to inform the violent, those with a criminal mindset, and the sadistic, that the state could take away their freedom, in the hope that they might rethink their pursuits. A philosopher may label this certitude a terrible tendency that needs to be defeated, but others believe that there are scenarios, and moments in life, when we should set the platitudes of higher learning aside and replace them with the certitude that can be found in the rock solid principles of common sense. Doing so, can lead to a sound mind and a less chaotic world steeped in muddled minds that have gone beyond the peak of greater understanding to the wrong side of the intelligence fulcrum.

“Cracker Barrel” America and the 2016 Election

“If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is,” Kirsten Powers wrote in a November 10, 2016 editorial, an editorial that was published shortly after the presidential election. Powers went on to write that, “These same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of “waging a War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and Democrats did make that claim), then (Democrats) shouldn’t be surprised when (those same) voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women.”

downloadThose of us that watched the McCain campaign, and the Romney campaign, couldn’t believe that this “War on Women” charge stuck. Neither of these campaigns did anything, as far as we were concerned, to insult, denigrate, or belittle women in any way. The charge seemed unfounded, and most of us believed that clear-minded voters would see the charge for what it was eventually. They didn’t of course. The campaign to denigrate those campaigns as anti-woman proved wildly successful.

Part of the 2016 campaign to elect a Democrat president was based on the idea that the Republican candidate for president, Donald J. Trump, hated women, and candidate Trump did say some things during the 2016 campaign that Democrats used to suggest he did. Even the biggest Trump supporter would admit that some of the quotes that Donald Trump said as a citizen, in the years preceding the campaign, should have sunk his campaign. If Democrats had been able to avoid the temptation of using this effective charge in 2008 and 2012, when it was unwarranted against the Republican presidential candidates in question, it might have proven to have more impact in 2016. Yet, the campaigns to elect a Democrat to the presidency were so similar in these three presidential campaigns that “Cracker Barrel” Americans may have viewed the 2016 use of the charge as nothing more than another campaign tactic.

To explain the characterization of some Americans as “Cracker Barrel” Americans, Kirsten Powers cites a study done by a Dave Wasserman of The Cook Political Report that points out “that Donald Trump won 76% of counties with a Cracker Barrel but only 22% of counties with a Whole Foods, a 54-point gap. Yet in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the presidency, the gap between those same counties was only 19 points.”

“Cracker Barrel” Americans, we can infer from the language used in the column, are those Americans that live in flyover country. These Americans are either so busy, or so disinterested in the minutiae of politics, that they don’t see the stitches on the fastball that a politician, or political party, is throwing at them. As anyone that has ever tried to hit a fastball can attest, however, even the most mediocre hitter can catch up to a fastball if it is delivered in the exact same manner, enough times.

Ms. Powers is not suggesting that the charges made against Trump were unfounded or unduly influenced by the media. Listening to some of her commentary, over the course of the campaign, suggests that she may have believed some of the charges made, but in this particular column I believe she is stating that these charges have been made so often, and in some cases unwarranted, that Democrats became a victim of their own success. As stated in the next quote from Ms. Powers, the last eight years have been littered with one accusation after another, regarding the changes that “Cracker Barrel” Americans have been forced to not only accept, but that they have been forbidden to openly oppose.

“It’s not hard to see how accusations against Trump as a racist and misogynist would be met with eye rolls and knowing murmurs of “political correctness” by people who have had their worldview constantly caricatured and demonized by the cultural elites in academia, media and politics.”

Ms. Powers illustrates this by citing a quote from her friend and liberal commentator Sally Kohn, in a debate on  free speech:

“If [conservatives on campus] feel like they can no longer speak against positive social change, good.”

“This is a paradigm,” Ms. Powers states. “Where honest disagreement about abortion makes one a woman-hater, holding orthodox religious views on marriage equates to gay-bashing, and refusing to cop to white privilege –even if you are a working class white person struggling economically– defines you as a racist.”

It’s often difficult for any individual, that is a true believer, to welcome opposing views with open arms. We believe that we are right, and we find some comfort in the belief that anyone that disagrees is either woefully uninformed, or they have ulterior motives for believing the way they do, but when The Silencing becomes so ubiquitous, and so effective, the push back can lead to what some may consider shocking effects.

It was a shock to many that anyone, much less a woman, would vote for Donald Trump after he said the things he did, and did the things he did, that some could interpret as similar to statements that led to a number of election losses four years ago. As I wrote, even the proponents of Trump would admit that they thought the 2016 presidential election was over several times, when opposition research unearthed some quotes, and videos, that played into the narrative some in the media were building on Trump, but those same people may have identified with Trump in a manner that suggests that voters had grown tired of being told that honest opposition to the liberal agenda meant that they were awful people in varying ways.

As comedian, and podcaster, Adam Carolla often says on his Podcast:

“This is the best time in America to be a racist. If you are charged with racism, those that hear the charge may yawn now and dismiss it as politically correct nonsense. Even if the person making that charge have actual proof, and the person they are making the charge against is an actual racist, no one takes it as seriously as they once did.”

The ploy of labeling those that have an honest disagreement with some piece of legislation, a proposal, a movement, or an idea with a career ending name of some sort was wildly successful, in the short-term. During the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, there was this sense that an opponent could not openly oppose the ideas that were being floated about the country without being branded as a racist. There was also this sense that if we complained about that situation, and we stated that we felt intimidated by it, we received a, ‘you know what, good’ type of response, similar to the one Sally Kohn offered Kirsten Powers in a debate on free speech.

