Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
'The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.'
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that in 1936. I won't deal here with the context in which he wrote it. I'd rather take it on its merits as a thing unto itself. Fitzgerald meant contradictory ideas such as "doom" and "hope." Let's be a bit less grandiose in choosing our ideas. Let's choose, for now, bigotry against black people, and the idea that bigoted notions about black people, or any people for that matter, are wrong because they are not informed by the deep and wide fullness of reality.
Clearly, a person can hold these two opposed ideas in the mind simultaneously. We white citizens of the USA are famous for doing so, and very few us can be accused of being plagued with first rate intelligence. How can we be intellectually both racist and anti-racist? This is because the mind is not a flat surface on which ideas are inscribed and from which they are read. The mind is a layered, weird thing, puzzling the creature attempting to use it to define its identity. It's not even clear how to define the mind within boundaries. The mind is so complex and elusive that even now it's telling me all kinds of lies about itself.
Fitzgerald was evidentally after something else in his statement than we've come to imagine when we consider it. As such, it's irrelevant to our topic, which today is "distraction." Well, then, why begin an essay on distraction with an entirely irrelevant bromide?
How better to demonstrate distraction? Right? I mean, that's pretty clever, actually.
Instead of testing for first rate minds, which are irrelevant in almost every circumstance involving anything of any importance, we should be trying to weed out the last rate minds. And to me, a last rate mind is one that divides the world into opposing ideas.
Here's an example: a friend of mine posted an article from Mother Jones about law enforcement attempts to identify individuals who might be planning to commit the kind of mass shooting we've been seeing more frequently over the last few years, and to connect with that (typically) young white man's family, friends and community contacts at school and elsewhere to get (typically) him to seek help in sorting out and dealing with his anti-social feelings in a non-destructive way. This strategy was part of an effort the author of the piece called "threat assessment." I found it a fascinating article.
But someone, who obviously disagreed, commented thus:
'This article should be titled "A Distraction from the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooting". If we are going to stop the next mass gun shooting common sense gun law measures need to be passed and our acceptance of gun violence, as a culture, needs to be addressed. America's acceptance that gun violence will happen, but always to someone else, is one of the root problems behind why we don't voice common sense solutions. It's as intellectually sharp as saying "some kids will always drink bleach" and then choosing not to child proof your home.'
Now this last rate mind had clearly not read the article. What she was doing was creating an opposition of ideas where none existed, in this case the imaginary dichotomy between mass shootings as a gun availability issue, and the same as a mental health issue. I can only assume that any advocacy for addressing the mental health aspect of the problem was a signal to this sub-par intellect of an attempt to call attention away from the gun aspect of the problem. And when such a signal was detected, bells and sirens and whistles and cuckoo clocks would go off in this person's head, and she wouldn't be able to restrain herself from what she saw as her duty to get the conversation back on the only productive track that would save our innocent children from being gunned down.
And one of the main problems with a person like this is that they are somehow never nearby professing their lackwit opinions when you would be in a position to slap them in the face with a mackerel and bring them partially to their senses.
In fact, the article she was dismissing did take into account the availability of guns, comparing our current response to mass shootings to that of Australia's over the past decade, and contained this sentence:
'The presence of more than 300 million guns in the United States—and the lack of political will to regulate their sale or use more effectively—is a stark reality with which threat assessment experts must contend...'
'In a sense, threat assessment is an improvisational solution of last resort: If we can't muster the courage or consensus to change our underlying policies on firearms … at least we can assemble teams of skilled people in our communities and try to stop this awful menace, case by case.'
All right, dimwit didn't read the article, and she was definitely wrong about it being a distraction. So what does all this talk about a non-distraction have to do with actual distraction? I'll tell you: the belief that there is a simple yes/no position to any issue is part of the dumbing down of social discourse in our sick nation.
The idea that if you sympathize with how dangerous and underpaid and under-appreciated police work is you must be in favor of the harassment and indiscriminant gunning down of young black men by police is one such retardation of discourse. The notion that if you express an understanding of the frustration Palestinians feel at being occupied and a sense of offense when protesters are labeled terrorists you must therefore not care about the Jews being stabbed or run over by Israeli Arabs is another example of moronization.
Sadly, once an issue has been divided by moronization into two opposing sets, solutions bridging the moronic divide grow further out of reach. And once violence is involved, stupidity has won the day.
There are people who encourage our impotence to address issues with complexity. Those are the ones profiting from the status quo. If real change were to occur, these people would have to make their living in something like an honest, productive fashion.
The bi-polar, mutually exclusive version of discourse is itself the distraction. Now, we are, as rational beings, prone to understand the world through contrast. An object can most easily be distinguished by contrasting it with what it is not. This is where our rationality hurts us. But we are also irrational beings, aborting our inquiry at the very point where it shows us the difference between what we're looking for and what we're rejecting, and reacting in response to that contrast as if we suddenly have all the information we need to go into action.
In my opinion, we have to seek the uncertainty. Once something strikes you as certain, you need to go beyond that point until you find the flaw in the rational edifice. It's there. It's always there. Then you have to embody the uncertainty, adopt it, live with it, and if you can still act then, you might be acting with a degree of wisdom.
Assimilating uncertainty into one's decision-making process may not be one of the seven habits of highly effective people. But I think we've been run by highly effective people long enough. Most of them have proven themselves to be sociopaths. At the very least, they're due for a good slap in the face with a cold mackerel.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!