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There’s always something to howl about

The essential importance of criticism to my mental functioning

I hate the idea of belaboring this topic, because I think it should be obvious. But it keeps coming up, so I wanted to take a moment to shoot it down. If the headline seems really boring to you, that’s only because you’re right. Feel free to make your exit while your faculties are still unbenumbed.

In response to my post this morning on the sartorial elegance of Todd Carpenter, Dave Gooden says:

I don’t understand your need to pile on people like this.

I never pile on anyone. Piling on is done by groups of people, generally speaking fairly stupid people. I always stand alone in everything I do.

But: That’s beside the point.

Without piling on, John Kalinowski adds:

I can’t understand for the life of me why you waste time insulting others publicly, which seems to happen often on this site.

Both comments are specious, in the sense that I wasn’t insulting anyone. I was tweaking Todd Carpenter for a comical photo of the most un-besuited person I know wearing a suit.

But I’m willing to entertain these questions, if only because these kinds of complaints come up fairly often, and it’s plausible that I can help people better understand how I use my mind.

I will say first that I consider rebukes like these to be unconscionably rude. I am chastised — to my face, in public and behind my back — for being some sort of paragon of bad behavior, but I would never in my life consider it good character to presume to remonstrate my host while I am a guest in that man’s home. If I have a big-enough problem with your behavior, I will certainly take you to task, but only on my own property, never on yours. In this respect, I am regularly amazed that people would seek to address minor issues of style while committing an outright betrayal of my hospitality.

In the same way, it would never occur to me to tell someone else how to write. Your mind is your property. Do what you want with it. I will tell you now — and I’m sure I’ve said this many times before — that it doesn’t matter to me if you do presume to tell me how to write. In the first place, I know I’m good at this, good at getting inside your mind and sticking there. But in the second place, people have been trying to tell me (and us, as a collection of individuals) what and how to write since BloodhoundBlog began, and we have always shown them the back of our hand.

Why? We are what we are because we keep our own counsel. It is by now obvious that the entire RE.net is to one degree or another compromised by the NAR, by the vendorsluts, by Inman or by all three. Among major voices, at least, we are what’s left of truly free speech in the wired world of real estate. Why are we free? Because very publicly, very loudly and as often as necessary, we have declaimed that we don’t take shit from morons. I like you two gentlemen, and I don’t want to intimate that you are morons. But you could do me the favor of not acting like morons.

There’s more, but leave it. Let’s get to the instant matter: What is the purpose of the withering criticism I sometimes issue? It’s worth noting that both of the complaints here are specious, and it’s plausible to me that other such complaints are also based on misunderstandings. It is very helpful, in the net.world, to cite specific examples of what you are talking about, by verbatim quotation, then to explicate what you see as being objectionable or erroneous. Presumably you are both objecting to the first joke in the post, but I have no way of knowing that from your remarks.

Even so, let’s look at it:

“MIBOR? That’s above my pay grade.”

Why is that funny? MIBOR is a hot button right now, but to combine that with Barrack Obama’s remark about when human life begins, and then to tie that back to Todd — who, after all, is merely a minion in a PR department at the NAR — to me that’s very funny. The whole great-white-hope meme, the notion of Todd-as-our-ambassador-to-the-NAR — that’s funny just by itself. But tied to this MIBOR clusterfrolick — that’s a scream.

But what it is not is an insult. It’s just a joke — and the joke is on us, not on Todd — or, rather, on anyone who did not understand that Todd Carpenter is merely a minion in a PR department at the NAR.

(Take note that even if the NAR gives in on this stupid stance it has taken, that’s just a game they’re running. Earnest men of good will like Jim Duncan will not reform the NAR from the inside. The NAR is a criminal conspiracy, and it will act to preserve its criminal prerogatives against all opposition. The only way to obliterate the NAR’s evil is the Bloodhound way — by supplanting it in the minds of consumers with an incontestably better alternative.)

But what are we actually talking about?

