Book Excerpt mr. fish

‘Nobody Left’ : We Are Not Alone

Why does celebrity figure so prominently in what we’re collectively willing to classify as wisdom?

By Mr. Fish / Excerpt from “Nobody Left: Conversations with Famous Radicals, Progressives and Cultural Icons About the End of Dissent, Revolution and Liberalism in America [Fantagraphics]

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Anonymous

Why does celebrity figure so prominently in what we’re collectively willing to classify as wisdom and what does such a qualification do to diminish the viability of statements made by the faceless and the dispossessed? By attaching so much significance to the prominence of the people from which we draw our most celebrated quotes, are we not in danger of dismissing the opinions produced by the overwhelming majority of us and how might this cripple the stock exchange of ideas in a democracy made whole by its multiplicity? By exaggerating the relevance of the famous have we not gotten into the grotesque habit of permitting the megaphone of renown to silence the inconspicuous, the obscure and the ordinary?  When we cast such a laudatory spotlight upon the quips and ruminations of well-known people because the amplification of their voices is so much louder than the anonymity of our own, we run the risk of absolving the powerful of their mediocrity, their bullshit and their downright stupidity in deference to their social ranking – in other words, we allow attribution to matter above all else in the exchange of truly profound insights and inspiring observations, completely ignoring the fact that a keen proclamation is a keen proclamation regardless of the breath or pen from which it was articulated, likewise with asinine or insipid proclamations. 

We have known for a long time that the better part of human knowledge is little more than our collective trust in hearsay, whether we’re talking about our comprehension of gravity or politics or beauty. So much of what we assume to be fact is really secondhand information that we accept on faith from those with whom we identify as either experts in a particular field or authorities on a subject with which we lack sufficient curiosity, time, or patience to fully engage with. It is the opinions of other people and not direct experience that informs us that the Earth is round, for example, and that our breakfast cereal is wholly nutritious and that our telepathy is forever being eavesdropped upon by a broad-shouldered pro-American Caucasian Super Being who likes to set the ethereal nightgowns of angels on fire for committing the corporeal crime of talking back to their parents or being gay or eating clams, camels, armadillos, pigs or beavers.  Indeed, whenever we relinquish ownership of anything to another person or institution, whether we’re talking about information or goods and services, we are forfeiting full access to property, both intellectual and actual, and submitting ourselves to the regulatory constraints of a very often discriminatory barter system, which begs the question:  What happens to the free and unfettered propagation of exquisite ideas and frank rationalism when strict ownership and distribution laws and traditions commodify knowledge and make it available only to those privileged enough to afford its purchase, not to mention the luxury of time wherein to consume it?

Thusly, whether we’re talking about incidental truths or the bedrock of our most treasured life philosophies or the moral laws upon which we rely most for structure and guidance, we have been conditioned to surrender our own rigorous interrogation of the world and how and why it functions as it does to the expertise and marketing strategies of those with whom we have no direct contact, nor personal relationship, nor reason to trust completely, in the comprehension of the vagaries of our own unique experiences.  We have been encouraged to believe that our adulation of society’s cultural, religious, political and artistic heroes is the best and perhaps the only way to commune with enlightenment, which, broadly speaking, has disburdened us from needing to confront, scrutinize and affect an influence on the trajectory of our own self-portrayal and, hence, on our participatory connection to the larger commonwealth.

If, for instance, my big brother, Jeff, said to me, while reaming the resin out of a pot pipe with the angry end of a broken wishbone, “You know, I was just thinking – we should start asking not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country,” I wouldn’t let the statement stall without asking him what a country was and why we should feel motivated to contribute to its perpetuation, one population’s inspiring self-determination being another population’s desperate struggle against extinction. Likewise, when Pope Francis was revered for saying, during his 2015 visit to the 9/11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan, with all the depth and sincerity of a Have a Nice Day smiley face, “For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace,” I wondered how a statement as cornball and platitudinous and contrary to the proof of the pontiff’s literal surroundings could rise to the level of pansophy. For me, it was like watching someone in a bathing suit standing in a snowstorm and proclaiming that hypothermia is just a state of mind, or, more precisely, that the winter should get a fucking medal for swooping in just in time to save so many of us from drowning in our swimming pools.

And what sucks more than anything is we are not alone.


From Fantagraphics:

In “Nobody Left: Conversations with Famous Radicals, Progressives and Cultural Icons About the End of Dissent, Revolution and Liberalism in America, the fearsome political cartoonist  Mr. Fish investigates the meaning of progressive politics in the 21st century by comparing the New Left with the Newer Left and interrogating public intellectuals, comedians, writers, and politicians who have been part of the liberal cause from the 1950s to the present day.

“Nobody Left” includes interviews with and essays about Norman Mailer, Christopher Hitchens, Howard Zinn, Lily Tomlin, Graham Nash, Joan Baez, Dennis Kucinich, Tariq Ali, Calvin Trillin, Mort Sahl, Robert Scheer, Paul Krassner, Jon Stewart, and others.


Mr. Fish
Mr. Fish

Dwayne Booth (a.k.a., Mr. Fish) is a cartoonist and freelance writer, has been published in many reputable and prestigious magazines, journals and newspapers. In addition to Harper’s Magazine, his work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones Magazine, the Advocate, Z Magazine, the Utne Reader, Slate.com, MSNBC.com and various European newspapers. He has also written novels, screenplays, short fiction and cultural criticism collections, and several volumes of political cartoons.

Copyright 2020 Dwayne Booth

3 comments

  1. I am smart enough to know that relatively speaking there are far more intelligent people in this world than I, but relative to what is necessary at this time my intellectual superiors are mostly idiots. Relatively speaking.

  2. Back in the ‘70’s sociologist Magali Larsen Sarfatti wrote something along the lines of when expertise is associated with those who have power, people come to think of those who have power as having greater knowledge, while expertise itself is marginalized. That’s part of the problem of the myth of meritocracy. Today some people think of celebrities as having greater power than themselves, at least to air their perspectives. I’m sick of listening to YouTube notables as thinking they are smarter and have superior judgement than the general public just because of their soap box. I hope Bob. Scheer interviews Thomas Frank about his new book, The People, NO! Frank has a lot to say about anti-populists and how meritocracy is one of the tools they use to stay in power.

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