Friday, March 10, 2017

Little Dribbling - Post 5200

A pal lent me the audio version of Bryson's new (2016) book The Road To Little Dribbling. It is a followup to his Notes From A Small Island of twenty years ago.  I had liked the former book reasonably well, though it had a few things that infuriated me. I immediately liked this less well.  I don't think that is entirely Bryson's fault - I think it was the reader. There were elements that I disliked that are certainly Bryson's, and I had to keep turning it off.  Eventually I gave it up.  I feel certain that there are adventures and anecdotes I would have liked, but I can't get past some things.

And they are the same things. Bryson is a great deplorer of others, and is condescending about them.  He takes care to distance himself from those others. It isn't mere grouchiness or cynicism, or at least not always. Example: he relates two incidents from going into McDonalds.  In the first, he is ordering for a group, including grandchildren who interrupt him to change their order, causing him to start over repeatedly.  The counter server does not regard the list as corrections, but as an accumulation, resulting in 32 Big Macs, etc.  I am entirely with Bryson on this one.  He is being reasonable and can't get anyone to understand this.  But in the other incident, he places an order and objects when he is asked "Do you want fries with that?" He goes on at length, won't let it go.  The young man keeps protesting "We're just told to say that." Bryson will have none of it and goes on insulting him.

This is just Bryson being a prick. Not the only time.

This condescension was present in the earlier book.  It's worse now. It's not in all his books, but it popped up immediately here.

In Notes, Bryson was quite taken with the extent of the British bus system, and quite upset that lines were being cancelled because they were no longer paying their way.  In Little Dribbling, he is similarly pleased with the English rural countryside, going on to warn that it won't last forever if people don't protect it.  He is irritated that people are making decisions about the countryside for economic reasons, protesting that there are other values in the world which might guide our actions.

He is in both cases partly correct.  A government might decide to subsidise bus lines or vistas because they thought them socially useful, or beautiful, or kindly, or historic, or sacred or any of a hundred other values.  Societies find ways of agreeing what they are going to spend their money on. What we spend money on is perhaps the best indicator of what we actually value, rather than claim to value.

Yet the key here is that this is a subsidy, this is an agreement to spend money, there is a cost here. The money part, the "merely economic considerations" don't go away. Someone has to give up some of the fruits of their labor for this.  Someone works an extra hour or two every week to pay their share of it.

Makes me crazy.  It is coming up again today with a highschool classmate posting on FB about raising the minimum wage. Money isn't magic.  If you took all the money from CEO's and the 1% and spread it around it wouldn't raise wages.  I also find it infuriating that people can make lots of money for socially useless or even bad reasons. But infuriating is irrelevant.


Texan99 said...

I live in a somewhat exurban part of a lightly populated county. Those of us who move in to build often are clearing land for the first time. Some clear only the strict minimum required to get a driveway and house in place, some do more. But very reliably, we then start to look askance at the next arrivals, who are cutting down trees, which we abhor. Now, we could buy another lot and leave all the trees on it, but that costs money for the purchase and the considerable taxes every year. It's so much nicer if someone else buys the land and makes a park out of it, which we can then drive by and look at all the time.

Estoy_Listo said...

I've enjoyed Bryson's writing, including "Notes from a Small Island," but I'm not much interested anymore, for many of the same reasons: a writer w/ a superior attitude and not much sympathy for those people and things he disapproves of. It nags on you, and after a couple of books you discover that you kinda don't like him.

RichardJohnson said...

But in the other incident, he places an order and objects when he is asked "Do you want fries with that?" He goes on at length, won't let it go. The young man keeps protesting "We're just told to say that." Bryson will have none of it and goes on insulting him.
This is just Bryson being a prick. Not the only time.

That reminds me of the time I was at a McDonalds in downtown Houston. When the counter sever asked me, "Do you want fries with that," my reply was, "If I wanted fries, I would have ordered them." When fries came with my burger, I complained to the manager, who corrected the order to burger without fries.

A dear childhood friend of mine - I am still in contact with her and her siblings- worked two decades in management at McDonalds HQ in Illinois before she retired. She didn't work her way up from flipping burgers, as she had a management skill which headhunters pitched to McDonalds. For that connection, I am less likely to put down the company than I used to. I have a dollar burger every month or two. Several years ago, when I needed two dozen burgers in a hurry, the local McDonalds performed just as I requested.

