We do moo and baa together in one or another social or public forum and call it our Ode to Freedom. Can we, though, articulate any sense of freedom other than entries by figures and calculations in the ledger books of state? Have we so relativized meaning that we can no longer say anything about anything anywhere anytime other than Who’s to say? when questions we have been systematically dis-educated to ignore arise. Yes, who’s to say is what everyone says when he wants his invalid assertions accepted without question. This, of course, is rooted in an idiosyncrasy of thinking, or what he confuses for thinking, usually a random passing of images or phrases in the mind. It’s a great advertising ploy, this who’s to sat, to get everyone to accept anything at any time anywhere; all opinions have become equal in weight, in value–mostly because it’s been the ability to evaluate opinions that has come under the greatest assault in our acceptance of semi-literacy as being good enough; everyone is a genius for fifteen seconds, just as everyone through twelve years of school was special.
If all things were relative, though, there would be nothing for anything to be relative to; so all opinions being of equal weight is absurd. Reductio ad absurdum, more literally a reduction to deafness, which is what the absurd is–a lack of sense or a sense, the sense of hearing, which is what we need to hear an argument–rhetoric being the Greek root word for the Latin oratory, all argument in classical antiquity arising in its forms in orality. Yes, of course rocks must have weight otherwise we would see them floating in the air. But what about feathers? They too must have weight, but what kind of weight in as much as we see them floating about. The steps in the process of inferring gravity can be examined–but we do not want to stay put for any revelation that what we have blurted in opinion is absurd. This is very much where we have arrived, perpetual relativity ad nauseum, ad absurdum. With this, we have reached true nihilism, a nihilism at its purest. Infinite possibility does bury as I have said before. In our mass media culture, saying anything makes it so, even if only, again, for fifteen seconds, but that quarter of a minute is enough to sustain us in our thinking for years, or ruin us for life.
There is no truth, only perpetual topicality. If we lived in Bradbury’s world of Farenheit 451, though, all knowledge would be lost, all literature gone, burn all the books–how far from the mob that burned down the library in Alexandria do we imagine we are–not very far. Our Public Schools are reinforcing this nowness and newness as the prime and the last measure of culture, of what we need in what we read. Our Brooklyn Public Library system, where I live, has set its survival, its very existence, its perpetuation, on circulation. All funding and distribution of money to the branches depends on circulation. Books are discarded irrespective of their intellectual worth, of their literary value or theur historical significance. But as I have said it’s the ability to evaluate that we have undermined. This move toward gleaning the shelves of the branches of books that do not circulate is contrary to a library’s chief purpose, ay least traditionally. It sets the library in parallel position with bookstores. Circulation alone is as close to profit that a not-for-profit institution like the Public Library can come. But libraries are not bookstores although they are supposed to store the treasure house of our civilization, of our culture and the many cultures of the world.
I should have seen the hand writing on the wall, as a friend of mine had said, when over the last two decades slowly, but inevitably, America shifted, en masse, to the right. Wherever you might have found yourself in the linear gradations, set horizontally in political spectrum, that American political spectrum has shifted to the right relative to a fixed and constant, albeit absolute evaluation of politically spectral analysis. Thereffore, as I have witnessed, black people have stopped telling it like it is–although I have noted that many still might think they do; and in addition to this reversal from the days of my childhood, Jewish people have become more conservative, shifting almost en-masse to the right from wherever they were situated on the political line in America. Even the radicals are less liberal and thus more conservative.
I don’t know what Joe Monte thinks or would think if he were alive. I have no words for Joe, just as I have no words for any of the victims I have been taught I am supposed to feel something for, although I often do not as I often forget they have ever existed–most of us do not recall or lose the ability to recollect most of the people in our lives. Most of us are fixed on the moment now and our problems eclipse the world’s problems. History is just out of this world. Try as I may to feel for the people close to me in my life, sometimes I fail to feel anything, or most of what I should, imagining some situation where I would be expected to feel something. This lack arises though, when I think about what I should be feeling, which is always a bit in abstentia in abstentia, a kind of absent-presence or present-absence superimposed over itself, an emptiness lingering over emptiness. This thinking about what kind of feeling I should feel is absurd.
I can see the grocery store where Joe Monte worked with his wife and his daughter and his rolled up sleeves revealing tattooed numerals on his arm. I initially did not know what the numerals meant. I subsequently found out and I wondered what I felt. What was I supposed to feel is a question that marks our problems in the world, in our lives; our lives are the world. Sometimes I can see Joe’s wife or his daughter, but principally, Joe, the grocery store owner, and the man with tattooed numbers on his arm, with the sleeves of his white shirt rolled halfway up his forearms, who sliced my ham on his non Kosher slicer to make my ham hero for school lunch when I was going to JHS 285 across the street from Tilden High School. What does being able to see him mean? What does remembering this mean . . . to me to you to anyone? I still can’t imagine what it was like to have been tattooed as he was, when he was, where he was, and not even another Jewish man born here in Brooklyn, New York, USA, as I was, knows why. The knowing we do, we have is other than Joe’s. Yet, still . . . he had to have been a teenager, the highest percentage of survivors who were not collaborators were teenagers. Children and the elderly were the groups with the highest percentage of deaths. To feel what another feels is called empathy; sympathy is something else–in fact, it is what in a Romance languages is used as a translation of the English ‘nice.’
To be nice or not to be nice has always skirted the acts of foolishness in one evaluation or another. Perhaps there was a time to be nice as we mean nice when we say nice in earnest about someone was to be foolish. Fools are usually nice–business men love fools and their money–flattering customers with ‘nice’ has always been a form of marketing. But just how nice, thus perhaps polite, fits in our pursuit of the Truth or our revelations of truths is a puzzle to me. However, polite has become the new politique, a kind of muzzle put on the people who fear being publicly impolite more than they do the loss of their freedoms and the exercise of their rights that come along with a politique from the people less than straight forward, less than direct, less than honest, less than truthful. We live in a permanent social fog of half-truths and lies, propaganda and advertising.