Don’t be a dick… about Politics.

 

Politics 2

The other day I was scanning my Facebook Timeline and noticed a link that had been shared or liked by someone I knew. The originator of the post was unknown to me. It basically said something along the lines of, “Unlike you stupid f*ckers who disagree with me, I’m going to vote for (Candidate X) because I’m not a pile of burning tires.”  

Not being familiar with the phrase “pile of burning tires,” I followed the link. There I was met with a volley of extremely nasty invective, saying that anyone who disagreed with the writer was a moron, an idiot, and going to ruin the country and probably the world, because reasons.

I didn’t make it past the first sentence, because, quite frankly the writer was calling me names. Because I disagreed with them. Even though they hadn’t actually begun to make their point. Or even knew what I thought.

Now I want to make an important point here: I’m not sure I do disagree with them, not entirely. I’m still in two minds, or possibly in two and a half minds as to how I will vote going forward, and how I shall position myself politically after that. So, if there had been a persuasive argument from the writer, I could possibly have been convinced. But I never got to see why they thought the way they did, because the first thing, well before they started making any kind of reasoned argument they insulted me.

So, in the spirit of Facebook I posted back, “Thank you for insulting me and denigrating my carefully reasoned point of view. It saves me having to read what you wrote.” Within seconds an answer popped up. “You are exactly the kind of asshole who should read this.”

How was that going to make me more likely to read it?

I’m sure you have seen something similar on social media. Someone so convinced of their political beliefs that they act like a dick.

Which leaves me asking this question: did they actually want to convince anyone of their ideas, or did they just want to be a dick on Facebook? Because here is something that seems painfully obvious to me: If you do want to convince someone of anything, you won’t do it by acting dickish! You can either convince someone, or you can be a dick. Not both.

But now there’s another question: Why would you not want to convince someone of your ideas if you think they are important? (And I suppose we can say politics are pretty important. Maybe especially right now.) Well, the fact is, sometimes people are more interested in being right than convincing others. And this seems especially to be the case where politics are involved. And because the first writer wanted to prove how right they were, they started by insulting everyone who might disagree with them. Because, really, the argument they want to have isn’t about the politics. It’s about them. Not, “You disagree with my politics,” But “You disagree with ME, so you’re an asshole!”

Do you see the difference here? Their opinions are right, because they hold them. Not, they are right because they hold certain opinions.

Now this is kind of funny, because the very word politics comes from the Greek polis, meaning “the city.” In ancient Greece, where democracy comes from, the city was the state and the state was the people. So politics is about the people. As a whole. Not you. Not me. Us. The Greeks also had a word for a person who ruled without consulting the polis. Where disagreeing about politics was disagreeing with that one man who was in charge. The kind of person who would say, “You are disagreeing with me,” rather than “You are disagreeing with my opinions.”

The word they used was Tyrant.

So don’t be a dick (or a tyrant) about politics. It isn’t about you. It’s about us. It’s about finding reasons to agree, not grounds for a slanging match on Facebook. Because shouting at people and calling them names isn’t going to convince them you are right.

It’s going to convince them you are a dick.

 

*************************************************

When I was ten, I was definitely a Pogo supporter. I still think he had a lot of good ideas.

Do Unto Others Part 2

anger

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the causes of people acting like dicks. This is part two.

In Zen they say that anger is like a burning coal you hold in your hand getting ready to throw it at someone. You might well burn them, but who is it burning now? And the longer you hold onto it, the more you get burned.

Still, when you are angry, it’s all too easy to be a bit dickish. Because you aren’t thinking about how the other person would feel, and anyway, you actually want to hurt them. So you say things that would be hurtful if they were said it to you, and so on. At best you end up with hurt feelings and at worst, World War III.

Your workmate who forgot to give you a lift when your car was at the garage, and then phones up and apologizes. And your reaction is to say, “Thanks a lot, asshole. How am I going to get my car back? I need it tonight so saying you’ll take me to pick it up tomorrow is no effing use. You want to drive me to my Anger Management Meeting tonight?”

