Grin Juice Concentrate
Definition of the Day – Bureaucracy: a complex organization of humans (often attributed to governments, but actually perfected by corporations) meant to maximize innocence and to minimize accountability in order to better generate irrational outcomes.
So I had an interesting morning in the coffee shop: one beginning with absolute declarations of what God demands of women, and ending with a joke about geriatric cunnilingus.
Things were just swimming with The Unholy Consult when I happened to overhear this guy a couple of tables over telling another guy how ‘the prophet’ had told ‘man’ about the indecency of women appearing in public. The private sphere, he insisted, is every bit as glorious and rewarding as the public, but the obscenity of modern society was such that women were ‘confused,’ to the point where they could no longer cherish what was their exalted role.
Now, I admit I was offended – morally offended. I had just read the story about how Lara Logan, the CBS’s chief correspondent in Egypt, had been raped and brutalized by a gang of men in Tahir Square while thousands of others were celebrating Mubarak’s fall from power. The sordid contradiction of this still makes my head spin: the way human triumph and squalor so effortlessly flow through the same ancient sewer system.
I felt the need to show this guy he was an idiot.
But I’ve grown suspicious of this feeling over the years. I could tell by the sheer intensity of his declarations that he was an Idealogue in the Old Testament sense. And I could feel a matching intensity swelling in my breast. Piety – oh, my.
Then he turns to me and says, “You’re that famous author, aren’t you?”
And I reply, “Well, I wouldn’t say ‘famous.’ Notorious in some small circles maybe.”
“Notorious? Why is that?”
“Well, because I write about how stupid human beings are…” I explained what I thought our three biggest cognitive shortcomings were: the way we’re hardwired to think we’re more right than others, to unconsciously manufacture evidence of our more-rightness, and to be downright allergic to doubt and uncertainty.
“Hardwired? I find it interesting you would use a transitive verb. So tell me, who did the hardwiring?’
“Who? Why does there have to be a who?”
And we were off to the races. I didn’t even dent this guy, and trust me, I’ve sent many, many religious idealogues trotting away pale-faced with doubt. I’m the guy who waves the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses in off the street – truly. He was as certain as certain could be.
I said, “These are extraordinary claims you’re making.”
“Extraordinary? Not at all. What do you mean?”
“You’re saying that you’re know what God Almighty wants.”
“I don’t know anything.”
“So you don’t know the proper place of women?”
“God knows – not me!”
Holy Moly. It was like playing three card monte with language: every time I pointed out the red queen, he would hold up a black one and say that God decides what we call red. And so it went, until he told me he found me insulting. I laughed, and said, “Dude, have you ever heard a recording of yourself?”
At which point he decided to play “the bigger man” game: he stood up, and said, “Well then, I apologize,” and held out his hand in friendship… except that it was shaking for rage. Literally.
I took his hand and said, “Hey look. Stick around: I can talk about this stuff all day.” And I seriously could. Out of honest curiosity, sure, but probably out of some instinct to establish ideological dominance more.
No. He had to go. And I believed him. Then he asked me for my name, and you know what? some instinct felt viscerally threatened by the request. I gave it to him anyway.
Afterwards a couple of female regulars took his place, wily and irreverent souls, and one of them told me a joke that a prison inmate had told her earlier in the week: “What does an 85 year old woman taste like?”
“I don’t know.”
What a morning. I could spend a lifetime parsing the significances and implications.