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Odysseus never read Nitobe Inazō, but John F. Kennedy did

November 21, 2011

A couple Sundays ago I was watching an NFL football game. I enjoy the occasional game on tv, it’s easy, but I prefer listening to games on the radio. Those radio guys are fantastic and really bring the game to life. By comparison the tv announcers are useless lumps who contribute next to nothing while the play is happening. It seems their purpose is to stay out of the way of the game and then to fill non-play-time with logorrhea and palaver. It reminds me of the writing dictum: Show don’t Tell; except in this case it’s radio that Shows while tv merely Tells–ironic.

So I’m watching this football game, Chargers vs Jets. The Jets throw a long pass up the sidelines and their receiver catches it but he tangles with the defender and they both tumble out of bounds. The game stops while the referees huddle for a secret congress. The tv lumps speculate reasons for the entanglement. The receiver may have done something wrong, like an illegal-use-of-eyes or an aggressive-feint or inappropriate-touching. The lumps debate proper manners and frame it in the context of historical NFL data.

I drum my fingers up the side of my beer. There are so many rules in the NFL that it drives me nuts. It feels like the team with the most lawyers has the best chance of winning. The lumps review the film and point out that the receiver touched the defender in an illegal manner and then they applaud his sneakiness while the referees debate whether or not it was a legitimate violation of the rules. One of the lumps says, “It’s all about knowing what you can get away with.”

It’s all about knowing what you can get away with.

I couldn’t believe my ears. That attitude is selfish and cowardly and greedy and utterly sans honor. It is the attitude of sneaks and rebels and irresponsible adolescents, of leaders and lobbyists and people who value profits über alles. It is an entirely American attitude and it is cultural cancer.

Shift gears for a second to the Occupy Movement. In general, this movement is a declaration of dissent, as noted on the New York City General Assembly’s Declaration site here: “We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.”

The Declaration is a short read. It boils down to a list of accusations against “the corporate forces of the world.” It’s a list of irresponsible corporate action that has damaged the middle class. Reading the list it occurred to me that these actions seem to fit a pattern of narcissism, elitism, knowing what you can get away with-ism.

America is the greatest mixture of cultural ideas ever, period. We should be the greatest nation in the world, but like the entitled children of languidly wealthy parents, our culture is sabotaged by an over-appreciation for getting away with shit. In a way, it’s in our Western Culture DNA passed down to us from Odysseus, the great dissembler. Maybe it’s time we update our code with a little more Bushido.

Odysseus never read Nitobe Inazō, but John F. Kennedy did.

The Odyssey by Homer and Robert Fitzgerald (my preferred translation)
Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazō

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