Oh, people and to a lesser extent animals—it’s impossible to know what’s going on in their heads. You want to assume that they feel stuff and see green and whatnot in roughly the same way as you, but who’s to say? You’d think that would be a call to empathy, but for the most part it’s an excuse to treat other minds badly. The first time we went fishing, my grandfather explained to me—precocious child I was—that fish don’t have nerves in their mouths, so they can’t feel the hook. It sounded questionable, but believing it enabled me to shut up and keep fishing with my grandpa, and besides—how could I know? Today is Friday, and the opacity of other minds is all that makes life bearable. Won’t you adopt a cavalier disregard with me?
If you’ve spent any time teaching rhetoric or composition,* you’ve likely noticed that many people understand on an instinctive level what a sentence sounds like but have no idea what to put inside it. I became fascinated by this phenomenon in the years before I withdrew to my mountain lair, back when I used to spend hours a day watching high school students compose sentences. “Although,” they would begin, and then lapse into a state of deep concentration, as if they A) had no idea what they were going to say but B) knew the second part would contradict the first part. In the same way that we all learned language by mimicking sounds before we knew they were vehicles for meaning, many of us have mastered the art of building the shape of a truthful statement and then filling it with total bullshit. This week’s link roundup features statements, actions and ideas that resemble decency in silhouette, but which turn out to be crassly unethical and vapid in content. It’s the perfect preparation for a weekend whose structure will be exactly the same as every other, but which will of course turn out to be an unprecedented, irreplaceable experience that will probably involve throwing up. Won’t you bring a little bile to your mouth with me?