Similarities: Mary Lemanski and Chris Beha of Harper's

Tuesday 11/23/21

I saw a news items where a democratic social media manager named Mary Lemanski in Illinois was fired because yesterday she went on Twitter and made multiple comments--though one would be enough--about how the tragedy at the Wisconsin Christmas parade was karma for the Rittenhouse verdict, and cracking a joke about how maybe the driver acted in self-defense.

I'll say tragedy because it is tragic for the people who lost their lives, the people who will always know that loss, the people who will be affected for life by what happened. "Murder" usually doesn't fall under the banner of tragedy, but that's also a numbers thing. 9/11 was murder, and we speak of that as a tragedy, but one person killing another is not usually termed this way. To me there is something endlessly tragic about that event from the other day. I read about the older women who clearly had a good sense of humor about themselves and who danced in the parade and I saw the video of excited girls with their pom-poms ready to get started. When you have a community coming together like that, and Christmas, and a murderer does what he does, then tragedy is overwhelming. It has something to do with people being together, caring about each other in some fashion or other. I do think you care about people, even people you have never met, in some way, at least, when you are out there with your neighbors this way. And sometimes, in this country, right now, this is the kind of thing that affirms--or suggests--that we still can care about each other at that level. The level of where we live, our towns, and just saying a friendly hello to that person we see at the store sometimes whose name we don't know.

But I was speaking about this woman who lost her job, in Mary Lemanski. I think she's a prime--and common--example of how many people are now. Possessed of no empathy, for whom everything is conceptual, foreign, a talking point, and not a life point. There's no other human life--there are pieces of cardboard. That is what human life is to many now. And upon that cardboard can be written the message one wants to present to the world. She made her comments, then defended them, and made more. She complained about her own life, which is always the root of the issue.

For instance: a tiny, broken, talentless man like Chris Beha at Harper's, who hates the likes of me more than he would the devil himself, who can't stomach the thought of someone with that much more ability than he has existing, and making it look easy; and who also knows, as Beha knows he knows, when the likes of a Beha is telling staff to lie to and abuse that person, while Beha presides over a staff so deranged that they reach out to my ex-wife I've not spoken to in a decade: that's someone completely unhinged by how small they are and how much they hate themselves. By the truth of what they know about themselves. That's not someone who can even be properly human, let alone the things they want to be--an intelligent person, a good writer. What a Beha does--and he's quite similar to this Lemanski in this way--is try to tilt the moral scales. It's a rigging of magnanimity. (Also: revealing Beha post coming on here soon. Thanksgiving seems like an ideal day for that.)

But when people try to step forward and demean others from the ledge of a nonexistent moral high ground they are pretending to occupy, which, of course, they don't, everyone else sees them for what they are. Most already see them for what that is. They just make it clearer still. They're pathetic. In the sense that these are broken, sad, empty people, whose entire life is anger and lies to self. To them, nothing is worse than someone who is the things they are not.

Now, Lemanski tried to bully people from afar, via the internet, and Beha tried to bully me, with his comically disingenuous email, which was not even clever enough to begin to disguise its obvious lies and his own intentions of discrimination, as a result of his bigotry, and the bigotry of his staff; and he got exactly what he had coming to him, as he will continue to get, from someone who is infinitely smarter than he is, and is not going to be bullied by...well, what do you call someone like this? A peon of life? A loser? A fraud? The label does not matter. The reality does.

Lemanski talked tough, saying she owns her words, etc., but that faded fast. She retreated, pulled down her social media. She'll always be known for this now for the rest of her life. That isn't to say that if one is infamous online that one can't rise above that. But an average person cannot. One would have to be a transcendent figure. Someone stronger than everyone else. Smarter than everyone else. Truly just, truly moral, truly brave. They might have gone wrong, but they had enough in them that was right, and to get right, and to move beyond and above.

