Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Review: A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity

Title: A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity

Author: Bill O’Reilly

Date: 2008

Publisher: Broadway / Random House

ISBN: 978-0-7679-2882-3

Length: 256 pages

Quote: “By design, much of the story is about me but not all about me.”

In other words, O’Reilly intends his memoir to illustrate how his beliefs were formed by his experiences. The experience of a nun answering one of his wisecracks with the judgment, “William, you are a bold, fresh piece of humanity,”gave him a label for himself and a title for a book in which he occasionally refers to himself as “the bold, fresh guy.”

Often classified as a conservative, O’Reilly resists political party labels. As he’d discussed in a previous book called Culture Warrior, he judges individuals’ performances (in different categories) as they appear to him. His “No Spin Zone” was famous for confronting both Democrats and Republicans. As he puts it:

“Once in a while a person of true principle emerges, but the media usually quickly destroys that candidate because honesty always…collides with ideology.”

This was written before Ben Carson’s presidential campaign, which didn’t really surprise this web site either, because this web site agrees with O’Reilly.

In a general way, O’Reilly admits some of his opinions can be graphed on the political right:

“The feds are good at collecting taxes and organizing the military. Aside from that, Washington is very limited in what it can actually achieve…the reason that I have succeeded in life is that I relied on myself, not on some mythical theory about government…If I wanted money, I worked for it. If I wanted to play football, I organized a game.”

As a Catholic from a blue-collar background, O’Reilly is not anti-charity, or even anti-welfare, but he is skeptical about federal handouts. One of the biggest surprises awaiting “liberal” left-wingers is how many people who might qualify for those handouts, themselves, share O’Reilly’s skepticism.  

“Many liberals” [sic] “simply want to feel good about themselves. Showing compassion to the downtrodden accomplishes that. So it’s not about the poor; it’s about the liberal thinker. He or she wants to feel noble.”

Actually talking to those who have less is something this type of “liberal thinkers” tends to avoid, because it will not make the “liberal thinkers” feel noble. In some times and places large numbers of poor people have in fact needed food, clothes, or pennies. In some places it may still be possible to “feel noble” about giving people food, clothes, and pennies. In North America anyone who is not obese, whose closet is not overflowing with clothes, is showing unusual resolution and fortitude about rejecting the surplus food and clothes others might thrust upon this person. What do Americans who have less need? What about a chance to be the ones who “feel noble,” for a change? That is the very last thing some “liberal thinkers” want to imagine….

Excuse me; I feel a rant coming on…

These people’s neurotic need to “feel noble” is directly responsible for the grifter culture O’Reilly deplores. It’s easy for those of us who’ve avoided becoming single mothers to deplore the single mothers who bring up babies in poverty. It may even seem justified; “not getting pregnant is so easy,” as thoroughly modern Meghan McCain, advocate of “crazy sex,” observed to Bristol Palin. But consider the single mothers’ point of view. 

They are, in fact, junior to almost everyone they are likely to know. If they go to school, they probably aren’t the queens of the campus cliques, so they may be socially bullied. If they go to work, everyone else has more experience and earns a higher salary than they do, and some of the little nuances of office politics are exactly like those of high school social bullying. The baby is “someone to love” in the specific sense of someone who will literally have to look up to the young woman, for at least ten years if older people don’t take the baby away from her sooner. With the ego boost she gets from the baby, a single mother can balance the misery of accepting the low opinion everyone else seems to have of her in order to work with it. Instead of working for the money she wants, she can probably get away with whining, “I neeeeeed this and that for the baaaaby.” Someone out there will “feel noble” about giving it to her. 

Social interactions with other adults may be painful for the single mother for years, as people may not even try to disguise their belief that they are obviously  more intelligent and more virtuous than  any single mother…but most adults thought they were obviously more intelligent than this girl was when she was a virgin, and she may actually acquire more goodies, faster, through programs for the needy single mothers and children, than she would have been able to acquire by working for some sort of prescribed hourly wage. If the total amount of oppressive, demeaning interactions with other adults is not much greater for the single mother than for the celibate young lady, if the single mother gets ego-boosting interactions with the baby, and if people who want to “feel noble” undertake to gratify more of the single mother’s physical “needs” (and “wants,” tastes, appetites) than the celibate young lady’s, we can reasonably say that we’ve set up a program of incentives to reward young women for choosing to be single mothers. 

