Friday, August 10, 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land? Robert Heinlein's Advice for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Barring some unexpected developments, I will be sharing some random "ghetto nerd" related posts today and this weekend. 

I have a long list of books that I want to read for personal and professional reasons. 

Some years ago when I was an undergraduate, I decided that I wanted to work in the academy because a great professor and mentor explained that you could paid to read books, articles, and write about them. That is far harder than it sounds--and of course he left out many details. Nevertheless, I was sold on the idea.
One of the reasons that such a vocation seemed compelling to me was because I embrace my ignorance, and I love discovering new things. There is no shame is saying "I do not know, please enlighten me." There is also much to be gained by sitting quiet, shutting one's pie hole, and taking in expertise when generously offered by those who know more about a given topic. 

Unfortunately, few folks understand the merits of this life approach and would rather bloviate, yell, and get loud, than listen in meditative, contemplative, responsive, humble silence.

Conversely, I have little tolerance for willful stupidity, and those people who want to claim expertise when they have not paid their dues or put in work. Therefore, I reject dilettantism by those who simply have opinions, and no grasp of the facts of a given matter--or have not done the homework necessary to contribute properly to a given conversation.

A few days ago, I went down to the laundry room in my apartment building and found something neat on our "sharing bookshelf." I have long wanted to read Robert Heinlend's sci-fi classic Stranger in a Strange Land and had not yet gotten around to it. 

[Yes, do feel free to revoke my ghetto nerd card.]

 I have been devouring the book, and in doing so, came upon a great passage that I want to share with all of you. I would suggest that it tells us a great deal about the Romney-Obama race for the White House in 2012.

I am a "smart mark" professional wrestling fan, deeply understand its roots in carnival culture (which helps to explain my references here on WARN about "kayfabe" and "cutting promos") and also claim Harry Houdini, professional skeptic that he was, as one of my heroes. Thus, this passage from Stranger in a Strange Land, where the main character Valentine Michael Smith (a human being who was raised by Martians) decides to tour with a traveling circus in order to learn our ways, is especially revealing:
"I would like to have your advice," the magician said simply. 
"Okay. Smitty, your tricks are good. But tricks don't make a magician. You're not really with it. You behave like a carnie--you mind your own business and never crab anybody's act and you're helpful. But you're not a carnie. You don't have any feeling for what makes a chump a chump. A real magician can make the marks open their mouths by picking a quarter out of the air. That levitation you do--I've never seen it done better but the marks don't warm to it. No psychology. Now take me, I can't even pick a quarter out of the air. I got no act--except that one that counts. I know marks. I know what he hungers for, even if he don't. That's showmanship, son, whether you're a politician, a preacher pounding a pulpit--or a magician. Find out what the chumps wants and you can leave half your props in your trunk" 
"I'm sure you're right." 
"I know I am. He wants sex and blood and money. We don't give him blood--but we let him hope that a fire eater or a knife thrower will make a mistake. We don't give him money; we encourage his larceny while we take a little. We don't give him sex. But why do seven out of ten buy the blow-off? To see a nekkid broad. So he don't see one and still we send him out happy. 
"What else does a chump want? Mystery! He wants to think the world is a romantic place when it damn well ain't! That's your job...only you ain't learned how. Shucks, son, the marks know your tricks are fake...only they'd like to believe they're real, and it's up to you to help 'em. That's what you lack."
Who is this passage from Stranger in a Strange Land more helpful for? President Obama or Mitt Romney?  The latter is suffering from an enthusiasm and personality gap. The former seems to have mastered much of Heinlein's advice, but could certainly do even more to channel his wisdom.

Your thoughts? Do you "grok" me?


OTB said...

Politics being what it is -- and the target audiences being what they are, we won't know the answer until November 6, when all the tickets are tallied. Some of that will be determined by how much of the tricks -- on both sides -- get revealed to the paying public.

(From somebody who actually spent a summer traveling with a carnival -- and got threatened by the carnies for warning marks away from some of the joints.).

A. Ominous said...

Dude: Heinlein? Really? Be careful.

chaunceydevega said...

@Steve. I grok the problematics there. Still one hell of a writer.

A. Ominous said...

CDV: read Deathbird Stories (Ellison) and get back to me!

CNu said...

@CDV - what exactly are the "problematics"?

It has become fairly obvious that the narrator in chief not only doesn't participate very heavily in the composition of his carefully scripted and teleprompted orations, but that he's also lost a good bit of the canny timing and delivery that got him cast for the part in the first place.

No better indication of the current state of his chops than his flubbed "you didn't build that"

As far as the marks go, well, pretty much all the blinders are off wrt what the rorschachian came to do, intends to do, and will be permitted to do. There's about zero mystery or romance left in his now jaded and faded constituency.

WRT Willard Mitt - he's got a dream audience as far as suggestibility and capacity to suspend disbelief goes - an absolute rubes gallery of marks, dubs, and tricks. Willard Mitt lacks to charisma of a cockroach, and is consequently utterly incapable of maximizing the mesmerizable potential of his constituency.

That's actually a good thing wrt control and containment of that which this way comes. The minute a charismatic and capable pale pimpnologist appears on deck with the capacity to profoundly tune these thirsty killer-ape hizzoes up - is the minute you need to dust off your passport and your globally fungible skillset(s) and hit the road like a few prescient German jews did in the early 1930's.