Once in graduate school I inserted some ideas from Heidegger into a paper and my professor wrote: “trite” in the margin. I asked him what he meant and he obfuscated but when pressed said Heidegger was a Nazi. “Well,” I said, “say what you mean. There’s no such thing as a trite Nazi.”
We are living in “The Age of Glib”—everyone from public officials to your neighbor stinging Christmas lights seems to believe the first thing that comes to his or her mind is fit to be shared. Jack Kerouac famously said of creative writing: “first thought, best thought” but its one thing on paper and another thing at a press conference. When did it become fashionable to appear as if we don’t know better? The ghost of Gore Vidal whispers saying it was always fashionable, but Gore would admit its worse now if we could summon him.
Say what you mean. But dare to think it through. As Christopher Lasch famously said: “we demand too much of life, too little of ourselves.” Another way to say it is that our apparent helplessness when we stand before the world will always be experienced as disappointment, now think. For God’s sake, think.
Back to Christopher Lasch for a moment:
“Our growing dependence on technologies no one seems to understand or control has given rise to feelings of powerlessness and victimization. We find it more and more difficult to achieve a sense of continuity, permanence, or connection with the world around us. Relationships with others are notably fragile; goods are made to be used up and discarded; reality is experienced as an unstable environment of flickering images. Everything conspires to encourage escapist solutions to the psychological problems of dependence, separation, and individuation, and to discourage the moral realism that makes it possible for human beings to come to terms with existential constraints on their power and freedom.”
First thought isn’t best thought. Glib is always a shrug, and more often than not it’s angry—the shrugging off of those who are inconvenient. As Donald Trump said, when throwing a man out of a political rally—“keep his coat, it’s cold outside…”
I said there’s no such thing as a trite Nazi, but maybe Trump comes close…