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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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