Make nuance sexy
On snake oil, Oscar Wilde, and the demand signals we send to the people who want our attention
If you reward a behavior, you should expect to get more of it. The advice is applicable as much on a civilizational scale as it is within a nuclear family. And yet, it is often ignored without much further examination.
■ When people decry the circus-like atmosphere of public behavior -- whether it's the exaggerations of media figures teasing their wares for clicks, the grandstanding of political figures hunting for more small-dollar donors, or the overstatements of snake-oil salesmen out to clear a fast buck -- they need to look at their own part in the exchange.
■ Oscar Wilde was being a scoundrel when he wrote, "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." Too many people in what ought to be serious pursuits take his words as aspirational advice.
■ If we as voters, as citizens, or merely as adults wish to have less of the circus, then no small share of the responsibility lies with us. If people are behaving like carnival barkers, we are under no obligation to respond. Nor to amplify. Nor even to acknowledge.
■ Calvin Coolidge wrote, "The only way I know to drive out evil from the country is by the constructive method of filling it with good. The country is better off tranquilly considering its blessings and merits, and earnestly striving to secure more of them, than it would be in nursing hostile bitterness about its deficiencies and faults."
■ Put another way, it is up to us as the intended audience members for any public-facing figure to deliver our time and awareness -- the coins of the realm in the "attention economy" -- to those who approach us with modesty, sanity, and reservation. Make nuance sexy. Make subtlety seductive. Make understatement glamorous. These things only come about if the marketplace of ideas detects a demand signal. It is within our power to send it.
Sometimes the spectacle is best left in Las Vegas