Lord Balfour, probably after serving as Prime Minister, made the following observation: "Nothing matters very much, and very few things matter at all." Many years later, John Mellencamp turned it on its side: "Nothing matters, and what if it did?" Now Balfour, as it happens, was a member of Britain's Conservative Party; Mellencamp, it seems, is left of center with populist overtones. The idea that they'd agree on the relative unimportance of things — if not necessarily the same things — suggests that there might be some serious truth behind their ostensibly-flippant remarks.

There are those, of course, who argue that things do matter, and inevitably they have a list of such things, which will immediately be seen to fit in among the items on their individual agendas. Most of the time you don't even have to ask: they'll volunteer the information freely. And sometimes they'll tell you even if you didn't ask, one of the identifying marks of the dreaded Activist.

Another trait of the Activist is his tendency to argue in favor of doing something that will accomplish absolutely nothing but which "makes a statement." You can be absolutely certain that teenagers will always have sex, that there will always be people below the arbitrary "poverty line" — indeed, if we deliberately drew that line low enough, we could claim to have eliminated poverty, just as legitimately as, and much more inexpensively than, the Activist-driven anti-poverty movement — and that one hour of solar flares trumps one million "carbon credits." In view of this, the proper stance, on these and rather a lot of other nonissues masquerading as issues, is "Nothing matters" — or, somewhat less elegantly, "Who gives a damn?"

One could argue that America's place in the world is built on not giving a damn. The argument would go something like this:

Today, the Federal Depositories of the United States contain much of the gold and other collateral that other countries use to back their currencies. Why? Because those countries know that the banks care about money, but not about who owns it. If the banks cared, they might seize assets or hold up payments. Those clients, be they countries, organizations, or individuals are comfortable and relaxed in the absolute surety that the banks of the US just don't give a damn.

What is true for money is true for many other things as well. Take nuclear weapons. A country that just doesn't give a damn about you is about the only country you can afford to allow to possess nuclear arms. Since the USA stands at the absolute pinnacle of not giving a damn, almost every other nation on earth is quietly happy that the US has a policy of buying out other country's nuclear aresenals. Why are so many nations worried about Iran getting nuclear weapons? Because they know damn well that Iran gives a damn about their country.

The businesses of the United States of America pride themselves on this. The unofficial motto of all international corporations based in the US is: You can trust us because you know we don't actually give a damn about you.

And not giving a damn, or something stronger, is at the very heart of American politics:

In the dispirit of the times, I too would like to "move America forward" by declaring this phase of our endless election, the DGAS phase. To the endless polls, stories, minor conceptual speed bumps, the gaffs, the blunders, the rote repetition of positions, the cameos on Colbert, the profiles by whomever is profiling who, the photo-ops, the handling by the handlers, the relentless pleas for cash, and the "debates" followed by the "debates" over who "won" last night in wherever the sorry sheaf of candidates happened to be, all Americans possessed of a shred of self-respect and love for the country must rise up and shout "DGAS!" It's the only way we can keep our sanity until the comic crew of candidates arrives in Florida next January and the people can, at long last, start to vote some of these clowns off the island.

This is, incidentally, why I don't get bent out of shape at the relatively low election turnouts we have: if things were totally hosed, there'd be stampedes at the polls, and the fact that there hardly ever are suggests rather strongly that things aren't totally hosed, no matter what your favorite commentator (or the one you love to hate) says.

Not that I think my viewpoint is especially important:

Misperception: But I give a damn about something that is actually important!

Truth: While you are almost certainly wrong, this is worth covering. If you think that someone else has something that's yours, and you want it restored, and you're willing to try and fix it with violence, then probably you, your neighbors, your grandchildren, and the rest of the world would all be better off if you just totally dropped the issue, moved to a small farm in the midwest, and made a good life for yourself there. It's not that hard to live a peaceful and productive life in a land where people don't give a damn, provided you can let go of whatever it is that's got you upset.

In fact, you should probably stop reading this now.

The Vent

  9 July 2007

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 Copyright © 2007 by Charles G. Hill