Rendered Fat Content


Pierre-Paul Prud'hon:
Le Cruel rit des pleurs qu'il fait verser
[The Cruel One Laughs at the Tears Which It Causes To Be Shed]

" …
getting better and better!"

Novelist and radio personality Garrison Keillor described his fictional Minnesota town of Lake Woebegone as "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Nobody needs me to tell them that in no population do all the members measure above average for anything. We have all been schooled in proper comportment, at least to the extent that we understand that a passing question like, "How are you?" must be responded to in the positive: "Fine, thanks. You?" Our response might qualify as pure fiction, but then so was the question, for it was a mere acknowledgment of presence and never intended to encourage disclosure. Societies depend upon such understandings.

Last night I began reading a book that I'm sure I will never finish.
After seeing a reference to it and feeling attracted, I ordered the volume I don’t remember when. Months or years later, I received notice that a used copy had come in, and I ordered it delivered. The introduction to the book, Cruel Optimism by Lauren Berlant (2011 by Duke University Press) came as nearly unreadable as anything I've ever attempted to read. In twenty-one pages of pedantic prose, it made it painfully clear that I was not then and would likely never become part of the author's target demographic. As near as I could determine, a qualified reader would have completed many years of postdoc work in entirely unrelated theoretical fields so that they could follow absolutely abstract references. I did manage to glean a slight understanding of the work’s central premise: that we live within a regime of Cruel Optimism.

Like that greeting, we're urged, as members in good standing of our best of all possible societies, to believe that 'things' are trending toward the ever better. However good it was in the prior period, results in this quarter really should prove demonstrably better, and further, we'd better believe this. If not already Successful, we’re all certainly headed in that direction. Any less optimism qualifies as abject depression and, like the odd Lake Woebegone kid, shockingly below average. So we poison ourselves with our optimism.
Further, the very optimism we insist upon for ourselves might undermine our attempts to achieve such promise. The very act of hoping renders us hopeless. We could not have crashed and burned if our aspirations had been more modest.

This notion that trends should be positive or else they're catastrophic might well render us all into snowballs or marshmallows, too damned soft to prove viable. Fortunately, we can sustain ourselves forever on such egregious fictions. Nobody's really wounded by believing that their kids are well above average. A significant portion of our population—the most advanced population in the history of this world, mind you—believe in absolute falsehoods. Still, the inertia of embedded ignorance apparently protects us from the worst results of holding such absurd beliefs. Perhaps we are exceptionally blessed, if not precisely in the way we were convinced. Our once-limited skills in self-deception seem to be trending ever stronger. Soon, there might be nothing left for any of us to conquer. Things just seem to be getting better and better!

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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