The Breakfast Table

The Danger of Stamping Out Doubt

Hi, David,

Well, just before I got your latest post, the TV, which I’ve had on constantly (As I basically always do. I know you’re philosophically opposed and don’t watch at all; I’d describe my approach to TV as analogous to Swami Rajneesh’s approach to sex: You have to immerse yourself in it to get past it. It hasn’t happened yet for me, but that doesn’t mean the theory’s entirely flawed.) … anyway, the TV I’m surfing for us both just told us that we’ve gone from Yellow to Orange, or high alert. I kinda like being in Orange so far; I have orange hair, an orange cat. I forget: Was there a Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs?

Nobody on TV seems to know how to act Orangely yet as opposed to Yellowly.

Personally I’m not feeling as threatened since I saw another TV bulletin, this one a live feed from Tora Bora where Geraldo Rivera was standing in front of what he suggested was OBL’s abandoned cave. A risky strategy for Geraldo since it kinda conjures up his ur-stunt: opening “Al Capone’s vault.” Equally empty. But I don’t know; I sort of have a soft spot for Geraldo: Call me crazy, but I think he’s an interesting mixed character, with just enough of the gonzo, if deluded, idealist—and the self-awareness of a genial con guy—to take the edge off the hustle and the hype.

Anyway, sorry if I seem to have gotten your Dickens comment wrong—I love the idea of smirk emoticons, not just frown, but smirk—but you nonetheless produced a tour de force of Dickensian referentiality once you got started. It’s interesting Dombey and Son figures as a thread in your remarkable novel Preston Falls, and Dombey figures heavily in my Dickens essay. Probably for different reasons, but that visionary scene describing the death of little Paul Dombey radiates a kind of spirituality I find in Dickens that had a powerful effect on my life. Not religion, spirituality. Big diff. Which brings us back, our Slate taskmasters will be relieved to hear, to the current situation—and your last post. Since I was wrong about the Dickens note, I want to be careful when I interpret what you said.

What comes across—and again I could be wrong—is that we are just about the worst thing in the world. No diff between Ashcroft and the Taliban. (I’d say that’s probably true of Pat Robertson when he said 9/11 was God’s just punishment for secularism.)

But are you saying the Bush administration or America is morally equivalent to the Taliban? Do you see any significant differences?

I guess I find myself taking an increasingly pessimistic, tragic view of history: Human nature is Hobbesian; it’s no surprise almost all states are. None has its hands free of blood, but there are differences in degree, no? Think of the major empires of the wretched 20th century: British imperialism, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, America. I guess I’ve come around to the pessimistic realism of whoever said democracy is the worst system in the world, except all the others.

Again I could be wrong, but it sounds like you think the United States (and Disney) is just about the worst thing in the world, while I lean toward thinking that fundamentalist religions (of all sorts) over the course of history have caused the most slaughter. To stamp out doubt, skepticism, uncertainty, or “negative capability” by killing the questioners is the biggest sin of all.

On that cheerful note, I’ll sign off and watch some more toxic TV.

Orangely yours,