Don’t Know, Do You?
up at a national political clusterfuck looking for a job. After
a few weeks on the campaign, I got hired, and soon enough I was
face to face with a pretty famous American Political Mastermind
in his element. In person he commanded the people around him as
most high-pressure leaders do: by insulting them. His method was
particularly devastating... and they would lap it up.
how he’d start: “You just don’t know, do you? You don’t. You don’t
know what the fuck. Is going on. You just don’t have a fucking clue
what the fuck you’re doing.”
hearing this in the nerve center of a major presidential campaign,
your mere presence there marking the pinnacle of your political
career. At one moment you find that you have 33 voice mail messages
from New York Times reporters asking for leaks to put in tomorrow’s
A1 story, and minutes later, the man in charge comes up and tells
you you’re fucking clueless. It was easily the most amazing and
memorable thing about the whole campaign.
and repeat for months over the course of the election process, incrementally
reducing the “fucks,” shrinking the length of insults to confetti
clouds of “You don’t know. You just don’t have a clue," every
time this political monster passes you by.
one had heard anything like it. A year later at a party, I saw him
using “No one knows what’s going on” like Rain Man. He got in a
rut, and as he repeated himself the crowd around him grew, gorging
on his punishment. From what I hear, he repeats this as his mantra,
everywhere he goes. This act isn’t a new one. The dialogues of Plato
are loaded with scenes where the young men of Athens trip over each
other to be put down by Socrates — to be told they don’t know a
politics, the assumption of course is that the politicians and their
advisors do know what’s going on, and where we should go.
But in fact, the political genius is right; it’s true: in fact,
no one has a clue what the fuck is going on.
mother doesn’t know why she had you, airline hostesses can’t possibly
tell you how they ended up offering coffee refills six hundred times
a day to complete strangers, Pat Robertson can’t explain how he
came to play an evil game of mind control and money-suck through
broadcast television over the past 25 years. I see a lot of the
reason for this tied up in the fact that, exactly like this dog
that’s sleeping at my feet, we are animals.
I think I can explain some of what’s going on: how it is that so
many things are going on in a fashion totally indifferent to our
own lives, why our surroundings and our actions seem so particularly
un-monkey, all the rest of those glaring black holes in Joel Osteen’s
in your mind for second that a dog typed up this article using his
not far off from the truth: A fucking monkey did it instead. Yeah,
something really close — 99% close — to a situation where you’re
at staring at the chimp cage at the zoo, and one of them is sitting
at a desk, typing away on a laptop, while a napping pooch occasionally
swishes his tail. Something pretty damn close to that.
it’s just a hop, skip, and a few million years that connect chimps
to some of the most pure instinct “clueless” mammals that ever lived:
horrid mice-like creatures. Obviously, something happened along
the way, and I think I have some answers on it. Part of the answer
of course is that the mice-like creatures already had lots of “humanity.”
that’s going down a road I don’t have space for here, and some good
philosophers have it explained pretty well, so I’m going to just
try to explain the phenomenon of how you became what you are. How
you became a ______. (insert your identity)
big metaphor that I think applies is the term that geologists use
to explain how much of the landmass known as Japan sprouted out
of the sea. “Accretionary prism.” Tectonic plates are rarely flat
like dinner plates. They have hills and mountains. As one plate
subsides under another, the one on top “accretes” the bits that
stick out... and over time, you get a small landmass.
way to think about it is razor blade slowly pushing along a thousand-mile
mirror scattered with cocaine molecules. At some point you have
a pile of coke on your hands, but it takes a while.
this metaphor to us, it’s like this: If you stay in a context for
long enough, the residue of received culture begins to accrete around
you, and you become that. Eventually there’s a point where there’s
no going back — you’ve accreted in some aspect, say your job, and
that’s all you can do, and so you keep going in one direction, further
and further apart from other people, other occupations. If you don’t
stay in the same contexts, and keep moving before things settle
around you, then you have lots of little accretions that make up
who you are.
this might be pretty obvious, but I’m calling this the basic mechanism
that dictates what you end up doing. A common time in contemporary
American life that illustrates this when you’ve graduated with you
liberal arts B.A. and you have no idea what you want to do. Only
much later do you realize that all along, you had a passionate interest
in protecting the rights of undocumented Honduran apple pickers
in upstate New York.
could have ended up doing anything at all. It’s exactly like
catapulting a monkey from space at the spinning Earth. Wherever
he lands is what he becomes.
a story about how everyone nicknamed Joe Lieberman “Senator” when
he was in college, and so the destiny of life myth continues, “And
here he is today: the honorable Senator from Connecticut.” Remember,
Joe Lieberman is a monkey, and “Senator” is a fairly novel thing
in the history of the animals — even mammals for that matter. How
many monkeys in college over the past five decades carried the nickname
“Senator?” The girls said I was going to be an “Asshole,” but here
I am, a pretty nice guy.