I believe in the psychic power of criticism. When I think something is evil, I will dismantle the underlying ideas nine layers deep. I am particularly good at this. I have gotten good at it by working at it assiduously for decades. It’s important to praise the good, and to specify everything in a good effort that is less than perfect, thus to encourage the cultivation of still better efforts. But it is a matter of human survival to identify, eviscerate and destroy evil ideas. I think Batman is insane, but this is my little piece of Batman’s insanity. If I have done everything I want to have done, when I take on a bad idea, there should be nothing left of it but an oily stain on the pavement.

But even then, I don’t think that’s what Dave and John are objecting to. As a matter of conjecture, I expect they are complaining about the kind of cracks I will occasionally make about Brad Inman or vendors of crap products or the NAR or whatever.

And the question, I’m guessing, would be, “Greg why do you make jokes about these folks?” There are a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the one I just named: It’s important to me to identify and disintegrate evil. But the most important reason is this one: It’s fun.

I write well. I’m a tough read here, but I can be much, much more difficult to read. I understand grammar the way other people understand cars or football or cooking, and I can build perfectly valid sentences in English that almost no one can understand, much less diagram. The English language is like Jazz to me, and it ripples and rolls through my head all the time, making connections like lightning strikes that take many paragraphs to explain to other people.

If I take a quick little crack at some despicable person or some risible idea, chances are there’s a lot more to the joke than you’re seeing. You should be able to get the joke — and, if you don’t, it were better to ask a question than to post a rebuke — but there’s probably quite a bit below the surface that’s there purely for my own amusement. I call it “humor for one” and it’s been a part of my writing since I was a teenager.

Why is it there? Because just writing is boring. Many of the things that make my prose memorable — the rhythms and the scansions and scatwise prancing — those things are there first for me. They work for you because they work for me, they give a structure and a style to my writing, to the extent that you should never have to see my name to know with certainty that it’s me you’re reading. You’re used to it by now, and it seems to flow into your brain without conscious effort, even though mine is some of the most difficult prose you read. Don’t believe me? Try reading my writing out loud. I can’t even do it well, but in print is just ripples and rolls and makes itself comfortable inside your mind.

You will never, ever see me attack something I see as being good — or even something not-so-good that is striving to be good. But you will also never see me let a significant evil pass by unremarked. The greater the evil, the greater my dudgeon.

As to why I make snotty remarks about relatively trivial evils: It’s fun for me, and, if you read carefully, it should also be fun for you.

But: Take note: Whether or not it is fun for you is of no importance to me. You do not pay me. I do not work for you, and, if I did, I’d resign at once. I don’t take shit from morons, but I also don’t take well-intentioned suggestions from nice people who presume beyond their let, and I don’t take criticism seriously unless it is proffered by critics as serious as I am. Samuel Johnson said, “Only a blockhead would write, except for money.” He was right, and I’m just that much of a blockhead. But my own enjoyment is the only compensation I get for this work, and I’d be twice a blockhead to give that up. If you don’t get what I’m doing, or if you don’t like it, go away. But I will not rob myself of everything I’m getting from this work to protect your tender sensibilities — which might well be operating in a fog of error for all I know!

I’m not beating you up, John and Dave, but I am using you as straw men, I suppose. I confess that I am annoyed by these complaints — not just yours, but all of them. Our dedicated quad-core server is clobbered eighteen or more hours a day, so very many are the people who aren’t reading BloodhoundBlog, so deeply offended are the lot of them. For my own part, I am sick to death of this nonsense about being “nice” to open, obvious, naked evil. If you can’t bear to hear it called by its true name, I can’t bear to hear it called by any other.

So what will I do? I’ll keep my own counsel on this point, as on every other. If I lose you two — or other people — as readers, that will be sad. But I can think of two things much worse: Failing to tell the whole truth — in high dudgeon and low comedy — to the people who are pleased and able to trust me to tell them those truths. And failing to tell the truth now — when it’s so vitally important — when no one else will.

