Game of Thrones features beheadings, hangings, torture, incineration, parricide, war, rape, incest, betrayal, and intrigue, among other untoward depictions. Refreshingly, the aspirants to the Iron Throne do not pretend they seek it for the public interest, common good, or the children. Those contenders with some nobility among the admixture of their motives acknowledge their ambition—it’s good to be King (or Queen)—and the ignoble have the courage of their own ruthless rottenness.
This naked drive for power, shorn of hypocrisy, stands in welcome contrast to contemporary politics. Between now and November of 2016, we’ll hear countless speeches and interviews from a dozen plus candidates claiming—while wiping away a tear or two—that they are running to Restore America’s Greatness, or Take Back America, or Fulfill America’s Promise, or some such Madison Avenue-conceived, poll-driven, focus-group-tested drivel. Any candidate who admitted that he or she sought the presidency because the American government has treasure, power, and empire that puts Alexander, Caesar, Khan, Napoleon, and Hitler combined to shame and yes, by God, it’s good to be King (or Queen), would be disqualified immediately. Instead, all must swear to make like Glinda the Good Witch and use their power—should they be chosen to lead the great people of this great nation—only for the Benefit of Humanity. That anyone can stomach this revolting nonsense is astounding, but millions do because of the central tenet of American politics: You can get away with anything as long as you say you’re doing it for somebody else.
Facebook, the company that made “like” a noun, epitomizes America, 2015. While human nature hasn’t changed a whit over the millennia, almost everyone wants to hide the worser demons of their natures, accumulating actual likes on Facebook and figurative ones in every other avenue of social interaction. Oh sure, if you poke around the Internet you can kind find plenty of naysayers, bubble-busters, and other curmudgeons, but even many of those misanthropes hide behind aliases. Nice people don’t journey to such dark corners. “Nice” is the vapid kissing cousin of “like.”
One can be labelled “nice” merely by keeping one’s mouth shut and nodding at the appropriate times. What’s a Facebook like worth when there is no “dislike”? The only word in the English language more insipid than “like” and “nice” is “cute,” a distinction achieved upon birth by virtually all mammalian offspring and many reptilian, amphibious, and bird species’ offspring as well. It is especially important for political and entertainment celebrities, their stock-in-trade popularity, to be considered nice and likable, which is why most of them acquire causes once they’re in the limelight. Never mind the bodies they stepped over on their climb to the top, the lies, backstabbing, criminality, debauchery, addictions, and transparent phoniness; they are deeply concerned about global warming, or income inequality, or the plight of the denizens of some obscure corner of the planet, or something equally worthy.
Declarations of unmet social needs have preceded every expansion of the welfare state and of course, such needs can only be met by removing money from some people’s pockets and putting it other people’s pockets. The pickpockets claim the mantle of “nice,” or more grandiosely, “humanitarian,” while protests from the pick-pocketed prove that they’re selfish and mean, the evil opposite of nice. That pursuit of happiness thing implies a certain selfishness, so it has been modified. You can marry someone of the same sex if that floats your boat. (Gay marriage isn’t just nice, it’s rainbow nice!). If you’d be happy keeping what you’ve earned, forget about it. You’re selfish and mean, and it’s a good thing Facebook doesn’t have a thumbs down, or you’d get a bunch of them. Besides, letting you keep what you earn would pull the rug out from under Obamacare, which the Supreme Court just twisted itself into a linguistic pretzel to save.
Nice as we are to each other at home (except to the selfish, the naysayers, the bubble-busters, and the curmudgeons) we outdo ourselves in war. Not since the Civil War has the US fought on its home territory. Since then, all its wars have been fought to save someone in some foreign land against some terrible scourge. Weirdly, oftentimes even the people we’re saving don’t want us there, and gratitude for our efforts is lacking. Oftentimes, so too is success. The misanthropes in our midst might say that our efforts have usually made the situation worse. They certainly have costed a lot of money and killed a lot of people, although that is cancelled out by the purity of our motives, which excuses us from conducting honest assessments of our failures and allows us to produce more of them.
Only the blackest of hearts question the motives of the pure. Those black hearts note that money involuntarily extracted from selfish bastards doesn’t just meet unmet social needs and make the world safe for democracy and the American Way of Life. It buys votes; funds bloated medical-care, welfare, agricultural, educational, and military-industrial-intelligence complexes, and pays the salaries of a swarm of micromanaging bureaucrats who get to make life miserable for the rest of us. Even with all the money the government extracts in pursuit of its unquestionably worthy goals, with such a big heart it cannot help but live beyond its means. A host of connected, but worthy, Wall Street types make well-deserved oodles of money using borrowed funds at ultra-cheap rates to speculate on the debt and interest rate machinations of the government and its central bank. Only the misanthropic could object to such a charitable endeavor.
There is only one problem with our rubber room, Barney the Dinosaur world: reality is sometimes not nice. As Greece and Puerto Rico demonstrate, credit markets can turn off the spigot and governments can go bankrupt, even when they are stocked with good people and the money is to be used for worthy purposes. It’s a funny thing about many not-so-nice people: they’re often the ones who know how to produce things. When the nice people—for the best of reasons, of course—make it difficult to produce, the not-so-nice produce no more than is necessary to keep themselves and their loved ones (even the not-so-nice have loved ones) alive. Selfish, you may say, but they have skills other than being likable—for which they often have nothing but contempt—and they use them. They may not much care if the whole system collapses, because they can take care of themselves, and if you want something from them, you’d better have something of value to offer in return.
So push them far enough, and the not-so-nice drop out…or rebel. The Confederate flag is a symbol of racism, which we all abhor. It is also a symbol of secession and rebellion, which may be a bigger part of why it is abhorred. In our Age of Tolerance, those sentiments are intolerable. The US was founded on secession and rebellion; they were once as essential to the American character as self-reliance and individualism (now known as antisocial selfishness). It would be the latest in a long string of mistakes from our benevolent powers that be if they assumed that spirit was dead and not just dormant. The better bet is that it will be awakened when their goo-goo flotilla of inoffensive banality, speech codes, trigger warnings, political correctness, and spineless conformity crashes on the shoals of dire but prescient warnings dismissed and hard truths left unspoken.
NICE IS BORING; THIS NOVEL IS NOT.