Thought of the Day: “I Pay Your Salary!”

You know the common canard “I pay your salary!” directed against, say, police officers or teachers? Have you ever considered just how absurd that is?

Let’s say that I have a dispute with a certain public school teacher and I play this card. Well, in the first place, I don’t pay his salary: I pay a small percent of a percent of his salary. More to the point, if I were to try to withhold that percent of a percent, I would go to jail. The fact that my taxes are part of the pool of money from which his salary is drawn gives me absolutely zero leverage over him, because I do not exercise any decision making powers over whether that money goes into the pool or how that pool is used (and the amount wouldn’t be enough to matter even if I did: would you be afraid if your boss threatened to dock your pay a tenth-of-a-cent?).

As he is a public servant (theoretically), what I can do is to examine the candidates who are or intend to be running for the position from which they could theoretically exercise some leverage over this particular teacher (though with the unions they probably won’t have much no matter what) and then cast my vote for the candidate who seems closest to my own view of thinking. If I’m really committed, I can give up a generous portion of my time to try to convince as many other people as I can to do the same.

So, what I should really say is “I can cast a ballot that, if accompanied by several thousand others, might eventually put someone over your head who would at least be inclined to punish you for this!”

You’ll note that that is not really a very good threat. Which is why teachers and other ‘public servants’, by and large, don’t care what any parents or other members of the public have to say.

Being accountable to ‘the public’ is not at all the same thing as being accountable to any particular member of the public. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Friday Flotsam: Free Thinking, a Review, and the End of the World

1. One of my co-workers has a sticker on his computer that says ‘Danger: Free Thinker’. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and he seems like a decent guy, but in my experience legitimate ‘free thinkers’ (to the extent that such creatures exist) do not proudly identify themselves as such.

‘Free thinker’ or ‘think for yourself’ tends to be nothing but a form of branding; a way to lend unearned weight to opinions. It’s the intellectual equivalent of ‘organic’ or ‘made with natural ingredients!’: usually not true and of dubious utility when it is.

When someone describes himself as a free thinker, he usually means that he is free of long-outdated forms of popular opinion and instead follows one or another contemporary trends without realizing it’s a trend.

2. It is one of the odd traits of a culture such as ours, which prides itself upon its advanced nature and defiance of ‘established modes’ that its people usually fixate their critical faculties, not on genuinely established opinions or current dogmas, but on those that were or are supposed to have been held several generations before.

This, of course, is inevitable; a society needs an established creed to guide its actions and values, and you can’t have the populace legitimately in perpetual revolt against the current climate of opinion, otherwise it wouldn’t be the current climate. So a society that holds independence of thought and rejection of dogma as its defining characteristics and feeds its people on myths of bold reformers who courageously stood against tradition will have to have a kind of false bogey ‘establishment’ for the people to feel they are boldly defying.

Hence the phenomenon of ‘free thinkers’ who all think according to how those in power wish them to think. Hence too the even more ridiculous assertion that children do not learn to think for themselves from their parents, but from the paid indoctrinators of the State.

3. I’d say I’ve only encountered a few writers whom I would class as legitimately independent thinkers. That is, who actually appear to me to subject all or most of the ideas that come under their view to critical examination and draw conclusions from that. They tend to draw the ire of both ‘sides’ of the actual establishment and to critique those assumptions that are held to be unquestionable by all.

In any case, they do not usually boast of being ‘free thinkers’, they simply offer their observations and let them stand or fall on their own merits. Rather like how if you get freshly-slaughtered pork from a homesteader, he doesn’t feel the need to put ‘organic’ on the package.

(By the way, none of that was meant as a back-door attempt to assign myself the label. Though it is hard to declaim it without seemingly invalidating everything I say. “One cannot be too careful not to think about it,” as Prof. Lewis put it).

4. If I were to tell you that I spent some time watching an old man spreading goop around, you would come away with the idea that I had perhaps spent time with a senile relative, or even in a mental institution. You’d likely feel pity and sympathy for me.

If I were to tell you that I had spent time watching M. Bouguereau paint (ignoring the time factor for the sake of the example), however, you would react with awe and envy to find that I had been privileged to see a genius artistic hand at work.

Yet the two statements are both true versions of the exact same subject. Indeed, the first one is a more factually specific, describing the action rather than containing it in the more abstract concept of ‘painting’. Nevertheless, the second is the more accurate way of describing it, because it conveys the nature of the event more correctly and evokes more appropriate responses.

Similarly, I think that, whatever the factual sequence of events that made up the creation of the world and the descent of species, it will always be more accurate to describe it as “in the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth,” and “God formed man out of the clay and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”

5. The Terror has gotten an entirely-too-flattering review from Caroline Furlong. Read it and then check out her blog if you haven’t already.

6. Some people say, and have been saying that it’s the end times. Technically, it’s been the end times for 2000 years now: with the coming of Christ we’re in the final age of the world regardless. But as for whether we’re approaching the actual Last Judgment, well, my own thoughts are, why would that matter? What difference does it make? We’re all heading for judgment, final or personal, and it can come at any time for any of us. We’ve been told that repeatedly. Worrying and wondering about the end times seems to me a waste of time. The important thing is to be ready and have our lamps timed and full of oil when the time comes.

(For what it’s worth, personally I don’t think we are, but again, who cares?)

Thought of the Day: A Realization

While cooking dinner tonight, I suddenly realized something.

You know that episode of The Simpson, ‘You Only Move Twice’, where Homer gets a dream job with a boss who turns out to be a Bond villain (“My department is way ahead of the lasers and germ warfare divisions!”), only for the rest of the family to become dissatisfied with their newly comfortable lives and want to return home?

I just realized that Hank Scorpio being a supervillain has no bearing on the plot whatsoever.

In any other show, or in any other episode probably, the fact that Homer’s dream boss turns out to be an evil madman would be the main point. It practically writes itself (“Dad, Scorpio’s trying to take over the world!”). But here, it’s entirely a running gag that has nothing to do with the main plot, which is just the family being discontented by what they thought they wanted and Homer choosing to give up his perfect job to make them happy. It’s just part of the humor that he never realizes that his friendly and caring boss is an evil genius out to conquer the world.

Felt the need to point that out, since in retrospect it makes the episode even funnier.

That’s Albert Brooks, by the way