It is not necessary to respond, neither of you nor anyone else. You do not owe me an apology — or an explanation or anything else. Regardless of my own complaints, I’m about as quiveringly vulnerable as an armadillo. You can’t pay me to write, because I know better than to write for money. The only payment that matters to me is the highest price — and the highest praise — I can receive: Readers have to pay attention. Some will. Some won’t. So what? The rest is silence…

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  • 22 comments

    22 Comments so far

    1. Thomas Johnson May 13th, 2009 12:13 am

      I am so glad mother taught me not to use the guest towels.

    2. susan kelly May 13th, 2009 3:10 am

      I needed this so deeply, thank you kind Sir; moronic-simps are biting like fleas right now, thus, I shall spend time this morning expanding some of your finest too Decoupage’ my playbook!

    3. Joe Loomer May 13th, 2009 4:05 am

      Don’t ever change. Voices in the wilderness are still occassionally summoned to the village to be heard.

      I did find it funny that you started with “…so I wanted to take a moment….” Might have been better off with “I wanted to take several hours….” but then no one would have read on. ;)

      One of the reasons I elected to go to work for myself was to have a voice in my own future, rather than seek a suckle at the government teat for a second career. People like you are the articulation of the independent contractor’s voice.

      Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    4. John Kalinowski May 13th, 2009 5:11 am

      Greg – My comments have nothing to do with telling you how to write. It’s an observation of your tendency to insult when you think you’re being funny, forgetting there are human beings at the other end of your perfectly valid sentences and “humor for one”.

      Unfortunately, I don’t think you have the ability to listen to “well-intentioned suggestions from nice people”, as you’re too caught up in the rhythms and the scansions and the scatwise prancing to see when others are trying to help.

      You won’t receive an apology from this moron, nor will I continue to presume beyond my let. I’ll just take your advice above “If you don’t get what I’m doing, or if you don’t like it, go away.”

    5. Bill Lublin May 13th, 2009 5:23 am

      Gregg:
      “I write well. I’m a tough read here, but I can be much, much more difficult to read. I understand grammar the way other people understand cars or football or cooking, and I can build perfectly valid sentences in English that almost no one can understand, much less diagram.”

      You’re kidding right? You don’t really believe that writing incomprehensibly is a skill of any sort.
      Eschew obfuscation.

    6. Jessica Horton May 13th, 2009 5:42 am

      No, don’t ever change.

    7. Mark Green May 13th, 2009 5:49 am

      If it don’t sting, it ain’t worth it.

      I can count on one hand the number of writers that can tap into my emotions and provoke thought the way Greg Swann can.

      I don’t know Todd Carpenter personally, but I hear he’s a really great guy. If Greg’s article was so offensive why did Todd himself join in the fun. If Greg ever went after me for some reason, I know that I’m a big boy and that I’d be able to handle it. Also, if that were to happen, I imagine there’d likely be a good reason for Greg to poke at me.

      I doubt Brad Inman loses any sleep each night after curling up with this Vook.

      John K., I used to feel the same way you feel – about Howard Stern. Stern offended me on many levels every day. He attacks the defenseless – and for profit. He resorts to shock tactics and profanity. I don’t like him. But you can’t argue that the guy hasn’t found his audience.

      I am not a REALTOR, and I don’t know what it’s like to be a REALTOR. But when a REALTOR goes it alone in “supplanting the NAR”, and supports his take with increasingly disturbing evidence… shouldn’t that be the ultimate takeaway?

      Greg’s style is his own, and thank God he lives in a country where he can express himself as he sees fit. He’s the main attraction around here, and I for one hope he doesn’t change a thing. I think a permalink to this particular article ought to live on the homepage forever, and it ought to be cited at the footer of every Swann article. I figure they’re not the only BHB readers asking the same questions Dave and John asked.

      I think it was a good move for Greg to address those questions.
      And ultimately, I’m glad that Greg writes for whom its most important – himself.

