Ralph Waldo Emerson – possibly the first real Contrarian* in American History…
* * * *
(Editor’s note: Make that “Independent, like Moses and Jesus.” As discussed in my upcoming February 2021 post, which means changing – to the extent possible – all references to the word “Contrarian” in the text below into “Independent.” Then too, it seems that most Independents have to have a bit of a Contrarian streak to stay Independent…)
* * * *
It’s the eve of Election Day, 2016, and thus a time for reflection. (Not to mention prayer…)
Whatever the outcome tomorrow, we’re in for more turmoil. The “war for the soul of America” will go on. It will continue largely unabated. (And by the way, Googling that “war for the soul” phrase got me 13,400,000 results.) So whoever becomes the next president, he or she will face rabid hostility from close to half the American population. Which means in turn that he or she will face the prospect of impeachment, or at least a realistic threat of impeachment.
But as Lincoln noted – some time before that other Civil War – a “house divided against itself cannot stand.” He went on to add that “I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”
Unfortunately, it may take a good long time – not to mention a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth – before that “all one thing or all the other” comes true. In the meantime, Cheer up!
I’m about to tell you how Mi Dulce – and Donald Trump – turned me into a Contrarian:
A contrarian is a person who takes up a contrary position, especially a position that is opposed to that of the majority, regardless of how unpopular it may be.
(See Wikipedia.) And a word of explanation: The Internet says Mi Dulce is Spanish for “My Sweet.” That’s what I call the lady I’ve been “dating” some time now. (Since the start of the relationship, near the time I started saying she had me “wrapped around her little finger.”)
Also since then she’s broken up with me at least 10 times. And I learned – over time – that she is an ardent conservative. (What I now call an “RWW,” or “right wing wacko.”)
There’s more on that later, but it does raise the topic of Contrarians. As Merriam-Webster defines it, a Contrarian is a “person who takes an opposite or different position or attitude from other people.” There are good reasons why I prefer that term over “moderate” or “Independent.” (One of them is based on Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.” But basically I just like the sound of it. It sounds more “manly.”
That is, I used to call myself a “moderate,” but these days that sounds pretty wishy-washy. (“Oh, I just can’t make up my mind!”) Then back in July – close to Independence Day – I toyed with the idea of calling myself an “Independent.” (See On the Independent Voter, which includes the image at left.)
But in the end I’ve taken up the term Contrarian, and it’s all because of Mi Dulce – and Donald Trump.
Getting back to Mi Dulce: When we first met, I was all “moderate and nicey-nicey.” (Like Aristotle, below right.) I used to say – or at least think – things like, “Let’s not rush to judgment!” Or, “Let’s wait until we get all the facts before we say anything that might be taken the wrong way!”
The problem is that in my neck of the woods – especially with someone like Mi Dulce – that moderate, reasoned, common-sense approach will get you nothing but bowled over. (In the sense of hearing something so “whacked” that you are rendered temporarily speechless with disbelief.)
Now, to be fair – not to mention moderate and reasoned – I’m sure there are lots of left-wing wackos out there as well. (Somewhere.) But I haven’t met any. None of them seem to live in my neck of the woods.
Instead, where I live there seem to nothing but right-wing wackos.
That means I’ve had to listen to nothing but moaning, groaning and complaining these last eight years. (Since Obama got elected.) So naturally I got a bit tired of it. (Hearing the same complaints over and over.) But then – to top it off – it turned out that Mi Dulce was a right-wing wacko too.
(But not really. She has a heart. I’ve seen her buy a hamburger for a homeless guy, and there’s a stray cat that keeps coming by to mooch a free meal from her. Plus she’s cute…)
And I’ve learned one thing about RWWs. (Including but not limited to “Mi Dulce.”) They all use the 8-track tape mode of political discourse.
If you’re under the age of 65, you probably don’t remember this “magnetic tape sound recording technology,” popular in the U.S. from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s. That’s when “the Compact Cassette format took over.” (And what’s a compact cassette?)
