Searching For a New Diogenes

The past few weeks, I’ve been engaging in a bit of internet detox, partly inspired by reading Nikki Sixx’s book, This Is Gonna Hurt; partly inspired by my good friend MB; and partly due to recognizing my own unhealthy compulsion with checking what’s going on in the world via Facebook and Twitter — among other sites that deliver more “talking heads” than actual news. Sure, I’ve been using the ‘net to catch up on television shows, stay in contact with people I actually know or for additional research on creative projects I’ve been working on. (Since this little experiment, I found myself working on a lot more creative projects considering less of my time has been monopolized by pointless clutter.) Of course, I’m chained to a computer for the bulk of my work week, however, outside of that, I’ve been slowly backing away from the world online and trying to enjoy life itself a whole hell of a lot more.

I have to say, it’s been quite refreshing. When you’re not continually exposed to the ceaseless stream of negativity in the news and and a cacophony of online voices crying “woe is me,” you find yourself listening more to your own voice. In turn, both critical and creative thinking comes more freely. Stepping back from the fray and becoming more of an observer of the online follies of others than an active participant, it’s amazing to see what a vehicle for hypocrisy the internet has become. Rather than being a mouthpiece for sanity, it’s a den of doublespeak. Someone can trash a person on one forum and can then be seen blowing smoke up that same person’s ass for all the world to see in a sweetly, sanctimonious message scrawled on their Facebook wall or in a Twitter shout-out.

Seeing how intertwined people’s online lives and “real” lives have become, it’s all the more reason to want to extricate from the trappings of digital bullshit we each find ourselves inundated with on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to be bombarded by news and pop culture in its myriad of forms. Currently, every aspect of the media has been penetrated by Representative Anthony (and his) Weiner. The dissolution of this man’s political career is a prime example of what happens when someone’s online identity overtakes who they are (or purport themselves to be) in real life.

As Diogenes, the Father of Cynicism and one of one of history’s greatest shit-stirrers and philosophers said: “Humans have complicated every simple gift of the gods.”

Weiner is a prime example of that statement. Here’s a guy who was arguably intelligent enough to rise through the political ranks and secure himself a spot in Congress, yet had not mastered simple technology. The Liberal Lothario accidentally sent a shot of his shorts to Twitter instead of to its intended recipient(s?), kicking off a media frenzy. Apparently, for the past three years, Weiner has been sexting a bunch of women — both in and out of his Congressional district. His texts, arguably even more entertaining than those of our old buddy Tiger Woods, stood as evidence that the politician was leading a double life: The Congressman/newlywed husband to Hilary Clinton’s personal assistant in real life and a lean, mean, sexting machine in his own Walter Mitty-esque existence online. A lot of the now-classic snippets of Weiner’s vagina dialogues were culled from Facebook conversations with some of his various “fans” and “friends” on his page.

Technically, Weiner whacking it for an indeterminate amount of women around the country via phone and/or text messaging, is not cheating. It’s lewd behavior, but it certainly pales in comparison to some of the stunts dirty birdies John Edwards and Newt Gingrich have pulled, each ditching wives facing life-threatening health issues in favor of a younger piece of ass. Gingrich, now on Wife #3, was a repeat offender on this front and yet had the audacity to spearhead the cause to impeach former President Bill Clinton for his own Lewinsky-flavored fling when he had already abandoned two ailing wives to have affairs. Edwards only screwed up one marriage, but managed to knock up campaign staffer Rielle Hunter while his wife Elizabeth was dying of cancer. Then, Edwards one-upped himself on the scumbag scale when he allegedly attempted to get get his own (also married) campaign aide to take the rap for the kid and help him cover up the fact that a one-time Presidential hopeful was too stupid wear a jimmy hat.

Former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger also fathered a child as a result of an extramarital affair with the hired help. However seedy this may have been, Ahnold wasn’t an elected official when this indiscretion went down, pre-dating his two terms in office. Also (sort of) separating him from other peen-pushing politicos, Arnold attempted to do the right thing and take financial responsibility for the child he fathered, as well as personal responsibility for his indiscretion. Maybe it’s his old school, European roots, but there was no whining, denying or crying when this story broke to the media. Hats off to Maria Shriver, too, for trying to maintain a sense of dignity throughout the family fiasco. Damn right she’s pissed, but she’s attempting to move on with a minimum of theatrics compared to others.

And let’s not even get into the toe-tapping, hypocritical hijinx of former Idaho Senator Larry Craig.

Compared to these guys who committed actual, physical affairs, Weiner looks like a choirboy.  The issue I take with Weiner, however, is that he (like Gingrich and Edwards before him), swore up and down that he wasn’t to blame. Weiner claimed his account was hacked, shaking his fist at the imaginary bastards who perpetrated this attack on his credibility before eventually breaking down and admitting he had been sexting for quite some time — before and during his marriage. There’s the possibility that he was doing so while on the clock, on the dime of the people who elected him.

If anyone else outside of the political arena was caught sending pics of their naughty bits or requesting masturbatory material, they’d immediately be fired from their job. Instead, Weiner first requested to take time off to undergo “therapy.”  Since when did sex addiction, let alone addiction to sexting become a medical malady meriting a leave of absence and therapy on par with undergoing treatment for cancer, chemical dependency or physical therapy after an accident?

