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What is Your Political Orientation?

What is Your Political Orientation?

What is Your Political Orientation?

The fundamental political difference between people is not liberal versus conservative, socialist versus capitalist, or any other worldview you can mention.

The two kinds of political orientation are those who care more about what happened than who did it, and those who care more about who did it than what happened.

We’ve learned to be suspicious of simplistic formulations that place human behaviors on two ends of a pole, like a magnet. People come in infinite shadings on any spectrum, like gay or straight. Most people fall somewhere in between.

But the poles are there, and real, nonetheless. Totally gay or completely straight aren’t absurdities, they define the antipodes of human sexual preference. They are the ends of a spectrum of sexuality.

A similar dialectic defines human political behavior. Let me coin a word here. The political equivalent of sexuality is politicality.

My politicality is more oriented to consequences than personalities, but I understand the other impulse.

Take free-trade Republicans who became Trump protectionists because they care more about Trump than free trade. Or the malleability of conservatives who viciously opposed Trump the candidate, the same super patriots who now are utterly indifferent to Russian meddling in American democracy because it reflects badly on Trump the president. It’s enough to produce tears, or tears of laughter, take your pick.

But there is a rational basis for believing in someone who may disagree with you about one thing, or even many things. The future is unknowable. When you put your faith and trust in an individual, what you’re saying is that you trust that person to hedge the future. You may identify with him or her, you may like their cutting rhetoric or the cut of their jib. Your attraction to them isn’t about position papers, it’s about who you think they are as people.

That politicality isn’t ridiculous. We are human, chemistry matters, and people fall in love, or hate, all the time. And once we do, we’re tenacious. We call that trait loyalty and, for a social species, loyalty is not to be despised.

But there is a price. Too much uncritical loyalty, too much caring about who’s doing it and not what they’re doing can be a dangerous thing. Lemmings come to mind. You never know what’s over that cliff. Lincoln’s promised land or Stalin’s gulag.

The other politicality is not an unalloyed virtue, either. A million people pulling in a million directions get nowhere. And leaderless revolutions always fail. From the whiskey rebellion to Occupy Wall Street, the lessons are clear. Much noise plus much energy plus zero leaders equals zero change. We’re the species that needs to put a face to it.

Seeing politics in this way makes it easier to understand, for instance, how religious conservatives excuse the sinful behavior of our president. For all his marriages and liaisons with porn stars, gutter language and devilish rhetoric, they’re all in with Trump. He tells them how great they are, and he doesn’t talk down to them like some snob on the coast.

And if he’s a sinner, well, so are we all. It doesn’t matter to them that good family man Barack Obama gave them health care and serial philanderer Trump wants to take it away. They don’t care what happens, they only care who did it. If Trump does it, it’s good, if Obama did it, it’s bad.

Democrats are as oblivious in the other direction. Rent by a thousand small issues, talking shop when people want to hear heart, the Democrats fail and fail again because they rarely can put an attractive face on their politics. The party of the people is the party with no personality.

The lesson here isn’t that one type of politicality is better than the other. It’s the recognition that both attitudes exist, and all people fall somewhere on the spectrum of caring more about who did it or caring more about what happened. I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to that split. And I think politicality, and not liberal versus conservative, is the bleeding heart of our political dysfunction, the ultimate cause of gridlock.

What is your politicality? Do you care more about what happens or more about who did it? Look deep in your soul and figure it out. Then try to move, just a little, to the opposite pole. Somewhere in there are the right policies fronted by the right leaders. Without both, nothing happens. Nothing good, that is.

How Do You Know If You’re An Artist?

How do you know if you’re an artist?

My friend Barry is basically an aging stoner in the Sunset District, but he’s an artist too. He wrote a book called Deep Fool that not many people read. It’s about his spectacularly wasted youth and some truly horrid things he did to himself and others. Deep Fool is monumentally depressing at times, sneakily amusing at others. It’s a good book that deserved more success, and I hope it gets it yet, but it probably won’t.

But that doesn’t make Barry one bit less of an artist. It just makes him poor and obscure.

My other buddy and opposite page-mate Manny Wolf wrote a book too. It’s called Almost A Foreign Country, a connected collection of essays and aphorisms that roughly outlines his life. It contains enough wisdom, and gimlet-eyed glances at America and the world beyond, for two hyperactive lifetimes. He sold some copies. Not as many as he wanted to (that is the definition of infinity, a writer’s book sales dreams) but some.

Manny is a teacher and friend, but mostly Manny is an artist, right down to his core. You don’t measure that by royalties.

In our culture, validation is money, and these are hard times for artists. The internet has just about destroyed the financial model for making a living in the arts. That cute kid with the guitar and the crooked smile dreams not of sold out stadiums, limos, groupies, sex and drugs, but of maybe getting enough itunes downloads to quit his day job at Dairy Queen.

Other artists have it no better. If Norman Rockwell were alive today you’d have never heard of him. The best he could hope for would be a job designing e-cards for Hallmark.

Except for a lucky few, the financial prospects for artists haven’t been this bad since they invented the copyright. How will the artist survive in the future?

Maybe we’ll go back to the old days, when the rich and powerful were patrons of the arts. But airbrushing the warts off the Viscount’s ugly daughter is hardly the stuff of artistic inspiration. I’m not sure we want to go back there.

