Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Old Business"

I received this comment on August the 26th, but other stuff intervened, and I was unable to respond as quickly as I wanted to. Now, finally, I have time. So here it is.

I wrote a post called “Inflationary Hearing” (August 26). In it, I talked about people on both ends of the political spectrum who, when they hear the opposition promoting a minimally threatening idea – I used examples involving gun and abortion rights concerns – their brains instantly inflate that proposal to its most imperiling extreme. Commenter Ger Apeldoorn accurately, I think, described it as “a tendency to interpret anything that is said to them as an attack.”

My point was that “inflationary hearing” is a troubling obstacle to any effort to reach, not solutions, these issues will always be contentious, but reasonable compromises that people of good will can live with.

A commenter, monikered Lord Lillis commented:

“These are what I call your “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” pieces. Adding, “Personally, I don’t care for them.” The Lord then adds, “But I wonder: should you do more of them so you get better (at the risk of losing readers like myself) or do less (because they aren’t your forte and they don’t kill like you camping pieces.”

Okay. One thing at a time.

What’s a “Crotchety Alter-Cocker”? (I know. But you may not.)

“Alter-Cocker” is Yiddish for “old fart.” “Crotchety” is English, so no translation is necessary.


In my view “Inflationary Hearing” is not one of my “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” pieces.

This is.

But that isn’t.

To me, a “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” piece involves a writer, nostalgic for his past, offering “things were better then” comparisons like,

“In my day movies were a quarter and popcorn was a dime.”

“Inflationary Hearing” had nothing to do with nostalgia. It had to do with my oft-mentioned concern that people have stopped hearing what their ideological opponents are saying to them, and instead hear only red flags and fire alarms.

“Inflationary Hearing” has resulted in a polarized environment the likes of which this country has never seen before. Yes, I know about the Civil War. It’s in all the history books. But even in the Civil War era, though each side deeply believed that the other side was wrong – “Slavery is wrong!” “Overruling ‘States’ Rights’ is wrong!” – they did not, as they do today, believe the other side is crazy. Or, from the Right’s perspective, “going straight to hell.”

“Inflationary Hearing” was what I hoped was a thoughtful offering, whose inclusion in a blog entitled Just Thinking seems, to me, entirely “title appropriate.”

Lord Lillis wonders if I should do more “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” pieces, in his words, “so you get better.” At first, this stung.

“I need to get better?”

Ouch! And then whoh! How could I have so erroneously overestimated my performance? At the time, I felt that “Inflationary Hearing” successfully delivered on my intentions.

But now, I have to admit I was wrong.

Although criticism has never been my favorite form of acknowledgement, it is difficult to deny that, had I written “Inflationary Hearing” better, Lord Lillis – though he might still have found it not to his liking – he would at least not have miscategorized his complaint under “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” pieces.

Instead, Lord Lillis would have focused on the flaws in my argument, or that the argument was indifferently delineated. He might also have gotten what I was going for, but respectfully disagreed. The nature of his criticism, however, is not along those lines. Though it possibly might be, were I to more carefully read between them.

I believed that Lord Lillis had played the “Alter Cocker” card inappropriately. It was only when, around the same time as the criticism, some fortuitous reading matter came my way, that I started to re-think my position, and wonder if Lord Lillis might actually be correct after all.

The Round Robin is a “Psychologists-Psychoanalyst Practitioners” newsletter. I am not a subscriber myself, but it comes to Dr. M, and when she spots an article she thinks I’d appreciate, she passes it along to me.

Which is how I got to read, “Notes on an Application of Psychoanalytic Thought” by Richard Grose, Ph.D., LP. (Don’t ask me what LP is. To me, it’s a long-playing record.)

Examining a seminal moment in our history, Dr. Grose argues that, without knowing it, the Founding Fathers had drawn on psychoanalytic principles, while engaging in the excruciating process of hammering out the articles of what would ultimately become the United States Constitution.

Case In Point:

James Madison adamantly opposed the proposal that all the states should be represented equally in Congress, finding such a distribution of power inconsistent with the importance and prosperity of the larger states.

The smaller states, however, fearing marginalization, announced that, that without equal representation, they would refuse to ratify the Constitution, the result being, no United States of America.

This is a really big deal, right? Something needed to be done, or a nation that had just been established would have their name taken off the globe.