Her tweets turned autobiographical. She said that she had a twenty year music career, and no one paid any attention, but now that she'd said something dumb, here was her fifteen minutes. A person who, again, hates themselves. Their life. And maybe lots of unfair things happened. Who knows? I usually suspect not. I understand, better than most, why someone is singled out for who they are. Most people are like most other people. Those that are not, in the ways of virtues, are those that are treated the worst. They're treated differently. They are feared, envied, and people are scared of them. They behave towards that person as they do no one else. That's a reality of life right now. Greatness repels, and it shuts down most things, though what this world needs more than it has ever needed anything is true greatness. Thoreau said as much, and it's more true now. People want comfort, and comfort comes via other people who are like they are, so the bar is never raised, and they never feel lacking or like a failure. It's easier for those people to talk to each other, and to say compliments to each other that they don't mean. Very few people can say anything they mean to a person of greatness. They scale it back, because they want to look a certain way. They don't want to be seen as kissing ass; they're worried that that other person is judging them, and it actually matters what that person thinks. Their entire style of interaction changes with that person. Imagine if you were that person, and that was your life? You were alone and a prisoner in this world, in a way, because of remarkable qualities you had. Abilities you had. I very much doubt that this was what happened with this woman. I'm sure it wasn't, seeing what she wrote, learning a few more things about her. But I also felt sad for her. These were evil remarks. Or, if one prefers, remarks that define heartlessness. I did feel a pity for her, though, as someone living an ugly, meaningless existence. I am sure I'd feel less pity if that existence she lived impacted me directly--if she was one of these people in publishing, who is an even worse person. But that is life. I think a part of wisdom is recognizing that, and knowing how and why one would feel differently. Is there something to do about that? No, I don't think so. I think it's fair. It might not be the most consistent thing ever, but I do think it's fair, because it allows for human nature and what occurs with human experience.

That's always the cause, though, the self. It's certainly always the cause in publishing, where you have the highest concentration of broken, self-loathing people in America. Thousands of people who know they have no ability, too. And that not a single person in the world has ever really honestly liked their work, or would ever like it. They can say to themselves, "I won this award," or "I was shortlisted for this," but they know why they won it and they know the list was an exercise in utter bullshit. They know it had nothing to do with their ability or work. Imagine having to fight that battle of lies all day every day just to exist within your own skin?

People said awful things about this woman's music, as you'd expect ("it's literally cancer," for example). I listened to some of it. Yes, it was terrible. She had no ability. But she wanted to. And you could tell just looking into her life for less than a minute that she jumped from pursuit to pursuit, in search of accolades and, more importantly for her, attention. Then one day, she went too far. Maybe she had too much wine beforehand, too. Or she snapped, in a way, and went for it. Nowhere in her mind was the thought of anyone else. Those lives were cardboard lives to her. She wrote her messages on the cardboard, and a part of her life came to an end.

As one would expect, this led to a conversation about cancel culture, a term that is used much too liberally. "Cancel culture" is applied now when one loses employment, for instance, on account of remarks like those made by Lemanski. If you work at a hospital as a doctor, and you go around the halls billing yourself as Doctor Death, saying you're going to royally fuck up some diagnoses today and slip in a poison pill or two, you'll be fired for you statements. This is not cancel culture. But if you are a doctor and you do a good job doctoring, and you say somewhere--on your Facebook page or Twitter--that you like Trump, or you don't agree with the prison sentence that horned shaman guy got for January 6--and you are fired because of this, then that is cancel culture. I'm using a political example, which is but an example. One could say that they don't believe a seven-year-old is old enough to decide that they should transition. Or one could say that they believe there are two genders and that is is.

