Essays Against Everything by Mark Greif

I did not know what I was getting into with this book, having first seen it in blogs like Cup of Jo and Bleubird. It was... dense, and equally thought-provoking, but not the airplane book I anticipated when bringing it with me on my 12-hour flight to Mexico from Frankfurt.

Essays Against Everything by Mark Greif is a set of philosophical inquiries into modern America, covering everything from exercise at gyms to the general public's fetishism of 'barely legal' boys and girls instead of mature adults to the meaning of life. While some of these subjects have certainly been explored in depth, his approach was altogether new to me.

For instance, 'Octomom', a single mother who gave birth to octuplets with the support of her physician and who received a lot of negative media for living off the state while increasing the state's burden through IVF-enabled, unhealthy children, was the lens through which he viewed the financial crisis. In this example, he investigated how easily it was that the public blame this woman in the midst of housing and fiduciary despair. Meanwhile, the culprits, the people who would remain rich despite the many Americans whose suffering they caused, got away scot-free, hardly held accountable and, in fact, receiving incredibly high bonuses despite the government bail out. And, while media did turn attention to these bonuses, resulting in a promise to return these funds, the lights and cameras did not stick around long enough to see to it that this money was returned (and, for the most part, it wasn't).

Another example was the comparison Greif made between Homer's heroic warfare of past tales told and today's warfare, where American lives are given much greater value than their opposition, with military technologies that result in thousands of casualties on the other side with few casualties, and immediate evacuation, on the U.S. side. Where common notions of heroes used to exist as epic odysseys and a very real risk of life and death, Greif raises the notion of 'heroes without war' through recent examples in Baghdad and Mogadishu. 

I say I watch the news to ‘know’. But I don’t really know anything. Certainly I can’t do anything. I know that there is a war in Iraq, but I knew that already. I know that there are fires and car accidents in my state and in my country, but that, too, I knew already. With each particular piece of footage, I know nothing more than I did before. I feel something, or I don’t feel something. One way I am likely to feel is virtuous and “responsible” for knowing more of these things that I can do nothing about. Surely this feeling is wrong, even contemptible. I am not sure anymore what I feel.
— Mark Greif, Essays Against Everything

While not every topic gripped me, like when he delved into his childhood appreciation of punk music, every topic launched thoughtfully into the next, like Greif's commitment to learning to rap later on, having believed he missed an opportunity in his youth (due to his preference for punk). What particularly stuck with me was his essay on redistribution in America, a simple approach to improving quality of life for everyone, but, for fear of being called communist (as has already happened), I will bookmark that subject for offline discourse...