Monday, July 4, 2016


Did you ever notice-how noble "causes" are so often passionately promoted by people with no real skin in the game?

I suppose this has always been so, though I don't remember it being so noticeable in my younger days. Perhaps the advent of 24-hour news cycles, Facebook, tweeting, Snapchat, and widespread social networking in general, have given larger platforms to the "Do-Gooders" and revealed more "causes" to be championed and exploited. To make smug sanctimony and show-offishness a virtue instead of an unhealthy preoccupation with oneself.

There's something so self-reverential and narcissistic about it. "Look how wonderful I am!"

And it's not enough to have a "cause." We have to announce our wonderfulness to the world. Flag pins, wristbands, colored ribbons and other assorted paraphernalia. "Save the Whales" bumper stickers. T-shirts with slogans. A well-known (and favorite of mine) political writer has called it "virtue-signalling."

And of course the less the "cause" directly affects the supporter of that cause, the louder the voice proclaiming his/her nobleness!  (I doubt any big-shot is going to install a large swimming pool in his/her backyard for Willie---not this year!)

Oops! When I wrote "swimming pool" above, it unexpectedly triggered a very old memory, putting the lie to my second paragraph.

It probably would have been in the early 1970s or late '60s. My three boys were in the age range of perhaps 8-12, or 7-11. Can't really remember now.

But New York City had decided to start busing kids around in the school system. That meant bringing in a lot of children from troubled city neighborhoods into our relatively stable school district. There had been a lot of problems with busing in other states and communities, and we were uneasy at the prospect. (Not without some foundation in reality. By the time our daughter was in public school, the teachers were locking classroom doors to keep out marauders, and I had to watch my young daughter, very scared, nervously scoot into her classroom and safety. Despite the cost, we were eventually forced to move her into a private school.)

But while implementing the policy was still under discussion in New York, a college classmate of mine invited our entire family to a day at her home in Connecticut. Her husband was quite well-to-do. They lived in a tony neighborhood, with an excellent suburban school. (And if it hadn't been good, they would clearly have been able to transfer their kids to a private school.)

We had lunch first, around the swimming pool, chatting all the while. But when the talk turned to our busing dilemma, our host was filled with righteous anger at our concerns. Clearly we were class snobs, bigots, intolerant elitists, etc. How dare we deny poorer children the rights that our children enjoyed?  Stunned, since we had merely expressed our concerns, not any outright rejection of busing, my husband and I exchanged looks and quickly moved on to other topics.

Then it was time for the kids to swim. (Remember how old my kids were---and obviously sensible.) Our host called over our kids, and in a condescending tone, announced to them that there was a chemical in the pool. If they peed in the pool, it would turn red. Frankly, I was shocked that he would think so little of our children's upbringing or our parenting. Moreover, that he would put the "sanctity" of his damn pool above common politeness to his guests.

I remember thinking at the time, "You son-of-a-bitch. Invite the (lower-class) Boys' Club of Bridgeport to swim in your pool before you lecture US about school busing!"

Of course, if it happened today, I wouldn't just THINK it, I would have said it to his arrogant face! (One of the nice things about getting older. And I HATE wussy older ladies. We've earned the right to say what we're thinking!)

But back to today's Do-Gooders. All too often, they are rich celebrities, politicians, business people, well-compensated Media pundits. Folks who are untouched by the causes they champion. And their degree of positive sanctimony is inversely proportional to the negative effect it has on the lives of people who are directly affected.

The mega-rich tycoon who rants on about open immigration for all,  but is building a six-foot-high wall around one of his properties.

The media, political and celebrity gun-control advocates who don't go anywhere without their coterie of armed bodyguards.

The famous star who is big for Climate Change, but insists that all her various houses be kept at 68 degrees, even when she's not there.

The Climate Change politician who has made a fortune on his cause, but uses more electricity and power for his home than half the people in his state. And travels by private jet, sanctimoniously insisting that he can balance off  his effect on the environment by buying climate offsets.

The politicians who can afford to go to a gym to lose weight, mandating that fast-food places post calorie counts, which will inevitably drive up the prices for people who CAN'T afford to go to gyms, but can only afford to eat fast food.

The politicians who scream about "Soak the rich!", "Let them do their fair share"---noble phrases---all while living off the freebies, trips and perks of their office (paid for by the poor taxpayers!) and angling to get as rich as possible as fast as they can! (Check out how many Senators and Representatives in Congress are millionaires. Doesn't anyone ever wonder how they got there on their modest salaries?) As I've mentioned in a previous entry, sometimes I think that the "Soak the rich" rhetoric merely disguises that ugliest of all vices---envy.

The "Rape Justice" crusaders, so enamored of their cause that they can create victims out of questionable reports, and can't even change their tune if the report turns out to be false. (Mattress, anyone?) And the lives they may have ruined? Doesn't affect THEIR lives, so who cares?