I enjoyed Bryson's books on 1927 and on being a tourist in Europe. Smug, condescending attitude? Smug and condescending goe with the "liberal" territory.I knew this when I was in high school in the 1960s. When I was a "liberal." "Liberals" are getting a bit testy about being called smug and condescending. Consider The Myth of the Smug Liberal:
In the dawn of the Trump era, there is no stereotype more lazily deployed than the condescending coastal liberal who lives in his own bubble.

The author, writing in The New Republic, very much wants to prove his "I am not a rich,smug, condescending bubble person" bonafides, and pretty well does so. At least his "I am not rich" bonafides. For himself. The irony here is that for four years, Chris Hughes was the owner of The New Republic until he tired of his new toy. Chris Hughes, with his Facebook stake courtesy of a Harvard classmate connection, very well fits the stereotype of smug, bubble-living elitist gazillionaire .

Saltburn subversives said...

There is a cretinous passage towards the end of the book where he says he's like to see the government end our 'obssession' with economic growth and spend the money on making sure the UK has the best hospitals, parks, libraries etc. Insane! Apart from anything else, the state has been in charge of these things since time immemorial. How'd that work out? Economic illiteracy typical of his class and outlook. Idiot.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Richard Johnson - re: They Myth of the Smug Liberal. Thanks for the link. Those who aspire to be leaders in the elite class have to demonstrate their smugness, long before they are actually rich, much as corporate interns have to spend more money than they can afford on signalling with the appropriate suits and shoes. It shows they are willing to pay dues, and that they are all in.

Baker has a point, that it is becoming a cliche and people are relying on that stereotype rather than making a case for their argument. However, he misses an important nuance: when was the time that the smug elites acknowldged that this was more ture than should be, and they were going to do better. This is a cliche from the right, yet a cliche that remains opaque to the left. They still think that it's not re3ally true, there's just some bad PR that creates that impression (and it's really the fault to those yahoos for not seeing that anyway.)

Notice that Mr. Baker is finishing up a history on New York baseball. Brilliant signalling.

Full disclosure: it has been a very trying week for me dealing with liberals in online discussions who stunningly, obviously need to believe they are good people and their opponents evil, and so believe any number of facts which are not remotely true. When I hit those valleys, it is hard for me to wrench myself out of them and think "They aren't all like this. You know some very decent liberals who hold their views for motives at least as good as your own. Chill out."

rotator said...

Agree that Bryson has become a lot more ascerbic in the Dribbing book. I generally like Bryson's work and the audiodiscs he himself recorded of earlier books are hilarious. He has
an excellent reading style. Some of this ascerbity showed through earlier in the books in which Katz is a prominent part, always wondered what Katz thought about Bryson's remarks.

RichardJohnson said...

Baker has a point, that it is becoming a cliche.
I have two further comments. First, cliches are often true, such as "actions speak louder than words." Baker is correct that "smug liberal" is a cliche, though it would be more correct to say that "smug liberal" has been a cliche for decades- made a cliche by the numerous times that "liberals" have acted in a smug, condescending manner.

Recall the old joke attributed to Adlai Stevenson.
A supporter once called out, "Governor Stevenson, all thinking people are for you!" And Adlai Stevenson answered, "That's not enough. I need a majority."

Tom Lehrer's Folk Song Army accurately depicted the smug, condescending attitude of the FSA, though I didn't appreciate his saying so at the time.

When I was voting Third Party in the 1980s, I noted a bumpersticker which said, "Vote Republican. It's Better Than Thinking." Smug, condescending once again. While voting Third Party I also noted the smug, condescending tone of NPR announcers towards Ronald Reagan and his supporters. As I was voting Third Party, I wasn't looking for smug, condescending tones from NPR- it hit me in the face.

My question to "liberals" is, why do you keep repeating stuff that is over a half-century old? Can't you think of something original to say? Or why do you keep proving an old cliche correct?

Sam L. said...

Bryson, as I've said before, though maybe not here, reminds me of Garrison Keillor, who grew up in a small town, moved to the big city, and continually tells us of this rotten place he grew up in. Bryson does that, too. Both should just get over it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Noting that Bryson and Keillor are from the Midwest was one of my first posts, and I contrasted them to Dave Barry and PJ O'Rourke, also are from the Midwest and became conservative/libertarian after starting out with liberalism.
I hadn't considered if rural versus urban was part of that. Let's check. Well, I was wrong about Barry to begin with. I thought he was from south of Buffalo, but he was born near NYC. No Midwest there. PJ was born in Toledo, so there might be something to the rural/urban split in terms of getting out of Dodge. Too small a sample size, though.

I also mentioned Bryson and Keillor together in a post about the ability to laugh at oneself.