Pick whatever you want. Whether I believe these things or not is immaterial; what is is that someone could believe them, they could have reasons to believe them--or arguments to put forward--that were in good faith and in the doctor's case, did not undermine his ability to do his job. Didn't make him a dispenser of poison pills. I saw many, many, many--hundreds--of people in publishing, when Trump was elected, say in their Facebook profiles that if you voted for Trump, you'd never be in their magazine, they'd never work with you, they'd never give you a book deal, etc. I do not vote. I don't believe in voting. I don't believe in either party. I am a humanist. I believe in right, wrong, examination of the self, and personal growth; and yes, along the lines of party policies--on both sides--I often find those parties diametrically opposed to what I consider decency, awareness, an open and honest life lived openly and honestly and, crucially, lived for others. Yes. I believe that. I believe that if everyone looked inside themselves with any honesty, and if they made a point to learn and grow, partake of art, ideas, beauty--get off their flabby asses, put down the phone, and run some stairs--that this world would have no need for a Trump or a Biden, and I don't believe in a society that wants either or can't see both for what they are. I will be your friend regardless of who you voted for, regardless of what party you belong to, because I will only look at the person you are. Your moral character as you go about your life. And your intelligence. The way you seek to be in the world, and engaged with it. I know that no one will ever do so as I do so. It's case by case. Context. And person by person.

But publishing put that message out, and what it really says, of course, is that "if you are not like me, you are not welcome here." That is not political--that is a kind of person. A myopic person. A broken person. A person laced with hate and self-loathing. A clannish person. A person without any vision. A person with very few real world experiences who usually comes from money. A person who will often first look to skin color and gender and seek attention on the grounds of skin color and gender and rewarding skin color and gender. You'll see it now when you open almost any magazine, which fewer and fewer people do. There are hardly any straight white males in their thirties, forties, and fifties in any magazines now. Do you think it's because they're all that much worse than those who are in there? Because most people suck at writing more or less equally. It's entirely about other things. Now, can someone who is wired this way, take a masterpiece because it is a masterpiece, and for no other reason, and, too, let's add in that that masterpiece comes from someone who is everything they are not? Can they step beyond their insecurities, their hardness of hate, that rigidity; see beyond those blinders; commit to acting differently this time, and making it about the work, and separating out their feelings and prejudices?

No. That won't happen. You have to make it so that it does happen. You have to break them, and I am talking about something different than in the ways which they are already broken as people. Which is one reason this journal exists. Because the fist is not going to open on its own. And by fist I don't mean that which is about to punch you--that is, the likes of me--in the mouth, because these people aren't brave enough and they aren't capable. They're not suited to be the person in the arena, as the saying goes. And if they are in an arena, it's an arena where they take on a snail. No, make that a drunken snail. With a day to live. So a snail with a fever who can't see straight. And their warped cronies in hate and envy pinning the snail down so it's even easier for them to fight, if you can call it that. I am talking about the clenched fist of self-loathing, where you have that coward, that intellectual nobody, in the dark, in the alley, raging over their own shortcomings, teeth gnashing together, their fists balled up in that silent rage of "I hate him because I'm nothing and I know it, and that person is my opposite." That's the fist you have to crack open, and get the work in it, so that the work can get to who it should get to, and that's people not like these people.

Cancel culture is ideological and ideas-based. What many people try to do is create an elision, where they say, "If you believe this, then that makes you a dangerous person," etc. Because termination is often morally-based. So people try to make a belief an indictment on morals, so that human monsters of this sort--people with nothing in their lives--can go around playing avenging angel. There's something I've always said, which sounds simple, but is not. And that is: Things are things. They're not subjective. Nothing is subjective. Everything has its reality. You don't get to decide that. Your job--your task--is to try to understand that reality, the best you can. To figure it out. To see it. To gather up as many visual pieces as you can of the reality. Because it is in there. It's always in there, and it's always in there in full. Sometimes, it can be very obvious, as with the people we've been discussing here. But one must look for the specificity of the reality. Come from all angles. Crouch down low and look up. Squint the eyes, get the glasses. It's always going to be there, and it is our job to try and see it the best that we can. I would say, too, that that would be my political party. That is my life party.