Emilio DeGrazia

by Emilio DeGrazia, columnist



My wife Monica is kind enough to keep some thoughts to herself: I can’t outthink the dog next door. Poor dogs. People can be so cynical about them, maybe because the word for “cynic” is derived from the word “kyon,” one of the old words for “dog” in Greek. I’m not a cynic, and I see most dogs as kind and intelligent. Dogs sniff here and there, sorting out what stinks from what smells good, while sending appropriate messages to the brain. If dogs could speak English they probably would call sniffing critical thinking, and a survival skill. Dogs do it naturally. I don’t do it naturally, and schools seem less interested in promoting it.

I often snort rather than sniff after hearing a bad joke. It’s my way of swallowing the joke wholesale, without giving it further thought. It’s also what I do when I want to laugh or scream or lose my mind. On binges some people snort glassfuls of rum, or rum and coke. It makes them feel free and easy. And those who want to lose their minds by snorting illegal drugs maybe feel carefree, but there are often serious hidden costs. 

A snort is not a sniff and doesn’t rhyme with whiff. A snort swallows something whole-hog. I snort pasta drenched in garlic, and then move on to Little Debbie Nutty Buddy bars. I regret it too late. A snort has no mind for figuring out the difference between what I like and what is good. The garlic, not globs of pasta, is good. But I’m addicted to what I like — the pasta and the Nutty Buddy bars.

Only when my mind is awake — like a good mother who stays up all night worrying about me — do I concern myself with what is good. And only now and then do I dare open my mind wide enough to ask if what’s good for me is also good for most of us. It’s an underemployed — and underpaid and often unelected — survival skill.

I feel rather ordinary, and ornery, a good part of the day, always in a hurry looking forward to the future while complaining about how fast everything’s going down the drain. Fast is all the rage, and ads come and go so fast I’m too slow to think critically about the hundreds telling me what’s good for me. In ads everything I’m supposed to like is also supposed to be good for me.

For example, I’d like to have a brand new SUV, and I see a lot of ads for cars and more cars on TV. But I see no ads for innovative transportation designs. Maybe people like cars more than they dislike the troubles traffic jams and climate change are bringing. The related costs for each are hard to imagine or calculate, especially by those who know what kind of new gas guzzlers we’d like to see ourselves in. Maybe a new rail or bus system, or ride sharing, or a new bike path, or a hearty walk would be good for the greater good, but it’s hard to argue with what we like.

And I don’t like to argue about good or bad taste. It makes me unpopular when you and I don’t like the same things. Rather than argue about the facts — cigarettes are known to cause cancer, for example, and heart disease and bad breath — I’d rather poke around to find some private fresh air of my own to inhale. I’m like the smoker. I’m an individualist, and I’m addicted to being free to choose.

When talk turns to politics, religion, education, abortion, health, regulations, guns, and taxes, I find it easy to turn the other cheek, snort at what I don’t like and move on, hoping that somebody else will be sure to take care of what needs to be done to keep people healthy, prosperous, and secure. When we’re not feeling healthy, prosperous and secure, we complain and ask why government isn’t taking care of these problems for us. We end up with big programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare and Social Security. We never get enough of what we like from them. 

Big government often does too little, too late, or what we don’t like, especially when big government does what a few big donors and lobbyists really like.

That makes government easier to dislike, and we blame government for not doing what’s good for us.

A cynic would say we get what we deserve.