Why Won't You Shut Up?

Why Don’t You Shut Up?  040311

The Fringe answers a popular question

Note: Readers of the Prospect are assumed to be more intelligent than the average American, since they read the Prospect.


I’m often asked, “Why don’t you shut up?” or “Can’t you keep your jaw from waggin’” or “Did you know they have medications now?”


I’m glad you’ve asked.  I don’t shut up for two people.  The first is myself.  The second is you.


First, Myself.

Half the people you know have less than average IQ.  It often seems that far fewer than half the people I know have any intelligence. 

People will believe the damnedest things, and generally, I don’t care what they believe beyond a kind of morbid curiosity. 


But long, long ago I realized that when these dumbasses get a chance, they’ll try to force you to believe it, too.


My first experience was kindergarten.  Up until that point in my life, my time was largely my own.  I wandered a vast and curious and dangerous and exciting world pretty much as my whim dictated.  My life was constantly learning about which animals and plants did what things in the course of the year.


Then, one day, mother put me in my Sunday cloths, but she didn’t get dressed up.  She gave me a sandwich and a cookie and walked me out to the road, where a kind of cattle car full of children pulled up.  I was ushered on, and from that moment until the end of the day I was not a person, I was one of a herd, and I would be asked to do the most useless things with no reason given, and all that mattered is that I did them well enough, and on time.


Little did I know, I was being taught the standard of life: do what you’re told, on time, as well as everyone else.  The social value of prompt mediocrity. 


When the cattle car brought me home that evening a kid behind me barfed, and as the bus would speed up and slow down the barf would roll past me, sometimes taking a new path, sometimes following an old one; it was the high point of the day.  I explained to my mother I’d given the school thing a fair try; it wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t be going back.  I had no idea I’d been sentenced to thirteen years of spending my daytime life institutionalized.  Eventually it dawned on me that school was to teach you how to bend your will and the minutes of your life to another.  Homework is when you actually learned something.


I didn’t like the whole “school” thing.  For the first five years, I didn’t say much.  I got picked on by teachers, other kids, administrative staff.  I was eating everybody’s cheese; it was starting to choke me.


In fifth grade, I began to speak up.  When something seemed like useless uniformity, I did something else.  If a teacher asked the class a question, I gave an honest answer. 


I learned two things: 1. you’re going to spend a lot of free time in detention if you speak up; and, 2. It’s better to die on your feet that live on your knees.  Let the bastards put you in detention.  It’s where you meet the people who can teach you the skills you’re going to need later on, in prison or politics. 


I also learned that if you are disruptive enough, institutions will try to disgorge you.  This lesson came from a chum with relatives in the joint.  “They don’t let you out early for good behavior, they let you out early if you hassle them enough.  Use resources, file lawsuits.” 


Institutions are meant to function best with a clean diet of also-rans.  If you are dangerous, they’ll punish you with violence literally to death.  But if you just get under the waistband of their undies and bite and chew, they’ll do anything to get rid of you.  The freedom is worth the taste.


Part of that is: don’t keep your mouth shut.  When someone says something officially stupid, go ahead and point it out.  If it’s your boss, or probation officer, you have to couch your rebuttal in a way that makes it hard for them to do their worst.  Even then, people will dislike you, distrust you because you aren’t letting the machinery flow, and will punish you in ‘round about ways, if they can.  They’ll give you a bad employee review AFTER you’ve transferred to another site so rebuttal is hard. 


If I don’t speak up, people will make me do stupid things.  If I do speak up, they’ll punish me, but frankly, that’s typically more interesting for me, and far more expensive for them.  Otherwise, they will try to constrain you to the horizon they can see.  They’ll try to fire you, they’ll try to put you in jail, they’ll talk dirt about you behind your back: it’s all worth it. 


Further, I’ve come to realize that I only have as much freedom from dumbasses as you do.  For this reason, if you are gay, if you are disabled and being screwed out of your life, if you are not well connected, I’m willing to go out on limb to talk about the injustice you deal with.  I’ll open my mouth.  I’ll call bullshit if I see it.


That’s what I do for you.  Society, even law, is constrained by the horizon the people in the society see.  With more than half of us not able to see the whole horizon, we end up with some pretty myopic, simple-minded laws and mores. 


Indeed, at some point it becomes apparent that the entire purpose of society is to give the simple-minded something to do.  If you give someone a little power and a paycheck they will sit around thinking of reasons why your business is their business.  They are always well meaning, and always have a very good reason that makes sense to them.  They are supported by the power structure and will simply be replaced if you take one out. 


The only thing you can do, your only recourse is to speak out.

That is not to say I'm anti-social; I like people.  God Bless us everyone, we all have to do what we have to do in life.  Still, I'll choose my own way, and you choose yours.  I don't pretend to speak for you; speak for yourself.


When the mass gets together to elect leaders, your less than average intelligence voters aren’t going to vote for the person who confounds them with his intelligence, they’re going to vote for the person they can most easily understand.  Hence, mediocre leaders.  I’m not surprised George Bush got elected, but I’ll never understand how Obama, who speaks clearly, got by the voters. 



Am I ever wrong?  Of course, all the time, but look at the standard of wrongness I have to compete with.  I’d have to sweat and bear down to be wrong that often.  Besides, if I’m wrong, I can learn; I’ll be less wrong next time. 

Are there people smarter than I am who won’t shut up?  Sure, but I don’t understand them that well.  If I ever get in a position of authority over them, I’ll try to make them think like I do.  Hypocritical?  That’s simply human nature, I’ve got the courage to be honest with myself about my own petty humanness. 


Mind you, over the years I’ve stepped on a few mines.  If you are actually going to exercise your Constitutional right of free speech, you have to learn just where the point is that they’ll sue, trump up some charges, or actually hit you.  It’s a delicate ballet.


But not shutting up is important to a life well lived.  You can’t do much to change stupidity or the injustice that comes from poor understanding, but you can sing like a little bird, describing it as it comes down.


That’s why I don’t shut up.  Tweet tweet!




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