I got a degree in creative writing from the University of Glasgow in (duh) Glasgow, Scotland, an occupied territory of the English empire. I know that’s probably not evident by the quality of my writing but I’m sure not all of Einstein’s classmates went on to change our understanding of the universe.
My program’s convenor was a jolly and very smart fellow. He was one of those rare people who could be misbehaving and unapologetic but, despite that, you still found him charming. He told us once that when we write critically about literature, we must always remember to separate our taste from our judgment. Not much stuck with me from that degree course. That’s not an indictment of the course NOR is it praise. But that bit of wisdom always did.
One of the things that makes humanity terrible is a rejection of that wisdom by a vast majority of human beings, on issues as trivial as a yogurt brand preference to whether or not a person believes racists tenets.
I’m absolutely human, unfortunately. So I am certainly guilty of conflating my taste with my judgment. But there is a difference when I grant my taste the importance or value of my objective judgment.
I happen to be correct in doing so.
Kidding! Just kidding.
So here’s my rant on taste versus judgment that no one asked for:
Taste: the movie ‘black swan’, the movie ‘call me by your name’, Henry James’ books, most abstract art paintings, most modern R&B (1990 and later), and many other creative works that have been certified by serious experts as “masterpieces”.
Judgment: I could make a reasonable argument about why Call Me By Your Name is an objectively terrible movie. But I recognize that when nearly every serious critic has the film on their top 10 films of 2017, it is probably not an objectively terrible movie. I can even force myself to put aside my loathing of the film and try to pluck out parts that I could defend as well done.
So I can hate something and it can still be good. We all do it.
But humanity, in general, doesn’t seem to embrace this paradigm. For example, you’ll see a Facebook post about a film the poster has recently seen. It might go like this: “movie x is the worst fantasy movie ever made.” And then another Facebook friend of yours might post a review of the same movie and it might go like this: “movie x is amazing! Best fantasy movie ever!”
My beef with this is threefold:
1. It’s applying a binary evaluation to a non-binary thing. If some asshole, myself included, writes “movie x sucks”, that asshole is assuming the role of arbiter of quality. That’s awfully conceited and completely unjustified because the only person involved in that asshole assuming that role is the asshole them-self. That’s not very democratic. And let’s go even further. Let’s say every person on earth, except 1 single person, unanimously voted and made that asshole the only arbiter of quality for all movies.
That still doesn’t mean the movie sucks to that one hater. Nor should that hater feel any obligation to say or believe that movie sucks. Fuck those people.
2. But maybe it’s just grammar or linguistics? Maybe they are saying “movie x sucks” but what they mean is “I think movie x sucks but my opinion is not the only one that counts.”
Maybe, just maybe, some people really mean the above. But frankly, I have no reason to extend that generosity to human beings. But while most people don’t give a shit about writing well or they just never learned how to write well, I don’t think desire or ability has anything to do with these kinds of statements. They’re just self-assured and myopic. Just another shade of terrible in a terrible organism.
3. But maybe another possibility is that prefacing what you believe with “I think” is viewed by some people as timid? “What, they aren’t bold enough to make a strong declarative statement that doesn’t leave any space for disagreement or nuance (this is the Republican rhetorical method)?” This kind of posturing and this kind of confidence and self-assurance is seen as a positive character trait. Most people respect it and admire it. In fact, the American electorate elected it for president in 2016.
And even though I’m very guilty of making firm, myopic, self-assured pronouncements all the time and even though I’m very militant on a lot of issues, I recognize it’s not a positive trait. It’s part of what makes me an asshole. It’s what I believe and it’s my anger and I own all my words. It’s simply part of what makes humanity terrible.
Conversely, I like plenty of things that reasonable people could justly label as not good or healthy: Suicide Squad (the movie), porn, Cheetos, etc.
I think words matter a lot. I write a lot of words that are, cynical, strident, illogical, mean, shitty, defiant, conceited, and probably demonstrably untrue. But I own 100% of them. I was perfectly comfortable writing them when I wrote them. I don’t care whose feelings are hurt by reading them. I won’t take them back. At that moment, when I wrote them, they were true to me.
But I am open to being convinced that my opinion is wrong. I wouldn’t say it’s likely but if you’re constructive and civil about it, sure, let’s dance.
But humanity through the ages, and quite evidently apparent in the divided United States today, has rarely chosen to engage in civil debates about serious issues. Humans have generally decided these conflicts with blood, terror, and any other form of immorality available.
So I guess my tortured summary is that one of the reasons I think humanity bites is that we betray our clumsy positions on serious issues, not just on trivial things like movies, with the way we communicate. Words really matter. And while I don’t think most humans think about the complex and powerful nature of their grammatical constructs, I think the ignorance of that aspect of language is, as in a crime, not a justification for it. Just because a person doesn’t know they are being an asshole doesn’t make what they choose to do not something distinctly asshole-ish.
In further tortured summation, the fact that most people are myopic and blunt with their words is just another clear indication of the true nature of humanity.
Simply, it bites.