Now the thing is, he might have agreed to act as your chauffeur if you hadn’t been so nasty. But now he’s angry as well as embarrassed and you are just burned. Nothing good is coming out of this.

And he sure as heck isn’t going to loan you his power saw again.

And yes, I know, sometimes there are justifiable reasons for being angry. Angry about injustice. Angry about crime. Angry about people hurting children. But the funny thing is, people are very rarely dickish when they feel that kind of anger. Maybe it isn’t anger at all; maybe it’s something else. Righteous indignation. Because it’s unselfish anger.

The anger that makes us forget to do as we would be done by is all our own. Up close and personal. Selfish anger.

But the thing about that anger is, it doesn’t even have to be directed at the real source of the anger to cause dickishness.  When you are pissed off about something your boss said, you take it out on the girl giving you your latte. And of course, she thinks (quite rightly) that you are a jerk, and she gets angry too and….

Now, I have done it myself, but I was lucky because I recognized in time that I had been a dick. Here’s the story.

I was walking to work one summer Monday back in 1967. Yeah. Back then. And to be perfectly honest, I was a hippy in that Summer of Love, but an unhappy hippy. The previous Friday I had been beaten up by some thug because he didn’t like my long hair and bare feet. So as I was limping along the side of the road, I felt somewhat aggrieved. And then a car drove past on the other side of the road, and the driver yelled something obscene out the window at me, so I played cowboy and did a double slap draw flipping him the bird two handed.

And the car stopped.

And this hurkin’ high school football player got out and started walking toward me.  

Now a fair question right now is, who was being a dick?

But a better question might be, how is me being a dick now going to make anything better?

Here’s the thing. I could hold onto my anger at the idiot who had beaten me up on Friday, and get the crap kicked out of me again, or I could recognize that this guy, even though he was being a jerk too, wasn’t the reason I was angry. So being rude to him wasn’t going to help anything. It certainly wasn’t going to improve my health. So, I did what I wanted him to do. As he got close enough to hear me, I put up my hands in a kind of “I surrender” position and said, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.” Guy stops dead in his tracks and looks at me. “That was rude of me and I apologize,” I continued as he deflates like a punctured balloon, “I had a shitty weekend, and I’m going to be late for work, but that’s no excuse. Not your fault.”

He looks at me and shuffles his feet and glances back at his car… “Uh.. yeah. Erm… well.. You English?”

“Yes. I’m just over from the UK for the summer.” (This was true, oddly.)

“Yeah, well…. We got a lot of these hippy types… erm… (mumble mumble). He stops and gives me a kind of half wave. “Have a nice day.”

“You too.”

I’ve thought about this a lot since then. I admit I’m kind of proud that I got out of it with a whole skin. That I used a little bit of simple behaviorist psychology to save my neck. But much more than that, I remember it as an example of the power of “Do as you would be done by,” even if you are fuming.

Of, if you like – Don’t be a dick.

**************************************************************

The image is an etching by W. Herbert, c.1770

Difficult Question

 Wyeth

Today I want to try to answer the question that really started me writing this blog in the first place. It all happened like this.

I was sitting in a pub – more of a beer shop, really – with my buddy, discussing art as we always did, and morality, which we often did. I was talking about the necessity of not being a dick, when the fellow at the table next to ours said, “Excuse me. I couldn’t help overhearing what you have been saying, and it’s very interesting. But what if I want to be a dick?”

And that, of course, is the Difficult Question. This was my answer:

Well, first of all, let me say, if you want to be a dick, go right ahead. Your call. I can’t stop you. But.

There are consequences to being a dick. And these consequences fall into two types: social consequences and personal consequences. Let’s start with the social ones.

The most obvious reason not to be a dick is that it upsets people. In fact, that’s almost the definition of a dick: someone who pointlessly, deliberately, upsets people. In extreme cases, people get angry. That’s a second good reason not to do it. And because people get upset, get angry, any kind of real communication (by which I don’t mean screaming at each other) gets shut down. All this anger and shouting leads to distrust. The result of this, overall, is to make society a worse place.  This is not good because the things that society gives us like food, shelter, friendship, family, medicine, and video games only happen when we cooperate. Every single thing we have as a society we have because of cooperation. In fact, I would say that if you really, really want society to fall apart, get as many people as possible to start acting like dicks.