Barack Obama successfully used such tactics, openly and subtly, to fundamentally transform this nation. As most Congressmen feared openly opposing his administration, lest they be called a racist. Members of the media were afraid to openly scrutinize the legislation and ideas of the administration, and most open debate among citizens was shut down for fear of causing tension. There was also this sense that there would never be a price to pay for silencing opposition in this manner, until the 2016 Democrats made it clear that they thought such charges were an antidote to ever losing another presidential election, and they found that a surprisingly large swath of the electorate had grown immune to them.

Anyone that knows the story of The Little Boy who Cried Wolf knows that no matter how unfounded a charge is, if it is repeated often enough people will start to believe it. Republicans found this out the hard way in 2008 and 2012. Yet, as the lesson of that story suggests, if those same charges are repeated too often, people will start to ignore them. Democrats found that out the hard way in 2016.

Thief’s Mentality II: Whatever Happened to Kurt Lee

“Who is the greatest thief in history?” It wasn’t the question that so fascinated me that I brought it up in parties, as much as it was the answer. Among the myriad of answers I received to this question, were those quantified by dollar figures and historical notoriety. It is this focus on notoriety in this question, or the amount of media coverage, and subsequent historical analysis, that leads us to believe that the best of anything must be the most famous. That answer also provides an impetus for the most provocative answer I’ve heard on this particular subject. It suggests that too often we intertwine fame, or in this case infamy, with success. Thieves are human, of course, and the desire to be famous may drive some of them, but the overwhelming desire of a thief should be to escape unwanted attention of any kind, particularly when it leads to a level of notoriety or infamy. Thus, my final answer would be that we probably don’t know who the greatest thief of all time is, because he is as unknown to history as he was law enforcement officials at the time. The reason I consider this theoretical answer the perfect one is based on what I saw the best thief I ever saw, Kurt Lee, fall prey to in his formative years.  

The most infamous thief that has ever existed, I would suggest, is likely not the same person as the most infamous thief we’ve ever known. The greatest thief that has ever existed was more discreet, more common, and less desirous of attention. That thief didn’t talk about his criminal exploits, even to his best friends and family, and he felt no need to brag, or otherwise bring any unwarranted attention to himself. He just stole things, and hurt people. He felt no need to leave a legacy, or any footprints in history.

Law enforcement officials will tell us that the crimes that keep them up at night are the random, or seemingly random, crimes that are almost impossible to solve. Law enforcement officials count on a number of factors to help them solve a crime, but the most prominent ones involve the characteristics of those with a criminal mind, or the thief’s mentality. Most criminals have never had any real money. If they found a way to make real money, they probably wouldn’t be thieves. Thus, when they manage to steal a large amount of money, most thieves spend that money in a manner that draws attention. Thus, when they show up with their extravagant purchases, people begin talking. Their people may not speak directly to law enforcement officials, but talk leads to talk. If the thief displays some restraint in this regard, they are apt to fall prey to another human conceit of wanting to tell others about their accomplishment, particularly those that have stated that the thief has accomplished nothing in life. The natural byproduct of those that are forced to endure the bragging is jealousy, and jealousy often leads to trusted friends and family making anonymous calls that can change the direction of an investigation. In the event that those with a with a thief’s mentality are able to avoid the typical pratfalls of criminal success, law enforcement officials will often sit back and wait for greed to take hold.

If a true piece of work (a POS) managed to pull off a $10,000 heist, that thief would not be satisfied with $10,000 dollars. The nature of the thief’s mentality –as taught to me by Kurt Lee­– is such that they will probably be planning a $100,000 heist in their getaway car. Kurt Lee’s mentality suggested to me that a true POS would have so much wrapped up in that $10,000 theft that they would fall prey to all that is listed above, with greed being the most prominent.

I knew Kurt Lee, on a superficial level, for years. He was good friends with a fella that I managed to befriend. We spoke just about every day for years, but we were never so close that one would characterize as intimate. It wasn’t until Kurt Lee invited me, and the other fella, to join him at the baseball card shop that I received a window into Kurt Lee’s mentality. As detailed in the first installment of this series, by the time Kurt Lee and I were in the car driving over to the baseball card shop, the thrill of shoplifting had long since lost its flavor for him. He was so bored by it that he asked me if I wanted to watch him steal from the baseball card shop. I will confess to not knowing many true thieves throughout my life, so my reference base is limited, but I have to imagine that more experienced thieves would suggest that Kurt Lee was headed down a bad road here.


More experienced thieves might suggest that the very idea that Kurt Lee was attempting to accentuate the thrill of theft, by having another watch them do it, suggests that Kurt Lee wasn’t motivated by what they might call the philosophical purity of theft. He wasn’t doing it to balance economic equality, in other words, as some more experienced thieves manage to convince themselves that there is nothing wrong with stealing from the rich. He wasn’t doing it to put food on a table, or any reasons that a more experienced thieves might consider a more noble motivation. Kurt Lee was simply doing it for the thrill of it all, and once that thrill was gone, he needed to supplement it. A casual observer, just learning of Kurt Lee, might also suggest that he asked me to watch to quell some deep seeded need he had for approval or acceptance. I would’ve considered that notion foolish at the time, for the Kurt Lee I knew displayed no visible signs of caring what anyone thought of him, much less me. Hindsight being 20/20, however, one has to consider the idea that Kurt Lee may have cared far more than I ever considered plausible.

