Thursday, October 08, 2020


If I start reading a book and it doesn’t grab me twenty pages in, I put it down. I’m a slow reader and life is too short to justify finishing books that bore me. There are too many interesting ones out there and not enough time to read them.

Here in the 21st century, the same is true of YouTube videos. Just now I finished watching a 1959 interview of Ayn Rand by Mike Wallace that fascinated me. Twice I’ve tried to read one of Rand’s novels after strong recommendations by people I respect, but both times I put them down. The interview, however, was great. It grabbed me.

As with many intellectuals like Rand, I agree with some of her points and disagree with others, but she gets me thinking. I also love that YouTube provides a list of related video links in the margin. Nest to Ayn Rand were thinkers like Orson Wells, Milton Friedman, Aldous Huxley, and George Carlin. I watched a few and ran out of time while realizing there are so many fascinating YouTube videos that I won’t live long enough to watch even a small fraction of them.

I stumbled onto Ayn Rand after friend sent me an article by an anonymous thinker with the pseudonym “Sundance” whose blog is called "The Last Refuge," and sometimes the “Conservative Tree House.” At the bottom was the link to the Wallace/Rand interview. One interesting tidbit leads to another on today’s internet and I was grateful for whatever algorithm put the links there. The worldwide web analyzed my interests effectively and offered additional intellectual stimulation. That nebulous entity we was teaching me the way I tried to teach young minds for decades before the web existed.

It was most effective when I was able to take advantage of teachable moments whenever they emerged. A student would ask a penetrating question, for example, which, if I took sufficient time to answer it, might take the class on a tangent only marginally related to the curriculum I was responsible to deliver. I learned to recognize it when a critical mass of students became engaged by the question. If it intensified while I delivered the answer, and if that answer led to more earnest questions from other students waving their raised hands enthusiastically, I knew I had stumbled onto fertile ground.

At that point, my job was to exploit their curiosity by subtly steering discussion more deeply into the curriculum I was charged to teach — 20th century US History including economics, civics, the US Constitution, and current events. I miss my classroom and still think like a teacher. If a student asked a question about Ayn Rand — an intellectual who railed against government regulation — I imagined steering the conversation toward the dangers of regulatory government as identified by Ronald Reagan or Calvin Coolidge, depending on what period of 20th century history we might be covering.

In one of the paragraphs above, I classed comedian George Carlin with 20th century intellectuals though probably very few of you would think of Carlin that way. Did he belong there? I’m beginning to think so after finding so many links to his routines beneath a serious article. I’m sorry he’s not around anymore to demonstrate his intellectual prowess by making us laugh about significant topics. Unlike most comedians, he wrote his own material.

He thought of himself not so much as a comedian who wrote his own stuff, but as a writer who performed his own stuff. Repeatedly courtmartialed from the military and expelled from school, I bet he was a brilliant class clown. Watching him pace back and forth as an adult during his rapid-fire deliveries on YouTube, I realized he also was probably also ADHD — not unusual for a class clown. The ones I recall were usually quite smart.

To make people laugh the way Carlin did about a wide variety of topics, he had to know what things his audience seriously believed, and he needed a deep understanding of those things. Then he would have to think of new, unusual, and often irreverent ways to look at them. A powerful intellect is required to do that. Often I see links to one of his comedy routines on subjects I take seriously—  and he nearly always gets me laughing.

It’s only when he’s unnecessarily profane that he doesn’t. Rather than add to his comic brilliance, it detracts — and it exemplifies something I once read on a bathroom wall: “Profanity is an attempt by a weak mind to make a strong statement.” As I claimed above though, Carlin didn’t have a weak mind, but like many, he got lazy at times and let his powerful brain lapse into degeneracy. Although he’s been dead for twelve years, his comedy routines have withstood the test of time, which is, of course, further evidence of genius.


Glenn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn said...

I loved George Carlin's older performances, but I saw one of last performances and he was so polarizing that it wasn't entertaining at all. It's too bad that he felt that he could lecture us as entertainment, and we would want to pay for that.

Reality Check said...

The antibody cocktail for Covid-19 that President Trump touted on Wednesday afternoon was developed with cells originally derived from fetal tissue, a practice that the president had repeatedly condemned.

Kafir said...

Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” as well as Friedman’s “Free to Choose” were the most influential books that steered me away from the evils of collectivism towards laissez-faire capitalism. How ironic was it that I read Rand while I was in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan in the early 70’s?

Carlin was a comedic genius who would be under appreciated by today’s Millennials.

Thanks for the article, Tom. I enjoyed re-visiting why I became a conservative rather than a progressive decades ago.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Though I recognize Carlin's genius, I don't agree with all his positions.

CaptDMO said...

Carlin...class clown?
If I Remember Correctly, I believe he preferred- Foole
Rand? Pretty good at thinly veiling American History with her "fiction" IMHO.
(Atlas Shrugged AND Fountainhead)
I couldn't look at the top of the Chrysler building, or work on electrical jobs where Alternating Current vs. Direct Current was important, or even ride the subway/ suburban commuter trains (and THAT whole Edison/Tesla battle) , without thinking of Alas Shrugged.