But maybe you seriously don’t care if society falls apart. Leaving aside that this would certainly end in your death, let’s look at the reasons that being a dick is bad for you directly.

If you continually act like a dick, or if you just act like a dick one time too many, people will not like you. Your friends will stop talking to you and avoid you. You’ll be on your own. And even if you think you would rather be alone, if you are like most people, you’ll just end up feeling like a jerk for having been nasty to people whom you like. But in any case, you’ll miss out on things. Maybe small things like a good party or a quiet night at the pub, but maybe important things, like a good job offer. Because, let’s face it, nobody is going to recommend you for a job if they know the prospective employer is going to come back and say, “Why did you send me that asshole? He’s a total dick!” And if you have a job, chances are your boss is eventually going to get fed up with you being a pain in the backside, so you won’t have it for long.

Oh, you’re going to be self-employed? Good luck with that if nobody wants to pay for your services because you are such an obnoxious sod.

And then there is the time you go a little too far and somebody pokes you in the snoot. At best you’ll be in a fight, at worse you’ll get the crap beaten out of you. And get this: no one will sympathize. Because you alienated all of your friends, remember? You don’t have to be a dick all the time for this to happen, either. Just once too often is enough.

And just what do you get out of acting like a dick anyway? A few minutes feeling like you got one over on somebody? For sake of annoying people you do something that you personally wouldn’t like? What kind of a jerk are you anyway, that you so need to show off that you can put people down? Is your ego that puny?

Because that’s all anybody ever gets out of being a dick. A temporary feeling of superiority. You got away with being rude. By showing that you can do something that you would never accept yourself, you have shown that the rules of human interactions don’t apply to you.

And that’s it really. The only possible reason I can see for being a dick is that you think that you are somehow better than everyone else. That’s why people steal: because they think they deserve something someone else has. That’s why people drive down the wrong lane and cut in front of traffic, because they are more important than the other drivers, and they need to get somewhere faster than those clowns. That’s why they don’t pay for their round in the pub: everyone should be happy to pay for their company. That’s why they are racists. That’s why they are misogynists. That’s why they are murderers. They’re different. They’re better. They get to be dicks whenever they want.

But the truth is, none of us is better than the rest. We are all equally good and equally bad, equally worthy and equally worthless. Being human is a struggle to find a balance between the desire to look after ourselves and the need to cooperate. Because, the simple truth is, we can’t survive on our own, neither physically nor emotionally.

So, when the fellow in the bar asked what he should do, if he wanted to be a dick, I answered, fight it. And if you lose out to your own ego; go ahead; be a dick. Just remember that not only will you pay for it, so will all the rest of us.

So, please, for all our sakes, don’t be a dick.

#########################

The image is by N.C. Wyeth: Robin Hood and Little John fighting over who gets to crosss the footbridge first. I loved this book as a kid, especially Wyeth’s illustrations. I thought Robin and Little John were the best! Which just goes to show, even heroes can be dicks.

 

 

Well, what do you know….

pilgrimfathers

“Our country’s founders left England because they didn’t want to be Catholics. They wanted freedom of religion and that’s why our country was created. That’s why our money says ‘In God We Trust” and anyone who doesn’t like it can go live elsewhere!”

This little outburst, reported verbatim, was directed at a friend of mine because he was reading about the Abbasid Caliphate, otherwise known as the Golden Age of Islamic Culture. My friend, an artist and educator, wanted to know more about the development particularly of Islamic textile and ceramic design, because without a doubt the tradition has some of the most remarkable mathematical repeat patterns in history.

Let’s leave the inherent bigotry of this remark for later; because right now I want to consider the difference between knowledge and belief.

Doubtless my friend’s colleague believed that she was right when she said that the country’s founders fled England to escape Catholicism. She may have believed it, but she was wrong.  

