Last night, I couldn't sleep. At all.
My occasional insomnia is of a snake-eating-its-tale variety. It goes like this. I'm unable to sleep, so, while awake, my thoughts turn to troubling topics (family, past regrets, professional worries, doubts, politics) that make it further impossible for me to fall asleep. It's like trying to grab at the bed covers, which have fallen to the floor, but only managing to grip a thread, which causes the blanket to slowly unravel the more you tug at it. The cover that might win you sleep quickly disintegrates the more you claw.
Usually, I dwell on family. Last night, however, it was politics. The recent shenanigans of the City Council campaign of Brad Lander, and the inaccurate coverage of those events by the perfidious Brooklyn Paper, had unduly upset me yesterday, and I spent the night stewing over the matter. Lander made me think of Bill De Blasio, whose seat Lander hopes to win, and who is as slippery as he is tall. De Blasio caused me to think of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who is as calculating as he is fatuously ebullient. That led me to Bloomberg, as cynical as he is rich. Which made me think of Pedro Espada and Albany's fetid swamp of corruption.
It then occurred to me in that dark 2 AM that, whatever I think of those men, whatever anyone does to fight them and point out their malefactions (and many people have done plenty), it's very likely they will all be swept into office, and will be ruling our lives and our city for years. My mind became polluted with churning thoughts of rivulets of deception leading to rivers of sleaze pouring into an ocean of fraud and greed under which New York City is soon to become a new Atlantis.
And then I read something on Kurt Strahm's blog Restless entitled "The Persistence of Assholes." Kurt has a much sharper political mind than I have, and I am thankful for him, for he often puts in cogent, clear, unapologetic words what I am consciously, subconsciously and unconsciously thinking.
Strahm points out that the mistake consistently made by liberals (and I am one—no surprise) is that—out of fairness and decency and some vague idea of the universal civility of the human race—we always go out of our way to give the leaders of the other side credit. We assume their opposing beliefs are born of actual philosophies, theories and deeply felt convictions, when, very often, these people are not borne up by any such serious underpinning. They are just bad men and women. Men of greed, selfishness, chicanery, anger and festering contempt.
The rent-hiking man whose kicks out the decades-old, family-run dry cleaner that the community loves and depends on, in hopes of a big payday; the developer who skirts laws and regulations and ignores community outcry; the incumbent who aggressively knocks challengers off the ballot; the candidate who pours corporate contributions into his coffers and swears if won't effect his judgment or voting; the man who circumvents public referendums in order to retain his grip on power; the man who represents one neighborhood, but lives in another, cushier one; the man who destroys the cultural legacy of a neighborhood in order to make a buck; the men who halt state governing until their personal needs are met—these, and many more, are not men with legitimate, but divergent points of view. They are villains. They are assholes. They have no beliefs. They do have a motivation, though, and they see it ever morning when they look in the mirror.
I'll let Restless take it from here:
Half of all people tend toward being assholes. (Proved beyond doubt when this spoiled democracy RE-elected George Bush Jr.) It has always been so, and always will be. Humanity comes from nature, which spreads risk through Chance, delivering a potential asshole each time the coin flipped at conception lands tails.
Technology helps assholes amplify their effects on others. (Proved by the existence of cable "news" networks, car alarms & chirpers, Wall St. CDOs and high-speed trading, etc.) That is the double-edged nature of knowledge; it can expand your reach and even save your life, until assholes get their hands on it.
Every year it becomes more obvious that the world is split between those who are curious and seek meaning, because they love life, and those who find meaning in their brutal ability to dominate, because they hate life and people in particular.
They sneer at empathy; the only time they're willing to stand in someone else's shoes is after they've blown the wearer to smithereens.
They sneer at "regulations" -- the tedious details of Law put in place to balance the interests of the diverse individuals who make up society.
They sneer because all those sissified niceties just get in their way.
They play the political game just to get inside and poison government, then society -- spreading the ignorance, hate and cynicism that consumes and distracts the pitchfork crowd long enough to let the assholes keep on stealing until they've trucked everything away, right down to the pipes.
You thought these assholes would go away when Obama won? They will never go away. Looked at in the most positive way possible, they are our "worse half," conniving brutes installed by nature's random balancing act to test us, to help keep our critical judgment lean, sharp and clear eyed for the long voyage ahead.