    8. Greg Swann May 13th, 2009 6:34 am

      > You won’t receive an apology from this moron, nor will I continue to presume beyond my let. I’ll just take your advice above “If you don’t get what I’m doing, or if you don’t like it, go away.”

      Wow. There’s no accounting for taste, nor for other people’s perceptions. I went completely out of my way to avoid offending you, pulling you back into the conversation several times to address how much I like you and enjoy your participation here. We’ll miss you, John. Please feel free to return, here or by email, with no hard feelings.

    9. Greg Swann May 13th, 2009 6:39 am

      > You’re kidding right? You don’t really believe that writing incomprehensibly is a skill of any sort.

      No, of course not. Who ever heard of poetry?

      I love it when you make an effort to show your face around here. You’re the perfect foil.

    10. Greg Swann May 13th, 2009 6:44 am

      > I did find it funny that you started with “…so I wanted to take a moment….” Might have been better off with “I wanted to take several hours….” but then no one would have read on.

      This

      If the headline seems really boring to you, that’s only because you’re right. Feel free to make your exit while your faculties are still unbenumbed.

      is a teaser to keep you reading while seeming to absolve you for not reading. Next year at Unchained I may do a class on writing to motivate and persuade. By then I hope to be good at it.

    11. Greg Swann May 13th, 2009 7:16 am

      > I doubt Brad Inman loses any sleep each night after curling up with this Vook.

      I would hope not. I know the grand poohbahs of the NAR do, and their troubles are barely begun.

      > He’s the main attraction around here

      I disagree with this. Quite unexpectedly, the Bloodhound idea, the philosophy of delivering an insanely great real estate experience, has taken over as the essential idea at BloodhoundBlog, and this is wonderful thing for all of us.

      > I think a permalink to this particular article ought to live on the homepage forever

      That’s a great idea. Yesterday evening, I added this text, quoted from one of my replies, to our sidebar:

      Further notice: Being helpful and being nice and being sickeningly sweet are topics for pre-schoolers. BloodhoundBlog is a forum for grown-ups. Get used to it.

      This morning, I anchored a link to this post to the words “Further notice.” Seems only fair.

    12. Teri Lussier May 13th, 2009 10:01 am

      This is some of your best work.

      We all see things differently but this:

      >It is by now obvious that the entire RE.net is to one degree or another compromised

      is what I see although, I’d prefer not to see it- I’d prefer it not be there. I certainly don’t go looking for it, but it is there, constantly and openly.

      And this:

      >Whether or not it is fun for you is of no importance to me. You do not pay me. I do not work for you … I will not rob myself of everything I’m getting from this work to protect your tender sensibilities — which might well be operating in a fog of error for all I know!

      … is vitally important to remember.

      Of course there’s much more here that blows my mind, but for it all- Thank you.

    13. Joe May 13th, 2009 10:02 am

      "I can think of two things much worse: Failing to tell the whole truth — in high dudgeon and low comedy — to the people who are pleased and able to trust me to tell them those truths. And failing to tell the truth now — when it’s so vitally important — when no one else will."

      Some form of he above should also be in the sidebar! ;)

    14. Brian Brady May 13th, 2009 12:15 pm

      “You don’t really believe that writing incomprehensibly is a skill of any sort.”

      Of course it is! This is BloodhoundBlog, the place that embraces and encourages excellence. Bill, you don’t have to make excuses for the lesser read.

    15. Tom Vanderwell May 13th, 2009 8:04 pm

      I had an English prof in college who could teach an entire semester on what Greg wrote here. If I was still in college, I’d sign up for the course.

      Tom

      (Confession – I graduated with a BA in English)

    16. dave g May 13th, 2009 8:43 pm

      Greg,

      My mom told me not to waste time arguing with people who have never lost an argument…so I won’t.

      Best of luck to you and your followers.

    17. Greg Swann May 13th, 2009 9:28 pm

      > Best of luck to you and your followers.