After much hemming and hawing, Weiner, realizing the irreparable damage he had done to his political career, resigned. Had the President and other members of Weiner’s own political party not applied pressure, he likely would have stayed in office. Moreover, Weiner had the luxury of being able to maintain his position if he so chose.  Most folks in other walks of life, if caught in a compromising position, are not usually afforded that consideration. Given the high rate of unemployment in this country, how many people would love to have been in Weiner’s shoes — to actually have a job, much less a job where he could have effected positive change for those he was elected to represent? Instead, he jizzed it all away.

I’d have had much more respect for the guy if he was honest right from the start and said, “Hell, yeah! I love talking dirty and sending pictures of my junk!”. Judging by some of the transcripts that materialized, Weiner certainly wasn’t shy about telling the ladies how much he enjoyed sexting with them.

As it stands now, it’s hard to trust anything that comes out of a politician’s mouth. Weiner just proved why so many Americans have a mistrust of their government and elected officials. If you can’t be honest about or in control of your own personal life, how can constituents trust that you’re honest about maintaining their best interests?

An even bigger load of shit is the inordinate amount of time the media is devoting to what politicians on both ends of the spectrum are doing with their dicks. A massive smokescreen of sex, scandal and gossip has been thrown up to distract from the actual policies and agendas of any of these political figures — both the good and bad they have done for the people who had elected them. As the country slowly spirals down the crapper, politicians themselves are spending more time decrying the actions of one another. As for bipartisanship, the only time these guys can reach across the aisle is to hand one another the tube of KY and the Congressional box of Kleenex.

Diogenes: Cynic. Philosopher. Shit-stirrer.

At the end of the day, Weiner is just some schmuck who found his (pretty damn good) “real life” consumed by the online Don Juan persona he had carved out for himself. It’s just one more reason to step away from the box and minimize the amount of time spent on social media. The line between what is authentic and what is fake has slowly eroded over time. If Diogenes were alive today, it would be even harder for him to find an honest man. However, a lot of his tactics (lifting his leg and whizzing on a dude who called him a dog and continually flipping off Plato, among other antics) would probably have earned Diogenes his own reality show by now.

I realize by kicking in my own two-cents on this hot button topic, I’m just as bad as the talking heads I’ve lambasted. But what’s the harm in adding just one more voice to the din? You can choose to take my word for it… Or formulate your own opinion based on what seems right and true to you.  My words aren’t cold, hard fact and I’m not presenting it as such.  This blog isn’t news.  It’s an editorial.

Which is precisely the problem with the news today. Most network and cable news personalities fail in their ability to differentiate news writing from penning an editorial. There are no trusted figures in the field of  journalism in the vein of Walter Chronchite or Edward R. Murrow any more. The closest to integrity in investigative journalism that we have these days is 60 Minutes — which only airs for one hour once a week.

Instead of journalists — persons who objectively present the facts and open a forum for intelligent discourse — we now have “news personalities” who offer their own personally or politically-charged slant on news stories. These news personalities and their take on the news must place them in lock step with the prevailing ethos of their respective networks and their political affiliations. FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal and NPR are all equally guilty of putting their own spin on things. Rather than presenting the facts and allowing their audience to decide what to make of the story themselves, these “news personalities” apply a conservative or liberal slant, tweaking stories ever so slightly to suit their respective agendas and chosen socio-political allegiances. Should a news personality say something that is out of step with the mantra of their parent company, they risk losing their job.

Most journalists (i.e. “news personalities”) are just better dressed equivalents of shock jocks like Howard Stern. At least in Stern’s case, he makes no bones about being a loud mouthed critic of pop culture sans the pretense that many of today’s news personalities flap around in lieu of journalistic integrity. It’s his job to point out bullshit as he sees it and people have come to accept and applaud him for it because he does it so well.

Conversely, instead of being the best at what they are supposed to do — present the facts and allow viewers to draw their own conclusions on news stories — news personalities have lazily co-opted Stern’s format in an attempt to use sensationalism, rather than journalistic integrity, to drive those all-important ratings.

Then again, when you see all the false sentiment and double-talk bandied about on Facebook and Twitter, maybe we as a society don’t want integrity. It’s just too much of a pain in the ass to deal with. As evidenced by Stan Marsh on a recent episode of South Park, no one wants to hang out with a “cynical asshole”. When everyone around you thinks the latest recycled comedy plot for a film starring Adam Sandler or Kevin James is hilarious and you liken it to a “reheated turd in a microwave,” you’re the odd man out for being true to yourself and speaking your mind.

That said, maybe there is no room for a new Diogenes so long as people are content to live a charade until a combination of their own stupidity or vanity exposes what lies beneath the surface. It’s kind of a shame, when you see something like the internet with so much potential to bring people together for a common good become not a forum not for intellectual discourse, but a place to bring out the village idiot in all of us and present it to a global stage.

That said, I’m not exempt from my own brand of online stupidity (like documenting my own bowel movements) or wanting my fair share of recognition for pointing out the foibles of others and myself. (Hey, I have a blog, right?) But they say the first step to overcoming a problem is admitting it, which is what I’m doing right now and why my experiment in “internet detox” continues. I’m actively choosing to limit the amount of negativity I’m exposed to and expose others to by adhering to the principle that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” (Okay. I’ll do that for the most part. Some days, try as I may, I can’t help but be a nasty bitch.) Join me if you’d like, but only if you want to of your own accord. We may not be an honest society, but we’re still a free one.

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