What does that leave the artist? Everything but money. So what? If you’re a real artist you just keep making art.

There are compensations beyond money for an artist in America. You’ll have someone to identify with in every romantic comedy you’ll see for the rest of your life. There’s always an evil rich dude trying to get the girl, who loses to the cute poor guy, as long as he’s some kind of artist.

For some reason our culture promotes the fiction that artists are better people than your run of the mill Jill and Joe. Perhaps because artists write all the fiction. But don’t believe it. Artists are no better or worse than anyone else. They just have a jones for art. Whether anyone else pays attention or not.

But is it art if nobody sees it? Maybe. It could be art, even if people think it sucks. We try to measure art by popularity—except for the snobs who measure art by its unpopularity—but that’s an exercise in vanity.

We all know that Van Gogh couldn’t sell a painting to save his ear, during his lifetime, and now his work goes for eight figures. Couple of centuries from now Vinnie could be a zero again, who knows?

Maybe, thirty-thousand years ago, the really popular artists painted on tree bark. That cave art we swoon over today was painted by Abner Glug, who was so despised in his time he had to work underground. On rocks.

How do you know if you’re an artist? Simple. You do it despite. You give up your dreams of gold and glory, you take a job in sales, you run a chiropractor’s office, you go back to school to pick up that CPA ticket.

And when the lights are out and the kids in bed, you write your poetry. You grab your smock and start tossing paint on canvass, you sneak away to the garage and sand that duck decoy you’ve been working on for months. The one that will be your masterpiece. The one that will never lure a mallard to its death because it has a bigger job. To squat there, proud and painted on your wall-unit, squawking loud and clear to all who see it:

The man who made me is an artist.

A Walk on the Bright Side

A Walk on the Bright Side

Our economy is in ruins, the shining hope of the Obama administration reduced to a pitiful flicker, one war “ends” but really doesn’t, another war “starts” after eight bloody years, New Orleans “celebrates” the fifth anniversary of Katrina with an oil spill, and it’s hurricane season again.

Plus, we’re about to endure the angriest election in decades, and the best that can possibly come out of it is gridlock. How could things be any worse?

That, my friends, is what you call a writer tossing himself a softball. Because if you want to know how things could be worse, all you need to do is look backwards.

These are terrible times; they were terribler before. Things have gotten so much better that they’ve created a new set of problems. Problems our forbearers would have considered great victories.

Like the Social Security crisis; that program is running out of money. The cause of this debacle is awful in its simplicity. We’re living too long. That’s supposed to be a bad thing.

I’ve heard people actually bemoan the fact that when Social Security was passed, the average life span of a male worker was about 58 and now it’s approaching 80.

Sure, we have a cash flow problem, but increasing our lives by a third in three generations? I’d say that’s a cause for celebration. Or twenty of them. One for every birthday we have now that we didn’t have then. Look on the bright side, people.

America is besieged by enemies. Al Qaeda is everywhere, like roaches; we can’t even board an airplane without the TSA taking a picture so invasive they can count our pubic hairs.

But we had more deadly foes in the past. Our mortal, implacable, enemy today is a bunch of troglodyte losers in the desert, not a superpower with enough Panzer divisions to conquer Europe in twelve months.

We live in ghastly fright that our enemies just might manage to get their sandy fingers on a single, stray, primitive nuclear device. That catastrophe could kill tens of thousands.

But, when I was a kid, we did duck and cover drills in every elementary school because if there was a war with the Soviet Union, they had enough nukes to kill everybody. We’ve gone from total global annihilation to some freaks in a cave trying, and failing, to gas a subway station or plant a fertilizer bomb in Times Square.

You don’t have to look that far back to see how much better off we are now. A couple of decades will suffice.

Twenty years ago, AIDS was going to kill us all. Remember when Ryan White, a hemophiliac kid with HIV, was expelled from school because the parents were terrified little Sissy would get the bug and die?

That fear was exaggerated, we overcame it years ago. But AIDS was a death sentence, that wasn’t an exaggeration. Today it’s a terrible, chronic disease you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But if he gets it, plan on having your enemy around for a while, because AIDS is treatable.

Show me a 2010 catastrophe and I’ll raise you one from the recent past. BP and the Gulf oil spill, terrible. But in 1969 Lake Erie caught fire.

Today’s politics is toxic. The way we know if a politician is lying to us is if we can hear him. Politicians lie to our face, all the time. But it used to be worse. They used to lie behind our backs.

Martin Luther King is revered now. But back when he was alive and making noise, the FBI bugged him from here to Memphis. The Great American Hero, now appearing on postage stamps and boulevards all across the nation, has a 17,000 page dossier in the FBI files. The records won’t be released until 2027.

But his reputation was liberated long ago. Now, even phony conservative nut-jobs like Glen Beck invoke Dr. King’s memory to promote their causes. Which, in Glen Beck’s case is Glen Beck.

Hey, I never said everything is better.

It’s human nature to gripe and moan and pine for the good old days.

But that’s just a parlor game we play with ourselves at night, under electric light, in front of the flat screen, while machines wash our clothes and dishes. It’s just a sentiment we post to our Facebook page to amuse our “friends.”

But we know better. Things used to be worse. And if you’re too young to believe me, ask your grandparents what a “lunger” is.