Don't be silly! If you are against the cause, you are not only wrong. By today's standards among the elite, you are EVIL!

And that's the other point that bothers me. Today, we can't just have differences of opinion. We must shut down all debate by demonizing those who disagree with us. (Well, it's easier than defending your position with reasoned arguments. And in our adolescent culture, we really don't like thinking hard, more than we have to!) So much easier to shut down your opponent with a patronizing sneer! Or even worse, as more and more protests continue, to stop dissenting opinions with violence.

Part of this, I'm convinced, is the dumbing-down of Academia. It's all about how we FEEL today, not about how reasonable we are. When I was growing up, the perceived wisdom was: If you're an idealist in your twenties, that's natural. If you're still an idealist in your thirties, you haven't grown up.

Well, half our culture is at that sticking point right now. So professors, who are supposed to teach reason and logic, yammer on about Safe Spaces and Micro-aggressions and "feelings", to protect the semi-babies under their care!


Yes, there was some of it in our day, but not nearly to the extent it is now, as it warps our thinking and our collective maturity today.

This current rant triggered another couple of memories before I sign off.

It involved the new middle school in our suburban New York neighborhood that an elitist architectural critic from a prominent magazine thought was wonderful. At the time, I wrote to him with all the points below---never heard back, nor did my letter appear in the magazine. (Surprise!)

It was during John Lindsay's tenure as mayor of New York City. Our suburban community needed a middle school. The mayor had dumped the city's architects, who had been turning out graceful, functional school prototypes for years---which worked! An early self-righteous "do-gooder" and elitist snob (he created The Big Apple concept, which focused almost exclusively on Manhattan, as though the other boroughs didn't exist), Lindsay hired an independent architect, who basically created a beautiful building. Except that it was suitable for an industrial park in the middle of an open field, and meant to be used by adults, not by kids ages 11-14 or so!

It was built like a dark gray fortress---3 stories, pentagon shape. No accident that the photo in the article was taken from a helicopter---that was the only way you could see the thing whole. You'd only catch gray slab pieces of it as you looked down the nearby streets.

Barely visible narrow slits for windows on the outside, which is where the classrooms were located (the rooms were weirdly trapezoid in shape, given the shape of the building!). Therefore, all classrooms had to be constantly lighted with artificial lighting---not enough daylight could come in through those slits. Teachers soon learned that they had to lock the classroom door. Otherwise, some kid would open the door, turn off the lights, and all hell would break loose in the dark.

However, there WERE windows. It was a hollow pentagon, with a large grassy atrium in the middle. So all the inner walls were floor-to-ceiling windows. Unfortunately, those windows were where the corridors were. It soon became apparent that kids of that age were prone to horsing around as they walked to classes. To prevent someone from being shoved through those wonderful windows, they had to install thick plastic sheets over the glass, which severely curtailed the light and the view of the grassy atrium.

And the atrium? Lovely, with a wrought-iron gate leading from the street to a grassy space with benches, etc. Except that local troublemakers would go in there during off-school hours and have access to the school. Solution? Block the entrance to the atrium, both from the gate on the street and from the inner school doors.

But the mayor or the architect didn't have to send THEIR kids to school there! Form over function, and people with little common sense. Or a sense of being so wonderful and perfect that reality never entered their exalted world!

And finally, perhaps to show that human nature doesn't really change that much, and we have always inclined to demonize our opponents:

At the time of this brief anecdote,  I was still in college. The world was consumed by the Red Scare. The McCarthy hearings, the whole Communist question, etc.  I found it hard to comprehend the whole situation from the comfort of our easy American life in the 1950s. (That is, until I spent two years in Germany a few years later as an Army wife, and learned how precarious was my soldier husband's life if the Russians should invade the West!)

But, young and idealistic and ignorant of reality as I was at the time, I expressed to a dorm-mate that I couldn't believe that ALL the Russians were bad. Instead of having a discussion, she said, with a certain degree of contempt, "My God, Sylvia, are you a Communist?"

And walked away from me, obviously convinced at that moment that HER halo was bigger than MINE!



  1. Regrettably, people are mostly so self-centered, they only care about being and maintaining their #1 status. As long as they think they're #1, they're happy. I have a little halo. Sometimes it's tight around my big head.

    1. But your halo just tells me what an angel you are, luv! (I'd put a snarky emoji here, but I don't know how to access them!)

  2. This blog post is great, especially in this PC time.

    If anyone expresses. an opinion that is not in tune with "TMZ" you're a bigot, sexist, and ignorant unpatriotic American.

    Those that walk around with imaginary halos are usually the ones living far from the realities of everyday life.

  3. Exactly, Mercedes. And it's that smug sanctimony that gets to me the most. That absolute certainty that THEY are on the side of the gods and YOU are wrong (and evil!) to disagree.

  4. This post is right on time. Love your blogs, Miss Sylvia.