The first permanent colony at Jamestown Virginia, was founded by merchant adventurers who were looking to find gold or otherwise make money.  It was another four years before the Massachusetts Bay colony was founded by the so-called Pilgrims, who left England not because of the Catholics but because of the Protestants. The Reformation in England had begun a full ninety years before the Pilgrims sailed, and the Protestant Church of England had been the established national church for sixty-two years before the settlement at Plymouth Rock. This is established historical fact.

Were the Pilgrims religious dissenters? Yes, certainly. Did they come to the New World for religious freedom? Not really. They had already found that in the Netherlands, but they wanted to keep their English customs and language so they moved to Massachusetts. It is worth remembering, that Maryland was founded by Catholics in search of Religious freedom from the Protestants of England.

Belief, by definition, is thinking something is true with or without actual evidence to back it up. Knowledge, on the other hand, comes from either personal experience (empirical knowledge) and knowledge gained by study or from teachers. The knowledge gained from study or from teachers is valued if the teacher is a recognized, reliable source. So my friend was learning about the Abbasid Caliphate by reading a book by a recognized specialist in that area of history.

This country as a country was the result of a revolution against arbitrary political power. It had nothing to do with Catholics or any other religious group. The motto of the USA was originally ‘E Pluribus Unum”  – From Many, One;  not In God We Trust.  The founders of the country, like the original colonists were people from all kinds of backgrounds who wanted to make sure that bigots couldn’t say, “If you don’t like it here, go somewhere else.” Because the country consisted of people who had already come from somewhere else to escape that kind of shit.

“How can you believe that book (On the Golden Age of Islam) and yet you don’t believe the Bible is history?” My friend’s colleague went on. Well, for the simple reason that the bible isn’t history, any more than ‘Gone With the Wind’ is history. They are both based on history, but aren’t history per se. There’s a lot of history in there, but there is a lot of stuff that we know, from historical records and physical evidence just isn’t factual. Historians who have studied the history of the bible have good reasons to mistrust the bible as history. Just because place names in the bible still exist does not mean that the events described are accurate. For goodness sakes, people don’t think Spiderman is accurate just because it is set in New York City.

Believe what you want as long as it does no harm, but remember that belief is NOT knowledge. And belief based on misinformation does not compete with knowledge based on verifiable fact when we are talking about the real world.

Goodness knows we have enough information to show that the Catholic church, the Protestant denominations, and the Pilgrim fathers were all a bunch of dicks in their times, because they did horrible things to people who disagreed with them. Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams because the Puritans of Massachusetts were such bigots. The Puritans didn’t want religious freedom. They wanted the freedom to tell people who disagreed with them to go somewhere else. That’s why they came to America. These things are facts.

Just like it is a fact that the founders (whoever that may refer to) did not come to this country to escape Catholicism.

Don’t be afraid of knowledge if it goes against what you believe. And especially don’t make the mistake of thinking your belief has the same weight in a discussion of the real world as verifiable knowledge. Because you end up being a dick.

My friend’s colleague was one step away from acting like a dick. Maybe closer.

And here’s a piece of empirical knowledge: The fewer dicks there are in this world, the better it is for everyone.

*******************************************************************

The Pilgrim Fathers image is by Charles Lucy (1814 – 1873) There are, by the way, too many Pilgrim Mothers in this picture. Only four survived the crossing in the Mayflower.

 

No, This Is Us

 

notthatdifferent

There’s been a lot of talk recently in response to the Executive Order banning entry to the US for anyone coming from seven countries in the Middle East. Indeed there’s been a lot of protest and outrage and anger. Particularly noticeable to me in that protest has been the often-made statement that “This isn’t the USA. This isn’t us.”  

I hate to tell you this, but it is us. It’s exactly who we are, and who we always have been. There can be no denial of the historical fact that the people of the United States and their successive governments of all parties have been bigoted, misogynistic, racist, genocidal, and just bloody dicks.

Every single right protected by the Bill of Rights has been stepped on, ignored, and abused since the first ten amendments to the Constitution were adopted. And long before. I mean, think about it? Why was the Bill of Rights written? Because the framers knew that people would act like selfish dicks in any case, but at least here was some protection against it.