If society really wanted to reduce the incidence of extramarital pregnancy, we might try a system of counter-incentives—deferring to, and showering gifts upon, baby-free single women (including those who have successfully passed beyond childbearing age, to ensure that their “loneliness” doesn’t discourage young women from remaining baby-free); celebrating single women’s freedom to pursue education, travel, dedicate themselves to corporate “careers,” etc., by offering them jobs that include those things, while breeders are automatically excluded from any job that involves travel and formally discouraged from working more than thirty hours a week. (Unfortunately, young men would have to prove that they’ve been sterilized to qualify for recognition as baby-free, but they could be rewarded for making that choice…)

Similarly, programs that reward those who sit around “needing” food, “housing,” etc., at the expense of those who work for what they want, reward welfare-cheating. Leaving it to social workers to set up incentives for working, like “job training programs” in place of actual jobs, has failed and need no longer be considered as a way to build in counter-incentives. (If social workers’ continued employment was jeopardized by anyone’s qualifying for any subsidized benefits for longer than a year, that might help…) Social workers are quite good at communicating that they think they are superior to the welfare cheats on whom they batten, just as the scum who profiteer on prostitution are quite good at psychologically dominating and manipulating prostitutes; possibly the rest of us need to work harder on communicating to both types of social parasites what their moral status really is. 

Welfare cheats do in fact respond to the messages built into the welfare system by becoming discouraged, embittered, self-centered, hostile, and ungrateful for any of the wonderful “help” the feel-gooders offer them. They do in fact learn that nobody wants them to do any kind of useful work, nobody needs their help, nobody wants their contributions. The ones who can’t become single mothers generally show the effects of having absorbed the social workers’ low opinion of them. They know that if they try doing anything honest to earn money, (1) they’ll lose their handouts, (2) they probably won’t be allowed to make a profit, and (3) people will regard them as bigger fools than ever because they didn’t quietly cooperate with a system that regards treating men and women like maggots as “helping.” 

If society really wanted to reduce the incidence of welfare-cheating, we might try a system of counter-incentives—rewarding people who identify a need and start supplying legitimate goods and services on their own, instead of trying to protect people who may be less effective competitors by demanding that the entrepreneur invest more than s/he has just to be allowed to enter the market, for one thing.

End of rant. 

It would be pleasant to report that A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity had been bold and fresh enough to explore these concepts. Unfortunately it’s not. Recognizing the selfish motives of the “liberal” do-gooders is as far as O’Reilly actually gets. Still, that’s so much farther than Catholic thinkers usually get that O’Reilly deserves some applause for getting this far.

The purpose of A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity is to clarify something even Irish-American audiences sometimes overlook: namely, what O’Reilly claims as the purpose of his reportage. Confusion is possible because he does rely on humor to alleviate tensions and conflicts. I’ve seen readers pass by his books because “he’s not really funny” in the way people like P.J. O’Rourke, Bill Cosby, or Merrill Markoe are funny. That’s because, according to O’Reilly, comedy is not the primary purpose of his show. He seriously claims that the snarky comedy of his “No Spin Zone” shows, where celebrities were put on the hot seat and asked tough questions about any disparities between what they’d said and what they’d done, was intended “to fight injustice.” The jokes were there to reduce the risk of violence.

Well, I’m Irish too. I liked the idea of the “No Spin Zone” and regret that more social pressure was not applied to get more celebrities into it. O’Reilly’s more recent theme of researching and dramatizing celebrity murders seems a sad commentary on our society. We ought to get more teachers, preachers, writers, politicians, thinkers, activists, and especially actors or musicians who publicly espouse trendy ideas, to have to explain those disparities. Al Gore’s blindly accepting flawed science is really not as much of a big deal, for me, as his political enemies might want to make it—he’s not a real scientist, few people are—but I would like to see him answer a few questions about his dreams of reviving censorship via the Internet. In a society that really deserved freedom of the press, since the publication of The Future it would have been impossible for Al Gore to publish anything, speak to any group, even talk to any other public figure, without those questions coming up. The “No Spin Zone” should have expanded across America rather than being allowed to fade away.

Anyway, “the bold, fresh guy” has written a short, episodic memoir that doesn’t try to account for every episode in O’Reilly’s past, but tells some of his best stories: sabotaging the school play, telling teenaged girl students the truth about what teenaged boys thought of the latest fashions, interviewing the dancer known as Fanne Foxe (the book contains a black-and-white photo of her face, which was not apparently the focal point during her stage performances).

For O’Reilly as for Ishmael Reed, writing may be fighting, but it’s also fun. When O’Reilly tells us that he promised not to print or repeat some things George H.W. Bush told him during the former President’s lifetime, as that actor O’Reilly loves to quote said in that movie, I’m prepared to believe him. So, he’s pre-publicizing a book or at least a chapter he plans to write after President Bush dies. Don’t you like a writer who thinks ahead?

A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity is recommended to anyone who has not already read it.