Another revelation I learned about Kurt Lee involved his desire to share the wealth. The young man I knew was always about spreading the wealth. These words came out of his mouth most often when another had something of excess that he wanted, but he did practice what he preached. He was a generous man. This leads me to believe that if the adult Kurt Lee had managed to successfully pull off a $10,000 heist, he would begin spreading the wealth around. He might hire the services of a prostitute for a night, he might give some of his newfound largess to a homeless person, or he might generously tip a waitress or a housekeeper, and he would probably do it in a manner that would lead people to talk. He would spread the wealth around just to be a guy that could, for one day in his otherwise miserable life. He would do it with the hope that that act of generosity might say more about him than the criminal act he committed to gain the money. His motivation for doing this would not be truly altruistic, in other words, and he would do it regardless if he considered the idea that these actions might lay some breadcrumbs for law enforcement.

The point is that this greatest thief in history, one presumably imbued with the same thief’s mentality, wouldn’t fall prey to these conceits. The point is that that legendary thief would be such an exception to the rules governing one with a thief’s mentality that he might be able to achieve something historic in the field of criminality.


Anyone that knew the unformed, maladjusted, high school-era Kurt Lee, wouldn’t need the prophetic words of a skilled thief to know that Kurt Lee was headed down a bad road. They also wouldn’t need anyone to tell them that he was susceptible to falling prey to the conceits listed above. As evidence of this, Kurt Lee became the center of attention at one point in his high school years.

Someone learned some things about the ways of Kurt Lee, and they spread the word throughout our school. I don’t know what was said to spread the word, but I have to believe that it had something to do with the idea that for all of Kurt Lee’s humor and charm, he was not a nice guy. ‘Far from it,’ I imagine these people saying to the others. ‘He’s actually quite a POS.’ I imagine them feeling the need to bolster their presentation in this manner, because if they told their friends that they found a guy that was hilarious and charming, and they added that he was actually a pretty nice guy, those listening to the presentation would have no interest. Whatever that person said to describe Kurt Lee clicked, because he ended up becoming something of a celebrity in some quarters. The top athletes at our school were dying to hear what he was going to do, or say, next. They found him hilarious. The cool kids even stopped by to get Kurt Lee’s reaction to the current events of our school. They had never seen anything like him. He was like a real life Al Bundy in their midst. Those of us that tried to avoid being impressed by such people couldn’t believe the amount of attention Kurt Lee was receiving. Kurt Lee couldn’t believe it either, and more importantly, he couldn’t understand it.

Those of us that witnessed the effect Kurt Lee could have on young, unformed males, would consider the idea that young males are attracted to true POS’s with a thief’s mentality irrefutable. I don’t make any claims to being immune to this either. As the previous entry suggests, I found Kurt Lee hilarious. Some may consider it a bit of a stretch to suggest that the young, unformed male mind wants to witness a bully hurt and humiliate others, but if it happens most young males want to be there to witness it. This idea is bolstered by the manner in which those that were there tell the story of the incident to those that weren’t. In their play-by-play rundown, they have trouble stifling their laughter, because they know no one enjoys hearing a story from a guy that can’t stop laughing as he tells it.

Kurt Lee opened a wormhole in our understanding of what it took to be the honest man. He was so unflinching in his dishonesty that some of us considered him more honest than the most honest man we knew. He was a genuine article of consistent, and unflinching, dishonesty. When Kurt Lee learned that these aspects of his personality appealed to a wide swath of people our age, he exaggerated these characteristics in a way that suggested he didn’t understand their appeal any more than anyone else did, and his answer to whatever dilemma plagued him was to try to live up to the caricature that had been built for him.

Kurt Lee became that bully, thief, and POS that every young, unformed male dreamed of being but dared not stretch to the point of violating societal norms. Kurt Lee mocked the mentally challenged, he picked fights with guys that were so much smaller than him that they presented no challenge, and he openly challenged anyone he considered at the bottom of the food chain to bolster his personal portfolio for those in attendance. Prior to this brief taste of popularity, Kurt Lee was a POS in all these ways, but he displayed a bit more discretion. Once he discovered how much the athletes and cool kids loved it, he was balls out.

The problem with becoming such a character is that an ugly truth will rear its head. Young, unformed males eventually grow bored with a consistent character no matter how offensive and insensitive that individual may be. When that happens, the instinctual response of such a character is to up their game even more, and exaggerate those characteristics that everyone loved fifteen minutes ago, until the character ends up doing it so often, and to such excess, that he ends up revealing a desire to be accepted. This new game face stood in stark contrast to the very characteristics that made Kurt Lee so appealing in the first place, to those in the upper caste system of high school. It also resulted in the implosion I detailed in the first installment.

This implosion occurred when something went missing. Kurt Lee plead innocence, on numerous occasions, claiming that he was being unfairly singled out by our school, and he may have been, but Kurt Lee had made a name for himself for all the wrong reasons. He may have been such an obvious suspect that he was too obvious, but Kurt Lee ended up getting expelled from our school.

If I been permitted to caution Kurt Lee, prior to this incident, I would’ve informed him that these athletes and cool kids don’t give a crap about you. They may “like” you in the short-term, as they take what they want from you, in this case entertainment, but once they have expended you as a resource they will leave you out at the curb. They don’t care if you’re an actual POS, or if you’re just playing that character well. They don’t care if a person wants their attention, they won’t pay as much attention to them as they did fifteen minutes ago once they see through the veneer. This long-term view would not have mattered to Kurt Lee however, he wanted to bask in the glow. When that brief spell ended, Kurt was wounded, and he attempted to up his game even more, until he ended up getting expelled, and eventually incarcerated for other, unrelated matters.

