Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
Feb. 8, 2018
On March 10, 2003, I gave a very well-attended lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- yeah, as in M-I-fuckin-T. (I also gave a talk at Yale later that year but that’s for another article.) Please allow me to introduce some context.
I once had a reasonably large global audience for my “political” writing and “social” commentary. My articles covered a lot of ground. Chomsky wrote about everything, I pointed out vehemently, so why can’t I? [insert sad trombone here] I didn’t like to be pigeon-holed so I wrote about virtually everything -- thus guaranteeing I’d never “make it” as I did not have a marketable niche or (wait for it) brand. I got book deals, gave tons of talks, was interviewed often (TV, radio, online), built quite a following, but I barely made a penny. #MyOwnWorstEnemy
A Goal Attained
One of my most popular articles was published in 2002, around the one-year anniversary of 9/11. Themed “the other 9/11,” it broke down the details of the September 11, 1973, U.S.-sponsored coup in Chile. In particular, the article focused on the role of Henry Kissinger -- a name rarely heard these days.
The “viral” nature of my Kissinger piece prompted the political science department of MIT to reach out, asking me to visit the school and give a talk. They paid my way on Amtrak and put me (and my partner at the time) up for one night in a local motel. #BigShot
When we arrived at the lecture hall, I opened the door to peek in. It was huge! There were hundreds -- maybe a thousand -- seats and most were already filled. I didn’t flinch. I never stopped reading and working on knowing “everything.” Alexander Cockburn once said of Chomsky, “The first duty of an intellectual is to know what’s going on and that’s a lot of work.” I lived and breathed that line and even used it in my talk when I joked how MIT degrees don’t make you an intellectual. #NervousLaughter
Yep, I was ready and my performance proved it. The audience of faculty members and graduate students sat rapt for about an hour as this high school grad connected all the dots. They got their chance in the post-talk Q&A and grabbed it with both hands. The discussion started out, of course, being about Chile and/or Kissinger. Soon though, I was hit with rapid-fire queries on an astonishingly broad range of topics.
Truth be told, I knocked all their questions out of the park until they gave up and applauded. Audience members rushed up to talk to me and even take photos with me. It was a goal attained, a dream come true.
When we got back to the motel, we discovered that our toilet was seriously clogged. It was late and no maintenance worker could be found. So the front desk dude lent me a plunger. Still dressed in my fancy, talk-giving outfit, this “intellectual” plunged the motel toilet for the next 15 or 20 minutes. #HeavyHandedMetaphor
“To plant, propagate”
The problem with minor successes like my MIT talk is that you can hear false messages emanating from them. I won’t bore you with details but the rest of my career [sic] was filled with roughly once- or twice-a-year highlights like MIT. Instead of enjoying those moments while prudently preparing for my future, I myopically saw them as indicative of my future.
I kept reading and working and knowing more than anyone else. Along came social media, giving me the ideal platform of exhibitionist delusion on which to perform. I was gathering information, I told myself (and everyone else). I’m doing the essential work of disseminating such information to the masses in the name of provoking social change.
Side note: disseminate. c.1600, from Latin disseminatus, past participle of disseminare "to spread abroad, disseminate," from dis- "in every direction" (see dis-) + seminare "to plant, propagate," from semen (genitive seminis) "seed" (see semen).
Then, finally, I stopped.
It just doesn’t matter
I was once the go-to guy. The bro in the know. The smartest [sic] dude in the room. People used to reach out to me when they wanted to know “what’s going on.” #intellectual
Today? Not so much. I could get the gym tomorrow and have a client ask me: “Whaddya think of what Trump said?” My reply will be something like: “What did he do now?”
It’s not that I don’t accept reality. I know current events matter. I also know what doesn’t matter. Reading everything you can and knowing every detail of current events is fine if you do it for your own edification. Martyring yourself at the altar of “doing the work” is virtue signaling. I wanted to be like Chomsky. Now I can finally see how much time I wasted and how little impact Chomsky has ever had.
If knowing “everything” could help anyone, I’d go back to that lifestyle in a heartbeat. However, it just doesn’t matter how much I know. My ability to lecture at MIT while owning only a high school diploma is meaningless. I could make political speeches there every single day and it’d only make things worse. #UglyTruth
It’s not what I know. It’s what I do. It’s how I respond when help is needed and there’s work to be done. That’s why -- as the 15th anniversary of my MIT talk approaches -- I can finally recognize that the most important and useful work I did on March 10, 2003, was when I had the toilet plunger in my hands.
Mickey Z. is the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!
That time I gave a lecture at MIT…and why it didn’t matter by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://worldnewstrust.com/that-time-i-gave-a-lecture-at-mit-and-why-it-didn-t-matter-mickey-z.