Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Curmudgeonry In A Nutshell

     Long time Gentle Readers are aware that I style myself “The Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web.” And it is so. I am a grumpy sort. It’s a cultivated variety of grump, carefully refined over the decades, best summed up in the classic phrase “Get off my lawn.”

     The curmudgeon is ever ready for disappointment, degradation, and disaster, for these are the most frequent visitants to every society in every era, from the most primitive to the most advanced. He looks toward the clouds rather frequently, for experience has made him certain that either the Flying Purple Shaft is hovering nearby, waiting for a moment of inattention in which to strike, or it will rain soon.

     If you hear a curmudgeon laugh, put one hand on your wallet, the other over your genitals, and get to shelter right away. You’ll thank him later.

     The curmudgeon is not the most accommodating of folks. He neither throws parties nor attends them. He keeps his toolshed locked. He has no interest in joining Neighborhood Watch. Whereas other sorts will mumble “I told you so,” he proclaims it to a fanfare of trumpets.

     Alexander Pope once said that “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Old Alex was wise to get his name on that sentiment, for it is inarguably so. Any curmudgeon will tell you.

     If the average age of curmudgeons is greater than the national median, should that come as a surprise? Experience is the forge in which the curmudgeon is formed. He probably started out as optimistic and sunny of outlook as any other untraveled fool. It takes time to beat that crap out of a man.

     The great majority of curmudgeons are men. Women, with their innate inclination toward “support groups” and consensus thinking, are more resistant to the condition. It is not yet known whether there’s a causal connection between that aspect of the female psyche and curmudgeonry among married men, but research continues.

     Those puzzled by my curmudgeonry have often asked me, “Don’t you believe in people?” Oh yes, I believe in people. After all, they're everywhere. And they are what they have always been and always will be: wishful-thinking ignoramuses, good for at most one thing. They treat facts as opinions and opinions as facts. They dismiss data and events that conflict with their preconceptions, no matter how well verified. They mangle the punchlines of jokes while talking with their mouths full. They’re useful mainly as the butts of pratfall gags.

     For a capsule characterization of the curmudgeonly attitude toward things, it’s hard to beat this brief description by Sam Leith:

     [T]he curmudgeon is a pessimist, whose grumpy outlook is born of long experience, and of the realisation that what good there is in the world has been hard-won and is perpetually vulnerable to the hare-brained schemes of dreamers, utopians, and idiots of every stripe....

     The curmudgeon greets the day by wondering “What fresh hell is this?” The curmudgeon greets a stranger by wondering: “What are you trying to sell me?” The curmudgeon greets an exciting new idea by thinking of all the disastrous ways in which it will go wrong. And, given a bit of time, the curmudgeon more often than not turns out to have been right. The financial writer Christopher Fildes, I think it was, who had the theory that financial crises occur whenever the last bank employee old enough to remember the last one retires. That is classic curmudgeon wisdom.

     Leith also provides this observation:

     In this respect the curmudgeon is the very praetorian guard of conservatism...Conservative politics, as our own Ed West points out in his fine new book Small Men on the Wrong Side of History, has its historical origins in the need to resist what was then called religious “enthusiasm”. It has continued to honour that mission, and the curmudgeon has always been at the forefront of resistance to enthusiasm of any sort, religious or otherwise....[A] society without a very hefty proportion of curmudgeons is the sort of society that careens down the hill to chaos very fast indeed, and that will, as Peter Cook warned of Britain, “sink giggling into the sea”.

     Indeed. Someone must resist the fads and fashions, the panics and passions, the mad manias that sweep through a nation and carry its rationality away. Someone must stand fast against the tides, upholding the banner of reason. For reason, like the curmudgeon, has always been unpopular. It defeats the airy-fairy fancies, the dreamy what-ifs and why-nots that catapult a people into disaster. It upholds the tragic vision of existence:

  1. All things have a price.
  2. If you want it, you must pay it.
  3. And don’t leave your hat on the counter.

     In this vision, as in wine, there is truth – and this vision has fewer calories.

     So you who, like your Curmudgeon, maintain shrines to Marvin the Depressive Robot:

"I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed."

     ...deserve to be recognized for your “service.” Your role might not be glamorous, but neither was that of Sandburg’s nail. Perform it with pride.

1 comment:

mobius said...

Curmudgeons hold the line!!