The characteristic that separated Kurt Lee from the few thieves I’ve encountered, was that he didn’t reject the premise of being a thief. He may have defended himself against the idea that honest people were any better than him, and he might have preached from the book of thieves by claiming that we were all as flawed, in varying ways, as he was, but he did have an unusual amount of pride in being what he was.


Decades later, those of us that went to school with Kurt Lee were all standing around a funeral engaged in a ‘What ever happened to’ conversation regarding our old classmates. Kurt Lee’s name happened to come up. The mere mention of his name was followed by laughter, as we all remembered the awful things he did to people. Someone in our group attempted to quell that laughter by mentioning that he thought Kurt Lee was actually a pretty awful person. No one said a word. That silence, I can only presume, occurred as a result of everyone considering that characterization to be glaringly obvious. Another spoke about Kurt Lee’s expulsion from our school, and the incarceration for an unrelated crime. Those that didn’t know about the incarceration laughed when they heard about it, but it wasn’t the bitter laugh that often comes from those that were bullied, ridiculed, and beat up by a guy in high school. This was a knowing laugh from those that figured that’s where Kurt Lee would eventually end up. Then the subject changed, and it didn’t change because some of those, at the gathering, harbored ill-will towards Kurt Lee, and they wanted to move on in life. The sense that they had already moved past all that was palpable. The subject changed because no one truly cared what happened to the man.

I have this notion, that if Kurt Lee were a celestial being, witnessing this conversation, with the ghost of Christmas past over his shoulder, he may have offered a number of excuses for why people thought he was so awful. He could’ve informed the ghost of Christmas past that he was a dumb kid at the time, and he could’ve said something along the lines of the idea that his bullying made some of those in attendance at the funeral stronger in life. Kurt Lee may have experienced a slight twinge of guilt, hearing our accounts of him, but I don’t think so. I think he would’ve enjoyed hearing us talk about him. Seeing how quickly we changed the subject, however, and all that it intoned about how we felt about him long-term, probably would have stung.

The fundamental mistake that Kurt Lee made, a mistake that most of us make at that age, is that we don’t understand human nature. We don’t understand how few people truly care about what happens to us, and we fail to grasp that nothing –including internal squabbles, politics, and the desire to be more popular– should keep us from these people. The mistake we make occurs when we seek the approval of others, because we often direct that effort at those that don’t give a crap about us in any kind of comprehensive manner. Kurt Lee made the fundamental mistake of believing that when those cool kids were laughing at the things he did that they were laughing with him. He made the mistake of believing when others are interested in what he had to say about something that they are interested in him, and I can only presume that when these truths were made evident, and he attempted to double down on those characteristics they enjoyed, it ended up destroying him from the inside out.

As evidence of this, one of the members of this conversation knew some things about the adult, post-high school Kurt Lee. He told a couple of stories about how Kurt Lee began stealing bigger and better things more often. “He didn’t learn his lessons from high school,” this storyteller informed us. “He grew so bold that one could call some of the things he did stupid.” Some may place whatever it was that drove the adult Kurt Lee to steal more expensive items, at a greater rate, under the umbrella of greed, but I think it goes much deeper than that. I think that expulsion, and the end of the life he once knew, drove him to neglect those mountain lion skills he once displayed by refraining from launching on his prey, until he could determine that there was absolutely no chance of any harm coming to him. The stories I heard, that day at the funeral, of Kurt Lee stealing such conspicuous items were so confusing that I couldn’t help but think they were troubling and obvious cries for help.

Kurt Lee was the best thief I’ve ever known, and he influenced my theoretical view on what the greatest thief in the history of man might do to get away with it all, with a sound mind and a guilt-free heart. For if this theoretical thief were to fall prey to some of the same things Kurt Lee did, in his formative years, that thief would have to learn the lessons from his formative years well. The Kurt Lee I knew, never did, and the fact that he ended up doing time suggests that the adult, post-high school Kurt Lee didn’t either. It suggests that he imploded under the weight of whatever he was when I knew him.

Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts

Unconventional thinking can be seductive. It can be alluring to gain more knowledge than another. To those that fall prey to this conceit, I have one warning, quantity does not always equal quality. There is only so much conventional information available, but there are numerous avenues for those seeking unconventional answers to explore, and these answers have never been considered before by conventional thinkers. Some of the times, those arguments place the subject matter, at hand, in a different light that should be considered, but in my experience most of these arguments provide nothing more than provocative distractions and obfuscations from the central argument.

slide-1One of the universal truths I’ve discovered about unconventional thoughts is that they are not always true. This may seem like such an obvious truth that it’s a discussion hardly worth having, but how many people put so much stock into unconventional thinking that they consider conventional thinkers naïve for believing everything they tell us? They believe the truth is out there?

Police officers, working a beat, have an modus operandi (M.O.) to their job: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” This is the ideal mindset for a police officer to have, but is it ideal for a casual consumer of news, an employee with regard to their employer, or a friend listening to another friend tell a story?

A top shelf reporter suggested that skepticism of the press undermines their authority, but when the press exhibits behavior that warrants skepticism, it should be undermined. The members of the media should conduct themselves in a manner that welcomes skepticism from their audience and defeats it with performance. Wouldn’t the members of the media say the same thing of those they cover? 

There is a point, however, when a healthy sense of skepticism creeps into a form of cynicism that believes “none of what I hear and half of what I see.” Such cynicism breeds holes in people that can only be filled by “other” information.

As an individual that has an insatiable curiosity for unconventional thinking, specific to human behavior, I’ve had friends introduce me a wide array of alternative information outlets. I’ve been introduced to everything from the definition of human psychology through astrology, numerology, and witchcraft. I also had one friend introduce me to the idea, by way of a book he read and loved, that suggested that aliens from other planets could teach us a lot about ourselves.

