The Unfoolable Mencken

He calls you a swine and an imbecile, but he increases your will to live.

A gentleman recently asked me, “Do you know why people are not honest with you? Has anyone told you the reason before?” I asked, “What could be the reason? I truly have no idea.”, and he replied, “It is your blog. When you write about people, it is embarrassing. They talk behind closed doors, but will never tell you what they think, because you can sow misery in their lives. You are a great writer, and make people think beyond the obvious. People laugh reading your autobiographical posts, but they do not learn anything of value. If you are willing to forego writing about people, people will be a lot more honest with you.”

Perhaps, but I want people to be honest with me precisely because I want to write about them. Speaking my mind is very important to me. I think I will have to use all the people that I find interesting for my writing. What I find hilarious is that they expect me to promise that I will not be doing that. When someone makes this demand, I laugh inside, because I hear this while I am having great fun structuring the plot inside my head. If I had written embarrassing things about you, it is only because you are such a big meanie.

This gentleman is not alone. After reading my blog, an old “editor” once said, “I was very fair to you. I hired you even though you were a stranger. But, you did not tell me why you left your previous job. I was fair to you, but you were never fair to me. I am sad.” I said, “I tell the truth, but I do not tell the whole truth because the society penalizes absolute honesty. I can imagine you being the rare guy who does not do it, but on the probability scale, it is quite low.” In a rare moment that convinced me that dull minds too can have complex thoughts, he replied, “You assume too much, Shanu. You assume too much.”

Why do I write when the things I write make many people terribly unhappy? I write because it makes ME happy. I do not believe that art should appear “constructive”. I am an observer of human depravity, not a reformer. I have never felt that the people I write about ought to be “reformed”. I have never read a beautifully written article that did not teach me anything of value. But, the didactic function is not the overriding motive behind a great work of art. If you are not convinced, read the works of the salt-and-pepper haired Indians who have set out to straighten public policy. I have read all of them, but I am yet to find a single creative insight in their works.

The view that you should never write about certain things come from such emotional creatures that confuse their biases with objectivity, from those dimwits who confuse their desire to be liked with lack of “bias”. The reason is obvious. It is impossible to appear “constructive” without lowering your standards because the last thing people want to hear is that their worldview is based on laughable assumptions.The last thing people want to hear is that they are such pathetic fools.

The great H.L. Mencken did not share such biases of self-styled intellectuals. Mencken believed that the overpowering impulse of a writer is to yell. This is forbidden by the police of all the civilized countries. So, he puts his yells on paper. I do not trust the writers who are not consumed by such an overpowering impulse. It is far easier to sell out when you are not driven by maddening passion, though people love to believe otherwise.

But, imagine yelling when people will hear you days, weeks or even months after you have yelled, and that you are yelling under the close supervision of someone who is too dull to understand the driving force behind your yells, and dictates the tone of your voice. It spoils the fun. Not surprisingly, much of the published literature is of such poor quality, even when it is written by bright minds. Blogging frees writers of such constraints. I think this is why many believe that if H. L. Mencken were alive today, he would have been the most popular blogger on earth. Today is his birthday.

One of my fondest memories is that of showing the ending passage of Mencken’s “Notes on Democracy” to Lakshmi: “I am, it may be, a somewhat malicious man: my sympathies, when it comes to suckers, tend to be coy. What I can’t make out is how any man can believe in democracy who feels for and with them, and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of. How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat?” In a manner uncharacteristic of her, she suddenly said, “I love this guy.”

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