Thursday, January 15, 2009

Counterintelligence

A preface: Don’t read this. It’s nothing. It’s my way of disconnecting some dots and nothing more. Posting it here only narrowly won out of the alternative of deleting it upon having finished it, which I think I have.

“Countercultural.” The word has rankled me for a long time, not because I oppose the revolutionaries and anarchists and free-thinkers who live to buck the things that a given society consider clean and conventional but only because it has always implied to me a certain reactive nature that I don’t like and that doesn’t necessarily lead to a productive conclusion. Rather than saying “Let’s do this,” the countercultural person could just say “Let’s not do this,” which doesn’t get us anywhere. Why object if you can’t think of a better way to speak or act or wear your hair or prune your trees or whatever? To me, the person or idea or goldfish or pie being described as “countercultural” often only named the problem without offering a solution. If they had, they’d be “revolutionary” or “anarchical” or “free-thinking.”

Though I feel I had been thinking this way all along, I realized that it was so only recently, when I had remarked that someone I know was stubborn and combatively opinionated. Ida, the person I made the remark to, responded by saying that this person was actually “countercultural” and that she had always admired this quality. In choosing this word, Ida instantly reformed my understanding of the word so that I now hate it, even though the idea it gets attached to could be worth hearing. The countercultural person could, every now and then, offer something helpful — and, failing that, could at least spew out the occasional complaint that my brain could grow into a solution, even if all the rest just spill fall to the ground and die. Being so adamantly anti-counterculture — however one chooses to interpret that bastard of a double negative pair — I suppose I’m being as shortsighted as the irksome person whose opinions I find so unhelpful.

Also, I have little room to talk, as I myself often end up doing the opposite of what should be done, whether as a result of conscious decisions or not. For example, around the time my skin stopped seeing the sun, I decided that I hated the one solid-white shirt I have, preventing myself from wearing the my single article of upper-body clothing that would have made my arms and face look less pasty by comparison. And the one January during which the whole of southern California was beset by unnaturally summery weather in January, my body decided to get a cold, allowing me both to enjoy the indignity of what is essentially a summer cold during the winter. Wherever I go, I carry enough winter dreariness in my nasal and sinus cavities that I feel obligated to forgo any out-of-season fun I could be having. Though it’s not intentional, it’s counter-intuitive that I’d behave in this way, as well as counter-several other things.

Essentially, if you gave me an apple, I would decide that I actually needed a grease fire. If you gave me a bassoon, I’d want a contrabassoon. I have yet to decide whether the offer of a contrabassoon would make me ask for the regular bassoon or demand the invention of a contracontrabassoon.

2 comments:

  1. I share your disdain for rebellion for its own sake, but I've always that of "counter-culture" as being more akin to fringe sub-cultures than just nonconformist anti-culture. Part of the same larger culture, that is, just with different priorities. I like this bit from the preface to Down and In: "But the [Bohemian/underground] tradition endures its changes precisely because it is not the result of a willed strategy, but responds to an unchanging antagonism between the way of life imposed by our pragmatic business society and the humanistic values by which our culture has taught us to experience and judge the quality of our individual and collective lives." Of course, on the other hand, we have this.

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  2. I guess it just comes down to a matter of moderation, even if that's the most boring generalization ever and can be applied to anything.

    Also, you clearly disobeyed my advice of not reading this, which means you're a bit of a rebel yourself and, also, you deserved to hear my awful, trite "everything in moderation" response.

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