Who was it who said, "Whereas Spiro Agnew criticized 'the nattering nabobs of negativism,' I prefer to pillory the prattling pipsqueaks of positivism"?
Ah yes, that was me.
But then, I'm also capable of writing some of the smarmiest goddamn things you ever saw.
In the interest of self-actualization, lately I'm trying to integrate my inner nabob with my personal pipsqueak, and I got off to a start the other day, when it occurred to me at the exact moment that I was pulling my gas-guzzling six-cylinder Volkswagen into the "Alternative-Fuel Vehicles Only" spot at Whole Foods: If we didn't have the pious, we wouldn't have the Prius.
How many of the best, redeeming things in life—conservation, preservation, philanthropy, fine food, high art and architecture—would exist in any form without persistently bad human characteristics to fan interest and provide funding?
Honestly: What if you magically removed vanity, pride, self-righteousness and pretention from all human beings?
Symphony Hall would be three-quarters empty, the Red Cross would be the size of the local PTA, cave walls would be entirely unmarked because the very first artist would have starved to death, ego first. And how about recycling? There wouldn't be a need for any, because no one would have gotten it up to invent plastic in the first place.
Human narcissim, hubris, competitiveness and greed make everything good possible, and without them—with pure intelligence and love, those useful but dull primer paints—there would be no ships, no schools, no saxophones, no sports. No writing. No reading. No arithmetic. No humor. No Internet!
Paranoia invented fences, irrational exuberance designed skyscrapers.
The lie came first. The truth came as a corrective.
Who invented the motorcycle? I guarantee you it wasn't a young man wanting to go fast. It was a middle-aged man who desired to feel again (and appear to others) like a young man wanting to go fast.
They say we're social animals. No. We're a bunch of show-offs.
And without the self-hoodwinking we all do from moments after waking until we slip into unconsciousness, human life would be just the listless humming and mindless babbling that lonely little children do to pass the time.
Gordon Gekko said greed is good. He didn't go far enough. Everything that is bad about people is good. Because without these moral vices—and our heroic attempts to keep them under control or to redeem ourselves after we've failed—there would be nothing at all.
Or, in any case, nothing worth discussing.
James Arnold says
Since this is a blog about writing, you should give credit to the writer who penned the “nattering nabobs….” line the Spiro Agnew used: William Safire.
David Murray says
Well, Jim, I’m not sure “credit” is the word, but yes–in my original item about this, I did link to the Agnew story–it was indeed William Safire who wrote this unintentionally silly bit of rhetoric.
Other Agnewisms, written by Safire and/or Pat Buchanan: “pusillanimous pussyfooters,” “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”
Dr. Seuss would have made a good speechwriter to Agnew.
james green says
Do they really have an “Alternative-Fuel Vehicles Only” spot at Whole Foods? I don’t know since I don’t shop there. It seems silly to pay more for organic vegetables just before I light up a Marlboro. Am I correct in assuming that prefential parking is granted to those who can afford alternative-fuel vehicles? One more reason for not shopping there.
David Murray says
Yes, Jim, they really do. And what’s worse is, for a year or more, I actually HONORED that fucking bullshit, until a friend of mine asked me why I would be allow myself to be buffeted by the brainstorm (damn you, Agnew!) of some Corporate Social Responsibility nitwit at Whole Foods headquarters.
Now, I look for the Alternative-Fuel spots, and only park in the regular ones if I absolutely have to.