And just in case you were thinking it already, yes, this has been true of every country anywhere, at any time in history. We are not unique. That’s the problem. We think we are; but we’re not. And because we think we are different, we naively believe that bad things won’t happen here, when they already have.

Because, let’s face it, people can be dicks and they will be, if they think they can get away with it. And the more selfish people are and the more power they can grab, the more like dickish they are likely to act.  Because the number one cause of dickish behavior is people thinking they are special. Thinking they are better than anyone else. Or at least better than (Insert minority group here). Or that because they are nice, whatever they do is from the best motives, and so it can’t be wrong, right?

Wrong.

The second you think you are better than anyone else, or deserve special treatment from the world, or that whatever you do is automatically alright, you are stepping into Dick Territory. And if you think that somebody else, for whatever reason doesn’t deserve to be treated the same as you, you are waist-deep in dickhood.

And that’s true for me, and it’s true for you, and it’s true for all of us.

Mercifully, we are not all dicks all of the time. This is one situation when the “Not all ____” plea has some truth. We are not always dicks, and some of us are trying to stop ourselves and the others of us from being dickish in a big way. Standing up and saying “I won’t be a dick, and I won’t let you be one either!” is pretty good.

Because I think it’s important to realize that we can’t simply say, “This isn’t us.” We have to admit it is us and then say, “But we don’t like it.” Or “But we’re changing now.” And then we have to recognize that We are just a whole bunch of Me, and say, “This is me, and I don’t like it. This is me, but I’m going to try and change.”

As the song says in Avenue Q, “Everyone’s a little bit racist.”  Well, we’re all a bit self-satisfied and bigoted, too.  If crazy people talking to themselves on the bus makes you nervous, well, that’s prejudice, my friend. Understandable, but still prejudice. If you treat people with mental illnesses differently than everyone else, ask yourself why? If you are nervous around young black men, ask yourself why? I mean I was beaten up by an Italian, but I can’t say I judge every Italian based on that. And I have never so much as been talked to nasty by any young black dudes. See what I mean?

I’m just saying that we are like that. We aren’t so different from the people we fear, or we disagree with or whom we despise.

This is us.

This is you.

This is me.

Own it, and then change it.

Because it’s simple* enough to change. Just do what is right. Don’t be a dick.

 

*I said simple. I never said easy.

Do Unto Others (Part 1)

img_4197-e1376373307464

 

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Do as you would be done by. You know how it goes.

I’m sure you have seen the Facebook meme where there is a list of religions and their variations on the theme of the “Golden Rule.” It seems like all the great teachers of religion and or philosophy have said the same thing in slightly different ways. It’s pretty easy to understand. It all boils down to the same thing, really: Don’t be a dick.

Essentially, I think that is what is at the heart of dickishness: doing or saying or somehow acting toward someone in a way that would piss you off if they did it to you. And I know; you get it. Everybody gets it.

But somehow we do it anyway. Just look at Facebook any day of the week. There are people on there saying awful things to each other. Sometimes they just do it for fun, because they can get away with it. You know, trolls. A troll is basically a dick who is a coward. He’s not a dick to your face, he does it behind your back. Behind the security of the internet. But because it’s so common, I want to talk about why people don’t just follow the Golden Rule. I think there are four reasons people act like dicks:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Anger
  • Selfishness
  • Actually wanting to be a dick.

I want to look at each of these in turn, starting with what I think is the most common. Or maybe I should say, I hope this is the most common reason people are dicks.

Forgetfulness. Something happens and we just forget. We don’t say to ourselves, “Hey, you know, if Sam acted like this I’d think he was a total asshole.” Sometimes, after we’ve done something like that, we realize what we’ve done and apologize. Sorry I was a jerk. My bad.

Sometimes we don’t bother to apologize, because, well, it was an accident, right? But forgetful behavior causes accidents that you can’t just shrug off. Fender benders. People get hurt. Things get damaged. Friends get upset. Just because we forget.

