06 March 2021

The Genetic Fallacy in Art and Life—Author's Disclaimer/Preface


The bulk of the forthcoming essay was written between four and five years ago. That time already seems more like a past life. I abandoned this project when I realized that I could not (and possibly no one could) bring off its full demands in an intellectually responsible way. Also when I remembered that I have grown to hate reading things like this. Also when I accepted that this was a desperate lunge toward equilibrium borne of a living situation which had become unpleasant. It arises most directly from this latter consideration. After CalArts, I rented a room in a North Hollywood apartment for about four years. (Later I would learn that almost everyone who moves to LA rents a North Hollywood apartment for some similar stretch of time.) My apartment-mate was a Valley native almost exactly my age whose backstory and views could not have been more different from mine. Our more intense political discussions are among my most valued as well as my most traumatic memories. Supposedly this was and is exactly what a Divided America needed to be doing more of. Frankly I think we might just have another civil war if we all did intentionally what I did accidentally. I for one have had my fill for a good while. Give me time for about 500 more books before I next confront the specter of an alt-right cohabitant. Politics aside, I grew to deeply respect this guy for bootstrapping himself after being dealt a really terrible hand in life. I also realized that underneath all the bluster he was off-the-charts brilliant. I consider him an intellectual equal and often wondered if he was not in fact my superior. I am not one to confuse education and intelligence. No one who has been to graduate school should need any clearer empirical demonstration that the one does not follow from the other. To my detriment, it seems that I veritably radiate the contrary impression; either that or there are just certain things anti-academic people like to say about people who finished college, whether or not these things are true. If the latter, then they stand guilty of projection, that most Freudian of thought crimes, and Freud's ghost gets to have a chuckle at their expense while the ghost of Ernest Jones whacks him off. If the former, then maybe I just need to be more mindful of managing impressions, and maybe ghosts don't actually whack each other off. Anyway, about my roommate, curiosity eventually turned into avoidance when I found that subtleties of context and idiom made discussion of anything more than the weather extremely difficult for both of us. In between breakthroughs, we spent way too much time hammering out semantic and historical baselines. While I was making my great leap into books, he did almost all of his reading on the internet (as I formerly did too) and openly questioned my frequent trips to retrieve materials from the library. The library was but a five minute walk away. Susan Sontag used to go there after school to work on her editorials for the North Hollywood High School newspaper. I thought that was cool. He thought it was part of the problem. One time I got him to at least consider the usefulness of public libraries by invoking the specter of a tech company monopolizing the electronic distribution of "books." But by that time I was just bluffing, trying to survive rather than thrive. Needless to say this made the discussions even less constructive than they had already become. Finally, as Trump's 2016 candidacy gained momentum, my cohabitant became enraptured, he seemed to identify personally with the man, and the frankly racist test-balloons which he had previously learned not to float over my airspace gradually reemerged as well-rationalized "racialist" aircraft carriers. Alienation of affection set in. It was felt, and it is felt still. The only other people I know who voted for Trump did so with little to no enthusiasm, the same level of enthusiasm with which I voted, in my first one of these obscene spectacles, for Al Gore. One such unenthusiastic maybe-Trumper whom I work with told me in the course of a comparatively tame political conversation that I go "straight out of the liberal playbook." This recapitulated my old roommate's assertion that I would agree with him/them if only I could reject the lies I had been taught in school. That is reason enough to post this, albeit a reason I wish I didn't have. They won't read it and wouldn't understand it. Those are facts and not insults, empirically tested ones no less against which the next countervailing evidence will be the first, and against which offense taken is merely creeping doubt projected. Neither education nor intelligence nor the twain can guarantee understanding; and understanding, though it is a practical necessity, is not a moral quality. Sometimes I too do not understand, literally or otherwise, what these gentleman are on about and I can't find my way there by any available route that I can see. Their opinion of me, apparently, is that I have not bothered to look, and that my education has consisted of passively-ingested propaganda. The two of them actually are as different from each other as I am from each of them, but they have this opinion of me in common, along with their contempt for the public libraries and used bookstores where I have sought and found many things which they remain ignorant of. The first time I said I was going to the library after work, my co-worker told me "You have a disease." That is an insult. (Technically it's also a microaggression, which I do believe is a real thing, even though I'm skeptical of multiculturalism, the Situationists, government arts funding, the anti-gentrification movement...) This essay was one attempt to reckon with all of these issues and more, all at once, complicated yet further by the burden of its concurrent therapeutic, equilibriating function, resorted to instinctively after one too many invitations to a debate on the genetic diversity of American Blacks, a debate for which I was and probably will remain ill-prepared, I confess, to take any informed position at all. The exercise here was to explore what such mutual ill-preparedness means without moralizing about it. This is not easy to do. I think it might be impossible. Certainly it is impossible for anyone to think that you have achieved it unless you engage in some serious impression management. All these misgivings and others aside, following an emergent pattern here, another frozen essay is hereby defrosted, heated, and served. Just don't start any civil wars.

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