Notes from the Small Pond: Here's what happens


The open mindedness of toddlerhood is eroded by the grinding of a zillion competing influences, like silica disappearing a mountain, like well-intentioned self-interest disappearing an ideal. In time, the well-intentioned self-interest becomes the ideal and anything/anyone opposing is un-idealistic. Wrong. Evil. After all, if someone poses a challenge to the (well-intentioned self interest) ideal, then they are an inherent threat, which must be eliminated. So, here we are.

A hundred years ago, I worked as a speechwriter for a number of politicians whose names you'd recognize if you're older than 35, which, if you're reading this, you are. I wrote for guys (always guys in my case — Ms. Ferraro had her own team) on both sides of the aisle. It was a different time. Secrets were easy to keep, if impossible survive.

One year, I covered both the Democratic and Republican state conventions. Amazing. Mirror-image events, candidates and supporters, echoing each other like wolves howling in a gymnasium.

"More jobs!"

Crowd erupts in righteous praise.

"Eradicate drugs!"

Crowd erupts in righteous praise.

"Put bad guys in jail!"

Crowd erupts in righteous praise.

"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"

Crowd erupts in righteous praise.

If I'd have closed my eyes against the blue signs and red ones, I'd have had no way of knowing which convention was which.

Marketers refer to this as "the proximity effect," which postulates that consumers (voters) crave detail as they approach the consuming behavior and ignore it/repel it prior.

When it's the middle of January and you see a billboard featuring imagery of a sunny beach, tanned bodies, umbrella drinks and expanses of white sand, there's an immediate, visceral attraction. The details are, at this point, unimportant.

In fact, if that billboard would feature a roster of bulletpoints indicating exchange rates in Jamaica, how far the airport is from the resort, the weather forecast, the latest crime statistics and the restaurant's menu selections, drivers would motor on by, unnoticing. The appetite, at that early stage, is for the dream. Visceral.

However, after you've purchased your vacation tickets and are ready to depart, the above-mentioned details are critical to the execution of your successful vacay.

Same with politics. The consumer/voter, at this early, yard-sign-stage of the game, is hungry for idealistic abstraction. Not specifics.

And, as we know, the devil is in the details. Literally. Evil lurks in the specifics.

In the quietude of your own head, ask yourself:

What is my definition of "more jobs?" Is it simply a larger number of employed humans? What kind of jobs? What wage? Bennies?

Am I willing to have my taxes go up to incentivize employers to locate here? Am I willing to have an Amazon warehouse in my backyard?

What if the jobs we create attract people that don't look or talk like I do? What if they read the Quran? What if the jobs that show up are jobs for which I am unqualified?

"More jobs!"

Crowd erupts in righteous praise.

In the quietude of your own head, ask yourself:

What is my definition of "eradicate drugs?" Do I care how? Lock up every addict? Crush demand? Crush supply? How?

Am I willing to have my taxes go up to pay for that? Do we treat alcohol addiction the same as heroin addiction, gambling addiction, sex addiction, shopping addiction, eating addiction, hoarding addiction, rummage sale addiction, exercise addiction, video game addiction, phone addiction?

What is addiction compared to mental illness? Am I willing to take proactive steps to rehabilitate and employ recovering addicts? Does "eradicating drugs" mean the same as "eradicating addicts?" If so, what does that look like?

"Eradicate drugs!"

Crowd erupts in righteous praise.

In the quietude of your own head, ask yourself:

What is my definition of "Put bad guys in jail?" What bad guys?

What do I mean by "bad?" Robbers? Murderers? Rapists? Stupid people? Addicts? Unlucky people?

Am I willing to have my taxes go up to pay for all that incarceration? Rehabilitation?

Am I willing to live next-door to the guy that did 25 years, now 48 years old with minimal skills, a heart full of resentment, sorrow, humiliation, a gnawing blotch of sin and a boiled away sense of hope?

What does "zero tolerance" mean? What does the Bible say about it? The Quran? The Torah? Do they all say similar stuff? And, unless I've read all three, cover-to-cover, how could I possibly have an opinion?

You get the point. The devil is in the details means just that. The devil — the one that exists to separate lives from the truth, the one that exists to lie, steal and kill — is in the details.

And the details are in the language. Semantics. Our evolved selves are blessed/cursed with the ability to put words to abstraction. No other species can articulate relativism beyond 180 degrees.

A snake can express a reaction to cold versus hot. But not the warmth of a cotton blanket on the hearth of a wood fireplace next to your wife's skin in a winter cabin with moonlight bleeding in versus the warmth of a Jamaican beach with rum in the belly, white sand on the skin, the sound of steel drums in the distance, an airplane overhead carving a white blade through the sky.

Both "warm." But very different.

And homo sapien can feel the difference, experience it. Further, because of the gift of language, we have a fighting chance of being able to actually articulate the difference.

So we should. We should demand it of ourselves and those that desire to represent us. We should demand the details that underpin the abstract, the ideal. We should demand the dragging of the devil out into the light, in order to properly kill it.

My invitation is for our want-to-be political representatives to cut to the chase. Observe the proximity effect. It's detail time.

What do you mean by "lower taxes?" For whom? At what cost? How low? When?

What do you mean by "economic development?" For whom? At what cost? Where? When? What?

What about drugs?

What about jobs?

What about bad guys? What's the definition of "bad guys?"

Have you ever been a "bad guy?"

What about you? What's in it for you? Why do you care?

What do you mean by whatever you promise?

And what do you want us to mean when we vote?