Thursday, November 12, 2009

Salt of the Earth

Salt of the earth people can’t complain. Don’t ask how they are if you are complaining about the malignity of the universe, because they invariably “can’t complain.” Salt of the earth people are always elbowing each other as a gesture of understanding. Nudge nudge. They don’t like “troublemakers.” Salt of the earth people, or SOTES, don’t care that there are cohesive forms of social organization (mostly made up of what the famed political philosopher and former Vice President Spiro Agnew referred to as the effete) that are not predicated on the idea that SOTES hold so dear, ie that ordinary folk are better than those who try to be somebody. SOTES tend not to agree with Oscar Wilde’s quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”
What is this love of the ordinary, this fascination with belonging, indifference, and self-possession, that makes the SOTE such an object of curiosity? Thomas Mann alluded to this in his story Tonio Kröger, in which alienation brings with it a certain longing. SOTES don’t talk about their anhedonia, their loss of interest in things, or their feelings of longing. Madame Bovary was definitely not a SOTE. In a way, even Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, the quintessential SOTE, might not have finally qualified, due to the ironies in which the author embedded him.
But here are some rules. If you ever pull into town in one of those moods where you’re tired of reading Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf and want to hang with the local SOTES, if there’s a glaring sun, don’t say how Main Street reminds you of the first line of Camus’s L’Etranger: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.” Definitely don’t mention Emile Durkheim’s classic sociological tome, Suicide, and don’t start to talk about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s On Death and Dying. Pretend you’ve never heard of the word “dystonic.” Don’t let on that you don't know a guy named Will, the local bartender and pundit, a bully and sadist everyone in town has loved since he was an evil little boy. Don’t try to become one of the boys by imitating the derogatory tones they use to talk about the fairer sex. What sounds mildly sexist to you will end up making you seem like a serial killer. Everyone will look at you and eventually you will be run out of town.  

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