What I really mean to say


by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

My descent into curmudgeonly conduct has accelerated at an Olympic rate. On the one hand I feel obliged to apologize for the burgeoning acerbity. On the other hand I relish the vitriol with the evangelical enthusiasm of a recent convert. In any event at my age I am too old to submit to vapid Pollyanna mannerisms. If I am to be bad-tempered so be it. I have at least the advantage of saying what I really mean to say.

This capitulation has perhaps an unfortunate air about it. It lends the impression that I am disheartened. Which I suppose is true to some extent. But it doesn’t capture the more important feature that I really believe and accept what I think.  I no longer reject my private ruminations as either unfair or unqualified.  I’m not about trying to prove anything right or wrong.  I am just worn-down ignoring what compels me. Furthermore it disturbs me that I may have been camouflaging relevant conclusions for the sake of etiquette. Frankly I have always admired people who speak openly and I now seek to copy their example.  Not only are they per force intelligible but they also avoid the obfuscation of social fluff.  If nothing else the adoption is pragmatic, designed to be informative and direct though not necessarily entertaining or tolerable.

Take democracy for example, a topic of some considerable persuasion in this latest era of nationalism and isolationism.  The clinical distinction between democracy and republic has been seriously eroded in Western society:

The key difference between a democracy and a republic lies in the limits placed on government by the law, which has implications for minority rights. Both forms of government tend to use a representational system — i.e., citizens vote to elect politicians to represent their interests and form the government. In a republic, a constitution or charter of rights protects certain inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by the government, even if it has been elected by a majority of voters. In a “pure democracy,” the majority is not restrained in this way and can impose its will on the minority.

The most obvious example of the declension is the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America.  The situation (unlike the ruinous Brexit) is anomalous because Mr. Trump succeeded to the Presidency notwithstanding having failed to win the majority of the popular vote.  It was the “Electoral College” (which paradoxically was designed to prevent abuse by the majority) that gained him admission to the White House. Yet the result turned the prophylactic on its head and the adverse repercussions for minority interests are undeniable, if not in fact then in appearance.

A more proximate and personal illustration of plain speaking is my developing intolerance of undeserved deference, mechanically putting up with rubbish from others. The rejection of preposterous behaviour is often construed as flying in the face of good manners as though one should instead bite one’s tongue.  While I concede there is motivation for tempering blanket incivility, the stoic philosophy may insinuate even the most legitimate revulsions. Increasingly I am guided by my instinctive reactions in coping with these absurdities. As with instinct generally its challenge is not acknowledging its persuasion but rather the failure to act upon it.  It is easy to say that “one should trust one’s instincts”. But few people do. We choose instead to be ushered by hackneyed strictures which have the perceived buoyancy of logic or tradition. I emphasize that relying upon one’s instincts cannot be a private matter if it is to have any endurance; otherwise it only contributes to the preservation of a public and private agenda which may be at odds while preserving the false appearance of uniformity. Even if one isn’t promoted to “call a spade a spade” (thereby ornamenting one’s personal proclamation) it is at least imperative to retain any authenticity to dismiss the public agenda and avoid inglorious submission or the lesser complaisance.  This may amount to the crime of nonfeasance as opposed to misfeasance but at least it serves to strengthen one’s distance from the contaminating features. It means letting go, maybe even turning one’s back on others. Failing that harsh decision one may at least preserve sufficient dignity to avoid pandering. It is such a slippery slope to accommodation.

Lest this hardened pivot is misconstrued as entirely moral I hasten to add there is considerable capital to be garnered from the elevating posture. The approbation for sticking to one’s guns is quite extraordinary. The essential satisfaction is not being “right” in any sense so much as being relieved to discover the correctness of one’s own thinking – correct as manifestly imperative for oneself (and admittedly there is a degree of smugness in doing so). It is at this juncture that roguish gloating takes hold imparting a very desirable element of mischief. After years of doubt concerning the cogency of my thoughts I have at last reconciled myself to them as both axiomatic and proper. The arsenal of my cloistered opinions has overtaken my quandary.

“This conservatism of the wealthy class is so obvious a feature that it has even come to be recognized as a mark of respectability. Since conservatism is a characteristic of the wealthier and therefore more reputable portion of the community, it has acquired a certain honorific or decorative value. It has become prescriptive to such an extent that an adherence to conservative views is comprised as a matter of course in our notions of respectability; and it is imperatively incumbent on all who would lead a blameless life in point of social repute. Conservatism, being an upper-class characteristic, is decorous; and conversely, innovation, being a lower-class phenomenon, is vulgar. The first and most unreflected element in that instinctive revulsion and reprobation with which we turn from all social innovators is this sense of the essential vulgarity of the thing.”

Excerpt From: Veblen, Thorstein. “Theory of the Leisure Class.” 1899