      There are no followers here. That’s why the other people responded so positively, I expect, because I am so steadfastly unwilling to be pushed around by anyone on any pretext. The folks who really like it here are individualists to the core. The is entirely a side-effect of the BloodhoundBlog phenomenon, but I am immensely proud of it nevertheless. By the grace of the net, we found each other and built a place where are fully and finally free to be ourselves — living out loud. None so deserving is my take, and I’m delighted by that, too.

      All that notwithstanding: You are always welcome here. I’m not trying to chase you away. But I am very definitely fighting for my perfect right to be who I am on my own property.

    18. Bill Lublin May 13th, 2009 10:30 pm

      > You’re kidding right? You don’t really believe that writing incomprehensibly is a skill of any sort.

      No, of course not. Who ever heard of poetry?

      I love it when you make an effort to show your face around here. You’re the perfect foil.

      Greg; By definition, an appearance here is showing my face, it is not “an effort”- very sloppy semantics on your part.

      I never found gibberish to be poetry or poetry to be incomprehensible- its sad that you do -

      Brian; Incomprehensible writing by definition is in no way equal to excellence – either on Bloodhound or off.

    19. Greg Swann May 13th, 2009 10:49 pm

      It would be sufficient to say, “Oops! I put my foot in my mouth.” Or simply to say nothing. This kind of male-display behavior ill becomes you. It’s all I ever see of you, which colors my perception of you. That’s sad. It’s plausible to me that you might be worth knowing — Jeff Brown seems to think so — but from my point of view you’re always competing for dominance — in precisely the wrong place. Oh, well. Do as you please. I know I will.

    20. Brad Coy May 14th, 2009 1:35 am

      > Best of luck to you and your followers.

      More on this. When speaking about online Real Estate coverage, it has been my experience that around here, there are no followers. I wish in my heart of hearts that this type of community vibe were encouraged elsewhere, but from what I see happening on twitter and elsewhere, hierarchy rules. I suppose it’s a lazy response to fall in line as communities are built, It’s just not what is encouraged here.

      If you have not come this far yet with Greg. He’s about as real as it gets – the good, the bad, and the ugly, all wrapped up under one big Bloodhound’s nose. When was the last time someone else made you this promise?

      I do think a lot of things read here are taken way out of context, but for what it’s worth, I’d rather be asking questions than spoon fed ideas and answers.

    21. [...] Greg Swann “I write well. I’m a tough read here, but I can be much, much more difficult to read. I understand grammar the way other people understand cars or football or cooking, and I can build perfectly valid sentences in English that almost no one can understand, much less diagram. The English language is like Jazz to me, and it ripples and rolls through my head all the time, making connections like lightning strikes that take many paragraphs to explain to other people. [...]

    22. Teri Lussier May 14th, 2009 9:55 am

      There are no followers.

      I’m not picking on you, dave g, but I agree with Brad that following and followers is something that seems to happen with more and more frequently online, and it’s not conducive to anything that’s important to me.

      Greg says:

      >By the grace of the net, we found each other and built a place where are fully and finally free to be ourselves — living out loud.

      That’s absolutely true. Like when you first meet someone and for whatever reason you fall into friendship. We’ve all experienced that- “It feels like we’ve known each other forever”. It’s just a very deep friendship- notice I didn’t say comfortable friendship, although that might happen. You are not following that person, but you’ve found a person with whom you can be yourself. You know you will be accepted, and in return, very important to the conversation here, you will accept that person.

      You go to their home and you immediately sit at the kitchen table rather than the living room, without being asked, because *of course* you would sit at the kitchen table, because that’s where friends sit… And a few dirty dishes in the sink? Who cares? A loudly barking dog in the house? Me too. A black cat that insists on sitting on your white slacks? Ahhh. Just like home.

      No following. No blind agreement on every issue. Some very passionate discussions, but, above all, no following. Just mutual respect and acceptance of who we are as people.