It has been said that there are no accidents, only inattention. At some point, before the fender bender, someone forgot to pay attention. You looked down to tune the radio and the car in front stopped. You knew the light was yellow, but you didn’t see it turn, and thought you could get through before it turned red.  You saw the light turn green but didn’t notice the dick driving through the red light. You fell asleep at the wheel, because you didn’t pay attention to how late it was and how tired you were. You ran into somebody because you were drunk, because you weren’t paying attention to how much you drank. All along the line, before the accident there was a moment of not paying attention.

Paying attention. What the Buddha called Mindfulness.

I think the Buddha was onto something about one way to avoid being a dick. Pay attention! Wake up! Don’t make assumptions.

This isn’t just limited to traffic accidents, but all kind of accidental dickishness.

Here’s an example of mild dick behavior. (I plead guilty to this one.) You are sitting having breakfast and looking at your iPad or newspaper or whatever. From time to time you say something to the human opposite, and they answer. Then you get engrossed in some tripe on Twitter, and there is a voice mumbling across the table at you. Only this time it’s important. But you don’t pay attention.

What’s the least that can happen here? The human opposite will be pissed off. They might feel hurt, because the something they mumbled was important to them. It might make a big difference later in the day, because something that needed to be done wasn’t. They might have asked your advice. They might have been saying how much they love you. And you missed it, you chump!

At the very least, communication didn’t happen, and that’s bad.

Now, ask yourself how do you like being ignored? Kind of cheeses you off, right? And what if they were telling you something you wanted, even needed, to hear. All kinds of bad things could result. Not the least of which is you being a dick to the Wrong Person. I mean, you just said something to them and they listened, right? So, fair’s fair, listen back. Golden Rule time.

But inattention doesn’t just make for minor irritation.

Say you’ve arranged to go into work with a buddy because your car is in the shop. The shop is just down the road from work, so you can pick the car up after. But your good friend thinks you said Thursday and you said Tuesday and you end up waiting for him to pick you up. He didn’t mean to mess up your day. He just didn’t really pay attention. And then he didn’t bother to phone up and find out. And now you’re screwed.

Or you ask that same buddy to borrow one of his power tools. He’s OK with that, and you have the thing a week. Of course, you used it the first day and were going to give it back, but one thing and another got in the way, and he hasn’t mentioned it at work or anything, so it’s alright, right? Until Saturday morning comes around and he’s standing at your front door asking for his bloody saw back. And out in the pickup are his friends from church or whatever who are on their way to start work on building tiny homes for homeless people, and they have been looking in his garage for half an hour before he remembered he loaned the thing to you, and now he’s pissed off and embarrassed, and you are embarrassed and pissed off, and one of his friends who is a dick about these things has been giving him a hard time for not being better organized… You get it.

The magic word here is empathy. Thinking about how the other person would feel. In fact, thinking about the other human at all. Or, in the most basic form, not thinking just about yourself.

What if we treat other people as if they were important to us, and they treated us the same? How would that be? How about if we didn’t just ignore each other? You think it might help?

Next time I’m going to be talking about being a dick because you’re angry. You know, the shitty phone call you make to your friend because he forgot to pick you up for work. In the meantime…

 

But is it Art?

 

artemisia-judith

As an art minister, naturally enough I support all kinds of creativity. I may not agree with another artist’s ideas, nor care for their subject matter, or even like a certain style. Liking, after all, when it comes to art, is mostly a matter of taste, and I am not about to start defining someone else’s taste for them.

There is always art that doesn’t work, of course – bad composition, poor perspective in representational drawing, wrong anatomy, inappropriate palette – all kinds of things. One cannot not hide crap art behind the excuse that you meant to do it that way; that it’s your “style.”

And then there is always the matter of whom art is for. Especially when it is “public art,” which I define as art you have to see whether you want to or not. Art on buildings, in the street, in public spaces.

And this is where things start to get a bit tricky, because in most cases, public art is presented to the public by the owners of the place where the art is presented. And this usually means the Establishment. The Government. The Churches. The Banks. The Rich.