Within the transmitted messages, aliens from another planet send to Earth, is a common subtext that suggests that the tenets of my political ideology are wrong, but who am I to question the superior intellect of an alien species? The first question this skeptic asks the author of human psychology by way of alien scripture is, why do we assume that they are of a superior intellect? The collective thought, among certain corners of human authority, suggests that not only is there intelligent life out there, but it’s more intelligent than anything we meager humans can conceive. Sort of like the unlimited omniscience that the religious assign to their deity of choice. It would be just as foolish as those suggesting that there are no superior intellects out there, as it is to suggest that all other entities are of a superior intellect, but those that suggest the latter often have an agenda for doing so.

What would be the point of worshiping a deity that had as much intelligence as we do, and what would be the point of reporting on the transmissions from space if the aliens were not of a superior intellect that could teach us a lot about human psychology. It should be noted here that most alien transmissions align suspiciously with what I believe to involve the author’s agenda and ideology. 

The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with humans being of superior intellect (“We are in awe of the capabilities of the new iPhone seven plus, and we have not found a way to duplicate that technology in our labs”), will be the first time I take an alien transmission seriously. The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with a compliment regarding human technology in agricultural techniques (“We find the techniques developed by Monsanto Co., to be awe-inspiring”) will be the first time I re-read an author’s interpretation of their message. For some reason, most aliens want us to know that the author of the piece, that characterizes their message, is correct about the dystopian nature of human beings.  

Too much reliance on alternative sources of information leads us to be vulnerable to half-truths that cause us to put too much stock in the more unconventional beliefs. Many unconventional thinkers now consider themselves more knowledgeable than those that ascribe to more conventional truths, because they have different knowledge that they believe equals more knowledge. I would have no problem with the purveyors of unconventional information if their consumers sought results. How many outlets, of this nature, provide straight verifiable points that can be reviewed by their peers? How many of their messages devolve into motives and round about speculation that can never be entirely refuted? It’s that kind of information, in my opinion, that leads to so much confusion.

Those of us that ascribed to unconventional thoughts at one point in our lives, began to see them for what they were, and we discovered that just because a thought is unconventional does not mean it’s correct. We enjoyed the offspring of the counterculture for what it was. We all thought they were so hip that our interest in their thoughts led some TV programmers to identify and capitalize on the purveyors of unconventional thinking, until we were so seduced by the thoughts that they became a part of our conventional thinking on some matters.

Whether it be political, social, or any other venue of thought, some people derive definition by fighting against the status quo, but the status quo could be said to be an ever-shifting focus that can lead to so many beginning to convert to such thoughts that they become status quo, conventional thoughts. 

I no longer buy a book of unconventional thinking, or befriend an unconventional thinker, with the hope of having my mind changed on a subject. If their ideas do change my mind, that’s gravy, but I have learned that such thoughts, are often best used as a challenge to my current worldview, and/or bolster to my current view, as I attempt to defeat it. I do not then write of this discovery with the intent of changing anyone else’s mind. I do enjoy, however, taking the conventional standpoint and melding it with unconventional thinking to arrive at what I consider a truth that neither party might have considered prior.

The best illustration of my M.O., exists in a piece I wrote called He Used to Have a Mohawk. In this piece, I documented the conventional thinking regarding an individual that would decide to have their hair cut in a thin strip upon their head. If that person grows the Mohawk to eighteen inches, and dyes it blue, conventional thinking would lead one to believe that that person deserves any ostracizing they might receive. Unconventional thinking suggests that there’s nothing wrong with a person that decides to shave their head in such a manner, and it’s on the observer to accept the Mohawk wearer for who he or she is as a person, and that the observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person that leaves a thin strip of hair on their head, grows it eighteen inches, and dyes it blue is actually a beautiful person inside. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of an individual that used to have such a Mohawk.

What kind of person asks a hair stylist to cut their hair into a Mohawk? What happens to them when they grow older, and they go back to having a more sensible haircut? Do they change as perceptions of them alter? Do they miss the altered perceptions they used to experience when they had the haircut? Do they regret getting the haircut in the first place?

One of my favorite critiques of this piece basically stated that the immediate components of this story could lead a reader to be offended, until they read through the piece carefully to understand the complex subtext of the piece through deep analysis. “I like the way you take a Mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers stated. 

No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum with this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual that asks that their hair be cut into a Mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, than a person with a more sensible haircut could procure on any given day. Some would say that a Mohawk wearer generates unwanted attention for themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.

If a Mohawk wearer detested those that judged him for such a haircut, he or she could allow the hair to lay flat. They don’t, I pose, because they enjoy detesting straight-laced people that will never try to understand them as a person, they enjoy the bond they have with those that sympathize with their plight, and they bathe in the sheer number of reactions they’ve received since they made the decision to wear a Mohawk.

People at this wedding party, in which the man that used to have a Mohawk was the groom, stated that when the man that used to have a Mohawk had that Mohawk, they wanted to get to know him. As they learned more about him, to their apparent dismay, they discovered that he was a nice man. As an uninformed bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a Mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. I considered it odd that one man would say that he wanted to get to know a man that wears a Mohawk better –based solely on that man’s haircut– a little condescending. This groom, his name was Mark, appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these statements, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed all of the reactions that haircut used to generate for him. My money was on the latter.

