Everyone agrees that The Pale King enshrines boredom. What has been glossed over, however, is how fiercely and unrepentantly American these pages are. Yes, the book expounds upon the marvels of boredom and the “heroic” nature of doing a quiet but necessary task without audience or recognition, but juxtaposed are endless descriptions of bureaucracies, American culture at its most dysfunctional, and even extended Platonian dialogues about the decline of American society, complete with terms that never fail to surface in today’s news: “liberal individualism,” “corporations,” “conservatives,” “founding fathers,” “consumer capitalism,” etc. “Americans are crazy,” one character remarks to another: “We infantilize ourselves. We don’t think of ourselves as citizens—parts of something larger to which we have profound responsibilities. We think of ourselves as citizens when it comes to our rights but not our responsibilities.” The selfishness described here again harkens back to Wallace’s speech, in which he revealed that our “natural, hardwired default setting” is to be “deeply and literally self-centered.”
If the reference is to our ethical and moral responsibility, I quite agree. However, the “hard wired” setting to be deeply and literally self centered, is ridiculous, we are just as hard wired to be cooperative and self sacrificing. That being deeply and literally self centered is an American doctrine used to justify cruel and immoral policies and actions. If humans are self centered monsters salivating after every last moment of pleasure and every conceivable possession, than we can justify every kind of lie and cruelty in the name of social control.
Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the review and I would like you to read it.
My thanks to Patrick Nathan
via Patrick Nathan