This is all perfectly fine. After all, if you own a building, you can decorate it anyway you like. And it is good that the civic authorities brighten the streets and the parks and other public spaces with beauty. So, if a certain amount of the art presented by the establishment of the day tends to support the views of that established authority, we shouldn’t be surprised. And sure, you and I aren’t going to get invited into Buckingham Palace, but it’s a damn fine building to look at. And that equestrian statue of William III in the middle of the square? Sure it was put up as a political statement, but that was 200 years ago, so who cares?

However, there is the other kind of public art, the kind made by the public. And fair enough, if the State of Washington gets to make a political statement by building a neoclassical temple as the Capitol  Building in Olympia, other less established artists should have the right of reply on otherwise empty walls in the town. As in graffiti. Unless you are an artist accepted by the establishment, you don’t get to respond, unless you step outside the bonds of traditional venues for art. And there are some graffiti artists who have made public non-establishment art that is so good that the establishment itself sees the quality and accepts the art in the way art is supposed to be accepted: Is it good – not, do I agree with the message, but is it good art?”

The result can be amazing. Banksy, the graffiti master from Bristol, has managed to make his views known with style and artistry and over time, has more or less convinced the city government of Bristol that his work presented a positive image that was good for Bristol. Now the city is home for a number of graffiti artists – or perhaps they should really be called mural painters, who make many of the public spaces of the town very artistic indeed. Seattle, also, has a number of walls decorated with images, installations, and colorful messages that make the town a better place to live.

So for me, an art minister, I can say, good! Official art; unofficial art, it’s all good.

Up to a point.

And I guess it’s what happens beyond that point that I’m thinking about today.

Out driving the other day I saw a new fence had been put up around a neighbor’s yard. It was really rather attractive: reddish brown wood, very likely cedar, strong 4 x 4 uprights, clean capping pieces; it was pretty. It made me happy to see it, and I have no doubt that it cost quite a bit, and that my neighbor was very proud of it. From my point of view, it made the whole neighborhood look nicer. And then, two days later, someone had gone along with a spray paint can defacing the wood with a long black line.

This, I believe, was an act of pure dickery.

Now I understand, though I don’t agree with the idea that ‘tagging’ or spraying an illegible nickname or alias on walls is seen as a kind of graffiti. And I get the idea (though, again, I don’t agree) that tagging someplace easy to see but hard to reach is a kind of point scoring, a proof of masculinity or something. But that’s the point, see? Making art isn’t about scoring points. It isn’t about proving anything. And most importantly it isn’t about doing somebody else down.

The dick who sprayed my neighbor’s fence, if he had any thought in his head at all, probably thought he was showing how cool he was – how he’d made his mark, literally, on the street. As if, somehow, ruining someone’s fence was some kind of distinction. As if he’s scored. As if he’d put one over on the guy with the fence. As if he’d won the local pissing contest.

Tagging sees art as a pissing contest. Worse, it seems to see life as a pissing contest. I can tag higher. I can pee further. Woo-hoo. I can deface this place and get away with it. I can be a total dick and more importantly, a bigger dick than you. Please do not for a moment say that this is art. Or creative. Or political action. Or manly. It isn’t. It’s being a dick.

When I take my two Maltese out for a walk, Gwennie, the female will stop and pee. And then Spike, the male, will cock his leg and pee on top of it. That’s tagging. Dogs don’t have any other way of saying they have been there. Spike, I’m afraid, is a bit of a dick. But he’s a dog! And Maltese can’t pee higher than four inches off the ground anyway.

I find this idea that you can somehow make yourself seem better, cooler, or smarter than somebody else by destroying things or putting other people down the most egregious kind of dickery. It is the starting point of the high level dickery we are seeing more and more of in the world today.

Tagging someone’s fence is the start. It’s the mindset that says, “I’m better than you!” And that mindset leads to rounding people up and putting them in camps.

 

The image is Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1653) The story is a typical piece of Old Testament mayhem. Judith seduces Holofernes, gets him drunk and murders him, which wins her a place in the Bible for her virtue. Gentileschi turns this horror story into a dramatic Baroque vision carrying the message: don’t be a dick.