Scene In Passing: Verbal plunder: power bid via bombast?

Commerce is the highway to a better tomorrow. Government is just a traffic cop, or works best when it is.

War is hell and the road to it is paved with incivility, obstinacy and a “my way or the highway” mentality.

So it was intriguing when Mayor Robert Crowell, advocate of expanding the commercial pie and a Vietnam-era Naval warrior, praised City Manager Nick Marano’s first year leading Carson City’s government staff. Crowell praised Marano as a former Marine colonel who listens and doesn’t go down the “my way or the highway” road into cul de sacs.

Perhaps that’s because war is hell, which Crowell knows from Vietnam and Marano knows from the Mideastern conflict zones, but such hell is with us whether it’s done with deadly weapons or venomous words.

All this, when I heard said mayoral praise during Marano’s evaluation, put me in mind of Jose Ortega y Gasset, the don of 20th century Spanish intellectuals.

He was a journalist, author and philosopher whose several books included his 1930 “The Revolt of the Masses.” The book captured the modern problem of the opinionated, vulgar and barbarous who rely on unreason and ugliness.

Ortega y Gasset peered into his present and the future to see trouble coming from the mass man who “simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the ‘reason of unreason.’ Here I see the most palpable manifestation of the new mentality of the masses, due to their having decided to rule society without the capacity for doing so.”

Fortunately such people don’t yet rule completely and everywhere, but neither are they in retreat. Indeed, they are almost continually in evidence.

We see them in the Mideast, where unreason remains rampant. But it’s no less on the loose around this nation, where compromise is a dirty word in the halls of Congress, and around the block, where bloggers hurl words such as fascism and feckless around like grapeshot graffiti in an attempt to impugn motives of a city manager well before he has a year on the job.

If war is hell, government is a traffic cop and commerce is the road to a better tomorrow, please enlighten me whether incivility and obstinacy based on bombastic opinion are the best ways to proceed? After nearly a half century in the fact-based and related opinion business — with a couple of respites in government or private sector roles — this scrivener’s lot is cast with opinion relying on civil and reasonable discourse rather than its opposite.

The First Amendment gives anyone every right to be wrong. But that doesn’t mean it’s wise to hurl verbal bombs, shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater or accuse anyone of fascist tendencies based on your view of that person’s motives. Nor is it helpful to carp at new decisions and directions that marry public/private sector cooperation until such ventures have time to percolate and prove viable or candidates for the scrap heap.

Whether we’re talking the free marketplace alone or the free marketplaces of ideas, global and local efforts need to be rooted in the reality of a shared community in which members avoid turning to vulgar and mainly opinionated terminology in a bid to find the way forward. Certainly that’s the case if expanding the commercial pie is the goal, Why? Because barbarism amounts to piracy, history’s commercial maritime terrorism.

Bottom line, with thanks to the Spaniard for his counsel: Let’s take the high road highway to a better tomorrow or zip our lips when it comes to caustic commentary.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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