The thing about 8-tracks was that they never stopped. You never got to the end. They used a “continuous loop” system, which is why they didn’t have a rewind option. As long as you played the tape, you got the same thing over and over again. The same “data,” the same songs played in the same order over and over again.
Which is pretty much like trying to have a meaningful conversation with a right-wing wacko…
The upshot? My definition of a Contrarian includes the fact that we have to take a position directly opposite the person we’re talking to just to get a &^%$ word in edge-wise!
You could also refer to it as having to “out-wacko the wackos.” And that’s turning out to be a skill that we former “moderates” are definitely going to need in the years ahead.
Which is where Donald Trump comes in.
How “the Donald” could turn someone into a Contrarian should be self-evident. But in another sense you could say he’s liberated us from all those hangups about having to be factually accurate in what we say. (In other words, “moderate.” Or for that matter feeling the need to say only things that actually makes sense.)
But that also means that from now on, those right-wing wackos are going to feel free to say anything outlandish that comes into their pointy little heads. In fact, the more outlandish to better.
Which means in turn that if we former-moderates stick to “just the facts” – or only make sense in what we say – those RWWs are just going to bowl us over. So, in self-defense both moderates and LWWs will need to learn how to “out-wacko the wackos.”
Which turns out to be actually kind of fun, once you get the hang of it. And that’s something I would never had learned without Mi Dulce. (And of course “the Donald.”)
I’ll be writing more on this topic in the days to come, but for now I’d like to watchfully wait until tomorrow night. I want to see who I’ll be “contrarying” over the next four years.
But before closing, a few observations. One is that being a Contrarian is a bit like being a public defender – which I was, for 24 years – or like a “Devil’s advocate.” (One of the “see alsos” in the Wikipedia article on Contrarians.) Another is that at times, the give-and-take between Don and Hillary these past few months have reminded me of Playing the Dozens.
But finally, note that being a Contrarian means learning how to make a snappy comeback. And the nice thing about right-wing wackos is the fact that they make the same arguments over and over again. Which means your “moderate” or “Contrarian” snappy comebacks don’t have to be all that snappy. You can plan your snappy comebacks way ahead of time.
Which translates to: “Bless those right-wing, 8-track political arguments…”
* * * *
“Factory optional 8-track stereo player … mounted between the center console and dash…”
* * * *
The upper image is courtesy of Ralph Waldo Emerson – Wikipedia.
The 8-track image is courtesy of 8-track tape – Wikipedia.
Re: “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.” On the other hand I could just give up the fight and join the ranks of grumpy old white people who now surround me on every side. But who wants to be a cliche? Or to paraphrase Jackie DeShannon: “What the World Doesn’t Need Now Is a Bunch More Grumpy Old White People.” (See also “No city for Grouchy Old White People.”)
Re: Playing the Dozens. This verbal game is known best – in the white world – through the phenomenon of Yo Mamma Jokes. (“Yo’ mamma so fat,” “Yo mamma so ugly,” etc.)
The Dozens is a game of spoken words between two contestants, common in Black communities of the United States, where participants insult each other until one gives up. It is customary for the Dozens to be played in front of an audience of bystanders, who encourage the participants to reply with more egregious insults to heighten the tension and, consequently, to be more interesting to watch.
The problem – as Richard Pryor once noted – is that “white folks” do not know how to play. White people – witnessing such exchanges – fail to realize that they offer an alternative to actual violence. (“The status of a participant is greatly diminished if he answers a verbal insult by fighting.”) And they fail to recognize that the goal is to show some linguistic creativity, rather than “weakening” the opponent or the community. Which of course opens a a whole new topic of discussion: Teaching white people like Hillary and Don the right way to play the game…
The lower image is courtesy of 8-track tape – Wikipedia. The full caption: “Factory optional 8-track stereo player in a 1967 American Motors (AMC) vehicle mounted between the center console and dash.” The article added: “The format is regarded as an obsolete technology, and was relatively unknown outside the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Japan.”