No one cares that a man with a sensible haircut is nice? A nice man with a sensible haircut fades in the background, unless he has remarkable characteristics that make him stand out. My guess, watching this man emcee the various events of his wedding, was that this man did not have such characteristics, and that he probably faded into the background of many of the rooms he was in. The man was not very funny, he wasn’t the type that an observer would say was overly entertaining. He seemed like a shy, normal man that was as uncomfortable in his own skin as the rest of us are. I wondered, watching him bomb on stage, if our reactions to his antics would’ve been different if he said all that he said, and did all that he did, with an eighteen-inch high, blue Mohawk, and I wondered if he wondered the same? Say what you want about a person that wears a Mohawk, that is blue, but he does generate expectations. When that man shatters those expectation by doing silly things, or being nice, those actions stand in stark contrast to what we expected, and that leads an otherwise normal, and probably relatively boring man, to stand out in our memory.

The crux of the argument, as I see it, is that conventional thinking may have some potholes, and we should remain skeptical of everything we see and hear, but some put so much energy into believing unconventional thinking that they end up more confused on a given subject than enlightened. Forming a hybrid of sorts, is the ideal plane for one to reach as it suggests that the one that seeks unconventional thinking has been on the wrong side of so many arguments that they’ve adjusted their thinking to the realization that more often than not, conventional, generalized thought patterns on a given idea are generally true.

Ten Reasons to Buy: Based on a True Story: A Memoir

Number Ten: Norm Macdonald appears to have had no career advancing goals in the writing of this book. Most artists use the memoir as a vehicle to promote their career, and the idea that while they may appear to be a little quirky to the naked eye, deep in their heart, they are actually a very wonderful person. No matter how apathetic, somewhat cruel, and insensitive an author of such material is, the unspoken rule of such comedy is that the author break down the fourth wall, in some manner, to let the audience in on the joke. Norm Macdonald, the character that he has created for this book, and all of the layers in between do not appear to care that the reader regard him as a wonderful, compassionate, good guy. Most authors that approach a style similar to the book, qualify their motivations for doing what they did with follow ups that redound to the benefit of the author. Norm Macdonald does not appear to care why the reader bought his book, about their outlook on him, or if that reader feels good about themselves, and their world, when they have finished the book.

There are no politics in this book, in other words. Norm Macdonald appears to feel no need to convince us that he is actually very smart, savvy, or anything more than he is. There are no subtle approaches to politics that inform the audience that Norm is compassionate, empathetic, or nuanced. For those of us that do not care what a celebrity thinks, this approach is refreshing.

29937870Number Nine: The narrative voice in Based on a True Story: A Memoir comes from an old world influence. (How many modern books invoke the word “Hoosegow”?) That voice provides contrast to the cutting edge, nouveau humor Norm Macdonald employs in his narrative, but that contrast serves to intrigue more than it confuses. If the reader is the type that needs some sort of qualifier, or apology, for somewhat cruel, and insensitive scenes, takes, and reactions that occur throughout this book, it can be found somewhere in this kind, Midwestern sounding voice that Norm, and his ghost writer Charlie Manson, employ.

I knew nothing of Macdonald’s upbringing, prior to the reading of this book, and I didn’t care about it either. After reading the initial chapters of this book, however, I found myself relating to the rhythms and verbiage the author employed that was later explained by the fact that Norm Macdonald had an older father, and that he spent much of his youth surrounded by old, hired hands that knew nothing beyond manual labor. These were no-nonsense men that had an old world structure to their being that is too often lacking in today’s weak, easily offended culture. The locale of Macdonald’s rearing was different than mine, it turned out, but the small details of his maturation were so similar to mine that I was surprised to learn we didn’t grow up the exact same. This could be as a result of Norm’s better-than-expected ability to relate to the reader, or his ghost writer’s ability to translate Norm’s thoughts into a book that I found my voice in. The ghost writer is renamed Charlie Manson for the purpose of this book (not that Charlie Manson, the other one.)

Number Eight: There is some name-dropping in this book, but on the number of occasions in which he runs into celebrities, Norm’s character does not ingratiate himself to that person, or the trappings of that world. His character remains on the outside looking in, and there are no subsequent tropes that reveal a little guy finding his place in a larger world. This is not the typical celebrity memoir, in other words, but Norm Macdonald is not the typical celebrity. Norm’s character remains outside their world throughout, and it’s endemic to the character that he not endear himself to these people any more than he distances himself from them with insider insults.

Number Seven: For those of us that have never been able to explain why we find Norm Macdonald intriguing, this book only serves to highlight that confusion. He is an unusual person with unusual insights, raised in an unusual culture (unusual to most celebrities that is), and he has an unusual outlook on life as a result. A comprehensive nature of Norm Macdonald’s voice has never been captured as well before, and it remains consistent throughout this piece. How many talk shows has Norm Macdonald been on where he provides a brief glimpse into his mind with an unusual story that is funny in a way that the audience (and often the host of the show) doesn’t completely understand? How many of them have laughed with raised eyebrows, or other visual displays of concern for either Norm Macdonald, or themselves for laughing? That voice is here, in this book, and expanded upon.

Number Six: The shifts in perspective that Norm Macdonald achieves in this book are near seamless. Some call it style, others simply call it a proficiency for storytelling. Whatever the case is, if the reader has gained an appreciation for such minutiae in their books, they will thoroughly enjoy this. On those occasions when the seams are exposed, most of them involve Norm’s trademarked conclusions that remind the reader of the obnoxious conclusions Macdonald achieves in his stand up routines, and more famously on Weekend Update.