A compromise was suggested – which will sound familiar, because it’s what we’ve got today – called “divided sovereignty”, wherein the number of representatives per state in the House would be determined on the basis of population, but in the Senate, the states, no matter their size, would each be allotted the same number of senators, that number being two.

Madison also hated this compromise, fighting tooth and nail – and apparently not always respectfully – against it. However, realizing he lacked the votes to defeat it, and also realizing that the country would go “bye-bye” without some form of accommodation, Madison ultimately surrendered to the position of the majority.

Now, get this. Quoting Dr. Grose:

“Later, after the Convention finally finished its work, while arguing for the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, Madison wrote eloquently in praise of the concept of divided sovereignty – which he had done so much to try to forestall.”

He fought. He lost. He thought it over. And he changed his mind.

Awright, Madison!

On the re-think, ala Madison, I have come to believe that Lord Lillis was accurate. “Inflationary Hearing” was a “Crotchety Alter-Cocker” piece. But I am not the trumpeting the “things were better then” of my youth.

I am nostalgic for the Eighteen Century!

Thank you Lord Lillis for drawing that to my attention. I am really going to have to watch myself.

I swear to you.

I had no idea I was doing it.


Diann said...

Whatever category you choose to put it in, your Inflationary Hearing post was one of my favorites. I remember reading the comments at the time and thinking "whoa". I thought that the vehemence with which the critical commenter responded to you was a pretty firm affirmation of the principle you were describing - a knee jerk response to any comments which may suggest a different point of view on a subject that the listener holds dear.
And I think that the term “Inflationary Hearing” is brilliant. So much so, that I remembered it at least 3 weeks later when I was explaining the principle to someone else.
As for the types of posts that you write, I would like to put myself in the category of, “I just like to listen to smart, thoughtful people talk.” So please keep writing about everything – I always find something to take away.

Lord Lillis said...

My five-month-old son started chirping over the baby monitor early this morning. As has become custom in our house I reach over the night stand to snap on the light, sit up in bed and check my iPhone to see if there are any postings to my favorite blogs while my head clears enough to tend to the tyke.


Mr. Pomerantz even breaks out a fancy psychology text and starts bringing Madison into the picture, Madison! The big guns! I'm at a tremendous disadvantage. My wife isn't a psychologist; she is a market trends analyst. So, we have books about what people might be drinking next year but nothing on rhetoric. Since I'm studying law I have plenty of books on rhetoric but Oliver Wendell Homes wasn't know for his commentary on alter-cockers.

What's worse is that my fellow commentators might try to visit my blog - the untouched-in-years blog. They would find it covered in digital dust with electronic tumble-weeds metaphorically tumbling through; the twitter feed chattering like an unattended telegraph. "Who is this little pischer* to dare challenge the Great Pomerantz when he can't even post to his own blog." I hear the commenters cry. "Why can't he keep his thoughts to himself" (which, given the amount of traffic it gets, is the same as posting to my own blog).

And this from one of my favorite bloggers! Whenever the local social media hipsters get together over craft-brewed beer (my favorite is Elevator Dark Horse) I'm always recommending "Just Thinking…". And now I'm being challenged by the master himself, with psychology newsletters!!…and Madison!!!

Did I mention, "Oy"?

But eventually the panic subsided. As a good researcher I went back to primary sources and reread "Inflationary Hearing", my comments, the comments of others and then this entry. And I stick by my guns. If Mr. Pomerantz prefers they can be 18th century guns. It's his blog but they are my guns. All this is over form, not substance. I object to the first commenter's comments (or is that recursive?) I was very careful not to tip my hand as to whether I agreed with the premise or not. I also didn't say the article was bad, just that it didn't kill like the other pieces. In show business terms it was like Kelsey Grammar in that scottish play - it was good but not the artist's forte.

I'll note that, in all the Sturm-und-Drang in this post Mr. Pomerantz never does answer my question. I'll leave that as the sole criticism in order to forestall any angry mobs.

But, as I said, this is one of my favorite blogs. And the chagrin of being mentioned so publicly has shamed me into riding into my ghost blog and seeing how I can clean it up for the people passing through.

Oh, and I don't think of 'Lord Lillis" as a "moniker"; it's more of a "sobriquet".

* "Pischer" is sort-of a rough antonym to "alter-cocker".