Thursday, April 5, 2007

Write About What You Know

This is a melding of three ideas brought together by reading about the apparently suddenly-discovered inconsistencies of John McCain as he embarrasses himself, and probably destroys any chance at the presidency, by declaring the safety of Baghdad. The first element of this trio is the recently begun blog on the opinion pages of the New York Times written by eight graduating college seniors. Rather than give the readers an opportunity to consider what it is like to experience the thoughts of students who have prepared themselves for life in the real world by the arduous and demanding route of the study of various scientific disciples, the NYT has instead opted to bring together a group of students dedicated to journalism and other soft areas of studies (political science, communications). In other words, courses of study the major predicate of which is to summarize and write about what the rest of the world is doing. Learning to comment on activities is a far cry from learning to participate directly in the activity, i.e. learning to think for oneself. If I do not make myself clear perhaps an example will clarify my point. Student A has as her goal to become a DNA recombinant specialist and spends her high school and college career preparing for her goal by the study of chemistry, physical chemistry, molecular biology, calculus and the like, all scientific disciplines essential to an understanding of this complex area of science. Student B, a journalism major who has to conduct a spell check to determine if the world calculus is spelled correctly, writes an article about student A and her interest in recombinant DNA with little or no understanding about the field. Because he is incapable of understanding the subject, he focuses in his written article on the fascinating fact that student A is surprisingly attractive for someone who (impliedly) is dumb enough to have labored so long in such a mundane field of study. At best, freshman classes in these topics have been suffered by student B while the contemplation of just who should be the next American Idol preempted any serious consideration of these scientific disciplines.

The second element of this triad is the various personas that are tried on and discarded by our politicians as they vie to capture the attention (and votes) of Americans. McCain is an example, but he is not the only one. This point can be applied with equal force and validity to any politician. McCain was attacked by Bush's team in 2000 during the run-up to the South Carolina primary election with an impugnation that he was somehow the father of an illegitimate black kid. The fact that he and his wife adopted a Bangladeshi child was somehow lost in the shuffle, but why in the world would a man subjected to such offensiveness allow the perpetrator of such an act to kiss him on the top of the head four years later? Why would McCain state publicly that he loves Bush? In his current state of presenting himself, no one has any idea who he is, or what he represents, but one thing is patently clear; he is willing to alter his views to pander to voters he deems essential to his victory.

The third point of this triad is fed by the answer to this question. Why in the world would the media consider the man who allowed such a denigration of his personal life to go effectively unanswered to continuously be characterized as the straight talk guy in the political community. In other words, why have McCain's inconsistencies been allowed to go unchallenged so long? I submit that question is answered by the melding of the three points of this diatribe; the media today is uncynical. It is uncynical because it is laden with people who have little or no life experience in the topics about which they write. When I first considered the writing of a novel, I was told that one writes about what they know. In that era, my wife gave me a blowup of a cartoon depicting a writer embarking on a novel about a TV remote, presumably to encourage me along in the direction of writing about that which one knows. I hope my point is clear. To understand life, to write about life, requires experiencing life. We have been taken captive by people who sound good, write good, look good, but who know little or nothing about the reality of life.

Now be quiet and hand me that remote.

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