Number Five: A number of comedians, and top shelf celebrities have learned how to poke fun of themselves, but I would suggest that most of those people have learned the art of how to engage in self-effacing humor while allowing the audience in on the joke. There is a point by point, color by numbers approach to this form of comedy that has evolved thanks in part to Andy Kaufman, Chris Elliot, David Letterman, and perhaps Will Farrell. Other comedians have displayed the base nature of their talent by attempting to take the premise of this approach to crueler, and more obnoxious levels. It’s all good, though, because we all know it’s all in good, clean fun. We know that these jokes are all delivered in a tongue-in-cheek manner. In the character Norm has developed, onstage and off (with this book) the reader is not so sure. The narrative of “Based on a True Story: A Memoir” leads the reader to feel sorry for the character, while laughing at his naiveté, and his inability to abide by social norms.

Number Four: Although each bit in this book is a bit of one form or another, the layers of reality, coupled with the careful wording of each story leads the reader to believe that the author, the character, and all layers in between, believe otherwise. The book achieves that fine art of “the willing suspension of disbelief” in other words, that leads the reader to believe that they are being exposed to an uncomfortable level of nudity that is so sad that Norm Macdonald may either be a bad person, or a person that missed a few monkey bars on the way to maturation.

Number Three: Monty Python had a slogan that prefaced much of their material, “And now for something completely different.” For those of us that pine for something different, this book contains stories, reactions, and anecdotes that I have to imagine most authors, and almost all celebrities do their best to avoid. I have a sneaking suspicion that Macdonald’s public relations people asked him to include the “Based on” words to the title of his book. I have a sneaking suspicion that Norm wouldn’t mind it one bit if the reader believed this was the true story of Norm Macdonald’s life. Something tells me that his people, friends, associates, and business partners cautioned him to bolster the doubt regarding the material, because too many people might believe it’s his true story, and that this book may do some damage to his career.

Number Two: As one of Norm’s good friends says on a near-daily basis, “Always be closing.” As such, “Based on a True Story: A Memoir” is either building to a close throughout the various chapters, or its closing throughout. When it’s not strict to script of the respective story, hilarious anecdotes break the story up so well that one has to gather one’s self and remind themselves where the narrative was heading. The anecdotes appear to be accidental humor in other words. In the beginning of this book, I began highlighting some of the jokes believing that they would be precious jewels that I would have to remember. I do this with all provocative lines and paragraphs, but as I continued throughout the book, I gave up, knowing that when one highlights too often, the portions that are highlighted begin to lose value.

Number One: Norm Macdonald does whatever the hell Norm Macdonald wants. Is this a true narrative, Norm not does appear to care what the reader believes one way or another. Is this a readable narrative that involves the time-honored traditions of storytelling, Norm doesn’t appear to care. The storytelling format does have a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas feel to it, but other than that it does not follow the rules of any celebrity memoir that I’ve ever read. He may have informed us of some true facts regarding his upbringing, and the many things that have happened to him along the way, but he doesn’t care if the readers knows the difference, or, apparently, if those distinctions could lead to some damage of his career as an entertainer. As a result, I would say that this is by far the best celebrity memoir I have ever read, but I have the feeling Norm wouldn’t care what one way or another.

Let Me Have Cake

An article I read detailed that eating food to sustain life was something of a miracle. For all the things we take for granted, sustained life has to be the most fundamental. Are you sustaining life as you read this? Have you ever considered the idea that food allows you to continue living?

ask-history-did-marie-antoinette-really-say-let-them-eat-cake_50698204_getty-eAn uncle of mine contracted a muscular degenerative disease at a young age. Throughout the course of his life, this degeneration progressed, until he lost almost all bodily functions. He reached a point, in this degeneration, where he was no longer eating well. He had coughing fits in the course of digestion that caused concern. I saw these coughing fits, hundreds of them, and they were difficult to ignore. The coughing fits caused such concern, to the workers at the care facility where he lived, they determined that my uncle should no longer be fed orally. The determination was that he would be fed through a tube going forward. Uncle John was so crushed by this, he had a lawyer draw up a letter that stated that neither John, nor any of his remaining family members, would hold the care facility liable for anything that happened as a result of oral feeding. But, the letter stated, he wanted to enjoy oral feeding once again. He also threatened to sue the care facility, in that letter, if they did not abide by his wishes. He then said, and this is the heartbreaking part, that “Eating is one of the last joys I have left, and I do not want this taken away from me.”

I had a boring, mindless job at the time. Throughout the course of my time at this job, I rebelled. I talked to whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I did the work, and my scores were admirable, but management could not abide by all the talking. I assumed, at one point, that management was either trying to drive me out, or the job had become so awful that I couldn’t maintain the illusion that it was a decent job. I was miserable. I obsessed over those that had no talent, but were living the life I had always wanted to live.

A majority of my co-workers were obese. The first inclination I had was that these people ate the same as everyone else, but they were in a job that involved ten hours of sitting. My next guess was that eating was the only joy they/we had left. I, too, was gaining weight, and I was reaching a point where I didn’t care. I read an article that listed off the heinous deeds of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. One of the accounts detailed that Dahmer opened a hole in his victim’s head and poured acid in. He wanted to kill his victim’s brain, or that part of them that produced such sedition. The purpose was to allow Dahmer to enjoy having relations with them, without having to listen to their complaints. How different, I wondered, is that from the day to day life in my current job? My inability to prove my worth to anyone, much less myself, had landed me in a job where creativity is not appreciated. “Just be happy you have a job,” was the mantra fellow employees scream at the unhappy. “You’re in the greatest country in the history of the world, at what could be its greatest time, and you’re complaining? Just be happy that you can financially sustain life, and shut up.”

