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Becoming a monster to defeat the monster

 

After watching the brutal second-to-last episode of Game of Thrones I turned on a news channel to alleviate my discomfort. What was I thinking? Bear with me, I’m going to start in an unusual place…

I’m troubled by the vilification of highly literate and educated people, labeling them “elitists.” Once upon a time, the most learned among us were undisputed and logical choices to run companies and govern nations. Regardless of their privilege and pretense, cultivated individuals were valued above all else. After all, didn’t we want the smartest people running things? Fallible wisdom is better than uncontested brutishness.

The populist agenda would have us believe otherwise. Higher education is for entitled liberals and rogue progressives. Such elitists don’t care about hardworking Americans, they say. Professors and scientists live in ivory towers. They are so out of touch. Learning is thusly framed as a luxury i.e. elitist. Only snobs have the luxury to care about esoteric things like Truth and Beauty.

There are kernels of truth in such notions; that is why they become popular in the first place. Yet, it’s paradoxical. We all aspire to be successful geniuses even as we relish dismantling those who are. The rich are evil. Yet everyone plays the lottery.

We reap what we sow. Populism has become the new normal. Any satisfaction seeing a Washington elite lose the 2016 presidential election has been replaced by something far more depressing and sinister. We have a dumb-ass for a President. And when absolute power is given to a dumb-ass we all get screwed.

That said the other side has taken the bait of outrage, fomenting extremism. As the POTUS has gone low so, too, have they. To fight the monster they have become one, unwittingly or otherwise. The insidious political correctness demanded by the “smart” and “woke” has made speaking one’s mind a minefield. God forbid you do not walk and talk a certain way. You will be shunned. You will be fired. Or worse. The outraged have become an angry mob. Journalism is no longer objective. Media channels are mouthpieces for one side or the other, both equally repugnant. I am as sick of CNN as I am of Fox.

In this crucible of correctness socialism feels like a reasonable idea, an antidote. It is neither. Power to the people is merely a bizarro form of populism, a ploy fronting as a bold idea. At first the Mother of Dragons was the Breaker of Chains, freeing the oppressed and punishing their captors. She was a good idea, too. Spoiler alert: She isn’t anymore. Give anyone absolute power and invariably all goes to shit. An angry mob created this government. Now an angry mob wants to take it out. What is the common denominator? An angry mob. Brandishing their hash tags like Valyrian steel.

I want my leaders to be literate and temperate. I want them to be smarter than me, vastly so. So that they have the courage to forsake righteousness for compromise, to ask for help in difficult matters, to be able to say the three bravest three words of all: “I don’t know.”

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When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.

On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 90th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

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I’ve been thinking a lot about “identity politics.” The whole country has. Or should I say the whole country is, because I don’t know that a lot of us are thinking at all. We have become so reactionary it is terrifying. In America, who or what you stand for has taken precedent over measured consideration, empathy, seeing an issue from both sides. There is no more happy medium. You are either one thing or the other. And, honestly, neither thing is good thing.

Be that as it may, I wonder how this impacts brands. Do consumable goods have politics? Should they? Do we attribute identities to cars and toothpaste and everything in between? Yes we do. And no we shouldn’t.

By way of example, let’s start with the obvious. The media. CNN is considered left wing, liberal and Democratic. Fox is right wing, conservative and Republican. Each of these brands wears its identity on their sleeves. Each side brands the other. Both networks are worse for it.

But what of other media? Is Twitter Alt Right because Donald trump loves using it? By extension, is the President/#notmypresident alt right because members of that group seemingly endorse him? Is Facebook liberal because Mark Zuckerberg is? You can see where I’m going with this. Attributing political identities to things is a dangerous game and we are all playing it, now more than ever.

What if all brands of pickup trucks were deemed red state and racist because they are beloved by cowboys and hunters? Those groups like guns and are white so you do the math. Conversely does that make every driver of a Prius and Tesla a liberal Antifa supporter? Sadly, it would appear so. That means if I buy a Ford Pickup I will be identified accordingly… and incorrectly.

This is nothing new. To some extent we have been judging people by their purchases for years. Brands have taken advantage of it. Chasing young people. Courting African Americans. Yet, I think in the last decade, in the age of social media, brands have been increasingly victimized by identity politics. Profiled. The CEO of a fast food franchise has overt religious beliefs, is mocked for them on Facebook or wherever, and suddenly everyone who buys a sandwich there must believe what he believes. Likewise, if a company keeps a low profile and focuses only on doing what they do are they in turn deemed unsympathetic monsters?

It goes on. And we all play a part. What is the end game? Goods and services that cater to one only identity or another? Messaging and Badging their products to appeal to one group but not another. “Welcome Liberals!” Or: “Conservatives Your Money Not Wanted Here!” That’s not a free market. Can we leave the labels for ingredients?

If you identify with my writing, hit me up. I’ll do it for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Pepsi. United. Spicer.

Look at your feeds. Your friend’s and your family’s. Hell, look at mine. These three fails have dominated EVERYTHING the past few days, one following the other, aftershocks in a pop culture earthquake. I don’t even have to provide a summary. We’ve all seen the videos. Shared them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. If you turn on the news that’s all they are talking about.

And my o’ my, have we commented. Holy Hashtags! The shaming has been resounding. Pepsi is tone deaf! The “Friendly Skies” have gone berserk! Sean Spicer is a fool… or worse!

And you know what? In two weeks it won’t matter.

In some of these cases, maybe all of them, there will be a backlash of support, if for no other reason than to court controversy and/or create “click bait.” A second wave of folks will “rise up” and say what needs to be said. All ink is good ink, they will say about Pepsi’s idiotic commercial. “It became part of the conversation!” And that “doctor” who was bloodied while pulled from his plane seat? Well, it turns out he was nothing but a pill pusher anyway, convicted and defrocked. And Sean Spicer was only comparing one dictator to another. The righteous will quote Jesus: “Let him who is without sin… be the first to throw a stone…”

In the unlikely event that none of the above happens, this will: Pepsi shall throw support at various “urban” causes, proving they are not tone deaf to the needs of the “community.” Their PR will be all over it. United will codify its CEO’s janky apology with a full-page newspaper ad and a preachy commercial. They will give the mistreated passenger money to go away. Mr. Spicer will be muzzled and muted, more for embarrassing the President (that’s Trump’s job) than the content of his words.

In the end there is no end. More lunacy will occur, replacing the current noise with new louder noise. Shameful acts will occur and thusly be shamed. Then the shamers will be shamed. And so on and so forth. In the olden days of the 20th century any one of these scandals would have lasted for months. Not anymore. The modern content zombie constantly needs new flesh to tear apart. Why do you think they’re called “feeds?”

And yesterday’s chewed upon? You guessed it. They merely get up. People will still drink Pepsi. People will still fly United. And, if he’s not scapegoated into the private sector, Sean Spicer will still be the White House Press Secretary.

One final thought and it’s a dark one. We find this all terribly funny.
Maybe it’s true: “We are all Negan.”

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For copy & content creation that breaks through the noise, hit me up: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

mlk-in-jail

When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.

On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 87th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html