I’m thinking today about ideas and what rights we have to them. This is on the heels of a great podcast recording with Kelby, where we discuss all kinds of edgy stuff. Great fun. Anyhow, during the conversation we talk about Kelby’s life experience. He’s a dude from the Houston area with face tattoos, who ran in some scary circles growing up, and who has a relaxed view of social politeness, to say the least.
On the podcast, we bring up this one time on Twitter (yech), where Kelby chimed in on a touchy racial argument with a reply to the effect of “this is how x normally happens in the hood.” To which a black woman, educated at fantastic schools, wealthier than Kelby has ever been, mocked him for saying “the hood.” As though she had some better idea? This is his lived experience.
I want to move away from the racial element for obvious reasons (people get mad at you for these things), and focus instead on this concept of skin in the game. It’s Talebbian, I know, but I think his books have a lot of worth. At what point are ideas simply fun diversions? At what point are we engaging in punditry? At what point does our lived experience become at odds with the image we project?
I’m reminded of prominent Twitter socialists, who almost without fail end up being rich kids. I know it seems like a tired argument, but it’s hard to square rich people getting richer, all the while professing to believe in an ideology that would take those riches away. I personally kind of admire the grift of it. I hope they enjoy that money. None of my business.
It’s not just rich kids. We all run the risk of taking on ideas for fun, with no skin in the game. People align themselves with sports teams, to the point that they’re willing to fight in the streets over the outcome of a game. Football hooligans, Raiders fans, etc. We do this with political ideas, as well. Say what you will about the Republican rich (they’re lizards), at least they are coherent and consistent with how they feel money should work (they should get to keep all of theirs and fuck everybody else). Democrats tie themselves in knots, especially if they themselves are rich.
You just can’t square an ideal with a lifestyle lived in complete opposition to that idea. Gray areas exist, people should enjoy themselves, but if you have literally zero skin in the game, then you’re wasting everybody’s time. Your community, your friends, and most importantly, YOU. If you don’t develop a coherent internal ideology, you’ll spend your life butting up against a wall, trying to get some kind of law passed that you actually deep down don’t want passed.
We see this all the time in the lit community. It makes me physically ill. The way you gain a following is by recycling liberal talking points from the past five years, and posting those again and again and again. You end up with a race to see who can be the most boring. Ideas don’t have to be exciting, though, they just have to be yours, demonstrably yours. You have to prove it. Think about this: when a rich white author talks about how there needs to be more black voices, what they’re really saying is “there needs to be more black voices, and also me.” That, however, isn’t coherent. You could potentially spend your time and energy giving the opportunities presented to you to a person of color. This is a thing you could do. I knew a guy who used to do it.
My friend Isaac (RIP) lived his principles. He believed in elevating the voices of black and brown people, and so he spent his life doing just that, arranging readings and concerts, constantly hyping other people up online, literally giving his opportunities to POC, etc. He spent his spare time at the border, leaving out water for immigrants. That was a person who had skin in the game. Of course, he ended up pissing off most of the book industry, because he called them on their hypocrisy. He was the only person I’ve ever known who could do it with a clear conscience. Without being a hypocrite.
The hypothetical white author who loves to talk about racial justice, and maybe even occasionally retweets a book by a black author, has no intent in giving up any of their status, or even their real time, and as such they are talking out of their ass. But nobody really cares in that community, because it’s a circular firing squad of ass talk.
In closing, I’m not suggesting that we all go live in a monastery and give all our money to the poor (because that’s not what I believe in), I’m suggesting that we do some real inner work to find out what it is we really want, anyway (which is what I do believe in), so that our goals and the things we talk about can be aligned. There’s great power in that. And you know what? It gets scary. You’ll go to some dark places. But if you don’t, you’ll end up being Miss America wishing for world peace. Toothless ideology isn’t a good look on anybody.