Routine has a way of killing the mind. Fear of the unknown has a way of convincing one that they are happy. Or they learn, over time, to just shut up!

Employers use fear as a motivation. They convince a person that they’re lucky to have a job, and they instill fear as a motivator. How often have I been informed that I’m meeting the required goals? A number of times, but it’s done in a lethargic manner. They would much rather inform their employees that they’re not, so that they’re motivated to do better. The one that achieves the goal is not the focus of concern, so they fade into the background. They allow their minions to focus on you, and destroy you with hyper critical edicts that chip away at your self-worth. Not only are you in a mindless job that eats away at any creativity that a person may use to prosper in some fashion that they cannot find by themselves, as non-self-starters, but they’re not making the grade.

We were not allowed to speak, in a casual manner, to our co-workers. All conversations were required to be work-related. We were not allowed to email friendly messages to our friends, and our Instant Message system was taken away from us. Food was all we had left, and we were all gaining weight. We were being paid to do this mindless job, and we were using this money to feed ourselves food that was killing us.

When a person sits behind a computer for ten hours a day, four days a week, the clock is a cautious bitch that won’t turn right on red. She drives twenty-to-thirty miles an hour under the speed limit, and we can’t help but notice that the other lane contains free flowing cars, speeding up to prevent entrance. We were in this position as a result of lack of talent, lack of drive, and the inability to take a risk. We felt lucky to have a job in a country that provides ample opportunity for ambitious risk-takers with an idea, but with so much available it’s hard to pick one lane to drive in. The grass is always greener on the other side, of course, but I felt I was planted in a field of weeds that inhibited my own growth. The alternative, of course, is stagnancy.

The complaints that I have/had were all sourced from a first world, privileged background, but I saw those around me grow and prosper, and I reached a point of frustration that probably should’ve led to some counseling. I witnessed firsthand, the end result of frustration so great that one doesn’t want to live anymore, but I have never been suicidal. I’ve always considered alternatives, and what greater alternative is there than change? I would explore my mind for anything and everything that could lead me to happiness. My definition of happiness, I calculated, could be attained. I could live free to explore my mind for every thought I had ever had. It was a privileged, first world avenue, but I had the means to do so. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of it?

People have definitions of the way in which one should conduct their lives. If an individual doesn’t fit those parameters, he is cast out. He is condemned for not living life the way they think he should. How should he live? He made a mistake somewhere around the first thirty years of his life. He sustained life. He entered the workforce with few skills. He developed some. He developed a work ethic. He never called in sick, and after a time, he became more serious, and he was never tardy. Once the latter was managed better, he fell into the background, but he was still employed, gainfully? That’s the question. Was he satisfied? No, he went to another place, and another place, and he discovered a cap on his abilities. He never interviewed well, his public speaking abilities were less than admirable, and he tested poorly. Analysis of his being made him so nervous that he developed a comprehensive form of test anxiety.

His role models, in life, were blue collar workers that did their job, went home, drank too much, and complained about the awful responsibility in life. These were people that focused on his shortcomings. “Where did you come up with that?” was a question they asked the aspiring young minds around them. I have gone back and forth on this relatively innocuous question. At the outset, one has to imagine that such a question arises in an adult mind when the child they’ve known for decades comes to them with a particularly ingenious thought. It has to be a surprise to that old mind to see a younger one outdo them, so one can forgive them for what may cause the young mind to question their base, but it defines that young mind in a manner that suggests that they should remember their station in life.

I’ve witnessed what I can only assume is the opposite of this rearing pattern. I witnessed young, ambitious, and adventurous minds believe in themselves. If they had questions about their abilities to accomplish great things in life, their insecurities paled in comparison to mine. They had such belief in their abilities that when I showed them awe, they swatted my awe away saying that their accomplishment was either not as awe-inspiring as I believed, or that it was but a rung on a ladder to an accomplishment I couldn’t even fathom pursuing.

I considered some of these people so different, I wondered if we were even the same species. How can one put themselves on the line in such a fashion without due consideration put into the fear of failure? They don’t mind the prospect of exposing themselves to ridicule. ‘What if it all comes crumbling down around you?’ I wondered to them. Their answer, in roundabout ways, was that they’d try something else. That wasn’t going to happen, however, for they had belief in themselves. Where does this unbinding faith in one’s self come from? Answer, it’s bred into them. They’re not afraid to try, to risk it all on something that would keep me up at night.

At some point after we spent so much time together, getting drunk and what have you, they ventured out and pursued matters that I didn’t have the confidence to pursue. They were self-starters, and they led, and they accomplished, and I look forward to eating something different in a day. The meal of the day became something to look forward to, nothing more and nothing less than my uncle had to threaten to sue to maintain in his life.

“Let them eat cake,” is an old line, purported to be delivered by the bride of King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, that suggested that the unhappiness of the Frenchman in her empire could by quelled by allowing them to eat something delicious. Some have also interpreted it to be an illustration of Marie Antoinette’s detachment from the common man, based on an idea that if they could not afford bread, to sustain life, they should eat cake. Whether or not she actually delivered that line, the import is that we, peasants, derive pleasure from food. Some of us hate our jobs, our family, and our lives, and if we can just find one semi-pleasurable meal, we can find some measure of happiness. If that single meal doesn’t do it for the talent-less minions that neglected to develop an ambitious plan for life, we can look forward to the next day, and thus not only sustain life, through the miracle of food, but achieve some sort of sensorial pleasure through the routine of it.

Eating to sustain life. Eating for pleasure. Too much pleasure? Too much eating? What else do we have?