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Anthony Elghossain

The idiot abroad: the death of prudence and the rebirth of optimistic cynicism

Guess who

“You look stressed,” she says, with a smile that cuts like a knife—in truth, a sharp knife of authority that she wields with dull wit.


“I’m all good. Anyway, we—”


“You look stressed. You must be stressed.”


“Uh, no I’m fi—!”


“I think you’re stressed. Anthony.” Like her fellow-travelers around the world, the Idiot’s trying to impose idiocy—manifesting as snide superiority here—on me. And she seems to believe that my name is a form of punctuation. (Three, two, yalla…)


“Pissed,” I hiss. “I’m pissed, not stressed—big difference.”


The Idiot stares, searching for signs of repentance or retreat. I’m searching my soul for any remnants of civility and discipline, but they’ve fast collapsed like the Toy Soldiers I’ve always known them to be. Past the point of propriety, I continue: “Not ‘pissed, mate’ like one of your Idiot Londoners high on his own public intoxication… but like a Lebanese-American about to get weird on—”


“You need to leave. Go get sorted.”


“Bye.”


***


Well... I suppose I’ll be writing again. I wouldn’t have been able to hold out much longer, anyway, but I wonder why and how I lasted as long as I did.


Was I consumed and/or neutered by my day job? The Law takes up time and energy and requires practitioners to muzzle themselves in the name of Prudence—our favorite aunt. “Sorry. No time for idealism and/or insolence, I’m a—fucking!—trusted advisor, you know.” Or was I just bored? After all, I’d just been binge-drafting formulaic fake news pieces littered with acronyms and acerbic alliterative attacks—fun, but not challenging.


No. Neither prudence nor boredom has ever muzzled me for more than a week or two. Having thought about—


“What’s your point?” interrupts my father’s voice. (Most men have a conscience, whereas I have the Darth Pater formerly known as the Chorus of Christ, Mohammad, and Moses.)


“Pops, can you not interrupt my stream of consciousness? I’m—”


“Stream of sensitivity is more like it. What’s with the crisis of conscience? Be honest: you’re a lazy young man who’s quit his job only to resurrect a hobby with haste and in poor taste. Look, you write pieces from time to time—not really worth a thousand-word diatribe.”


“Why do you always interrupt me?”


“Because you talk too much and say too little. Get to the point!”


“Fine.”


***


About a year ago, I lost my sense of humor—or, perhaps, my sense that humor could be part of political discourse or an instrument of change. The Levant was, as it is now—and always seems to be—in the midst of another seasonal spiral of violence: the Idiot Sycophants of Islamist Saboteurs (“ISIS”) had just announced their arrival by sweeping through swathes of Iraq and Syria, killing thousands of people, and beheading scores of innocent folks in what can only be described as a despicable public relations campaign.


And all I did was drum up headlines: “ISIS: All beheadings must be halal” or “ISIS: Premature detonation ‘nothing to be ashamed of.’” In some ways, these pieces would’ve turned out alright: they’d have been crisp, funny(ish), sort of sordid, and to the point—in highlighting some of the perversions that arise in these thugs’ worldview. Some folks would have railed against the lack of sensitivity; others would have launched into critiques about “authenticity” (fuck you) or “utility” (fair enough). Others would have gotten the point and laughed. And, perhaps more problematically and most frustratingly, others would have missed the point and have laughed even harder: they’d have cackled and cheered the jester without connecting the ISIS problem to the other problems of politics and society in the Levant and broader Middle East (or recognizing parallels—yes, parallels—with their own favored factions).


But why stop then?


With abiding humility, I’ll say that I was concerned with my—and my friends’—place in the world. The privileged among us—bankers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, academics with an interest in and passion for the Levant—must think, read, speak, write, and act to make a difference. With that conviction, I’d done nothing besides spin satire during a year-long blitz of fake news pieces and the occasional creative bit that drew more readers even as I grew less thoughtful, diligent, and committed to the cause. Beginning with a stab at some of Beirut’s Hipsters and Technoists (proxies in a parody on communalism) and ending with the twinning of ISIS and aspects of the Lebanese predicament (traffic, communalism, and food), I engaged in a year-long binge—an addiction, in some ways, to form and attention over substance and effect—enabled mainly by a people seemingly determined to write its own story as satire. (Other enablers included a circle of friends and “intimate readers” that appreciated the effort and editors happy to take 1000-word droppings that, for all their merits and faults, filled the screen and (hopefully) drew readers to the website and other content.)


As we laughed harder and harder, during the ISIS arc in particular, I felt worse and worse. I just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, write or engage in that sort of thought process anymore. So I stopped…


I stopped writing so I could think. I decided not to start unless and until self-inspection and self-critique gave rise to the sort of self-doubt that paralyses us for a time before letting us decide, for ourselves, whether there’s purpose in what we’re doing. There is; there must be… so now I will stop working so I can write.


Humor’s not enough. But it does help us heal—to cope with thugs and Idiots, alike. And that’s a start.


Anthony Elghossain is moving back to Beirut. He’ll see you soon. In the meantime, tweet him @aelghossain.

 

Guess who's back? (NOW)

About a year ago, I lost my sense of humor—or, perhaps, my sense that humor could be part of political discourse or an instrument of change."

  • DaveParm

    Getting weird is international! Hope all is well, bud!

    November 7, 2015

  • Bert4442

    Welcome back Anthony. We missed you so much!

    November 6, 2015